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Daredevil mime returning to Utah

Schönberger books 7-week stint at theater in Park City

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Good news and bad news.

The good news is, Alan Schönberger is back in Utah with his whimsical blend of daredevil freestyle skiing, European mime and gentle humor.

The bad news is, the Egyptian Theatre — although intimate and perfectly suited for Schönberger's unique talent — does not have an orchestra pit. And this gifted performer loves the added adventure (or, dare we say, "pit"-falls) of performing with a wide-open orchestra pit.

He discovered the latter when he was suddenly faced with entertaining a crowd of rambunctious junior high school students a few years ago in the cavernous Ellen Eccles Theatre in Logan. It's an age group that is really tough to grab onto. So when Alan discovered the historic old vaudeville house had an orchestra pit, he quickly changed his opening number. He skied down his specially built indoor hill and plummeted right into the pit.

The kids were stunned. Was he hurt? Was he dead? Is the show over?

Then Schönberger quietly and impishly peeked over the railing, assuring the youths that everything was, indeed, OK — then went on with his one-man show.

In the five or six years since Schönberger last performed here, he's been fine-tuning his performance and adding new bits and pieces.

He'll be playing for nearly seven weeks in the Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre in Park City, beginning next Friday, Jan. 25, and continuing through the 2002 Winter Olympics and the subsequent Paralympic Games.

In the combined world of skiing, dance and theater, Schönberger's work has been widely acclaimed. Skiing Magazine has listed Schönberger as one of the three most influential performers in ballet skiing.

Taking center stage for his production, which the Egyptian Theatre is calling "Schönberger Skis the Stage," is a huge piece of hand-crafted equipment that the artist designed and pretty much built himself.

Schönberger calls it an "Alpclavier." The Alpine part is a treadmill that is roughly 25 feet by 25 feet, which features a constantly rotating piece of off-white Acrylon carpeting — frequently sprayed with silicone to keep it nice and slippery. It's kind of like a Park City ski slope, except the folks at the controls can increase or decrease both the running speed and the incline.

Along the very front of the treadmill is a 25-foot wide keyboard — sort of like Tom Hanks' oversize set of ivories in the movie "Big." One of Schönberger's original segments, which he retains in his show, is a bit called "Piano Roll." The larger-than-life keys are hooked up to a computerized soundboard, so they look like they're actually playing the same notes as the music.

Back when Schönberger was developing his skills as both a mime and a freestyle skier, he studied the fine art of mime in Europe. In a nod toward this, one of his central characters is a top-hatted French chap he calls Tooloose Scattergood. Maybe not as artistic as French painter Toulouse-Lautrec, but you get the drift.

Schönberger's graceful moves on stage also have you wondering if he's studied dance and ballet. Yes, he has. Merce Cunningham of New York was one of his instructors.

For quite a few years, Schönberger took his show on the road. In addition to performing at the Off Broadway Theatre in downtown Salt Lake City and another engagement at the Egyptian in Park City, he took it to the Intiman Theatre in Seattle (not really a "skiing" town — and some audiences didn't know quite what to expect). He also played such ski resorts as Aspen.

The Alpclavier was built for touring. The self-propelled 8,000-pound piece of equipment folds up for rolling onto a semi-trailer. (The most difficult part of the move into the Egyptian is that Schnberger will have to remove the mirrors off the cab after he pulls alongside the theater, because there are only a couple of inches to spare for backing the rig up to the loading dock.)

The Egyptian Theatre's new artistic director, John Caywood, is utilizing the expertise of one of his former Pioneer Theatre Company colleagues — resident PTC lighting designer Peter Willardson — to create new lighting effects for "Schönberger Skis the Stage."

Schönberger's production is geared to audiences of all ages. There is no dialogue — just sketches featuring slap-dash skiing and an array of Silly-Putty facial expressions.

E-MAIL: ivan@desnews.com