Erminio Pinque stood on our Storytellers stage in 2017, and comically struggled to shed a massive creature costume. After emerging he asked the crowd: If there was more weird, and it was less weird to be weird, then would we have many of the problems and anxieties that we have when our preconceived ideas start to change and are challenged?
More than just a Storyteller alum, Erminio is the founder and director of BIG NAZO. If you’re a Rhode Island local, you might have seen these massive creatures pop up on the streets of Providence. It’s a transformative experience of interactive puppetry, noise, and movement. Erminio was kind enough to invite me into his studio and spend the morning talking about creativity.
His studio, a small room inside the Providence Bus Terminal, feels like being backstage at the StarWars Cantina. Other worldly outfits hang in a row. Helmets, heads, and claws cover every flat surface. I loved it.
“Why can’t we think of life as a ride of costume changes?”
As a kid, I played dress up every single day. My mom has a picture of me in the family photo album dressed head to toe as a witch. I’m about seven years old. The caption reads, ‘July. Victoria going on errands.’
Even now, all grown up, I find myself looking for ways to explore through makeup and clothing. Colorful eyeshadow. A wild print. I look for anything that will make an ordinary item feel ‘fun.’ Costumes have always made things feel more real. Have always allowed me to feel more like myself. In a way, that’s a large part of the Big Nazo experience. One who dons the Big Nazo costume must confront what they know about themselves. Are costumes a way to play pretend, or to help us find who we are under what we have been taught to be? When we feel hidden, unrecognizable, and alone, is that who we truly are?
BIG NAZO, Erminio explains, is a way to experience and imagine other realities within daily life. It exists to challenge and disrupt what we understand as logical. We live in a world where most unexpected events are bad. BIG NAZO counters this. It pulls you into a world where unexpected events of pure fun can, and do, occur. Who says you can’t encounter a parade of otherworldly creatures on your lunch break? Why do rockstars have to be human? BIG NAZO offers us a new world and asks us to accept it without looking for the logic underneath.
For Erminio, the root of creativity can be chased all the way back to childhood. “I needed to know that there were other realities beside my own. That there were adventures that existed outside of one’s own sphere.” This push to create new realities has since taken Erminio all over the world, learning to create new costumes and characters along the way.
“We try to empower people by embracing the idea that there is confusion to be improvised through in the human experience. We should alter our concept of thinking of it as wrong, or a problem, or not, ‘what we’ve planned.’ We need to take the raw ingredients of what’s happening in real time, and find a way to create something beautiful out of it.”
Erminio came into our studio in May to facilitate a ‘space transformation’ workshop. Space transformation is the name given to all 2-D Workshops and non-foam-creature work. This allows Erminio and the team to explore mediums without being constrained to the BIG NAZO aesthetic. These space transformation workshops mix music, painting, and class overhead projectors to forge a creative process perfect for all levels of makers.
PeaceLove’s co-founder Jeff Sparr was a keynote speaker at YMCA175. There, he spent time emphasizing the power of creativity. I’ve been thinking a lot about what creativity actually is. Painting, coloring, and building are simply exports. What is ’pure’ creativity?
How do we get it? Can we lose it?
I believe, if you break creativity down, it is about finding a way. It isn’t having total freedom, but taking something that exists, and making it something you’d rather have. Everyday we wake up, and we are faced with reality. Our jobs. Our routines and schedules. What inspires me so much about Erminio’s work is how he has used creativity to sneak joy and whimsy into life. By creating these wild costumes, putting on parades and shows, he is creating the reality he (and many of us) want to see in the world. A place where everyone is empowered to be strange, but no one is the odd one out.
(Above: Image from tumblr @bignazo)
Victoria Rose is a writer and musician from Providence, Rhode Island. firstname.lastname@example.org