Jeremy Aluma and his wife are proud new parents. Their son Judah was born July 1 and was introduced to friends when Four Clowns, the innovative theater troupe Aluma directs, performed two biblical stories at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica this summer.
That means, like all new parents, they have a lot to do at home with late-night wake-ups and feedings, diaper changes and so on. Yet, Aluma still found time to direct his own adaptation of French playwright Alfred Jarry’s 1896 absurdist drama “Ubu the King,” though it’s called “Ubu the Sh*t” in the version opening this weekend for a run through Dec. 7 at Cal State Long Beach’s Studio Theatre. Not only that, but he’s also created a new method to bring social media into the mix.
“When I was a college student, I went to Cal State Hayward,” said Aluma, who also attended CSULB. “The first play I saw there was ‘Ubu the King.’ Up until that time, I had only seen student plays at high school. When I saw this, it really excited me. At that time I was concentrating on being an actor, but I decided when I started working in the theater I wanted to work on this play. And after I left college I decided that ‘Ubu’ was a play I wanted to direct.”
Aluma finally did the play several years ago, but he’s doing it again in collaboration with Anne D’Zmura, a professor Aluma studied with at CSULB. The production is a collaboration between Four Clowns, which includes many other CSULB alumni, and the university’s Theatre Arts Department.
“We have a network of alums who are working in local theater, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring many of them together,” said D’Zmura about working with Aluma and his company. “Jeremy has his own sense of style, he is funny and wacky and he has been training our students in clowning techniques. It has been a great training opportunity.”
“Ubu the King” premiered in Paris in 1896 and caused a riot. One of the participants in that riot was poet William Butler Yeats.
Jarry wrote the rough outlines of the play when he and friends were in high school as a satire on a hated math teacher. Its Paris production lasted just one night but the play was immensely influential, being hailed as the beginning of the absurdist drama of the 20th century.
“Ubu is greedy and awful, and very human. He is inside all of us,” Aluma said of the play’s character.
“Ubu the Sh*t,” Aluma’s adaptation of the play, has already been seen in a different version at the Complex Theatres in Hollywood in 2007, where it received critical acclaim. Since then, Four Clowns was created and has toured around the world, taking the art of the clown and making it an integral part of the company. The troupe has performed twice at the Long Beach Playhouse, several times at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Sao Paulo, Brazil. In those years, the art of the clown has been well-represented, but some things have changed.
For one thing, social media has begun to rule the world. This “Ubu the Sh*t” features audience interaction via Twitter. Before the show, the audience can tweet requested actions onstage and the best, and most outrageous, will become part of the performance.
“All our shows are interactive with the audience; it is imperative as clowns to make contact with the audience, even to bring them up onstage,” Aluma said.
“Sara Waugh and I collaborated to find a way to combine social media with this show. We are using a ‘Mad Libs’ format. Fifteen minutes before the show you can send a message to a common hashtag, and we’ll use the best of them in three moments in the play. We’ll pull people onstage for those moments.”
Not to worry, though: “People won’t be texting during the play,” Aluma said. “That would be too distracting.”
- John Farrell