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FREE YOUR MIND : Turn Off the TV and Tune In to Jamie the Imaginologist

February 11, 1993|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

It's family night at the local eatery. Somewhere between the pot roast special (includes beverage and dessert) and the peach cobbler, you casually glance into the next booth.

The move almost costs you your home fries, for leering back at you is that dreaded creature from carry-out hell, the Plate-A-Puss, a bizarre character with plastic cream-container eyes, a gaping paper plate mouth and drinking straw antennae that zap God-knows-what alien propaganda into your brain.

Clearly, (cue eerie music) you've entered . . . the Imaginite Zone.

Imaginites will invade Costa Mesa on Sunday when New York theater artist Jamie Greenberg hits town with "Imagine If," a one-man interactive show designed to jump-start young imaginations. Greenberg, a.k.a. Jamie the Imaginologist, and the Imaginites will perform at 2 and 4:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Recital Hall at Orange Coast College.

Subtitled, "The Cure for T.V.itis," the show is a mix of stand-up comedy, music, improvisation and storytelling that encourages children to cut down on TV viewing and exercise their creative abilities, Greenberg said during a phone interview from his Valley Cottage home in Upstate New York. Suitable for ages 4 and up, the show follows the comic exploits of a boy (Jamie) as he grapples with a powerful television addiction.

Jamie turns for help to Dr. Pajangee, a loony but lovable "master imaginologist" who prescribes a stringent three-part therapy. To tone up his flabby imagination, Jamie must (1) create a character from everyday objects (hence the Plate-A-Puss), (2) fashion a unique walk based on observations of others and (3) write and act out a story based on his own dreams.

Fundamental to the cure are the Imaginites, a bevy of gonzo characters that Jamie either becomes or confronts as he carries out the doctor's orders. In addition to the Plate-A-Puss, the lineup includes the good King Schnoz, a trash-eating Trashole and Jamie's nemesis, the dastardly Pinwheel Brain, who plots to control the world by sapping our imaginations through television overload.

The Imaginites' costumes, which are constructed largely from balloons, paper plates, simple toys and other common objects, were developed in a playful, spontaneous way that makes them especially accessible to kids, Greenberg said. (Trashole's flexible body was inspired by a niece's play tunnel and some wiffle balls; a swimming-pool hose powers King Schnoz's six-foot nose.)

"The whole idea is to take the ordinary and transform it into something extraordinary . . . to just go with the idea wherever the mind leads you," said Greenberg, who studied improvisational theater and mime at Maine's Celebration Mime Theatre and who conducts residencies and workshops on the topics for elementary through college-age students.

Throughout the hourlong show, audience members are en couraged to play along or join in some of the original tunes by Alison Scherz, Greenberg's wife and business partner and the mother of their 6-month-old daughter, Lexi Lyric.

And that includes grown-ups.

"I always felt that in doing family theater, one of the most important things is to get parents interested and involved," Greenberg said. "I want to see the whole family being entertained."

"It's important for a child to see adults involved in the action" on stage, he continued. "Kids are naturally doers, not viewers, (and) they're looking for approval from their parents that it's all right to express themselves like this."

To get into the spirit, Greenberg suggests that in the days before the show youngsters create their own imaginative creature costumes and wear them to the performance, a task that conveniently requires them to spend less time sprawled in front of the tube.

But despite the show's theme, Greenberg says he's not crusading against TV per se (in fact, he's developing a fantasy-based television program), but he does think families need to practice more responsible viewing habits.

"Generally, I think the media is driven not by the integrity of programming, but by what is going to sell," he said. "They all go with something that's already working . . . so most of the time you're not getting anything that's really challenging for kids.

"I'm not interested in locking the TV in the basement," he continued. "I just think we've got to learn how to use it and not abuse it."

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