The Five- 5 Horrible Imaginary Plays I Would Rather Watch Than Hear One More Word About This Godforsaken Election

Anthony R. Miller checks in with crappy imaginary options to crappy reality.

Hey you guys, I used to really get into elections. There was a time in my life where I almost double-majored in Political Science. But there are so many aspects of our current presidential election that have beaten the ability to care right out of me. So for those who share my sentiment and would rather be slapped in the face with a dead trout than hear one more thing about this dumpster fire of an election, here are some theatrical equivalents to trout-based assault. Remarkably, there are five.

White Hamilton

Also known as 1776. (I kid, I kid.) I swear to god, you could recast this show with Macklemore, Snow, Everlast, The Lordz of Brooklyn, Princess Superstar and Artie from Glee and I would rather see that than have one more conversation that invalidates my opinion because I am stupid, or being lied to, or haven’t read this article, or watched this video, or care about people in other countries. I would rather watch the walking corpse of Corey Montieth take over for Lin-Manuel Miranda than see one more article from a totally unaccredited source be shoved in my face and considered true because it validates your worst fears.

The More Similar Than Not Couple

Neil Simon’s comedy reimagined as a 90-minute play where two adults have a quiet respectful conversation. At the end they realize they agree on more than they disagree on. The both enjoy a sandwich and watch Daredevil on Netflix. This would be boring, and refreshing — refreshing in the saddest way possible.

The Last Five Years

No joke here, I just find this show painful to even be near. Yet I would prefer to hear “Yeah, I’m a douchebag, but I’m a douchebag because you didn’t love me enough” than one more conversation between a Bernie supporter digging their heels in the ground about not voting if he isn’t the nominee and a red-faced Hillary supporter screaming “SO YOU’D RATHER HAVE TRUMP?!?!”

Long Days Journey Into Night In Real Time

I would rather watch 15 hours straight of sad, broken people drinking and telling each other how they really feel and talking in insightful drunken monologues than hearing two drunk liberals argue that Bernie Sanders is in fact a unicorn that poops ice cream and Hillary Clinton is the Winter Solider.

Noises Off: Fury Road

Taking Michael Frayn’s backstage comedy and setting it in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where water is the greatest currency of all sounds better than watching CNN and thinking “Oh crap, the apocalypse might actually happen.” I would rather see Lloyd make Poppy and Brooke his sister-wives than hear one more conversation about super delegates. I would rather imagine Poppy with a really sweet robotic arm, and a set that doesn’t just revolve in between acts, it REVOLVES FOR THE WHOLE SHOW. I would rather see Timothy Allgood play a guitar that shoots fire than spend one more moment watching friends shame each other for their political views. Freddy Fellows, wearing a crimson mask of his own nose blood while having the blood of virgins intravenously transferred in to his veins, is a more preferable image than the one I’ve been seeing for months. An image of people without empathy, loathing compromise, holding on to a “we’re right, you’re wrong, fuck you” attitude and just generally being crappy and condescending to each other. Cut it out, take a breath, please vote, and remember we all need to be friends after this election. Now if anyone needs me, I have a guitar that shoots fire to create.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer and producer and will vote for a Cat Dressed As A Shark Riding A Roomba before he votes for Donald Trump. Keep up with him at www.awesometheatre.org or on twitter at @armiller78.

Theater Around The Bay: Thirteen Questions (And One In-Joke) About Terror-Rama

Today’s guest interviewer is local actor Tony Cirimele, who interviews Anthony Miller, one of our regular columnists (“The Five”) and the mastermind behind this year’s Halloween spectacular, “Terror-Rama.”

TC: “Terror-Rama” is a rare breed of theater; billed as a “Horror Theatre Double Feature”, it is comprised of two one-acts whose sole purpose is to scare. Think “Grindhouse” with a bit of “Friday the 13th” and “M” thrown in for fun. “Terror-Rama” is comprised of two parts; “Camp Evil” by Anthony Miller is a darkly comic look at slasher flicks, while “Creep” by Nick Pappas is a deeply disturbing crime thriller. When Anthony Miller was approached about being interviewed for SF Theater Pub, he requested that his “celebrity” interviewer be yours truly. Besides bonding over having more or less the same name, Anthony and I worked together on several projects during our time at SF State, and one magical summer we were neighbors/drinking buddies. I recently sat down with Anthony (via email) to discuss “Terror-Rama”.

As anyone who saw “Zombie! The Musical!” will know, this isn’t your first theatrical horror piece. What is it about the horror genre that you feel makes it work for theater?

AM: Making it work is half the fun. Horror is very reactive and elicits a reaction from its audience, that lends itself very well to a live performance. But taking concepts from films and turning them into a theatrical concept, to make it theatre, is the exciting part. When it’s done well, it can be fun to watch, exhilarating even.

TC: Your piece, “Camp Evil”, is about a summer camp that may or may not be haunted. What was your camp experience (if any) like in your energetic youth?

AM: I was a Boy Scout so I did a lot of camping trips as a kid. My parents sent me to summer camp for years. I have good and bad experiences, but the bad ones were important because I was very much the weird kid who everyone teased mercilessly. Some of my bad experiences tie in (albeit in more comical ways) to what happens to the characters in “Camp Evil.” I also always loved movies and TV shows about summer camps. I was particularly fond of Salute Your Shorts, and of course, Sleepaway Camp.

TC: What scares you the most? And does that work its way into your writing (horror-genre or otherwise)?

AM: Death, I’m in general terrified of death. I had to deal with it early in my life so it was always something I’ve had to process, more so now because I’m in my mid-thirties and people my age are starting to die. So in every play I’ve written, someone dies and a big part of the plot is how people react to death. More specifically I’m afraid to die suddenly. Being given a time table and die in bed with my loved ones around me doesn’t worry me as much, it’s not seeing it coming or it happening in an impersonal way that scares me. Everything I write tends to deal with that.

TC: Let’s say I’m a total wuss who doesn’t like a lot of blood and guts in his talking pictures, but is willing to give it a go. What horror films do you recommend?

AM: There are lots of great Horror movies that aren’t big on blood and guts, they’re usually called thrillers. Movies like Dementia 13 or Psycho are good. Nightmare on Elm Street is so ridiculous; the violence is more comical than scary. Friday the 13th is pretty tame by today’s standards. Night of the Living Dead is another good one.

TC: Do you have a favorite obscure horror movie that you wish more people knew about? Or a famous horror movie you find inexplicably popular?

AM: Long Island Cannibal Massacre is an unknown masterpiece in my opinion. I also have a deep fondness for Troma Studios; they made the Toxic Avenger films, Basket Case, Monster in the Closet, De-Campetated, and Rockabilly Vampire. There’s a campy, punk rock, DIY feel to those movies that I try to carry over into my work. Lloyd Kauffman (Head of Troma Srudios) is a hero of mine. What I don’t get is torture porn type movies. I think Eli Roth is more talented than the films he makes. He’s got such a great talent for storytelling and his visual style is fantastic. But it seems like these movies are more like gross-out movies or just barrages of horrific imagery for the sake of having barrages of horrific imagery. The Saw films are also a good example, the first one is practically an art film, the dozen sequels don’t even come close. I will always consider the 70’s as a golden age for Horror. I think Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and Dawn of The Dead are all brilliant films.

TC: Did you and fellow “Terror-Rama” playwright Nick Pappas collaborate and/or read each other’s pieces during the process? Or is one half of this show completely new to you?

AM: I commissioned him, gave him some parameters and we put both plays through a development process. There were several drafts, two readings and lots of dramaturgical work. So we often gave our opinions back and forth. Part of my job as producer was to shepherd along both plays. So I’m pretty excited to see how far the pieces have come. A neat thing about it is that both plays were commissioned, written, and developed for this show. So this has been a play incubator as well,

TC: What writers/non-writers have had the most influence on your writing style? And conversely, which writer has had the least influence?

AM: Playwrights like Charles Busch, Neil Simon, Arthur Laurents and Christopher Durang are all really influential. They are very much the folks I started off trying to emulate and after a while, find my own voice from. Also, I’ve always liked how David Mamet writes how people talk on the phone, I steal that pretty often. From Film; Quentin Tarantino, John Waters, Robert Rodriguez and Wes Craven are big influences as well. On the other end of that, I’d say my two favorite playwrights are also the ones that have had no real influence on my work. That’s Eugene O’Neil and George Bernard Shaw; I am deeply intimidated by their work. Candida and Long Day’s Journey Into Night are without a doubt my two favorite plays, but I don’t think my work resembles them or those plays at all.

TC: Describe your ideal writing setup. Laptop or longhand? Music or silence? Coffee or “Faulkner’s Little Helper”?

AM: I’m lucky enough to have my own little man-cave at home. So I still use a desktop computer (laptops and I have a strenuous relationship). I don’t do anything long hand, my handwriting is atrocious. I like being able to edit as I go and I don’t really have the romantic obsession with typewriters others do. I listen to a lot of music when writing; sometimes I’ll put together a playlist of songs that kinda resemble the tone I’m going for. “Camp Evil” was written to a lot of Styx, Peter Frampton, Bad Company and various 70’s stoner music. When I edit, it’s usually a quiet, concentrated time. Podcasts or silence is really good for editing. Writing and drinking has never really worked out for me. Coffee, if I’m writing at the beginning of my day.

TC: You have quite an eclectic cast assembled, including a very talented actress I once made out with in a zombie-related show. What kind of actors are you drawn to as a writer/director?

AM: Most of the time, I cast people because I see aspects of that character in the actor. But sometimes you have a person that can play anything. Sometimes, I use people who aren’t primarily actors, but who would do that specific role well. In truth, the kind of people I want/need to work with need to be kind of up for anything. The cast (and crew) we have for Terror-Rama is the best group I’ve ever worked with. Like, ever.

TC: You are serving only as playwright for “Camp Evil”, letting director Colin Johnson take the helm. Are you still active in the rehearsal process? You’re not one of those “back-seat directors”, are you?

AM: As Executive Producer, I was very hands-on at the beginning, I had some specific ideas that I wanted to be the foundation of the show. Like Sindie Chopper, the Horror host, she was a big element I pushed for. But now we’re in rehearsal and I’ve taken a big step back. There’s a quote by Tina Fey that I really like; “Hire brilliant people and get out of their way”. So to me, if I just meddled and micromanaged every aspect of the show, that would be a disservice to the people I hired. Some people can have one grand vision and execute every aspect of it, I’m not one of those people. I have learned that I like it much more when someone else directs my play. I can’t write and direct a play. In the best cases, the director sees something I didn’t and it’s better. I’m too reverent to my characters and writing. Colin has been perfect in this role; from day one he has always “got” the show. I was at the first read-through and then I didn’t go to rehearsals for two weeks. Now that we’re about to go into tech and we’re into run-throughs I’m around a bit more. But by this point, it’s very much their show, and I think this approach has worked out perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I find times to give my opinion. But I feel like Colin was given the space to make it his, and I love what he’s done with the whole show.

TC: You used to house manage at SF Playhouse. Have you ever based a character off of an annoying patron you’ve had to deal with?

AM: Patrons not so much, the most annoying ones aren’t that interesting. It was the people I worked with that were fascinating. Nick Pappas and I always talk about writing a pilot for an American version of Slings and Arrows based on the Playhouse. It is our dream to see Kevin Kline play Bill English.

TC: After reading the Terror-Rama Diaries at AwesomeTheatre’s website, this show seems to have had some difficulty getting off the ground. What motivates you to put on theater?

AM: Masochism mostly. But seriously, I get very frustrated when I hear people declaring theatre dead or dying because I find that to be patently false. Theatre as we know it now is destined to change, but that’s more natural evolution as dictated by what people want and react to. You have to keep it fresh. But the thing I think that will keep theatre around forever is that unlike every other form of entertainment, it requires more than one person to enjoy it. You can listen to music alone, you can look at a painting alone, you can watch TV, sporting events, and movies alone. You never have to interact with the people actually creating it. In theatre, there’s no way around it. Even if you’re the only person in the audience, you’re still in a room with actors and a couple of stage hands. You can’t have a theatrical experience all by yourself; theatre is unique in that sense. I mean, you can watch a play or musical that’s been recorded, but you’re really just watching a movie. I think that’s why I never got into film or TV, there’s an uncontrollable element to live theatre that I find appealing. If you want perfect, make a movie and it’ll be the same every time you watch it. But theatre has the ability to be different every time. Now in the case of Terror-Rama, I did initially pitch it to another group, and the talks went pretty far down the road but ultimately they didn’t really get it. That rings true for a lot of my projects, people don’t get it initially. Then they see it and they say, “oh now I get it”. So a big motivator for me is to take my crazy ideas that people don’t think will work and then prove them wrong. I’m really into converts, so I want to make theatre that attracts people who regularly wouldn’t go to theatre. If we can get those people in, then they can realize they do like theatre, provided they’re being told stories they want to hear. I’m less interested in what Theatre IS and more interested in what Theatre can be. It’s when we make hard definitions of the art form that people start to bemoan the death of theatre. I don’t think it will die, it just evolves. Being part of that evolution is what motivates me. And it’s the only thing I’m good at, so there’s that.

TC: And finally, what pearls of wisdom do you have for anyone trying to get a start as a playwright?

AM: It’s cheesy but, I think it’s important to spend a lot of time finding your voice. Knowing what you want to write and how you write it. So it’s not just writing a lot, it’s also finding out what inspires you and gets you excited about writing. Study the nuts and bolts of what it is that you like about them and what they do. Know what you like and know a lot about what you like. Also, sometimes only you will believe in your idea at first. Own your crazy idea and do it.

TC: My one In-Joke: Remember “Schuster Boys on Schuster Island”?

AM: Of course! Those damn Schuster boys; there was Jethro Scuhster, Mad Dog Schuster and their sister Lulabelle. Ah, wonderful times living in the Sunset.

Performances of “Terror-Rama” run October 17th-November 1st at the Exit Studio Theater in San Francisco. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets.

The Five: Comic Influences

Anthony R. Miller checks in with the five sources of his comic inspiration.

Hey you guys, so I realize September was comedy month, and now were just starting to wade into October, a month dedicated to the darkness. I promise you, you’re gonna hear a lot from me about horror and being spooky later this months. SHAMELESS PLUG: GO SEE TERROR-RAMA. But there was no way I was gonna miss out on giving my thoughts on one of the most important things in the world to me, that lady named comedy. To me, comedy is a beautiful, necessary and challenging art form full of possibilities. So here are the top 5 influences on me as a writer, more specifically a comedy writer.

The State

This MTV sketch comedy show from the 90’s was and still is one of the funniest things ever. It was a show that just didn’t mock convention, it attacked it. The influence for me was exposing me to a brand of comedy I like to call smart/dumb. Sure the jokes were juvenile and silly, but they were really clever. You can see their innate understanding of not just comedy but theatre and performance. There were grammar jokes, Shakespeare jokes, and even Pink Floyd jokes. There was an irreverent shamelessness to their writing and delivery that shows like Saturday Night Live hasn’t done in decades because unlike SNL, The State was never concerned with being cool or hip, just funny. They were genuine smart-asses. They were comedy whores. Sadly, only a couple dozen episodes exist, but you can watch them all on Hulu. After it’s cancellation, they went on to do projects like Reno 911, Viva Variety, Stella and of course, Wet Hot American Summer . I WANNA DIP MY BALLS IN IT!

Airplane!

Funniest movie ever period. Nothing really sums up what I believe to be perfect camp like this movie. You’d be hard pressed to find a better display of People doing and saying ridiculous things with a straight face a painfully sincere delivery. Not to mention the brilliant layering of the jokes, jokes happening in the background, jokes you didn’t even know were jokes until the 4th re-watching. To me, this is the gold standard of camp, often times we see people winking at the audience and hamming it up for laughs. But it takes true genius to say something funny not because it was funny but because that’s just what that character would say, because it’s who they were. Camp requires a certain naiveté to come across right, because the characters don’t know they’re being funny, that’s what makes it funny. So instead of reading Susan Sontag’s very clinical, yawn inducing (seriously how does she make comedy sound so dull?) dissection of camp, just watch Airplane! It’s way more fun.

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom by Charles Busch

A true light bulb moment for me was reading this play, five pages in; I knew I had finally found a kindred spirit. While I love Christopher Durang and Neil Simon and The Man Who Came to Dinner ( A dream project of mine, seriously, it’s the King Lear of Comedy). Nothing combined camp, sketch comedy and homage (not parody) like this play. It’s my comedic compass; the play that made me realize what I wanted to write was possible. Not to mention, it creates a clear line between homage and parody. In parody, you make fun of something, but when you pay homage to something you are embracing both the good and bad qualities of something you love. But this one-act play is just the tip of the iceberg; Busch’s body of work is funny, insightful and critical. So not only did it show me the kind of theatre I wanted to write was possible, it showed me where I could go from there.

No Cure for Cancer-Denis Leary

Acerbic, mean spirted, cynical and soul bearing are just a few words I use to describe Denis Leary’s breakout stand up special/one-man show. Every word of Leary’s comic tour-de-force was written from a place of incredible pain and fear. While in Europe, his wife gave premature birth to their son Jack. Because of the complications, they couldn’t leave. So Denis stayed and proceeded to write a piece of comedy that shaped the dark, critical side of my comedy writing. It’s so much more than couple funny songs and smoking jokes, He explores the death of his father, the pressure he feels to create a better world for his son, and the realization that no matter how depressed and overwhelmed we feel sometimes, you gotta shut the fuck up and go to work. This is the comedy that gave me a backbone, a desire to push forward. It has a perfect blend of sincerity, social criticism and toughness in the face of pain. He’s not just being funny, he’s getting shit off his chest. Also, I still use his “Whiney douchebag” voice, just watch it, better yet, buy the book version.

Commedia Dell Arte

Oh those goofy Italians, they sure were funny. But not just because they invented improv, not just because while the British were still putting wigs on 12 year old boys to play girls, the Italians were the first to put women on stage, or that they were the first pay actors, or even create a health care system for their actors. No, it is the invention of slapstick, a brand of comedy based on one basic premise, hitting people is funny. Whether you love low-brow comedy or dry high minded British humor or acerbic wit, you have Commedia Dell Arte to thank. Let’s break this down shall we? Commedia troupes started with basic pre-written scenarios that are built upon by big exaggerated performances and determining their actions on basic archetypes that we still see today. Sit coms, sketch comedy, improv, and physical comedy all owe their existence to Commedia. Oh, did I mention they were the first to show that women could be funny?

Anthony R. Miller is a writer, Director, Producer and a man who loves to sell theatre tickets. His show, TERROR-RAMA opens October 17th.