Only a play written by clowns would have actors pulling an audience member onstage to have a marshmallow-eating contest.
Me Rich You Learn, a two-actor performance directed by Turner Munch, is playing at the Hollywood Fringe in the Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., until June 29.
The writers, Zach Steel and Adam Carpenter, are also starring in the play. Steel plays TR Hamer, a former millionaire and convicted tax evader who is forced by the government to perform a community-service show. Carpenter plays a senior IRS agent.
Hamer becomes sidetracked every time he is forced to perform the show. He eats a pile of marshmallows, crawls into a bag, falls in love and threatens suicide. “He has part control over the show,” Steel said. “You learn this while watching the show. It’s basically as if the character came up with the name (of the play) because he thought it sounded cool.”
Both Steel and Carpenter studied at the Clown School, an academy of performing arts in clowning. “The reason I wanted to attend it was because it was something that I had always been afraid of, clowning,” Steel said. “I had always been comfortable with my sense of comedy onstage, and I didn’t want to overanalyze it and overthink it and lose it because I was naturally good at it already. I went to [New York University Tisch School of the Arts] and studied theater…But when I came out here (Los Angeles), I was feeling a little bit stilted in my career, and I wanted a little jolt. So, I did the thing that I was afraid of most, and I am still here.”
The Clown School is where Steel and Carpenter met Jeremy Aluma, the artistic director of Me Rich You Learn and the founder of Four Clowns, a Los Angeles-based nationally touring clown troupe.
Four Clowns, which would go on to perform at Long Beach Playhouse and the First Fridays Art Walk, among other venues, began as a play called Four Clowns, directed by Aluma in 2011. “It’s about four archetypal clowns– angry, sad, mischievous and nervous– and how they became who they were and how those same things– those same emotions and archetypes– ended up ultimately leading to their death,” he said. “Because of the success of the show, we had already developed a strong recognition and branding and search engine operation online with that name. And so, that ended up becoming the name of the company at that point.”
Over the years, the troupe has expanded from four performers to 16. “We range from directors to designers to actors, and many people wear different hats,” Aluma said.
Out of the 16 members, almost all of them have attended the Clown School at one point. “Our companies have become very linked,” Aluma added. “We sort of do the production side, and the Clown School is sort of the schooling side. We are not a duel business, but we are linked in how we work together.”
As assistant director of the current show, Raymond Lee got involved in the Clown School, and he got more out of the experience than he had expected. “For me, it was going to be a supplement of my acting at the time,” he said. “It was just another technique that I was going to put into my toolbox of acting, but it ended up being much more than that because I really took a liking to it– just the fact that you can make people laugh and interact with the audience and just be really, really present, which is required of acting.”
When one of the original performers in Four Clowns dropped out of a show, Steel joined the troupe. “Jeremy asked me to replace the guy in Romeo and Juliet,” he said. “I did, and I’ve been working with them ever since.”
Steel and Carpenter have been writing partners for 10 years, according to Aluma. “It’s actually the fifth play, all with Adam Carpenter,” Steel said. “I had never written something to collaborate with Four Clowns. So, I wanted to write something that was appropriate for the company, and it had been a long time since Adam and I had gotten onstage with an original piece. It was about that time.”
According to Lee, working with Steel and Carpenter has been an enjoyable experience overall. “When the actors and performers are already that good, all you have to do is make sure they don’t go crazy on each other or something,” Lee said. “Just make sure they don’t really go off track. They wrote the show, and they know what they want…So, they’re able to figure things out for themselves. But Turner and I, I just feel like we are there to make sure the message is being delivered.”
General admission tickets are on sale for $12, and can be bought online or by calling (323) 455-4585.