Follow the Vodka: Necrophilia Tonight!

Robert Estes, on a Wednesday, back to Tuesday next time!

I’m sitting in the piano bar Martuni’s round midnight this past Monday night, listening to the versatile pianist Joe Wicht accompany singers on songs ranging from West Side Story classics to show tunes that stump the slyly knowledgeable audience when he queries, “What musical was that from?” and it’s all happiness and escape, almost as if it were Saturday night, except that I’m sitting there writing about necrophilia.

The odd part of my new Theatre Pub column is that my given prompt is that I’m writing about reading a play in a bar, which is sort of hard to do in the dark recesses of most liquor havens. But being an intrepid cub columnist, I’ve cornered the one lit table in Martuni’s this Monday night, the light reflecting in my watermelon martini as it highlights the sculpture of a musical note hanging on the wall behind me. I feel relatively ingenious in stealing that limited, directed light for my own selfish purpose of jotting notes about all that’s going on around me.

I confess. I’m not reading a play. Damn, second column and I’ve already blown the prime directive. Hey, if you had the choice, would you rather read a play or hear it being read? Would you rather hear about show tunes, or hear the tunes themselves? Tonight, I’m listening to plays being sung by the most devoted show tune lovers in the bay. There are damn good singers here.

I would mention names but I feel a shyness, as if it’s sort of a private party and I’ve been sneaking in without an invitation. I never sing. I’m breaking the social contract by not doing so. Let’s face it; I’m way out of my league. If it isn’t the touring cast of Kinky Boots (that one time!); it’s the pro local singers dropping in on their Monday off night. No way am I getting in the way of hearing them sing by singing myself.

But still, I take pride in being here. There is virtue in presence. And I always participate with full voice in the sing along numbers. It’s actually quite thrilling to be part of the chorus. But most of all, the singers, the performers need an audience and that is me being one drop of that happy, effusive human sea of appreciation, and, yes even tonight feeling consciously cool that I am here.

Lurking at Martuni's copy

Then I remember the time when I found something that I took a cool pride in that was revealed to have a dark shadow, or should I say a dark shade? I once loved black and white movies, I still do. There is something architectural about how they look. The chiaroscuro makes them almost seem 3D to me. There is almost something tactile about black and white. And then, there’s just the clarity of the difference in time, as if the era of black and white movies was equivalent to a different geologic period. No one can ever again live in a black and white movie. Noir will always be its own thing. Everyone will always want to be Cary Grant, even Cary Grant.

So I thought till in an everyday conversation years ago, the brilliant actor Danny Scheie casually mentioned “those necrophiliacs who love black and white movies.” What? What does having sex with the dead have to do with seeing my beloved, oh no, yes, um, I hate when I have to see that he’s right, everyone on the screen is dead. I’m communing with the dead. It’s so obvious. I’m a necrophiliac, how disturbing.

Yet, I wished I would have made that thought connection before I heard it from him. Here I was thinking about black and white movies all the time and I had realized that all the people were dead, but never really made the through line to necrophilia. I had to wonder, was the idea of black and white movies being a form of necrophilia a common sentiment?

I’ve often thought that the cool part of being Mark Zuckerberg would be to search a phrase in all of Facebook and see how many times that exact thought had been written before. “Said no one ever” would come up a billion times; it would seem that rather than never being said, everyone says that phrase always! Can you imagine how often “This.” would appear when linking to an article? I mean, whatever the poster is linking to really can’t be that personally interesting to them if all they can muster is “This.”? I would actually pay attention more if they could summon up a simple declarative sentence “This is interesting to me because…”

But then who I am to say that, declaring one’s self is not easy. I won’t even sing in a community piano bar. But I will sit in the piano bar and write about necrophilia, which kind of makes me feel like a weirdo.

And so, in Martuni’s round midnight last Monday night, I began to wonder if in addition to being a necrophiliac, I was also a lurker as I scribbled my notes sitting in the half-light against the wall.

Yes, let’s make the through line of thought go from my non-singing to the status of lurker as the through line of thought of seeing dead people to necrophilia went straight through the prior discovery.

So odd, I’ve never thought of myself as a lurker. Really, though, not that I can answer at the moment, but what is the difference between lurking and observing? What do audiences do when they watch a play? A good audience might respond in many ways, their presence might be felt in a community of electricity, but they are kind of assigned the role of lurker. They are often looking through the fourth wall, which is sort of Peeping Tom, who must be a lurker before a peeper.

And often, I’ve heard the motives of audiences questioned, as one actor once said that he thought some audience members specifically came to the first preview so they could see a train wreck.

Yet, beyond the audience, what does a director do? Is being an observer a central part of directing? I’m sure there are many different places an individual director would fall on the spectrum of being an observer, but it does seem that one of the central doings of directing is observing. Yes, observing is doing, which is so unlike the common refrain that “I don’t want to observe, I want to do.”

So I wonder if observing without purpose is lurking? Then is observing with intent something else? I admit all of these thoughts are improvised right now, but there’s something highly energetic in finding the necrophilia in watching black and white movies or the lurking in observing.

There is something rich in accessing the dark arts when working in theater. We do commune with the dead quite literally when we work on a dead playwright’s work; but even if the playwright is alive, they are often not there in presence. Then there’s always the smudged presence of those who’ve communed with the work before and then that indistinct but charged engagement is carried on to those who may work on it afterwards.

The actors perform in front of lurkers, there is that phrase, lurking in the audience. It’s okay for us to embrace the shadow, or even celebrate the shades of memory that each and every theater production eventually becomes.

So as I thought of necrophilia and lurking at Martuni’s last Monday night, the young man sang “We’re lost in the Stars…”

Really, theater’s kind of a ghost show, isn’t it?

And a ghost is sort of a combination of necrophilia and lurking.

The Five-What Would I Do If I Didn’t Do Theatre

Anthony R. Miller checks in with speculations of his life in an alternate universe.

Like many of us theatre nerds, we all have our “And that’s the day I knew I wanted to do Theatre” story. For me, I was 8 or so, and my mom took me to see West Side Story, and that was it. I was totally dazzled by every aspect and right there decided this was the life for me, But today, let’s speculate on what would have happened if I didn’t see a play that day. There are few possibilities, five to be exact.

Pro-Wrestler

Despite not being the most coordinated person in the world, or having much upper body strength, if it wasn’t for the allure of theatre, It’s entirely possible my childhood of doing elbow drops from the couch and giving DDT’s would have led me down this career path. I would have had a totally sweet name, like, Johnny Pain, black and silver spandex, and “Walk” by Pantera would have been my theme song. It was only later in life that I realized this wasn’t a far cry from the theatre (As I have discussed at length on this blog). Funny story: In the 7th grade there was this little cockbag named Mark who would harass me almost daily, he put dog shit in my backpack, throw my books into the street, and constantly challenge me to fight. So one day I finally fought him and after 3 minutes of sitting on his chest while he screamed at me to get off him so he could kick my ass, I decided to seal the deal with the ‘ol Boston Crab, because on TV it looked painful as fuck. (Spoiler Alert: It isn’t)

Radio DJ

While I acknowledge this is basically a profession on the verge of extinction, at one point, as far as I was concerned, there was no cooler job. This was at a time where DJ’s actually had sway over programming; they picked the songs they’d play. Johnny Fever in WKRP in Cincinnati was one of the coolest things ever in my 12 year old mind. So when I say, I wish I was a radio DJ, more specifically I wish I was a radio DJ in the late 70’s.

Bartender

But not just any bartender, when I say Bartender, I mean Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail. The bottle flippin, poetry reciting, lady lovin badass with big dreams. And while in reality, a career in theatre is no reason to not be a bartender (Often it is WHY one is a Bartender) turns out neither was nearly as glamorous as advertised. I should still learn the bottle flipping thing, if only to be ready for the inevitable stage adaptation.

Record Producer

Rick Rubin is one of my personal heroes, and has been since freshman year of High School. His approach of helping a band find the essence of their sound has resulted in some of the greatest records ever made. He’s worked with everyone; Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of A Down and FUCKIN’ SLAYER! In another world where Anthony didn’t fall in love with theatre, I would have a sweet bushy beard, be super eccentric and be a bona fide hitmaker. And I suppose being a Dramaturg and Theatre Producer is similar, but with way less drugs and women…significantly less.

Stand-Up Comic

To be honest, this is something I actually kind of pursued. I used to perform in front of folks and make them laugh all the time. I’ve been lucky enough to perform for crowds all over the country, being funny. But at a certain point, I started to prefer anonymity. When it’s me in front of people, I am accountable for everything I say. People assume that the person I am on stage is the person I am in real life, which could not have been further from the truth. You never get to be yourself, because when people talk to you and you aren’t exactly who they expect, they walk away muttering to their friend “I heard he’s a total dick in real life”. That actually happened to me, which sucked. It made no sense to me, I wasn’t actually a person to that guy, I was just a dancing bear who this guy basically decided I was obligated to be funny and crazy instead of just getting to be a normal person drinking coffee and reading. The beauty of writing plays is that people don’t necessarily know what I look like, the characters talk for me and can say whatever I want. I enjoy the anonymity. So here I am, a medium-small-time writer and producer with a day job, which isn’t nearly as glamorous as some of these other options, but not so different either.

Anthony R. Miller is a writer, director and producer. Keep up with his projects at www.awesometheatre.org.

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.