About the Project and its Protagonist:
JARRY: A Spectacle
Presented by UBUCRACY NOW
An evening of orchestrated anarchy, apocalyptic vision… and satire as prophecy.
Faithful to both the facts and the spirit of Jarry’s short but event-filled life, JARRY: A Spectacle will be performed in the round in the commodious open theatre at the Saugerties (NY) Performing Arts Factory. It will be an Interactive Staged Reading that invites (indeed, dragoons!) the audience into gleeful participation.
About Alfred Jarry:
Alfred Jarry, (1873–1907) creator of the infamous Ubu Roi, died in Paris in 1907 at the age of thirty-four, of alcohol, ether,poverty and tuberculosis. In the decades following, Jarry has maintained a steady underground reputation, his influence acknowledged by successive waves of Dadaists, Surrealists and most recently by 'The Theater of the Absurd' which proudly acknowledged him as its progenitor. The Marx Brothers were Jarry fans, Pablo Picasso felt honored to own Jarry’s revolver.
At the moment, no doubt because world events bear terrible witness to Jarry's ferocious comic vision, there is an upsurge of interest in his work. While his far more famous contemporaries (e.g., Wilde, Shaw, Ibsen, Chekhov, etc.) are firmly rooted in their own time, Jarry is incontestably the prophet of ours.
In person, Jarry was as extreme, uncompromising and original as his work. Legends and anecdotes were told and retold with relish in Paris cafes long after his death; his exploits take up pages in the memoirs of all those who knew him. Novelist Andre Gide's reaction was typical: an attitude of somewhat ambivalent wonder:
“The literary group under the aegis of the Mercure de France had a considerable importance. I stand as witness but feel little qualified to expand, never having taken part in it other than by pen-point. And I seldom mingled at Mme. Rachilde's salon. All the same, I have a vivid memory of my rare appearances in her busy salon. This was the heyday of Alfred Jarry, a figure impossible to invent, whom I met at Marcel Schwob's and elsewhere, always with the keenest amusement before he succumbed to terrible crises of delirium tremens. This Kobold with his painted face, dressed in circus pantaloons, played a role whimsical, deliberate, resolutely artificial -- to such an extent that nothing human was allowed to manifest itself. He exercised a singular fascination at the Mercure in those days. Everyone, almost everyone around him, strove with more or less success to imitate him, to adopt his humor and above all his bizarre elocution -- implacable, without inflexion or nuance, all syllables stressed equally including the mutes. If a nutcracker could speak it would hardly sound otherwise. He asserted himself without the slightest embarrassment, in perfect disdain of convention. The surrealists following him invented nothing better, and rightly recognize him as their precursor.”
Ubu Roi opened in Paris in 1896. That afternoon Sara Bernhardt gave a lavish reception for five hundred people at the Grand Hotel, followed by a theatrical production of Phaedra-- an afternoon that embodied all the show, finery, sumptuousness and affectation of 'La Belle Epoque'. That same evening, many of the same crowd attended the debut of Ubu Roi.
After a brief, deadpan introduction by Jarry himself, a single actor took the stage dressed in a Ku-Klux-Klan-type ceremonial costume with the spiral of Eternity painted on the belly. He uttered a single word: 'Merdre', and the house exploded. For 'merdre' (with or without the additional 'r') was not acceptable to a 1896 theater audience, however avant-garde. And as the gross, chaotic action proceeded, pandemonium reigned.
Supporters and detractors clashed; fist fights broke out. Ubu closed after two performances, but critics and the literate public took up the controversy. Along with Hugo's Hernani and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Ubu ranks as one of the three great scandals in the history of Parisian theater. At the age of twenty-three, Jarry's literary notoriety was established, (though in no sense his fortune).
Jarry was doing more than thumbing his nose at the audience. He was not the first writer to recognize the banality of evil. From ancient Egypt through the medieval Passion play, Ego (the Devil) was portrayed as an ass. In The Possessed, in the character of Pyotr Stepanovich, Dostoyevsky depicted him as amoral, elusive, slippery, despicable but fatally persuasive.
In Ubu, however, Jarry created something totally original and yet all too familiar: He saw right through the specious grandeur of Milton's Satan-as-fallen-angel, and even through the intellectual attraction of Goethe’s Mephistopheles, and came up with Ubu as archetype -- evil stripped of all dignity, the Bad Guy reduced to greed, gluttony, stupid cunning, an insatiable lust for power and naked, unfocused aggression; a subject worthy only of derision.
Insofar as Jarry is known today it is as the creator of Ubu. Yet the other side of his writing is equally original. Though no one would guess it from Ubu, or from the anecdotes of his bizarre behavior, Jarry was both erudite and prodigiously intelligent, deeply involved in mystical, religious and philosophical literature and at the same time keenly interested in the latest scientific theories of his time. This side of Jarry finds expression in his invented science of 'Pataphysics, the science that “transcends metaphysics as metaphysics transcends mere physics”. This gloriously protean discipline studies (among other things) the laws governing the exception; it is the science of imaginary solutions. Complex, erudite, mixing high comedy with cosmic speculation, Jarry's 'pataphysical works might be described as hermetic cross-word puzzles; rarefied high entertainment certainly, though not for everyone.
As for Ubu Triumphant, had Alfred Jarry lived another 50 years, he might well have written it himself. But since he did not, we have written it for him. We like to think that in whatever immaterial realm Alfred Jarry may be carousing today, he would approve.
What we hope to accomplish:
A lot! And not the least of that lot, is Jarry’s potential as a theatrical (perhaps some day, cinematic) paradigm-changing production.
We would like to parley a successful interactive reading into a nationwide, even international, theatrical movement. With its raucous satire, devastating (but ultimately philosophically profound) “message”, big cast and endless opportunities for creative improvisation, Jarry is made-to-order for any university with a drama department, either as a reading or fully staged. (Universities have budgets for their productions and do not have to pay their actors.)
It would also be ideal (particularly, following our lead, as a staged reading) for adventurous regional theaters.
We would not bet on Broadway (nor do we give a damn) but it is not inconceivable that Jarry could make it to some (or several) big Lincoln Center-style municipal venue(s).
Its ideal dream medium, certainly, is the big screen, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves. Still, it’s worth mentioning. (As Gurdjieff used to say, “All things possible in this world!)
In short, we do not think it delusional to suggest that, if the theater gods so decree, Jarry could even make money.
Risks and challenges
There are none, not really. Jarry will be performed and we think we can guarantee an artistically electrifying experience. The performances will be held on May 17/18 and 24/25 at 7:30pm
The venue is:
SPAF (The Saugerties Performing Arts Factory.)
169 Ulster Avenue
Saugerties, NY 12477
- (30 days)