Culture

Still Life

David Engel and Penny England of NYStatues have chosen an unlikely medium for their sculptures: their bodies. With more than 15 years of experience as living statues and classical training in theatre and dance, David and Penny are well equipped to bring personality and intrigue to their motionless performances as iconic statues. We caught up with David and Penny in order to get a glimpse into the life of a living, breathing statue.

How did you two meet?
David: Penny and I had been full-time entertainers and human statues in New York City for many years and we would run into each other at gigs. There were several companies sending inexperienced dancers or young actors to their statue gigs, and we realized if we didn't do something, the market would be flooded with ho-hum human statues, and the market would lose interest and we'd be out of a job. So, along with Brian Foley (the third co-founder of NYStatues who has since moved out of the state), we decided to join forces and create NYStatues.

How did you get into the business of performing as statues?
David: I was living in Chicago in 1988 and was hired by a New York agent who specialized in human statues. She FedEx抏d me the costume and I was impressed by it!

Penny: I had been a street performer as a classic mime for several years before I moved to NYC. I used to do classic white-face mime routines and people would watch part of the show and then keep walking. I started experimenting with different types of movement, and I found that if I was frozen,
people would wait long enough to see if I would move. Then I started making costumes that looked more like classic Greco-Roman works of art.

How do you get the paint out of your hair?
David: We tend to use wigs but if I have to cover my real hair we use water-based makeup so it easily washes out.

What抯 the most rewarding thing about being a statue? The hardest?
David: I perform more than 300 family events each year at libraries, schools and theaters and am very verbal. I like the opportunity to be silent while still making people laugh. I love observing people who have no clue they are standing 10 inches away from a living person. It is also a fantastic way to make money. The hardest thing is occasionally dealing with jerks or aggressive kids. There is a psychological challenge to certain folks when they meet a mute performer that makes them want to challenge you. It's silly. Also the toll it takes on your body during long jobs. Some corporate events are five to seven hours, and at the end of the day your dogs are barking!

Penny: The most rewarding thing is seeing people's reactions; it抯 very entertaining and fun. People think I am there to entertain them, but they actually entertain me! I also enjoy the compliments I get about the costumes I work so hard to make. The hardest is getting the make-up off, especially the green make up for the Statue of Liberty. The inside of my ears are usually green for a couple days.

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