What does it mean to be human? We humans seem to ask this question incessantly.
But what does it mean to be human to clowns?
Tonight, Alive Theatre invites you to scratch your head, tap your chin, sigh, wail or express yourself however you choose with four introspective clowns as they recount their trials and tribulations while uncovering the hilarity of it all.
With their second installment of the award-winning original comedy Four Clowns, the no-holds-barred Alive Theatre of Long Beach offers up yet another dose of sorrow and laughter. The 81-year-old Long Beach Playhouse will be hosting the three years young Alive Theatre as they invite audiences on a “physical, musical and emotional journey into what it means to be human.”
Conceived and directed by Associate Director of Alive Theatre, Jeremy Aluma, it’s sure to be an uproarious romp through the pitfalls of existence, if judging by last year’s enthusiastic reception and the reputation of the company thus far. The piece won the Award for Best in Physical Theater and Dance at the 2010 Hollywood Fringes Festival, and the animated crew has quickly gained recognition for being one of the most explosive, energetic and talented theater companies in Long Beach.
As a self-proclaimed nomadic band of artists (not only actors, but writers, designers, producers and directors), Alive Theatre members amicably jaunt from venue to venue, “knowing that not all who wander are lost.”
Their most recent performance took place right here in Naples Island at the newly opened Naples Fine Art Center. In their usual way, the team built a theater where before there was none and put on a rollicking good show of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the surrealistic, existential tragicomedy about two minor characters in Hamlet. The cast was clever, engaging and non-stop fun, leaving the audience in stitches. Aaron van Geem shone in a role he made outrageously his own, modernizing the character of Rosencrantz with hilarious intonation and impeccable delivery. The traveling band of minstrels in the production also had a notably ecstatic energy (the irony of this not overlooked).
Erika De La Parra, Gallery Director of Naples Fine Art Center, said good-naturedly of them, “They’re like a band of gypsies, and I could even see them traveling around in a mobile theater truck. You never know where they’re going to land next.”
From a makeshift theater that seated around 45 to a grand playhouse, these minstrels make community outreach and artistic collaboration a priority on their agenda, encouraging all audiences to “explore the renaissance taking place in their very own neighborhoods.” The start-up Naples gallery is on board, proud to encourage the intersection of the arts and happy to bring new energy to Naples with them. The owner is on the board of directors of Alive Theatre.
So what can clowns teach us?
Though it wouldn’t be wholly inaccurate to say the content of Alive shows is subversive or risqué, Aluma prefers to describe their style as being uninhibited and willing to show themselves. From their debut “Cherry Poppin’ Play Festival” to “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” and “References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot,” (plus various impromptu burlesque shows) their material seems to be delightfully cheeky.
With Four Clowns, Aluma hopes that emphasizing certain archetypes will probe at whatever is going on inside and with the audience. Just like humans, these clowns are Sad, Angry, Mischievous and Nervous. They reminisce about their respective experiences of childhood, adolescence, adulthood and death. Though not happy stories necessarily, the performance is a comedy based on reflections of past orrows.
Aluma says, “No one’s only angry or sad, and we all have the potential to laugh and be scared. In the end, we’re mostly the same. And we’ve got to laugh.”
A strange, undeniable fact is that some people are terribly afraid of clowns. There seems to be some innate quality about clowns that many feel an aversion to — maybe the painted-on emotions or grotesque exaggeration of human qualities. But perhaps artistically, exaggeration can be a way to isolate a feeling or phenomenon and experience it in a very full way, maybe even cathartically. As Producing Director Danielle Dauphinee asserts, their work is meant to be fun and entertaining, but also challenging and thought-provoking.
And Aluma implied that there are no clowns like the knife-brandishing murderer from It (a considerable reason why people are scared of clowns, he said). These clowns are not birthday clowns or circus clowns, just theater clowns doing their best to understand their world. But because of language and adult themes, you will probably still want to call the babysitter for this explicit entertainment.
If you happened to catch the show last year, you can expect new elements this time around because different actors are playing two of the clowns. Four Clowns is somewhat improvisational in that it was conceptualized by Aluma, but written with the actual performers. This allowed for a path of ideas to be fleshed out as a collaborative effort, leaving “the moments up to the actors,” as Aluma put it, which means the suit each actor wears fits him alone.
The sort of interactive attitude, from merging with visual art venues to improvisation, is part of what gives Alive Theatre its unique energy. As Dauphinee enthusiastically explained, “We want the audience to be engaged in theater as a community experience. We want everyone to be involved.” Everyone, she says, including those who don’t regularly attend theater or who feel it is too much of an expense. This is why they host a Pay-What-You-Can night for every play, and usually have other sorts of discounts, as well.
Dauphinee said, “We choose not to participate in this recession, so we focus on positive energy and what we can do rather than what we can’t.”
So which patch of laurel trees did these roving minstrels come from, and are those flutes I hear? The short story is this: In 2008, some particularly close-knit theater students and artists who had recently graduated from CSULB found that they lacked the niche in Long Beach for the type of theater they were passionate about. So, in an entrepreneurial stroke of genius, they joined together and created that opportunity for themselves.
Instead of dispersing to bustling centers for the performing arts like Los Angeles or New York City, they decided to “plant their feet in Long Beach.”
When not working their day jobs, the troupe shares their blood, sweat and tears with the city they love. From staging plays at a library scheduled for closure to hosting a children’s summer camp, and from supporting a non-profit group for artists called Catalyst to joining the brand new Long Beach Theater Arts Collective, Alive Theatre has shown and continues to exhibit a refreshing passion for innovative theater, strong community and the art of mixing marrow-chilling truths with great big guffaws.
Dauphinee said, “Four Clowns is a perfect starter piece for someone new to theater or absent from it for a while. It’s truly a great welcome back piece. It’ll blow your mind.”
- Nancy Woo