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UBU: A Spectacular Evening Of Theatrical Mayhem

UBU at Space 4 Art.
Max Fischer Players
UBU at Space 4 Art.

How A 19-Year-Old Is Trying To Shake Up Youth Theater

UBU: A Spectacular Evening Of Theatrical Mayhem
Tracy McDowell, Associate director and co-founder The Max Fischer Players Michael Schwartz, Director and co-founder The Max Fischer Players

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Still ahead a new kind of youth Theatre premieres this week in San Diego. As KPBS Midday Edition continues. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. When you think of youth theater what images come to mind? Fairy tales? The sound of music? Can he? Well and very different kind of theater but is mostly by teenagers in San Diego is about to debut at Calder next Fischer players and in association with the San Diego Guild of puppetry this week the company presents the surrealist French play called UBU. I'd like to welcome my guests, the co-founders of the Max Fischer players, director Michael Schwartz. Michael welcome to the show. MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: Thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And associate director Tracy McDowell. Tracy, hi. TRACY McDOWELL: Hi. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me start with you Tracy. You are 19 years old you founded the Max Fischer players. What made you decide to do that? TRACY McDOWELL: Well Michael had a workshop that I went to for (inaudible) and I got there and network with Lynn who's in charge of the San Diego puppetry guild and she has this fascinating lady and she finished doing something and I saw it and I said Lynn he loves doing this and I love the show, can we make this happen and she's like of course. We tried to go behind his back for a while to make it happen and he caught on almost immediately and so as soon as he found out he said of took me under his wing and made it happen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Where's the name Max Fischer taken from? TRACY McDOWELL: Max Fischer is from the movie Rushmore but we took it because as a 15-year-old he wrote a play about Vietnam that was completely gruesome and not appropriate for school and tried to produce it so we thought who better than a young person trying to produce, different header. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The way you describe this it sounds almost as if it is just a one-off just for this play. Are you preparing this is a different kind of youth theater for San Diego to stick around? TRACY McDOWELL: Oh, we definitely are. In San Diego right now the theater is very traditional and if you are in a school it is very sort of constraint. We wanted to be able to make theater that is different, that is safe. That is in your face and right there to get you. So hopefully we are going to do another show right after this called bloody bloody Andrew Jackson and hopefully people are just as into that as they are into Google right now. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Michael it sounds the results of the gasoline a lot of energy and perhaps it has a lot of the ability to be confrontational. To be sort of in-your-face. Tell us about Abu, displayed I captured the imagination of Tracy and yourself and the playwright Alfred Sherry? MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: So this play is French from 1896 and what's amazing about this play is that it was done to break all the rules of it's time. Throughout the play with his body when he was in high school to mock a teacher that he had decided incompetent physics teacher and he accessed on this play his whole life. When it was done in Paris there were so many conventions about the other that they chose to break. They put puppets onstage for adults which was kind of scandalous. The play was famously started with the made-up swear word that allegedly caused riots in the theater which may or may not teacher. He had an actor play a door which had never been done. The set was surreal. So they took lots and lots of things that audience is expected to see in the theater and really broke the mold for those things. They have actors played by balloons so when they died in battle they could pop the balloon. All of these things really offended the audience inside of scandalous them and then Jerry he said became a performance artist before the term really existed. He was the first people in France to on a bicycle he made since of newspaper and run around town and since of paper he started talking like the character the main character of the story sentiment incompetent balloon and he spoke in a screechy voice that he would walk around Paris speaking like him and adopting this persona. And he died a young man allegedly with the final words I would very much like a toothpick. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wow I love hearing about syntheses symphonies and plays and theatrical performances in the 19th century and beyond, earlier than not, that caused riots. You know, I mean you don't necessarily hear about that any more than people, the audience would take something so seriously in the other me know and it would be so connected to what they believed in that they would go that far. MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: Right I mean there are so many conventions for the time period. That people don't have now, pretty much anything you do on stage in a plane about those 1960s American the other people are used to everything. Hopefully with this production we are not offending people that we are showing them that a lot of conventions conventions that you accept like you cannot wrap a candy wrapper at the play don't have to be conventions we're going to be outside you can have fun you can bring your kids you can yell things at the actors if you want to we are not breaking the fourth wall there is a fourth wall TRACY McDOWELL: How you can throw things. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to talk about that. You were Tracy's acting teacher at Canyon crest elementary. Trevor expect be working with a student on this type of collaboration MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: No but in retrospect it seems like a great site if Tracy wanted to do everything in school we started a one act Festival, she wanted to direct everything and this production she was helping with costume she is producing she's doing publicity, she is assistant directing when she has time for it, she's acting Michelle she is somebody who really wants to do it all and I think that's really important to have them accompany because that's really what we are about not just for young people to get the chance to act in a Broadway show. To give kids a chance whether they are college-age or high school age to work alongside professional designers (inaudible) work alongside professional directors and we have community actors the shows are really all levels of students working with professional mentors and doing all which Tracy really exemplifies. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Coming out of that environment at Canyon crest Academy and Tracy I'm just wondering from your point of view what is the value of keeping these sort of vibrant arts programs of a life in school's drama and that. TRACY McDOWELL: Well Canyon crest Academy is a really special school because it functions with conservatory programs. So from each discipline you can be in a conservatory after school or take special classes for drawing and design, for video, for theater, for anything, and so for us that was really bored because it was super inspiring and not only were the art programs inspiring, but the teachers there created this sort of safe haven where all of us felt like we could try anything so you sort of felt invincible there and when you leave a school feeling like that you are almost prepared to take on the world. It is a shock but you have the confidence to do almost anything and so as soon as I had Michael behind me and I had the school behind me was just it was easy to be like I'm going to make this happen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: you have this sort of a kids let's put on a show kind of energy. Is that what is seen you through? You have multiple, you are taking on multiple tasks, here. Tell us again what you are doing you are doing all the publicity for the show? TRACY McDOWELL: Yes I called probably like 100 different news corporations and I love talking on the phone, so it's fun and yesterday I helped organize all the costumes. I set up all the prompt tables. I was at the theater from 12 AM to 9 PM. I helped make costumes. I helped edit the script I help to direct. Anything you can do in the entire I love doing. So I spread myself a little thin sometimes, but it's great. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm interested in the concept of UBU. You say Michael that it is not offensive but it is challenging. How do you get something actually challenging and this Tracy was saying in-your-face about the possibility of offending some people MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: We think about more having fun and having a goof than offending. I think the audience will be standing for a lot of the play in the beginning we have a big dance party we are encouraging people to bring things to show. There are parts of the show the type of people's expectations of what the user should be so really it's okay to throw things back at that if you feel like they are intentionally boring you are not respecting the audience sector conventions. There's a lot of audience participation so I think about it more of a circus or a concert then asset. Be quite the present. So it's not really about offending it's not having good fun. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There's little McBeth in the show. MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: There was a little allegedly setting Shakespeare on (inaudible) the place was a king and queen being murdered so that the term could be taken problems but most of the play is about them incompetently running things after they take the throne. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do you keep things from getting silly? MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: We don't want to keep it from getting silly TRACY McDOWELL: It's silly, that's the point. MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: There are some things taken seriously but in the context of the show but just become delirious with his 15-year-old boy crying over his dead mom but the dead mom is a puppet that the puppeteer has left the station ashes of Styrofoam thing with steel wool here's everything kind of becomes funny whether you wanted to or not. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tracy let me ask you but this idea of throwing things at the actors what kind of things are we talking about? MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: Hopefully soft things. TRACY McDOWELL: Hopefully soft things, yeah. You can bring silly string, you can bring some balls. I guess you could bring tomatoes I don't think that would be very MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: I don't want to clean that up. There's little history behind it I directed a musical version of this play is my graduate thesis at UCSD and 10 that show which is on the ridiculous musical fresheners a specific song that's designed to antagonize the audience. When it's done professionally over a longer four-week run audience member started to bring things to throw sort of organically and as the production went on to later productions including my debts are to behave became the Rocky horror show like a built-in convention he with drippings this version is not a musical. It's a play world premiere translation by my wife actually but we are stealing the song from that production so that's where the throwing things kind of originates from. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is the key for the silly string. What's the venue like art? TRACY McDOWELL: It is incredible I've never seen a theater like it. It's a studio space in a parking lot. It's an outdoor theater with three levels and to like to read some the site that you can climb up and down into. And you have been to boxes on the side of the stage that you can plan so we have all these different levels which is fascinating as well as challenging because if you have a parking lot you can't put lights behind you to focus forward so all of your lighting Jan is incredible our lighting designer Jennifer Presley is going to have to figure out how to focus lights have decided to really focus space if you want to set those show you can bring a lawn chair and sit the whole show in the parking lot is just some of the places that makes everything feel free and vibrant. MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: We are also outdoors in the East Village which is its own excitement or airplanes cars motorcycles people will walk by andyell things as people yelled that there's mariachi explained from the neighbors it's really exciting outdoor space. TRACY McDOWELL: We had nice comments from people on the streets I talked to one yesterday for half an hour he said I would like to see one show that song is so funny and I was like well you can watch it next time. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Michael tell us little bit about the collaboration between the San Diego puppetry guild. MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: They are a fantastic local group that is puppetry in the schools mostly and they do some breeds and shows downtown. They support local puppeteers trying to teach the art of puppetry to the next generation. I've worked with them for a while in different capacities this woman Lynn Jennings did puppets for some shows I've done earlier that had small bits of puppetry so once we knew we were doing yoga which really had puppetry in the original production the letter went on to edit it is puppet theater was obviously the choice to make was to ask them to partner with us because they are tenants that art which is this collaboration official artist and some performing artist they had access to this theater. So they were great people to partner with for this project. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I may be jumping the gun because your prayer prepare comes out this week but Tracy what are your plans for the Max Fischer players? TRACY McDOWELL: We definitely want to create a safe space for people to try different kinds parts of coming up here going to focus on Michelle, bloody body with Andrew Jackson and recruiting people to do that in the goal is to get notably high schoolers but college students that are necessarily going for theater but would love to try it and like Mike Nieto, our lead right now is an incredible community actor and grabbing people like that that are adults so that you can all work together and definitely trying to find kids in high school some to take on the administrative rules, or that want to be lighting designer, or want to design a set, and give them the chance so it is not just being initial, it is creating Michelle. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Michael, tell us where and when we can see UBU? MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: Is this Friday Saturday Sun 8 PM it art downtown on 15th St. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Advance registration or can you just show up? MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: You can show up early and drink and eat with us we are in a parking lot so we don't anticipate filling up. TRACY McDOWELL: Feel free to go online at www.Googleat a T for SVA Dot, there's a contact section MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We will have that on the website, I promise. I want to thank Michael Schwartz and Tracy McDowell, thank you so much for speaking with us. MICHAEL SCHWARTZ: Thanks, Marueen. TRACY McDOWELL: Thank you so much MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Be sure to watch KPBS evening news and join us again tomorrow right here on KPBS for Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Thank you for listening.

Tracy McDowell says that the mission of The Max Fischer Players is: "To redefine the theatrical expectations," especially when it comes to young people. The company's inaugural production is "UBU" (running August 10-12 at Space 4 Art).

Tracy McDowell is 19-years-old. When she was at Canyon Crest Academy she said they told her that she could do anything she wanted, and after hearing that for years, she said she believed it. That's part of the reason she co-founded The Max Fischer Players. She wanted to put on the play "UBU," and it never occurred to her that she couldn't. Her determination and confidence is reflected in the name she choose for her theater troupe, The Max Fischer Players. For anyone who remembers the Wes Anderson film "Rushmore," Max is the main character played by Jason Schwartzman and he's something of an ambitious overachiever. Maybe this sequence will jog your memory.

McDowell bursts with a similar enthusiasm for just going out and getting things done and doing it yourself if you have to.


According to the press release: "The Max Fischer Players shatter the current mold of youth theatre in San Diego by treating young people as respected collaborators and artists who deserve the chance to work in a company that considers itself a theater--and not a youth theater. Started by a 19 year old, Tracy McDowell, and her former high school theatre teacher, Michael Schwartz, both began with the goal to produce bold works that other theaters--including professional theatres-- shy away from."

“We want to provide a place where not only actors, but student designers, directors, and musicians can work alongside San Diego professionals,” says McDowell. “With them as their mentors, we can refine our skills as the next generation of theater artists.”

The Max Fischer Players and the San Diego Guild of Puppetry present "UBU" by Alfred Jarry in a world premiere translation by Ghislaine Schwartz. This classic French comedy is directed by Michael Schwartz and runs August 10, 11, 12 at 8:00 pm at the outdoor Space 4 Art Theatre. Tickets will be available at the door. Audience members are encouraged to bring things to throw at the actors (preferably silly string or something soft) as well as a beach chair and blanket (venue is outdoors).

Ubu August 10th, 11th, 12th

McDowell describes the play as, "An absurdist trip through the looking glass into a world of political commentary, UBU is the story of Ma UBU persuading Pa UBU to murder the King Wenceslas of Poland and the mania that ensues. This anarchic play with music and violence features a ten person cast who play 26 different characters."

Director Michael Schwartz says, “I’ve always admired this play since I found out that there was a riot in the theatre on its opening night. This is a production that encourages the audience to become a part of— and not to be afraid might be disturbed by the unwrapping of a cough drop.”


The press releases states: "Written by Alfred Jarry in 1889 with his best friend when they were in their early teens, the story is a ludicrous adaptation of William Shakespeare’s MacBeth - with the sole purpose of mocking their incompetent teacher. Jarry went on to a career as a writer and eventually staged the play with professionals in Paris. The production opened with a profanity, featured actors pretending to be puppets against a surrealist set, and closed as quickly as it opened when riots broke out between supporters and detractors in the audience. Jarry was a performance artist before such a thing existed--riding around town on a bicycle dressed in a newspaper suit, speaking in bizarre speech patterns like Pa Ubu--the lead character in this play--and eventually dying with the words, 'I would like a toothpick.'"

For reservations, go to the play's contact page.

Fact Sheet: UBU


By Alfred Jarry

Adapted and directed by Michael Schwartz Co-produced with the San Diego Guild of Puppetry

WHEN: August 10 - 12, 2012 (preview night: Thursday, August 9 at 8pm)

Friday/Sunday 8pm; Saturday 8pm, 11pm

WHERE: Outdoor Theatre, Space 4 Art

325 15th Street San Diego, 92101


Director: Michael Schwartz

Associate Director: Tracy McDowell

Designer: Nadja Lancelot

Stage Manager: Elana Lantry

Puppet Designer: Lynne Jennings, Mindy Donner

Set Designer:Tommy Walborn

Costume Designer: Frances Lopez

Assistant Costume Designer: Christabel Donker Composer/Sound Design: Austin Comstock, Jacob Morrison Videography: Jason Segal

Producing Consultant: Alex Goodman


Mike Nieto Claire Worsey Jennifer Graessle Nick Scutti

Kyle Koerber

Taylor Wuthrich

Jason Lethert

Paul Lewallen

Jason Luna

Tracy McDowell