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Performing Beckett with circus style

Tonight (Nov. 13), UMO Ensemble brings their individual brand of movement and clowning to the works of Samuel Beckett. While the Ensemble often creates original works, they accepted an invitation from Seattle’s ACT to join the Seattle Beckett Festival this month. Since 1987, the Vashon-based troupe has built a reputation for mixing theater with circus arts, seeking to be "image-rich" as well as intellectually challenging.

In “Fail Better: Beckett Moves UMO,” rope artist Terry Crane and sound designer Jimmy Garver worked with ensemble members Janet McAlpin, David Godsey, Maria Glanz, and Lyam White to mix up clowning, aerial derring-do, and “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nudity” for a very different take on Beckett’s stories. Elizabeth Klob, executive artist of UMO, directed this work and took time to answer a few questions about transforming Beckett’s prose into an UMO production.

Why did you want take part in the Seattle Beckett Festival?
UMO has always been fascinated with the work of Samuel Beckett, he has been a strong influence in our work.

There's been a tradition in recent years of putting circus clown elements into works like "Waiting for Godot." Why did you think rope tricks and aerial movements for these stories?
There has been a return to classic clown and circus elements in theater in general over the past decade, but most importantly, it was always in the work of Beckett from the beginning...he himself was fascinated with the works of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and strongly influenced by the vaudeville houses of Paris. So for us, this was just an extension of our research into the life of Beckett and the fact that we have a group of aerialists matched with a few of the pieces that we were focusing on. "How It Is" and "Murphy" both had references to ropes and voila...we just took it to the air. It seemed like a natural progression.

For the hardcore Beckett fan, what's going to be the most amazing moment in the show?
Well, I think the hardcore Beckett fan will have a fun time identifying the archetypal Beckett characters that we have drawn out. Each performer has identified one character that is leading them in this exploration...and they come from all of his work, not just the theatrical pieces, but the prose as well.

And for the hardcore UMO fan?
For the hardcore UMO fan, the ensemble collaboration in movement on stage is pretty amazing in this piece....almost every action takes place on a giant teeter totter...where every movement, every breath, has a counter movement. There is a rope movement that is pretty awe inspiring as well. No spoilers on that one.

What's your favorite Beckett piece?
That is the hardest question. A few months ago, I would have said "Waiting For Godot"...because it has always been my favorite, but then I started reading his prose in earnest for this piece, and then it became "How It Is," which is a nonsensical brain teaser, but now I am really into "Happy Days" because it reminds me of my parents and how we are in this society right now.

Why do you think his work continues to excite artists and audiences?
So I think my answer to "what is my favorite Beckett" answers this question....because he writes from an absurdest perspective, and he writes with an arrow to the heart, mind and soul (for me at least) I think you can pick up his work and find it relevant to any situation you find yourself in, you can find the compassionate relationship to your own angst and a crystal clear window to societal issues. I am not sure how he does that, but for me it is an astounding reflection.