EXCLUSIVE: Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel (How I Learned To Drive, Indecent) has thrown down the gantlet, or at least the rolling pin, to writers across the U.S.: Come up with a short work based on Alfred Jarry’s 1896 riot-inducing satire Ubu Roi, to be performed simultaneously around the country on Presidents’ Day, February 19.
Jarry’s black comedy anti-hero was a despot king awash in murder, genocide, a war with Russia and the revolt of his own countrymen and women. Calling it the “National UBU ROI Bake-Off,” the one-off playwriting workshop led by Vogel – one of the profession’s most distinguished teachers – will be open to anyone with a pen and a yen to join the sacred tradition of skewering the current leader. (Think Nixon Agonistes, MacBird!)
Ubu Day will unfold at theaters and colleges across the U.S. where, on average, 50 participants will be able to read/perform a 5 minute/5-page work. Writers will have 48 hours to create a short work – play, a poem, song, skit, stand-up, mini-opera, etc. – and will be invited to perform for their peers.
Contestants must register and employ three “ingredients” (see the rules and other instructions at paulavogelplaywright.com):
• Pa Ubu 45, recently diagnosed as being in “excellent health”
• Angry Ambassadors from every country that Pa Ubu has insulted during his tenure
• A strange use of the English language
In a telephone interview from the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, where she’s in rehearsal for a production of Indecent, Vogel said her goal with the Bake-Off goes beyond preaching to the anti-Trump choir.
“I think that one of the ways to make it about engagement is for people to write empathically about Ubu,” she said. “One can explore the absurdity of the world and this cartoon character, but also make Ubu a flesh-and-blood character. It’s more for us to recognize that the universe has become chaotic and we’re all feeling the chaos.”
Registrations are being accepted for Bake-Offs at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis (pwcenter.org/ubu); in Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles; Vineyard Theatre and New Ohio Theatre in NYC; Fordham, Bowdoin, Wesleyan, Cornell and Emerson universities.
“Some of these plays will not be funny,” Vogel said. “Already, 220 individuals have signed up at six or seven universities. I think we’ll get up to 500 people. It expresses the frustrations, anxieties, our sense of paralysis and changes it to something more active.
“Ubu as a play was so incredible as a legacy for Beckett, Ionesco. We turn to art when the world won’t change – or we can’t change the world.”