The Five: That Time I Met A Famous Person

Anthony R. Miller checks in with stories of hobnobbing with the stars while selling them cookies and finding their seats.

Hey you guys, so I know December is about Wrap-ups and looks back and forward. But I looked at the calendar and it turns out, I have 3 articles this month, with the final one on Dec 30th. So I decided to keep it light this week, and save my wrap-ups for a two-parter on the 16th and the 30th. Today I share 5 times my random theatre jobs ended up with me meeting cool people, mostly.

Stephin Merritt

I was working for a company in SF that had acquired the rights to produce the musical adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. This being the West Coast premiere, both the Writer and Composer would be there. The Composer being Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, the band who basically provided the soundtrack for my sad, sad mid-20’s. The fateful night came as I worked concessions and a very regular looking guy comes up to the bar. At first glance, you would not think this is the man who sang “The cactus where your heart should be/has lovely little flowers/So though it’s always pricking me/My ardor never sours” was short, wore a faded baseball cap, an old brown leather jacket and was eyeing the cookie tray. NO Stephin Merrit would be in a long cloak, with a rain cloud over him and would have his own personal tea service, because he takes that shit seriously and can’t just order any Earl Grey. But when he ordered an oatmeal cookie in that oh so familiar baritone, I knew it was him. So yes my every pre conceived notion I had about him was flat wrong. One of the most brilliant artists in America today, and he’s also a pretty normal guy, who really likes Oatmeal Cookies.

Rita Moreno

House Managing for another Bay Area Company on their closing night, the lead in the show, who was a very nice lady, introduced me to her friend, Rita Moreno. You know, Rita Friggin Moreno, she was Anita dammit. Fun Fact about me, I watched the Shit out of the West Side Story movie. When I was kid, I could basically recite the thing starting with the overture. Earlier that evening, I had actually already met her while helping find her seat. But there she was, friggin Anita. A woman who’s performance in a film meant so many memories of watching that movie and forgetting the outside world. The conversation went like this.

“Anthony, have you met Miss Rita Moreno?”

“Earlier yes, but I’ve been a fan of hers since I was like eight.”

To Rita, “Well did you hear that?”

To which Rita replied,

“Oh I don’t give a shit.” And then she turned away.

Whoa. Rita Friggin’ Moreno just told me to fuck off. Now in the grand scheme of things, Rita Moreno telling me to fuck off is a little more interesting and a lot more honest than putting on a show for me. In the end she’s not obligated to be gracious. In the end, she was backstage at a closing night pizza party for her friend, not to be noticed. For the record, I kinda understand. Not really.

Billy Aronson

So I was working on a show in SF that was a World Premiere by Billy Aronson. Billy was the Dramaturg and wrote the Book for RENT. For Nerds, this is huge. This is the guy who said “Have you considered basing it on La Boheme?”. And despite the fact that I had long lost my passion for RENT, I was still pretty dang excited to meet the guy.

One night during Tech, I was asked to make sure Billy got on the right MUNi and got to his stop. Oh shit yeah, I was gonna ride on MUNI with Billy Aronson. It was Powell to Outer Sunset, so it was gonna be a WHILE. HE was pretty rad, I asked him a million questions, writer questions, RENT questions, I got to ask what Jonathan Larson was like (THE Answer: “Intense, all he cared about was making his musical happen”). I may have drove him crazy, but he was super nice about it. He did in fact, make his stop.

Bill Ayers

I worked a production of Reborning by Zayd Dorn, son of Bernadine Dorn and Bill Ayers. You remember Bill Ayers, the man who threw a “party” for Senator Barack Obama. The guy who started the Weather Underground, a Left wing radical group, technically classified as domestic terrorists. As in Sarah Palin’s “Palling around with terrorists”, yeah that guy.

So on opening night, the writers’ parents were there. Eventually, I was introduced to Bill Ayers and Bernandine Dorn, the people who Declared war on America, who bombed government buildings, to protest American Imperialism. Real Activist Shit. Not to mention, these days Bill Ayers is one of the foremost experts on Education Reform. In every picture of Bill Ayers I have ever seen, he is wearing a puffy red Marty McFly vest, he was wearing that vest. In typical Anthony fashion, I talked too much. But he didn’t seem to mind, in fact he kept asking me questions. We went on for a while talking about the 2012 GOP crop and other topics. I was totally palling around with terrorists. Before they left, Bill complimented me.

“You’re really passionate and knowledgeable about politics, why don’t you do something with it?”

I laugh, and say “I should run for Feinsteins Senate seat.”

He says, “Let me know, I’ll throw you a fundraiser”

I say, “Don’t you mean a coffee?”

He laughs and walks away.

Henry Rollins

It was a lot of luck this one. Back in my hometown of San Jose, a buddy of mine wanted to book spoken word and poetry acts at a large strip mall night club he worked for. Despite it’s odd location, the place was amazing, it was a huge venue decorated like the 80’s never ended. We had produced a show together that was absolutely great but horribly under attended, but it got the attention of another buddy of mine who had booked the San Jose leg of Henry Rollin’s Spoken Word tour. Because I knew the guy who booked the venue and I knew the guy who booked Rollins, I got the plum position of “Producer”. Holy crap, I was producing a Henry Rollins Show, I would be able to quit my job at the mall for sure. Not really.

On the night of the show, Henry Arrived in a large tour bus and I got to take him to his dressing room (Which was actually a private lounge, but today it was a dressing room.) I gave his call time and ran off. I was trying to stay cool, I had just taken a personal hero of mine to his dang dressing room. Luckily, there was plenty to do. Before the show I pop in and give 30 minutes and say I’d come back to give a ten.His agent replied,

“We don’t need any updates, thanks”

Dude, Henry Rollins just told me to Fuck Off, Ok not really, but that’s how I felt for a second. I was kinda embarrassed; I had stumbled into this situation and probably didn’t belong there. But fuck it, I was a Producer. Five minutes before the show, I got to escort Henry to the stage entrance, that was kinda rad. But I didn’t think it would go beyond that, so once the show started, I sat with my friends and watched the show we made happen, and we drank. We drank a lot.

As the show ended, I ran backstage to take Henry back to the dressing room, but this time there was a crowd being held back. So now, I got to escort Henry Rollins to his dressing room while protecting him from fans, THIS WAS TOTALLY MY LIFE. And then it happened, I was back stage with him and we just started chatting. And for 15 minutes I just sat around and talked about performing with one of my heroes. Here’s the problem, I was still drunk, and every bit of effort was to come off not wasted. The moral here is, if you can’t drink with your heroes, wait till they leave.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Director, Producer and that guy who keeps calling to convince you to bring a group of ten or more to see The Music Man. His show, Zombie! The Musical! Live in Concert! Is on Dec 14th at Terra Gallery.

Everything is Already Something Week 26: Stay Relevant or Die

Allison Page is a survivor. 

There’s a tumblr page called SHOW NUFF that just contains tons of “Terrible PR Pictures from Theater of the Unites States” (though they’ve actually started using photos from UK shows as well.) I saw it and went through a range of feelings.

1) This is hilarious. These photos are awful.

2) Oh my God, I hope I’m not in one of these photos.

3)  Shit…these images are contributing to my biggest problem with theater.

4)  Okay, good, I don’t see any pictures of me.

5)  That’s…Sally Struthers and Rita Moreno.

no caption necessary

no caption necessary

Eventually I got unnecessarily curmudgeony about the whole thing. It started making me kind of angry. Looking through those photos, a person who is familiar with a fair share of theater can connect some dots and start to figure out which plays/musicals these photos are from. (Holy hell, how many companies are doing productions of Boeing-Boeing? Like…all of them?)

Some are kooky door-slamming comedies you probably did in college. Fine. Fair. I can understand those shows having stupid photo representations. But some of them are clearly supposed to be dramas or at least modern plays taking place now-ish. And yet the people in the photos…I mean, they don’t even look like people. I’m not going to calculate the percentage of photos that contain a person with hands-on-hips making a “Why I Oughtta” face at someone who is standing closer to the camera than they are, but it’s GOT to be a high one. I don’t feel like I’m looking at actors. I’m looking at caricatures. They might as well be sketched in bright colors, with over-sized heads and a cartoon background. Something you’d have drawn at the county fair when you’ve been drinking and you and that guy are totally gonna be together forever so you get sketched sitting next to each other and pay $25 for a picture you’ll put up in your room until you break up and then you’ll promptly throw it away and replace its spot on your wall with a Garfield calendar.

How many times have you heard or read “Theater is dead” or “Theater is dying” and had people blather on about it? How many people do you know who have never even seen a play? There are many contributions to be made to the conversation about why theater isn’t as popular as it once was (cost, more entertainment options, blah blah blah) but fuck those, because my problem is that it so often doesn’t seem relevant enough to be important. And we’re not spending nearly enough attention trying to make it feel relevant to a new audience or to…ya know…human beings. And these hilarious images feel like examples to me – examples of what people think of when they think of the words “theater” and “acting”. They look like every ham-fisted college production of Noises Off I’ve seen, complete with slamming doors and wacky takes to the audience.

Oh no, they're fighting! Gee, I hope they don't get hurt!

Oh no, they’re fighting! Gee, I hope they don’t get hurt!

They are filled with farce and lacking humanity. And that’s fine if that’s what you’re going for. I love farce. But I’m also keenly aware that many of the shows pictured are not supposed to be that.

To be honest, I hate production photos anyway. They never look like the show, to me. Or they never look how I want the show to look. And I’ll be the first to say I’m guilty of it as well. I’ve been in bad production photos, and taken bad ones, and produced shows with bad ones. But with everything so accessible today, you take a photo and everyone’s seen it in 24 hours or less. And now that’s what the show is to them. And if they’re not up for a fish-slappin’ goof-fest that’s disconnected from the world – they’re probably not going to come see it. Plays are filled with actors, right? So they should be able to express some sort of human emotion in a photograph, right? As opposed to grimacing as they wind up to punch someone in the face? I’d rather see a more realistic representation of emotion. I know we’re capable, as a whole, of doing that. A community theater production of The Music Man with like 48 children in it? Sure, they’re probably not so worried about that. But we’re putting all this time, energy, and yes – straight up cash – into each show we produce or direct and work so hard on because we love it…but we’re short-changing the representations the public actually sees! Sure, the show may be full of a range of emotions and deep realizations and important comments on modern society or the fate of the future but if this is what the public is seeing, how are we supposed to expect them to care enough to find out?

The dreaded double-smiling-fisticuffs

The dreaded double-smiling-fisticuffs

Yes, there’s a difference between a poster or postcard image for a play and the production photos from it – but is there a difference to the viewer who is outside of the theater world? Not really. It’s a photographic representation of a play, and if that image doesn’t show the viewer what the show is, or how it should feel, then WHY ARE WE LOOKING AT IT? Who is it for? Is it for the theater company? Great, put it on file somewhere and don’t show it to anyone. Is it for the director as evidence that they directed something? Great, put it on file somewhere and don’t show it to anyone. Is it for the actors, so they have photos of themselves as some character? Great, put it on file somewhere and don’t show it to anyone. But if it’s for public viewing, to entice them to see the show, then it should be better. The majority of theater makers are in it for the love of it all; for the passion we have for it and to create art. That’s just something to keep in mind the next time you want a photo of an actor with one hand on hip and the other disapprovingly wagging a finger at some other character. Or when you take a photo wherein Macbeth appears to be covered in ketchup.

WHY?!?!?!?!?

WHY?!?!?!?!?

Just think a little, is all I’m asking.

Theater is relevant. I really believe that. But if a fantastically relevant production falls over in the woods and there’s no one there to see it, is it really relevant? My boyfriend is not a “theater guy”. He hadn’t really seen any plays until he had the misfortune to come skipping into my life. We had a conversation about the topic of this post last night and he agreed with me, saying “Yeah, that’s always what I thought theater was like. Like, silly like that.” as I showed him the SHOW NUFF tumblr. I like to think he’s a little more aware now that theater is a varied array of things – some of which he even likes! But that’s only because I’ve dragged him to things he was sure he would hate, and then didn’t. Why did he think he would hate them? Because they looked ridiculous.

We’re not as out of touch as we look, so let’s not look so out of touch. We’re people making things for ourselves and others and that can be a powerful thing. It’s very possible that you think I’m overreacting about this. All I ask is that you look through that tumblr and ask yourself this question: “At any point in my life, have I ever seen anyone at all EVER do this in the natural world?”

So casual. So cool. Everyone does the back-to-back at parties. CASE CLOSED.

So casual. So cool. Everyone does the back-to-back at parties. CASE CLOSED.

You can see all the hilarious/irritating photos at http://prisdifficult.tumblr.com. It does say “amateur theater” but many of these companies aren’t what I would call amateur, and there are even Broadway show photos included. Nobody’s perfect.

All photos taken directly from the SHOW NUFF tumblr page.

You can find Allison at home on her couch because she just got laid off, which is about the same as finding her on twitter @allisonlynnpage.