To say that my first performance in 37 years since jumping off the stage in the middle of my own show in 1974, Allee Willis’ Soup To Nuts Party Mix at the El Portal Theater in beautiful North Hollywood on October 18, was anything like what I expected is the Katrina of understatements. Anything that could go wrong did. But as I’m an artist who plans to the extreme so that when the inevitably unexpected happens it can be swiftly and humorously dealt with, it was a supreme triumph of soul, kourage and kitsch. At past parties of mine, the precursors to my performance now, these malfunctions have been limited to those you could count on one hand. Now, the 6,437,932 technical black holes that befell Soup To Nuts only made for more laughs and make me want to preform more! Not that the mayhem is so easily detectable in these photos, but the fun, style and funk that filled the evening and the days preceding it certainly are. For an overview, start here. For specifics, press one of these lovely buttons now.
I meant to start posting my thoughts about my Soup To Nuts Party Mix show, my first live performance in 37 years at the El Portal Theater last Tuesday night, the day after the show but I could barely pick up a stylus to write let alone move my mouth in any detectible syllabic pattern because I was so tired and overwhelmed. I’m racing to get photos up, a fun yet gruesome task as there are literally thousands of them to go through. Hopefully by tomorrow I’ll have them organized enough to post. In the meantime, let me tell you about this cruise on the Love Boat that mutated into the Titanic yet somehow still ended up at Fantasy Island…
Stormy seas and all, Soup To Nuts Party Mix was about the most incredible experience that I’ve ever had. Not because it went so well, but because literally 95% of the technology it was dependent on failed. It was apparent from the second I walked on stage that I was going to have to throw out the script and effects I had worked on so furiously for four months and literally ad lib my way through the evening. All I can tell you is that despite riding a sinking technological ship, I kept people in stitches, and I mean tears rolling down their faces, screaming laughter stitches, including standing ovations in the middle of the show for things I was forced to come up with on the spot.
So despite being an utter failure as far as the show I planned, it was an unbelievably cathartic moment as a performer. Like five years worth of working the act out within the space of two hours, some time of which I spent sitting down watching brilliant and charitable friends of mine takeover and help me out.
One of them was the stupendous comedienne Luenell, who has stepped it up at other parties of mine as well and Tuesday night helped a sista out during one of the 6,437,293 technical glitches that befell the stage.
But just as Luenell got to her punchline, something FINALLY popped up on the screen and I had to cut her off.
One of the best moments of the show, although perhaps not for Luenell, was when she then took a seat and the chair started rolling out from under her…
…until she plopped down flat as a log on the floor. When I asked if she needed a first aid kit she yelled “NO, what I need is a lawyer!”
I need the same lawyer for the guy at the controls. But from the jump four months ago I approached this whole thing as a party thrower, not a playwright, and a good party thrower is ready to field anything that goes wrong, even if of a catastrophic nature such as the tech sinkhole happening on stage left. I’m sure a phrase that will stick with my shows forever was born: “Get the foamcore!” as I sent my assistant, Dina Duarte, and set-collaborator, Mark Tomorsky, both on stage with me for the whole show, racing for a ratty piece of paper covered foam to hold over the main monitor every time the wrong photo, lyric for a sing-along or even worse, the tech guy’s desktop, appeared. Here they are hoisting it over what was supposed to be the lyrics to “Boogie Wonderland”, while my collaborator on that song, Jon Lind, kills time with his story about Maurice White, chocolate danishes and other things that happened the day we wrote it.
I doubt that Larry Dunn, founding member of Earth Wind & Fire who played keyboards on the records of “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” and accompanied me on those songs in the show, ever got cut off early before. But I had to yank him short as without lyrics sing-alongs can only be so effective.
Danny Sembello also came onstage for two songs he co-wrote with me, “Neutron Dance” and “Stir it Up”, neither of which were consistently accompanied by correct lyrics.
Chris Price played “I’ll Be There for You”, the theme from Friends and “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”, both of which I was forced to race through without their accompanying stories as by the time we reached them it was already the time I had planned to end the show, 10:15, and we were barely at the halfway point because of the malfunctions. Dina and Mark had the foamcore ready but thankfully the Friends theme is so short and has been hammered into the heads of every audience member a hundred times a day since 1994 so my tech guy could only wreak so much havoc.
And then we were supposed to play Bingo. How do you mess up Bingo??! But if you’re spelling K-I-T-S-C-H and not B-I-N-G-O and there are no visuals to go along with “K- Dust Mop Slippers” or “T-Flowbee”, “S- Farrah Fawcett Shampoo & Conditioner” or “H – Beatles Pantyhose”, who’s going to know what you’re talking about without visual accompaniment? As soon as it was apparent that that too tanked I just turned to the audience and yelled “Fuck Bingo! The first 20 people up on stage get all the prizes!”. You would’ve thought the Gold Rush hit California again from the way this audience stampeded the stage.
Jelly room deodorizers, soccer balls that turn into magic towels when they get wet, vintage Afro picks, matzo ball kitchen timers donated by Davida (who also contributed the packs of Kosher Kurls in the gift bags), Handerpants – underpants with finger holes so graciously displayed by Daniel Franzese in a shot below and donated, as much of the gifts were, by Archie McPhee… this was one of my favorite moments of the show. To me it’s all about interaction between performer and audience and there they all were on stage like bit players and incredible friends. It truly felt like a party in my yard, which is what I had built the set to look like anyway.
Then I threw in a montage from my musical, The Color Purple, though we skipped the sing-along.
And finally, a veritable tour de force, Pigmy Will doing “The Hustle” played us out.
Just like I never learned to read, notate or write music yet have sold 50,000,000 records, or that I didn’t know you mix paint to get different colors until ten years into my art career, I’m probably the only person in theater history who ever booked the theater before they wrote the show and then performed the show before they had a rehearsal. I am, if nothing else, consistent! It’s the spontaneous event and what happens between performer, audience, and stage, whether it’s in a theater or on my porch, that’s the art form to me. Yes, a stage manager and lighting and sound director would have been nice, as would have been a theater whose usual fare wasn’t Christmas specials and geriatric musicals. But thankfully much of the audience was peppered with people who understand the pitfalls the stage can hold. For example:
My sentiments exactly! All I kept thinking as the world collapsed around me was a) what the f&#k is going on and what the hell am I going to do next??, while simultaneously being conscious that b) this will be my most legendary performance ever because I don’t know anyone else who wouldn’t have walked off stage after 20 minutes. Through it all I just kept going and got funnier and funnier and funnier. So the tech mishaps in their own bizarre way worked in my favor. In the end, I got far more out of it than I had intended. My soul soared, and although I was nearly suicidal by the end of the show it was probably the most artistically satisfying thing I’ve ever done. At once everything was shattering around me in the worst conceivable way that anything can happen on stage, yet it was a totally triumphant evening.
Six cameras were shooting. I realize that a brilliant Waiting For Guffman times 1063 could be made out of it. That’s music to the ears of a kitsch lover such as myself, especially one who’s obsessed with learning how to make lemonade out of extremely rotten lemons. So it’s a kind of Self-Help Waiting for Guffman, or in this case, The Tech Guy. I also realize it gives me an incredible starting point for the next version of the show, which should happen by the end of January.
I will never again be afraid of adversity. I will only look at it as an annoying friend that I have to make the best of, and in the making of that a beautiful flower can bloom.
Tons of photos here!
Well, it’s the last place I ever expected to be the day before confronting the biggest professional fear in in my career, but here I am at 7:30 am. at the knee surgeons. Yesterday afternoon I tripped on a super huge keyboard cable that shouldn’t have been lying where it was while rehearsing with Chris Price, my keyboard player, and neutroned myself flat on the floor like a slab of steel, knees, face and hands crushed with the full force of my body which thankfully had gone on a diet a couple of weeks ago so at least the blow was softened by a few less pounds. When my “Neutron Dance” collaborator, Danny Sembello, came over to rehearse that song and “Stir It Up”, all had to huddle around me as doctor’s orders over the phone was to stay off my legs as much as possible. Which should make for a very interesting show tomorrow night…
Thankfully, hand therapist Martha Paterson was on her way over to my house to give me a little boost before the show, so that took some of the sting out of my aching neck, lower back, knees and hands.
Always the trooper, we continued the rehearsal while all my nerve endings were being stimulated.
Then, at 7 AM. this morning the ever faithful Prudence Fenton, a.k.a. Snappy P., picked me up and schlepped me to the knee doctor.
With everything on my plate to do today, having Dr. Lee probe my meniscus and all the other lumps you can see here wasn’t one of them.
Thanks also to Dawn Smith, who came over late last night to massage the woe out of my about-to-go-on-stage-for-the-first-time-in 37-years body. I forgot to take photos of that. Today should be a very interesting day…
Show is completely SOLD OUT! Only 4 more days of being the most overworked person on the planet (though I never expect that to diminish). See the LA Weekly article here.
Photo credit: Jenny Warren.
It’s getting close….. Read the Huff Po piece here.
Photo by Jenny Risher.
Although when I was in Boston the week before last for the fluffilectable Fluff Festival, all I did was participate in all things Fluff, I did manage to get in an hour of sightseeing, at least the only kind of sightseeing I’m interested in, which is looking for the best and most kitschtastic signs and edifices a city has to offer. I nearly lost my choppers when I came across the Hilltop Steakhouse on Route 1 outside of Boston. This place was so astounding – from this greatest sign I’ve ever seen, at least 40 feet high and I can’t even imagine what it looks like it night, to the herd of plastic cows grazing outside – that I’m going to give it its own post. I’m shooting for tomorrow but with all the work I still have to get done for my grand performance on the 18th, only time will tell when I’ll actually get that done. But trust me, it’s coming.
Of course, whenever a name has “hilltop” in it and it’s not on a hill, not to mention that it’s sitting on the side of a flat freeway, it’s astounding kitsch time.
I don’t care where it’s located, any pizza place with a leaning tower is where I’m going to munch Italian. That it’s next door to Giggles makes it even better.
I love when plaster flags that are constructed in “blow” motion.
I also love vintage stacked signs like this:
“Cocktail Lounge” and a working clock make it even better. That John Sebastion is performing at a Chinese restaurant, even better. But best of all is the massive hunk of the Kowloon itself:
Giant tiki = giant kitsch. If I ever Fluff it up again, I’m going to see if the portions inside loom as large.
You can’t really appreciate this next sign, especially blocked by that pole. But 15 feet of sake can’t be bad.
I love, love, love the Dairy Castle, miniature golf and baseball compound sign, all structures and features of which it beckons you to seemingly untouched since the 1960’s:
This angle is great:
You can spot a rocket ship, dinosaur and this happy Humpty facing the highway from the golf course:
Other than vegetarians, who doesn’t like hot dog signs, especially when an attempt is made at mustard and toppings, and it’s been boiling since 1958?
The Karl’s building is pretty great too, almost as if they couldn’t decide on the exact style of architecture they were going for so they went for everything. Though 1950’s and 60’s are most predominant in the house.
And last but not least, Ferns, where you’re lucky if you can get the “new room” – only one? – and a Whir Poo. Though I don’t think I want to participate in anything Poo happening in a motel.