A vulgar tyrant’s mad quest for power, instigated by his selfish wife, prompts him to kill the King and usurp the throne. While in power, Pere Ubu destroys everything he touches. Eventually, his army is defeated and he is nullified by the supreme power of the Police Force.|
UBU was adapted from dada master Alfred Jarry’s Ubu On The Hill written in 1888. Our original translation by Jim Bierman removed references to the French political figures of the day, while keeping all of the insanity. Ubu’s favorite word, “merdre,” was accurately translated to English and shouted, as scripted, throughout the play with great frequency and relish.
The original music by Jim Steinman added urgency and punch to the Uburian discord and mayhem.
At five feet, Pere Ubu was the largest figure. See him below in the car for a sense of scale. He was both a rod and marionette structure.
Ubu was operated from below with one hand holding the rod that supported his head, and the other hand inside one of his gloves. The other glove was attached by string through a small eye hook in his nose. When the gloved hand was pulled to and from his body, the other glove would be animated as well.
Mere Ubu was strictly a rod puppet. Her body was all scarves, with her scarf “arms” attached to the end of rods. Every time she said anything, her scarves would rod-animated to a dramatic flowing.
The 22 hand and rod-operated puppets ranged from the two-foot high gignole figures -to- Pere Ubu’s five-foot height. The puppets were design and fabrication by Demian, Barry Keating and Janet Schmukle. Barry and Janet also offered invaluable assistance on many aspects of the project.
On left: Count of Vitepsk (created by Janet Schmukle), and
Queen Rosemonde (created by Barry Keating)
On right: Pere Ubu (created by Demian
The puppets performed from inside a large volcano-shaped aluminum tube structure, which was a modified geodesic dome. A cloth wrapping covered the front third of the structure. The audience sat outside of the semi-dome. At the beginning of the show, the puppeteers walked to the front, waved to the audience and disappeared behind the cloth until the end of the show.
UBU was performed to the prerecorded sound track, which contained all the music, singing, dialogue, and sound effects. Vocal characterizations were performed by Demian, Chris Jones, Barry Keating and Ellen Parks.
For this project, Demian was producer, director, voice talent, puppet-maker, and puppeteer.
To our knowledge, this was the first presentation of Jarry’s puppet show in America. UBU was commissioned as part of a DADA Festival that took place during the summer of 1971 on the five college campuses in the Amherst area. UBU played at Mount Holyoke (May 8), Amherst College (May 9), Hampshire College (May 10), Smith College (May 11), and University of Massachusetts (May 12).
Also, there was a sort of encore performance on July 13, 1971, as part of the three-week U. Mass. School of Education marathon. I presented the audio tape of the music, actors and sound effects, while projecting the transparencies that Frank Ward had shot of a run through of UBU. Pere Ubu and Mere Ubu were on hand to answer any questions about how they had risen to stardom.