Meet our artists: Mark Lohr
Young Audiences’ roster of artists continues to grow to encompass new artists, ensembles, and art forms, from slam poets to improvisers to Capoeira masters.
We’ll be regularly posting interviews with our artists, giving them a chance to share more about themselves and their experiences bringing their Young Audiences programs to schools.
How did you hear about Young Audiences? What made you decide to become a roster artist?
I started my apprenticeship with Theatricks Theatre Company, where my performing mentor had a show as a Young Audiences roster artist. I took a break from performing for a bit, and when I decided to come back I immediately thought of Young Audiences as a great organization to work with because of my past experience. I have been on the roster for about 10 years now.
Can you tell us a little bit about your art form?
My art form is Vaudeville-style physical comedy. During the performances, I interact with the audience nonverbally and become a combination of circus clown, comic actor, juggler, and magician.
The creation of vaudeville is such an influential time in our history. Entertainment was revolutionized for the vaudeville stage, and technologies were invented to make shows more impressive using special effects, lighting, and more. We don’t have an opportunity to see that style of slapstick, nonverbal comedy anymore.
How do the lessons and skills you teach students through your art form apply to their everyday lives outside of the classroom?
During a vaudeville performance, students have to listen more with their eyes than ears. They have to interpret what my character is communicate without words and respond accordingly. Sitting there and taking it in with all their senses gets them involved. In a typical theatrical performance, there is a “fourth wall.” There is a performance or show, but the audience is on the other side of that fourth wall so there is no interaction. I put the wall behind the audience so each performance is a new experience–you never know what you’re going to get with each crowd that comes in.
The performance becomes a shared memory for students. It’s multi-cultural and multi-generational entertainment. You bring a school together with a performance where they laugh and have a great time. They share that wonderful memory, and can relate to each other more because of it.
Why do you believe theater is important for every student to have access to?
Vaudeville is such an important era in our history that we shouldn’t forget. It has a great significance in our culture today. Television shows like “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice” follow in the tradition of vaudeville.
But a live performance is so important because, all too often, many students’ primary performance venue is a television or movie theater. There is nothing wrong with these things, but when you go to a live performance you’re immersed and surrounded by it so that you become a part of it. I feel that it is my job to reach out to schools and students who may never have the opportunity to see a live professional performance. In our education, it’s extremely important to give students that experience.
How does your art form help connect students to what they are learning in school?
“Hooked on Books” is my reading program where the audience has to listen and develop a response to everything I do. The main lesson I want them to walk away with is that books are more than stories, they are also gateways to new skills! I also share that it is OK to experience failure because to learn a new skill you have fail. The idea that failure isn’t a bad thing, but a part of the process, is a wonderful lesson.
What has been the most memorable part of the programs you’ve brought to students with Young Audiences?
From a performance standpoint, to be able to engage these students and have them become a part of my performance is a wonderful gift to me, and it’s my gift to them. They are laughing, responding to what I’m doing, enjoying the moment, and not thinking about what’s going to happen in the next hour.
In my residency, “America’s Got Vaudeville,” I talk about the significance of vaudeville and teach its skills and comic techniques. Our goal is to put on a show at the end. When I see there is a student who sits out in the corner not quite fitting in, I can reach out to them and teach him or her juggling or plate-spinning, and see his or her whole person change. They discover they have a new talent and skill and can share it with their classmates. Their peers begin to see each other in a different light and overcome social and cultural boundaries. They share a common bond. The look on students’ faces when they succeed in a new skill for the first time is a huge reward for me.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a Young Audiences roster artist?
Young Audiences gives me the opportunity to share gifts that were given to me. My mentor gave me this knowledge with the one caveat of having to share it. It’s so important for me to have different venues where I can go out and give it away, and can see people walking away with a piece of the gift that was given to me. It impacts people’s lives, and I’m grateful that Young Audiences allows me to do that.
Keep an eye out for more artist interviews! See all artist interviews to-date here.