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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Think Big

In 1979, Think Big opened in SoHo. This shop was started by Phyllis Prinz and Robert Malkin, who created a product line of oversized replicas of a variety of products - tennis rackets, Crayola crayons, paper clips, pencils, postage stamps, toothbrushes, etc. I frequented the shop often and was once gifted an oversize Bayer aspirin. The shop was a roaring success, closing in 1994 (and later rejuvenated as an online shop by Jeff Bruette as Great Big Stuff). There was a man, however, where the concept of the oversize had also been brewing for a much different reason: Fred Garver (aka Fred Garbo) of South Paris, Maine.

I have known Fred Garbo for 35 years - he is in fact one of my oldest customers and quite a unique individual. His credits, like his talents, are myriad. I do not say this lightly. In 1980, Fred auditioned for the Broadway show Barnum. The part called for acting, dancing, singing, acrobatics, playing an instrument and juggling - Fred was chosen over 500 auditioners.

Since our very first interactions, I became aware how Fred has always been very focused on the VISUAL impact of any stage prop and its SIZE. This became a virtual obsession, explaining the evolution of his show of 18 years and his invention and utilization of large inflated props/characters. His character Led Zeplin and his inflated suit have been the envy of many a performer and have also spawned a few imitators.

His partner in the show is Daielma Santos, who was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dance in London. She has worked as a professional ballet dancer and teacher. Having met while Fred was touring, Daielma became fasicnated with his inflatable suit. A partnership soon followed. A number of pieces in their act showcase Daielma's dance talents. Her grace, fluidity and charm are arresting both on stage and off.

Last week I was called by a friend who informed me that the Fred Garbo Inflatable Theater Company was performing Saturday, January 8th, at Symphony Space in New York City. She invited me to accompany her, her husband and their 3-year old child to the show.

Fred is a resident of Maine, where he originally moved to study and train with his mentor, the late Tony Montanaro of Celebration Mime Theater. He railed against the stereotypical and overdone illusions of mimes at that time and developed his own unique brand of physical theater, incorporating his skills and training in juggling, mime, acrobatics and clowning.
The Inflatable Theater show involves juggling, dance, and a large variety of inflated objects and characters moved through the acrobatics of Fred and Daielma inside. The show is highly polished and very successful, a great pleaser of children and adults worldwide.

During the time that Fred worked in Barnum, Fred lived in New York City. We formed a closer relationship at that time - in addition to his performing, Fred became a teacher of juggling in my studio. A lover of nature and Maine, I was astonished at how quickly Fred adapted to New York, navigating its shoals undaunted and learning about it so quickly. In 1983, Fred, along with Bob Berky, and Michael Moschen, created Foolsfire, an Obie Award winning 3-man show, which I had the privilege of seeing. He was also the man inside Sesame Street's Barkley the Dog. I have always considered him to be an honorary New Yorker. It's seems so appropriate for a man who adapted to city life so readily and whose life's philosophy has always been to Think Big :)


Mary P. said...

Wow! Never seen this before!

Sue said...

Took my kids to that show, some years back. It was great! I was so excited to see them try out for America's Got Talent last year and then mortified to see them be kicked off before they could even really show their act. A true loss for the home viewers. Some people just don't know innovative talent when they see it.

Leslie said...

Garbo is one of the most creative and talented performers out there! His work is always top notch.

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Ronald Boucher said...

Fred Garbo has taught me how to juggle, and do diabolo when I was young in Governor Baxter School for the Deaf. Also was part of his performance as well in the same school.

I have seen his performance (inflatable) up here in Rochester & Olean, NY. My wife really enjoyed the performance. ( I was suprised that he yanked my sneaker off my shoe in Olean performance and threw it back to me from the stage. ) He's a good friend of mine.

Brian Dubé said...

Ronald - Cool, so I assume you know of my juggling business?