A Winter’s Tale: ‘Zima’ in Springs

Kate Mueth in character at Pussy’s Pond Morgan McGivern

   With our first winter storm behind us, some South Fork denizens may find themselves hunkered down in front of the fire, Wii, DVR or DVD player, or all of the above. Kate Mueth has other ideas though, for her and for us, if we are so inclined.
    On Friday, Feb. 10, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., she and the Neo-Political Cowgirls company she founded will mount “Zima,” an interactive winter “experience of mystery, poetry, theater, and exploration” set along the path at Pussy’s Pond in Springs. Those familiar with Ms. Mueth’s events in other seasons, such as the Mulford Repertory Theater’s outdoor productions at the Mulford Farm in East Hampton in the summer and the haunted Mulford Farm Halloween theatrical happening, no doubt notice her appreciation for the outdoors, which she said goes hand in hand with theater.
    “My job is very seasonal that way in terms of visuals,” she said last week at the Star offices, where she shared her storyboards and ideas for the new event. “All this summer I was visualizing winter in my daydreams.”
    Rather than hide from the outdoors, she would rather celebrate the season and enjoy its unique qualities. “I really like winter here. It’s a unique time. I want to invite people into the elements, embrace the cold, and maybe open up their imaginations to some new ideas and ways to think about winter and enjoy winter.”
    “Zima” means winter in Polish. She got the name from Sebastien Paczynski, who does the lighting design for her plays and the projects she conceives for the Neo-Political Cowgirls, a company of dancers and actors that performs in various venues throughout the year.
    “Zima” will run in a continuous cycle along the path. The program will begin at the entrance to the path with a classic journeyman character from folklore and myth — someone on a quest — inviting spectators into a “world of self-entertaining imagination.” Along the path, a series of mythical and fantastical characters and vignettes will further a love story that has a mystery and riddle at its core. For those paying attention, its solution will become apparent, but this is not a passive venture for the viewer, or for its producer.
    “You’re never quite sure if the characters are part of a fantasy or dreamscape, but each plays a part in the journey to find his lost love.” The idea was to keep it simple. “I’m a fan of basic, heartfelt stories.” The Hollywood model of action all of the time was not her objective. “I’m a fan of work that brings a story so that you have to pay attention and to listen and it absorbs you, hopefully. And simplicity is a goal, because winter is simple. The leaves are gone. The color is gone. It’s more provocative inwardly than externally.”
    In all, she imagines 10 to 14 tableaus, “dreamscapes of mystery” with fairies dancing, a sprite playing handbells, snow babies in frozen poses, and a glamorous couple dining at a table full of appetizing food. Brian Leaver and Yuka Silvera have brought what she described as her vague ideas to life in sets and costumes. “I don’t want people to be too comfortable. It’s about . . . a new sense of magic rather than the easily defined balletic ‘Nutcracker’ thing of winter.” At the end of the story and the path, she hopes to greet visitors with more surprises, such as comforting and warm refreshments and other visual and aural diversions.
    On Feb. 11, she will mount a similarly themed event in Sag Harbor Village as part of its Harborfrost weekend. Instead of a path in nature, however, the characters will direct spectators on a quest for clues through a route of participating merchants and businesses, more like a scavenger hunt than a narrative but with a similar intention and outcome. Still later, on March 3, she will mount it again in the relative wilderness of the Quogue Wildlife Refuge, this time employing real animals as part of the scenes as a fund-raising event for the organization.
    According to Ms. Mueth, for inspiration she thought, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” meets snow globes. She did not want the common visuals of nature, but rather a mixture of myth, New York fashion runways, imagination, dreams, and story. Pussy’s Pond, where she spends a lot of time with her dog, seemed a natural site to her. “It’s a quiet thing, it’s meant to be simple and evocative on a quiet level.”
    Another part of her inspiration was bringing something to the community in the off-season. “So much comes to us in the summertime that is not tenable in a lot of ways for people who live here. It’s not affordable or it’s not for them necessarily. It’s for the tourists. I wanted to create something that was our own ritual, a yearly event that people can look forward to as a community.”
    So far the people she has described the event to, from the East Hampton Town Board, which provided a permit allowing her to use the nature preserve, to the actors, dancers, and designers she has approached to participate, have been very receptive. “This is one idea people get. People seem to be in a different mental space now and that just proves that this is a great time to propose something new for the outdoors.”
    The Quogue benefit will carry its own price, which is still being determined. At Pussy’s Pond, admission will be a suggested donation and at Harborfrost it will be free. Ms. Mueth is looking for sponsorships to help meet costs.