Audiences can experience a blend of ensemble mastery, Buster Keaton-inspired clowning, and high-wire kinetic choreography in “Squeeze,” the latest production of Vashon’s UMO Ensemble, debuting this weekend at Open Space for Arts & Community.
The production, following UMO’s long tradition, was created collaboratively — first conceived by UMO founder Janet McAlpin and then filtered through the wildly creative minds of local writer Trista Baldwin, ensemble members, and the show’s director, Elizabeth Klob.
The result? An intensely physical work of physical theater, following five clowns, navigating a space constructed of simple platforms and ladders, as they search for love, connection, and control.
Ensemble members described the show as surreal and reminiscent of works by Samuel Beckett — promising undercurrents of black comedy to keep viewers riveted during the play’s journey.
In its long history, UMO Ensemble has become known as one of the most compelling performance companies based in the Pacific Northwest. The troupe’s founding members first landed on Vashon’s shores 36 years ago, determined to create a theater company with staying power.
They’ve now accomplished that, and more, as UMO has performed in professional theaters, at festivals and in schools throughout the Northwest, the United States, Canada, and Europe.
The group is considered to be one of the first ensembles to use the phrase “physical theatre” — a reflection of the troupe members’ training in clown, aerial, mask and other circus arts techniques.
UMO has expanded, over the years, to include a rich family of multidisciplinary associate artists, and is currently training the next generation of artists through the UMO School of Physical Arts, also housed at Open Space for Arts & Community.
The school offers a wide array of aerial, parkour, and clowning classes, and also has a popular summer camp program.
Recently, Open Space announced that it had merged with UMO Ensemble and the school, formalizing their relationship under the umbrella of Open Space’s nonprofit status, established last year.
“We have always been close partners and it might surprise people to know we were separate entities,” said Klob, who is the artistic director of the ensemble. “As the UMO School grows, which is what we want, we need more support —and Open Space is there for us. This is a win-win.”
“Open Space is rooted deeply in our Vashon culture and we are so proud to be thriving, growing to keep pace with the need and enthusiasm for our programs, and focused as always on serving our community,” said McAlpin, who along with partner David Godsey co-founded Open Space 15 years ago.
Both McAlpin and Godsey will now take the stage as part of the ensemble of “Squeeze” — something else to celebrate as the curtain rises on the new UMO offering.
“Squeeze” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 12 and 13, and 4 p.m. Sunday, May 14, at Open Space. Tickets — priced on a sliding scale to make the event affordable to all — are on sale at bit.ly/3LHiXFE. Youth (18 and under) are admitted free, and online ticket sales will close on the morning of the show. However, tickets will still be available at the door, unless sold out.