How To Give 49 People A Simultaneous Orgasm : The Making of “How To Be A Rock Star”
When I sat down to write “How To Be A Rock Star” (my show at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival) I knew more or less knew how it would probably begin and end. Everything else about it was still up in the air.
Normally I wouldn’t explain how all the tricks are done but this was a unique show that I wanted to document in this way.
If you’re reading this article you presumably already know about my work or have read about my adventure at the festival itself. This is more of a technical document for anyone curious about the process, anyone who saw the show and wondered how I did what I did, or anyone who fell for it and didn’t understand it. I’m sure some people who saw the show will want to borrow some of the things I did, and as you will read I certainly borrowed many things from many people. In documenting how the show runs I’m hoping to pay it forward.
After reviewing all of the festival materials (the Town Hall videos on YouTube, the “Fringe TV” videos on YouTube, the previous year’s program guide, the previous year’s participant guide, some rather nasty discussions of the festival on legitimate theater websites and message boards, and a few other random items) I began the process of watching some YouTube videos of previous year’s shows.
There was a period of about a day where I was really uncertain about going forward with this process. The quality of everything from the program, the presentations, and the shows themselves was not up to my personal standards of something I wanted to put out into the world. As I’ve written about in other articles I went ahead only because the financial and logistical components of the festival made sense for me to make something out of. It seemed that whatever I was going to do would have to be a slight departure from what I was aiming towards but would not compromise my beliefs or standards.
Not having any idea what exactly I was going to do I began by visiting the theater and taking photos of the space. It was my second visit to the theater (the first in my preliminary inquiry a couple of months prior) and I was rather quick about it, just taking lots of photos from the front of house and from the stage.
I went back and looked at which categories had the least entries, where my work might draw some attention in a collection of around four hundred other shows. Musical made the most sense. There would be two suggested rules I would be breaking. The first was that my show would run over 60 minutes and the second that it would not be all-ages. Everything else suggested in the Fringe “Town Hall” seminars was written down and followed exactly as suggested, giving myself a framework from which to push boundaries.
After watching several previous Fringe shows (and looking for things like use of sets, size of cast, use of music, and use of lighting) I closed my laptop and stared at the ceiling of my hotel room for a long time. This whole genre was really quite bad. There was no reason to get others involved, it would just be a one-man show with a lot of audience participation built in to make it look like a full cast.
I didn’t know much about one man plays. The only two I could think of were “Mark Twain Tonight” and “The World According To Me!”. I hadn’t seen either since I was a child but both were readily available online. I’d never realized that “The World According To Me!” had won so many awards. It was simply a stand up comedy show put on a Broadway stage, recorded as an album and cable special. Any other night of the week it would have just been a comedian on stage in a comedy club but presented in a legitimate theater it became a play and was treated differently by the public.
During his final run off-Broadway I’d seen Jackie Mason several times and noted that over and over again when he needed a punchline he would talk about how all you needed to do a show was just him. Other shows, he would note, required large casts, props, and sets. “Why?” he would ask over and over. This was the first real note I wrote down. “Let’s focus on making it look like one person is all you need to really entertain a crowd.”
From there I had a simple strategy of whatever I put into this show it had to look like anyone in the audience could have done it themselves (even though most of it was quite difficult). I felt this supported the Fringe festival mythology of “[anyone with $400 and a title can put on a show”].
I started to think about the most basic ideas that non-theatrical people have about creating a show. The two that I focused on were:
- Childhood shows in bedroom for stuffed animals and / or siblings.
To research the first I went down to the library and was able to find videos of The Paper Bag Players, a children’s theater ensemble who’d been popular in the 80s. I looked at how they used cheap, disposable props and sets to entertain children. Being a big fan of the Swiss mime troupe Mummenschanz I went back and looked at some of their more inexpensive props as well.
I’d studied weddings extensively before and didn’t have to do much research on this topic. I knew that the key to any successful wedding was not to focus on the couple getting married but to focus on the guests instead. All successful weddings are about the guests.
So now I had two more rules to work with :
- Use cheap and disposable props that the audience was not expecting but could have easily purchased if they’d thought of it.
- Focus all of your attention on the audience.
The second rule was especially poignant in this amateur theater festival full of hundreds of people begging you to pay attention to them. I would do nothing but pay attention to them and not to myself.
To this end I rejected things such as entering registrations for award eligibility, wanting the show to receive reviews, wanting the run of the show to be extended, being interviewed for “Fringe TV”, raising my hand when an auditorium was asked “Who here is presenting a show at the festival?” and everything else that common sense might dictate one should do to promote a show in a certain way. Anyone who asked for a free ticket for any reason was given one immediately without any questions.
That’s not to say I didn’t want to promote the show and gain an audience, I needed an audience to attend so that I could focus my attention on them after all. Instead I paid careful attention to the suggestions that a weekly Twitter chat and the weekly Office Hours events were the most important things you could do to promote your show. I attended all of them.
One person shows generally follow the arc of displaying adversity in the face of tragedy. “I had cancer and my mom hated me, but my dream was to be an actor/actress/actron” pretty much sums up the average title in this format. While I’ve certainly survived a lot of bad things in my life I found this to be monotonous and would just serve to draw attention to me and not the audience.
I kept searching for a title that I could work with. I’d been really into searching “How To” on YouTube and then watching anything that had been posted in the last hour. “How To Be A Rock Star” was an amalgamation of a few things. The first being that if you have a festival full of aspiring celebrities, the idea of selling them a ticket to something that might teach them how to be famous would be a great niche.
The second is that I could use some existing material in this context and demonstrate how to make anyone in the audience feasibly pass as a rock star while sticking to my rules.
The third is that it was probably going to turn into a DIY version of Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense”, the plot of which is effectively how an ordinary person becomes a rock star by freeing themselves of neurosis. It’s an autobiographical show about David Byrne. Mine would be an autobiographical show about me using the same format, thus once again demonstrating a style to make it look like anyone in the audience could pull this off themselves.
The only thing I directly stole from “Stop Making Sense” was the insistence that all overhead lighting in the show must be white at different temperatures but never have any color added. It would be a visual cue as to the language of the show. I stole the idea of having a visual cue in the lighting from the same place David Byrne stole it from, Robert Wilson.
I now had a handful of rules and a general plot. The show would begin with me being neurotic and end with me being a rock star. I would demonstrate how the transformation took place. By the end of the show anyone in the audience should be thinking “I could have done that”, and it should generally look like anyone could have just walked on stage unprepared and pulled it off as well as I did. Thinking about the audience I thought this would be an empowering message for a large group of aspiring performers who had yet to achieve the level of success they desired.
The Omelette Recipe
The first piece in the show was the easiest to place. The house and stage lights would remain on and full during load in. Whenever possible we would intentionally sound check or do some kind of work on stage during load in. The purpose of this was to make the audience feel like a part of the production and again to ease them into believing they were part of the show.
During the preview we had no preshow music and the audience just sat there silently. On opening night we tweaked it and played selections from a new album I would have coming out a week after the festival. With the preshow music playing the audience was much more engaged and talking to each other, so we kept that in.
I’ve previously written extensively about the creation of the Omelette piece so I will summarize here:
When I was playing in bars I needed something to get people to stop talking and pay attention to what I was saying so that they would then pay attention to my music. Originally I’d written banter in French but they all thought I was a Canadian tourist. Out of desperation I was looking at a Warhol illustration of an omelette recipe on the wall of my parents house. I found one online and printed it out. I went on stage and read it but people still talked over me. The next week I used the basic format of public speaking (tell people what you’re going to say, say it, tell them what you just said). I went back on stage and said “Hello, I have the recipe for the classic omelette from SELF magazine, May 1998” and waited a moment. The room fell silent. I read the exact same article as the week before and everyone was engaged and enraptured. I then said “That was the recipe for the classic omelette from SELF magazine, May 1998. Thank you.” and then bowed. Thunderous applause erupted from a sports bar with 32 beers on tap in the middle of a swamp in Florida.
It’s a strong way to get people’s attention and both demonstrates the form of public speaking while making an intelligent parody of audience reactions to announcements. Public speaking is an important basic function of being a rock star. Lesson one was in the book. We set the lighting cues very carefully so that the house dims over the course of a full minute while everyone else’s attention is focused on the stage. The stage lights begin setting at the start of the piece and dim until the end of the piece (almost three full minutes). By the end of the piece the stage is set and the audience doesn’t even realize what’s happened. I stole this from Bruce Springsteen’s “Magic” Tour load in.
Just before we opened the show I got an email from the stage manager informing me of mandatory announcements that had to be made before the show. By making these announcements they would break the rapport I had just worked so hard to develop with the audience. I printed his email and then wrote fictionalized emails back and forth between him and myself. I added some jokes about the design of the venue so that the audience really felt part of the discussion. I made a note to bring someone out of the audience on stage to read the emails dramatically. In doing this I had demonstrated how to speak in public on stage, and then pulled a “student” out of the audience to demonstrate what they had just learned. This got great laughs each night. I began sitting in the audience and watching it along with everyone else, further pushing this mythology of “anyone can do this show”.
The song “Dead Girl” borrows it’s chorus from a line in the John Cassavetes’ film “Opening Night” (which was accidentally foreshadowing what the Fringe experience was going to be like for me). I borrowed the Brian May setlist formula of starting on a high note, bringing the show down, and then building it back up in placing this song here.
There would have to be a scenery change in order to mentally prepare the audience for a slow and dark song.
Going back to the Jackie Mason rule the simplest thing I could do was merely put a chair in the corner of the stage and turn on a light bulb. It could mean anything, it seemed moody, it was painfully stupid and simple. Anyone who’s ever spent time seriously trying to light a scene knows how much effort and time is involved and yet for a DIY theater festival, this simple move is equally effective. You could tell who had ever struggled to light a scene before, they were the ones hysterically laughing when I turned the light on.
The lyrics of “Dead Girl” sound very profound but they are simply about trying to tell someone why you’re in a bad mood while that person is busy looking at their phone and you have to wait for those brief moments where they look up and pay attention to you so that you can explain yourself. Perfect for such dramatic lighting.
Weekends With You
A few things happen in this scene and they all work together to fulfill the premise of the show.
Two microphones are placed parallel to each other both facing the center of the stage. The microphone placement is stolen from the band Pavement, in which the lead singer never stood front and center which was the norm at the time, but instead stood stage right with his microphone facing the center of the stage. This simple but effective placement changes the balance of the blocking and serves as a simple way to create an entirely new set out of nothing.
The audience is aware by now that there will be audience participation and that creates varying degrees of anxiety among them. Some will be excited at the prospect of being called on stage, others will be dreading it, some may be wondering if another performer will appear, etc. This inherent anxiety keeps the audience engaged and maintains the concept that the show is about the audience itself.
And the most important thing happening in this scene is that in teaching the audience how to be a rock star, I am bringing a student up on stage to sing. They are unprepared. Most have not heard my songs. Nobody has done a vocal warmup. Nobody was prepared to be on stage, in a spotlight, singing backup even thirty seconds ago. All of it works together to fuel a general excitement for whatever is about to happen.
Quickly I teach the audience member how to sing backup on the next song.
I sing “Weekends With You”, a song about needing a second person as a prop for my Instagram photos. I have brought someone out of the audience to fulfill this need, and all of it works together perfectly. Everyone cheers wildly.
Nobody exactly notices but two songs into the show there have already been four drastically different set changes (using nothing but a light on a stand, a folding chair, and two microphone stands), three performers, and a variety of material presented in just a few minutes. This show is anything but monotonous and everyone is fully engaged. As you can see all of this was carefully planned out in a way that if anyone from the audience had just gone on stage and copied me it would have fallen flat. It’s done in such a way that anyone in the audience watching the show thinks “I could have done that”. This sticks with the rules of the show.
Leaving the stage lighting untouched I replace the microphone stands to their original positions. I then replace the light bulb on the stand with a colored LED “Disco Light” from eBay that cost $3. It floods the back wall of the stage with patterns. It’s the first color that’s been on stage so far, and so the audience naturally says “ooh” in a somewhat mocking but somewhat legitimate way.
Since I’m changing the bulb openly and slowly, everyone is engaged in whatever it is I’m doing. When they realize they’ve been tricked by something so simple they begin to laugh.
“Someday” is kind of a stupid song to be honest. The lyrics are mostly lifted from Facebook posts and comments about politics. It’s a slower song (I don’t have a lot of slow songs) and the key was a counterpoint to the song before it. I really could have played anything here, it didn’t matter. This one just worked. It’s short so the audience doesn’t get too bored of the colored lights, and it seems dramatic so the contrast between the party lights and the dramatic song keeps people guessing what I’m doing. Have they been wrong about the show so far? Is there deeper meaning to what’s happening in front of them? Is this a bad song? Is this a good song? Can he sing? Is he talentless? All of these questions are intentionally thrust into the situation by placing them here.
Why is it in the show? Because it’s a stock scene in EVERY classic rock show. The scene where the performer either plays a new song or a deep cut that they think holds relevance and that 80 percent of the audience doesn’t relate to. It’s the scene that Paul Stanley of KISS mocks incessantly and then puts in the show anyway. If I’m going to teach you how to be a rock star I need to teach you about the scene where you have a good chance of losing the audience for being too self indulgent.
Social Media Feed
For this scene we have to start building the show back up. Again I do a really simple trick and just change the lighting. I unplug the colored light on the stand and plug in a $100 laser light that draws patterns on the wall. It has a microphone built in so that the patterns change with the sound in the room. There is zero effort on my part and it appears to be a completely different show with a completely different scene.
The tempo of this song is more upbeat. The lyrics pander directly to the audience. Most of the lyrics were written by searching “most common complaints women have about their boyfriends” on the internet. You can sit and watch women in the audience light up at different lines because there’s at least one (if not more) that they relate to about their partners (past or present). It’s literally a laundry list of complaints presented in a fun way that you can sing along to. This goes right back to making the show about the audience. As you watch people in the audience light up with their relation to the lyrics you can literally see their impression of you change. I’m no longer an overweight, middle aged loser trying pathetically to become a rock star. All of a sudden we have a common bond and the entire show turns.
Name any rock star who grew up in a middle or upper class family in the suburbs that went on to present an image of themselves as working class. The list is endless. This is all they did. You will have a dedicated following in five minutes not by talking about yourself but by listening to your audience and talking about them from their point of view. “It’s like he knows me” is a common answer to “why do you love [their] work so much?”
Why is it in the show? Because I spent two years going to the open mic night at the Pig N’ Whistle on Hollywood Boulevard watching people who were considerably more talented musicians than I was show up and sing sad songs about how much their lives sucked. No one could relate to them. No one paid attention to them. One week I showed up and read a Dr. Seuss book on stage and suddenly everyone was giving me hugs, crying, and telling me how thankful they were for my performance. It’s an important lesson in being a rock star. Forget your feelings, this is theater, inspire your audience by relating to them no matter how foreign their beliefs are to you. Your job is to make people feel differently about themselves when they leave the theater. If they can’t relate to your performance in some way they have no basis to feel differently about themselves.
You can go back and read my many extensive writings on how I got started writing opera and what all of the pieces are about, so I’m not going to expand upon that part of it here.
In this part of the show I revert to two microphone stands and a white spotlight, except in this configuration we place them facing the audience directly. It’s the exact same props as in “Weekends With You” but just placing them in a different direction gives the subliminal impression that this is a new scene and we haven’t seen it before.
I bring two people out of the audience and have them read the parts with minimal instruction. I stand all the way upstage and play the three chords used in “Eye Contact” (which is later in the show), but much slower. This serves a few purposes. I get to rest my voice, the audience members on stage get very excited to be doing what they think is a dramatic reading (and we’ve discussed that earlier in this article), the audience has to reset it’s focus since everything is spoken and overlapping (its the first time in the show that there are two voices speaking simultaneously and neither are mine). It seems like a very somber piece until the end when I explain it’s origins (the libretto is borrowed from a market research questionnaire) and the audience laughs and realizes that they’ve once again been tricked.
Lovin’ Was Good
Here we continue the upward momentum of the show and introduce the use of costume. We’ve had seven scenes, five songs, and five performers on stage so far and not one costume change. I merely put on a cowboy hat and all of a sudden it’s a completely new show again. This is again a callback to the Jackie Mason rule of doing as little as possible and demonstrating it’s effectiveness.
The song “Lovin’ Was Good” is performed in a country style (hence the cowboy hat) and this contrast (the last piece was a dramatic work of postmodern opera) keeps the audience aware of the instability of the work and therefore continues to increase their engagement. What might normally get a mild laugh gets an exaggerated laugh because of this contrast. It’s the weaker of the two country songs so we place it here in order to generate a stronger response than it would have received otherwise.
I Think I Liked You Better When You Drank
This is the second of three places in the show where we establish familiarity and make the audience subconsciously more comfortable (the first was the use of the “Eye Contact” chord progression in the opera). While leaving the cowboy hat on I replace the set from “Dead Girl” earlier in the show (the light and chair). I banter about nothing in particular for a moment here as the audience establishes familiarity. They’ve seen this set before, they think they know what is going to happen.
At this point I bring up an audience member, they immediately realize something is amiss because there’s only one microphone. There’s always an awkward smile on their face. I sit them in the chair.
Then I pick up from the floor on the side of the stage a mask shaped like the head of a horse. It’s been in full view the whole time since they set foot in the theater. Thrown on the floor like garbage they did not notice it.
There’s a brief moment where the audience scans what else is on the stage they may not have noticed but everything is strategically placed to look like piles of garbage. This is a reference to the set design of the musical “Cats”.
With the audience member in the chair wearing the horse mask I then perform the song “I Think I Liked You Better When You Drank” (which there’s an entire article on Medium about the creation of if you’d like to learn more about that).
Everyone applauds, the audience member returns to their chair, and now no one knows what to expect. We’ve created and broken a pattern of familiarity. It’s an uncanny feeling.
First / Next
Having built and torn down the show a few times now while still maintaining the overall climb, the audience feels once again a familiarity when I plug in a second laser light which creates a different pattern on the wall behind me. It’s a callback to the set of “Social Media Feed” but with a new element.
I’ve blatantly stolen this technique from the French new wave director Jacques Rivette’s magnum opus “Out 1”. He also used it in the more accessible “Celine and Julie Go Boating” which was the basis for the Madonna vehicle “Desperately Seeking Susan”. It has a proven track record.
I tell a brief anecdote about writing the song and then sing it. It’s a happy song, we’ve gone back to pop music, the story is simple and has light contrast. Everyone claps for the happy little pop song.
Song For My Internet Crush
I create a new scene by unplugging the laser, moving the chair downstage center, directly into the spotlight.
For the first time in the show I sit down.
This subconsciously makes the audience feel more comfortable with me, and builds on the rapport we’ve just created in the previous song.
I tell an anecdote about how this song was a homework assignment from a songwriting class (which is not true), and how I combined a wikihow article on “How To Write A Love Song” with a list of 101 tourist attractions in Los Angeles that was on my refrigerator (which is true).
I play the song, and I openly explain that I’m only sitting down to catch my breath before the “big production number”. I don’t explain the use of the scene as a buffer beyond that. The audience believes they are in on it now, that I’m telling them everything. They are super comfortable. This builds up the trust required for the final scene, which is now three scenes away.
I move the chair upstage, stage right, and place it in the corner in a way that suggests it won’t be used again. I do this slowly and clearly so that the audience has subconsciously disposed of it’s future relevance.
I bring someone from the audience to stage left and have them read found copy from a blog post about how to make your own photo backdrop stand. There is more information than is necessary in order to allow ample time for the stagehand and I to assemble the set piece. The found copy includes exposition about the writer’s children and husband which is a false diversion and keeps the audience engaged until the assembly of the set piece begins.
This part of the piece is a blatant low budget ripoff of the Penn and Teller routines known as “Casey At The Bat” and “Cups And Balls”.
Once the set piece is assembled, I kick the audience member off stage even if they are not finished reading the assembly instructions. I symbolically crumple up the pages and toss them in the corner in an animated way in order to demonstrate that nothing in this piece is sacred.
This is also a fallacy because the paper bag props we are about to use are extremely difficult to create correctly. Backstage we treat them like they are made of gold. Additionally the manufacture of the set piece and spray painting of the bed sheet are fairly sophisticated processes. By throwing things around and acting casual about them we help to reinforce the idea that anyone in the audience could have done this easily.
Intentionally I will look for the two most attractive people in the room. The ones who are used to being called up and looked at. I bring up two audience members, show them the very basic choreography (and you will note that only now in the eleventh scene of the show is there any choreography). This is the lesson on how to dance as part of the audience learning how to be a rock star.
The audience feels a combination of familiarity and confusion. We have such a big set all of a sudden, there are now three people on stage for the first time since the opera, but in a different configuration. There is choreography. The only stability in the scene right now is that there are two people on stage who are attractive and the audience tends to focus on that.
In order to break this pattern and to add a new layer to the scene, I very quickly and rudely tell the two audience members to “put this bag over your head”. Sometimes I follow it with “Hurry up!”.
I play the song “Eye Contact” while the audience members do the choreography behind me, and in front of this giant illuminated set piece.
The phrase “It’s Show Time!” which is painted on the set piece is a reference to the street performers in New York that hijack subway trains by simultaneously screaming “What time is it? It’s Show Time!” before breaking into a dance routine on a crowded subway train.
This reference signals to any legitimate performer in Los Angeles that has spent time in New York that I am referencing the strange similarities between good street theater and bad legitimate theater. The crude painting style again stands to reinforce the myth that anyone in the audience could have put on this show.
The song finishes, the audience is always mesmerized, they always clap loudest for this one. They are really not sure what they’ve seen or what is going to happen next.
In a traditional concert this would be the last song before the encore.
Room So Hot
I have to kill some time here while the stagehand (Alesha Braden, the greatest stagehand I’ve ever worked with) single-handedly deconstructs the set behind me. Just watching her try to do this would be entertaining enough (sometimes it falls and breaks into pieces). To keep the audience unsure of what to concentrate on I begin telling the story of how “Eye Contact” was written (which you can read about in my other writings). I then explain how difficult it must be to watch the set piece being disassembled behind me.
Then I play “Room So Hot” with no context.
Everyone is relieved when the song (which ends abruptly) ends and the set piece is disassembled.
Normally this is where a concert would end.
At this point I feel like the audience has learned the necessary skills of how to be a rock star.
I’m going to start by explaining the inspirations behind doing this scene.
First of all there was an interview with Tina Weymouth where she talks about watching male fronted bands at CBGB. She explains that the issue with many of the original punk bands was that there was a constant suggestion of sex but at the end of the set there was no actual sex. In creating the Talking Heads onstage look of three normal office workers wearing clothes right out of the JC Penney catalog they wanted to alter this narrative. This reminded me of a constant struggle I’d had starting a music career in my 30’s which is that the audience is mostly going to be much younger people who don’t want to have sex with me and therefore were going to reject the music or performance automatically.
It reminded me that most people go into a show because they either want to be the performer or want to have sex with the performer. I’d already covered the first part up to this point.
Second, when I first began doing open mic nights I didn’t have a lot of material and was looking for ways to differentiate myself. Starting out I found it really difficult to come up with three new songs or covers to perform each week so I started experimenting with performance art ideas. I had a budget of $20 each week and the audience was usually about twenty people. My various pieces are all well documented on the internet.
One week I was in Dollar Tree and I saw the sunglasses. I bought twenty pair and started to think what I could do with them. I handed them out, played new age instrumental music off of my phone, and read a guided meditation I found on the internet which promised it would help you win the lottery. It was barely in english. Much to my surprise at the end of my fifteen minutes the audience was completely relaxed, quite calm, and didn’t care that everything I’d said had been nonsensical.
I quickly learned that you could ruin an open mic night with this routine. Once you remove everyone’s anxiety they don’t perform as well, they stop ordering drinks, and they don’t care about socializing.
I would later return to open mic nights where I’d been treated poorly in the past, do this routine early in the night, and then leave.
Third, I’d been at lunch with a female friend a year prior. She told me about a guided meditation on YouTube that caused her to have an orgasm. She sent me the link. It ran for a half hour which was too long to perform at an open mic night, but I’d written it down in a notebook I keep with ideas for shows.
This part of the show is kind of self indulgent in the sense that it doesn’t really flow with the rest of the show initially. Any smart person would have ended the show right where I did. I was reminded of David Bowie’s advice that you have to have your foot just over the edge if you want to really do great work. I went with it.
I had a Fiverr typist transcribe the meditation video. I spoke with it’s creator and with some hypnotists. Most agreed it probably wouldn’t cause anyone to have an orgasm in this setting but they didn’t rule it out.
I also felt that if I’m going to do a show in an experimental theater festival there should be something experimental. I’d hate it if people went home from the show and weren’t rambling about how crazy it was. I was confident that no one in the audience had ever had someone on stage try to get the entire audience to have a simultaneous orgasm before and it would be something they would talk about and remember for the rest of their lives.
In contrast to everything else happening around me such as shows about aliens fighting in outer space, people crying about their various diseases and relationships, people crying about politics, or people just generally crying out for attention; this was the one show that was going to buck all of those trends and send people home with a smile on their faces.
My dream was that this part was the part that you remember five years from now when you’re pumping gas and just break out in hysterical laughter that only makes sense to you.
In keeping with the themes of the show I left in the parts about “don’t listen to this while driving” and other such warnings.
I spent about a week shopping for the sunglasses that I would distribute to the audience. I ordered them months before the show. I wanted to make sure that even the smallest detail had been well designed. As it turned out the glasses would have to double as the entrance tickets to the event, which gave me the serendipitous bonus of people using them as props to take selfies in front of the theater.
At this point of the show I instruct the audience to put on the glasses. I place the chair back in it’s previous position and augment it with a music stand and clip light.
Two things happen while I’m reading the meditation. The first is there’s an intentionally very slow lighting cue that runs nearly fifteen minutes during which the stage lights fade to black. The purpose of this is in case anyone takes off their glasses and looks to see if I’m actually still there reading this incredibly long meditation presented without any context.
The second is that the stagehand is removing everything from the stage and packing it up while I keep speaking. This saves us a ton of time in load out and also is sort of a magic trick because when the audience sees the stage next all of the piles of stuff that were sitting there when they walked in and were used throughout the show have all disappeared.
It isn’t until 22 minutes into a 30 minute meditation that I say the word ‘orgasm’ or that any of this has any actual sexual connotation. As I’d sort of predicted at this point there’s always one man who is very uncomfortable and laughs, which usually sets off a wave of laughter and people realize that it’s crazy that they’ve fallen for any of this.
Once I’m done reading I go backstage and hide. The music fades and the audience sits in complete darkness for 90 seconds. After this the stage lights come up halfway for 45 seconds to reveal one of the smiley face paper bags from “Eye Contact” resting diagonally on a microphone stand. After 45 seconds the stage fades to black and the house lights come up.
There’s no curtain call. With the exception of our preview the other audiences stand up and cheer, applauding for a paper bag on a microphone stand. They then leave.
Alesha and I sit backstage staring at the one piece of the wall where we can see light come in. We wait to see if anyone stays and applauds. We laugh hysterically when they do.
The house clears and the stage manager gives us an all clear to come out and pack up the few remaining pieces.
I’m quite proud of the work I did on this show. Many of the reviews seemed to understand more or less what I was doing even if they didn’t understand all of the references. Some people really fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Those people gave it really nasty reviews. A couple were clearly jealous that they didn’t think of it. I liked those reviews best because they made my goal of making anyone think that they could put this show on a success.
It was a huge financial bust and was not particularly accepted by the other Fringe festival participants. They mostly wanted to see more shows like the ones they were making and understood at face value.
There is no recording of this show of any kind. From the outset I wanted this article to be the only record of the performance. When I was growing up reading theater magazines and learning about stagecraft all we had were books and magazine articles (and occasionally a cast album) to imagine what the shows were like. I wanted to continue that tradition which has been lost. I don’t feel like any recording of this show would have done it any justice anyway.