A New Comedy by Bridgette Dutta Portman Directed by Nikki Meñez
Thursday Nights at 9PM April 7 – May 12 PianoFight SF, 144 Taylor
Desperate for money, two sisters hatch a plot to recreate the “McDonalds Coffee Lady” lawsuit. But the truth comes to haunt them.
Joanne hates her job at McCarby’s: minimum wage, irritating customers, an overbearing boss, and a geeky coworker. When Jo’s sister, Char, comes up with a scheme to spill hot coffee on herself and sue McCarby’s, Jo goes along with it. Can they pull it off, or is it too tall an order? Will someone spill the beans? How many coffee puns can we cram into this synopsis? And why is a mysterious old woman following Jo? Inspired by the 1992 McDonald’s hot coffee lawsuit, Coffee Lady is a tort-reform ghost story about sibling rivalry, denial, and the power of truth.
Featuring: Nikki Nutterfield, Anne Yumi Kobori, Ray Dequina, Janelle Aguirre, Barbara Ann Cecchetti, and Matt Gunnison.
Production Staff: Erica Andracchio, Jakob Bernardino, Zephaniah Bensaid, Colin Johnson, Kenna M. Lindsay, Brittany Mellerson, Nikki Meñez, Anthony R. Miller, Claire Rice, Puja Tolton, and Kelli Westad.
Hey Creeps and Campers, Anthony here, it’s been a while and we’ve had news for you. So grab a seat.
“Phase 1” of Terror-Rama is quickly coming to a close. I like to refer to this as the “Making something out of nothing” phase. Since last October’s reading, new drafts of both scripts have been completed, an infrastructure has been built, the design staff has been assembled, posters are being printed and a cast has been selected. Phase 2 will involve one last draft, the rehearsal process and building the show.
Let’s catch up in broad strokes shall we?
As I write this, we have 12 days left in our Kickstarter campaign, which has been a nerve-wracking experience, to say the least. I mean here we are basically saying “validate me and my idea with money”. Every day without a donation, I walk around Eeyore (“I’m producing a play…not that it matters”), every day we get $100 I feel like an Icon of American Theatre. And thanks to the support of friends, family, and the Bay Area Theatre community, we are $900 away from goal.
On Friday the 13th of June (See what we did there?) We will have our second developmental reading and our end of Kickstarter party. This will either be a celebration of our fundraising triumph or an opportunity to see me cry in public. Either way it promises to be a great time. We took all the input from the last reading and can’t wait to present the newest drafts of Camp Evil and Creep. With all the craziness swirling around this show I forget sometimes that is also a play development project. We’re building two brand new plays from the ground up, neat right?
One of the fun things about DIY theatre is finding space. We held three days of auditions in glamorous places like the Public Library, a Police station community room, and my living room. So it takes a special kind of person to hear “hey come audition for my Horror Play at the LIBRARY” and react enthusiastically. You know, crazy people.
With a loving statement like that, and more than enough “Letter from the Artistic Director” nonsense as introduction, let’s meet the folks who will be bringing this show to life on stage this October.
Cast of Terror-Rama 2014:
Ashley Cowan is originally from Avon, CT. After graduating from Roger Williams University, she moved to New York City to become a starving artist before moving to San Francisco as a moderately hungry artist where she’s been acting, writing, and enjoying burritos ever since. She’s had the privilege of working with such Bay Area theater companies including: Atmos Theatre, San Francisco Olympians Festival, Custom Made Theatre, Piano Fight, No Nude Men, Young Performers Theatre, and Theater Pub.
Vince Faso is an actor, writer, teacher, and director with a degree in Performing Arts and Social Justice from the University of San Francisco. He has worked with companies such as Custom Made, CalShakes, SF Theater Pub, Performers Under Stress, Diablo Actor’s Ensemble, The Cutting Ball Theater, Actors Ensemble of Berkeley, and is a founding member of the SF-based comedy improv team, Chinese Ballroom. Hair-raising terror, spine-tingling suspense, confusion, doubt, and insecurity are merely part of his daily life…as a middle school drama teacher.
Tavis Kammet sleeps with all of his closets closed and blocked. He received his BA in Drama from University of Exeter and his MA in performance from University of London Goldsmiths. Tavis Kammet used to run from the bathroom after he flushed the toilet once he saw the cover to the film ghoulies. He has performed for CalShakes, Impact, Custommade, Thunderbird, All Terrain, and Punch Drunk theatres. As well as for his Grandmother and those children only she could see.
Jordan Kersten is thrilled to make her horror debut with Colin Johnson and this excellent cast. Her love affair with Lady Theatre began when she was seven years old, and she has performed in a variety of plays and musicals and formally studied acting at UC San Diego. Favorite roles include Brooke in Noises Off with Actor’s Ensemble Theatre (another Colin Johnson masterpiece), and Bambi in Foothill Musical Theatre’s Curtains. Jordan is eternally grateful to her family and friends for all their love and support.
Tonya Narvaez is all atremble to be part of Terror-Rama. She acts, writes, and directs in the Bay Area. Previous projects include the San Francisco Olympians Festival, Hot Mess, Love in the Time of Zombies, and The Merchant of Venice. Up next is a staged reading of her play Hydra, a modern take on the Greek monster in one act with the San Francisco Olympians Festival: The Monster Ball. She is extremely excited to get to creep everyone out this October!
Brian Quakenbush hails from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. He received his B.A. in Theatre and Philosophy from Grand Valley State University where he was recipient of the Shakespeare Scholarship. Since then he has worked locally as an actor, writer, director, designer and producer for his Co-Founded companies Battle Stache Studios and Round Belly Theatre Company, as well as with B.O.A., Piano Fight, Theater Pub, Actors Ensemble Berkeley, Quixotic Players, Footloose Dance Company, The Thick Rick Ones and Rebel Home Dance. He is excited to be working with Awesome Theatre for the first time.
Adrienne Whitney is exSCREAMely excited to be back in The Bay Area where she has been seen at Berkeley Rep (Yellowjackets, Oliver Twist) and Impact Theatre (Colorado). TV credits include House, M.D.; Parenthood; and Vegas. She received a BA in Theater & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley and has studied at The Groundings, ACT, and Playhouse West. She currently resides in Los Angeles where she has performed with sketch comedy groups like The Third String Kicker. Visit http://www.adriennewhitney.com, and prepare for untold HORRORS…or just more about Adrienne.
Liana Winternitz is creeped out and absolutely disturbed beyond comfort to be in Terror-Rama! A theatre administrator by day, Liana is always surrounded by so many talented artists that make up this Bay Area theatre community and she is happy to be a part of it. Thanks, dear reader, for supporting the performing arts! And thank you Awesome Theatre – So Say We All.
My name is Sindie Chopper, but you can call me tonight! 😉
You are my people and I speak to you today as advocates and supporters of a dying genre: Horror!
I am thrilled to have been asked by TERROR-RAMA to fulfill a lifelong dream to be a horror host, and I can’t bloody wait to get started! The anticipation is killing me!
Let me start by giving you all some background on Horror Hosts.
A horror host is a television presenter who’s tasked with showcasing B films to television audiences. Starting in 1957 a collection of horror films were released for syndication, which encouraged the use of hosts for the broadcasts. The collection was called “shock” and host style broadcasting became known as “shock theatre.” More collections were released in 1958 (son of shock), 1962 (creature feature), and 1970 (add-on to creature feature). Vampira is generally considered the first TV horror host. Despite The Vampira Show’s short run from 1954 to 1955), it set the standard for horror hosts and show formats to follow. While a few early characters like Zacherley and Vampira became the icons of this nationwide movement, most hosts were already local TV personalities. Hosts were traditionally plucked from the ranks of the studio staff. It was common for the weatherman or booth announcer to finish nightly news broadcast and race madly to another part of the soundstage for a quick costume adjustment to present the evening’s monster tale. This paved the way for hosts like Elvira, the Crypt Keeper, Hodgson, Crow, Tom, and Gypsy from MST3K, and many others. The impact of these friendly ghouls on their young fans cannot be overstated. That’s where we come in. If it weren’t for these early trail blazers our exposure to these films and style of presentation would be left like my sex life, in the dark.
Resume? Please, I am so over-qualified, it kills me!
So what are my specific skills? Let me share a few with you pervs: When I was seven, I was brought to my first Broadway production. Having starred in my school play as the mother of the three little pigs and won the talent show in kindergarten, I had already fancied my self an actor and intended continuing on this path. The production was Phantom of the Opera; I was unaware at this time in my life that it was possible for a musical to be dark, creepy, and sad all at the same time. I was also unaware that the crush I developed on the phantom was a preview for the dark depraved nature I would develop. Who else could you hire that gets wet every time they hear “Music of the Night”?
Now that you have a glimpse into my sick head, lets jump forward a few years.
If you hadn’t already guessed, I was not your typical little girl begging mommy for the latest in Disney princess cookie-cutter costume-rack deal finery. No, I was a little more twisted than that. With my favorite stuffed animal, a black cat named Piewacket, I went headless to my third grade Halloween parade. This not only freaked out my teachers and fellow students, but also encouraged my mom give up on my cheerleading career. I never went to proms knowing it would never be the Carrie bloodfest I always wanted, and instead threw midnight pick-nicks at local graveyards hoping Vincent Price would eventually bring me a corsage. I think it was believed I would grow out of this, no diced babies. I’m still a depraved Goth girl who gets off on the strange and unusual.
So what will I have in store for you this October my little depraved darlings?
These are very big and intimidating shoes, but we will have a chance to revolutionize them in a way we have never seen done in live theatre. Traditionally, a horror hosts’ responsibility is to bring the best of this syndicated genre to our living rooms. In this case, being a live production, my job will be to help merge two very different pieces into one tantalizing theatrical ode to the macabre. Unlike most of the hosts that have come before me, my take on treating you to treachery is a bit different. I get to be live, for all the death, right in front of you and if I tease, I promise its only because I’ trying not to bite. The features I will be presenting to are ones I am invested black heartedly in and love to death. My approach may be comical, but my intension is not to peck apart or make fun of the dark art within. Not only do I get to prime and relate to the audience through presentation, but I get to actually be a part of the horror “feature” itself. You can be sure; lines between audience and victim will bleed into each other for a truly new and unique experience. Until then, see you in my nightmares nerds!
Horror has kept a special place in my heart for a very long time. It’s not the screaming, it’s definitely not the gore or the grue, it’s not even the tendency for pretty ladies to run around naked (although twelve year old Colin may dispute that claim).
It’s the unknown.
The fear of the unknown. What’s behind that swinging closet door? What made that sound in the kitchen? Are we ever really capable of fully understanding the saturation of psychic, supernatural forces that may or may not be all around us? Do we really have an implicit faith in an orderly universe?
What fascinated me was shaking those core, physical beliefs that we all share upon birth. We see things a certain way, ways that adhere to the laws of physics. But with horror, true terror, our perception is thrust into some sort of grey place, where we catch glimpses of things that shouldn’t be.
It’s the most overpowering emotion in the spectrum.
What other sentiment leaves one completely paralyzed if executed correctly? Think about the last time you were terrified. I mean truly terrified. The breathing, the silence, the hairs on the back of your neck, the idea that anything can happen in those few seconds after hearing a loud crash in the dark. That old feeling of total exposure, true vulnerability, true discomfort, a biting need to leave, just fucking leave wherever you are and scramble to safety.
Get ‘Em Young
I started tinkering with these narrative elements at an early age. Backyard plays, picture books based on Tom Waits songs, culty recordings, etc. With movies and literature, my fascination was taken to a new level. Not only can horror be digestible, but it can defy the laws of physics in ways life cannot, and it can also say something about the world.
It started with TV’s Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Goosebumps, Halloween specials of popular 90’s sitcoms (including a very traumatic memory of Bea Arthur as Bride of Frankenstein) and quickly graduated to Stephen King, Peter Straub, H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Blair Witch Project (and other crude and primal explorations of the supernatural), the classics of the 70’s and 80’s (Exorcist, Changeling, The Conversation, The Shining) and, ultimately, From Dusk Til Dawn – where I was first struck with the notion of cross-genre storytelling.
One half comedy, one half horror. Brilliant. Because, let’s be honest, comedy and horror are essentially the same concept taken in two different directions. Human misfortune.
Mining the Darkness
I started making movies at age fifteen. Ketchup, knives, strobe effect POV shots, burying myself alive, running over my Mother – only to have her severed hand come back to life and kill us one at a time, ghosts filmed in a higher shutter speed or in reverse. I slowly started figuring out what creeps people out. And I do mean slowly.
Then came college, a slightly larger microcosm of the world than Monroe, WA. People actually humored my unusual projects, supported my weird ideas. Then the film department at my school mentioned that student horror films never work.
So I made one, and it worked – kind of.
I made another one, and it really worked. It even got me some awards and screened at an international film festival.
Then came the Bay Area
Look at all the awesome freaks. Look at all the bizarre art. I was home. I spent a few years producing, writing and directing multimedia sketch comedy, honing my storytelling brevity, going as far as I can with a concept. I got to the point where I felt comfortable telling stories, making people laugh, developing the tools to manipulate audiences down certain rabbit-holes, educating myself on the strategies of effective presentations. However, in terms of horror, I felt I had hit a wall. Where else could I take these ideas of unnatural, atmospheric dread?
With theatre, you’re locked in to the laws of physics.
There you are, mere feet away from an eager audience, with nothing but yourself and some conveniently placed props and set pieces and lights to offer assistance.
The limitations were exciting, they forced creative thinking. As a writer and director, they thrust you and the characters deeper than usual, digging the terror up from the inside out. Radio plays were fun, but they lent themselves to the subjective nature of sound. Once you’re operating without vital senses, horror can breathe easier and carve a line directly to your imagination.
But live theatre – leaves so much less to the imagination. In theatre you can’t cut to a dark barn as a shadowy figure hovers above the bails of hay. In theatre you can’t slap on a funky filter and walk through a fantasy nightmare-scape…
And then, in walks Anthony Miller, packing two one-acts that perfectly captured the tonal dynamism of live terror.
One – his own – sends up cheesy 80’s backwoods slasher stories. A family inherits an old summer camp, only to be sliced and diced my an unseen menace. Tongue-firmly-in-cheek, it nails the path of the fun horror. Screaming, giggling, loud sound cues, intestines, hacked limbs, one-liners, bright colors.
The other – by Nick Pappas – takes the most grim approach possible. Bleak, colorless, atmospheric, stomach-churning in its brutality. Loosely based on Fritz Lang’s M, it follows the efforts of two dogged detectives to find a human monster terrorizing a dark, expressionistic city.
Sign Me Up
One half comedy, one half horror. All underneath the banner of TERROR-RAMA.
And a Horror Host? Like Elvira or the Cryptkeeper? Even better!
As we assemble an amazing production team and aim for an October opening, the logistic limitations of a 40-seat block box studio theatre have created boundless options.
Unlike other genres, horror has always functioned best in its most primal state. Where dramas, comedies, cartoons, crime stories evolve through revisionism (look at the originals – sloppy, unintentionally funny, unsure of themselves. Compare them to the current crop – more refined, twisty, thick with character and prestigious production value), horror is most effective when it’s ugly, mean, crude, lacking any full explanations, dirty.
This is what makes horror one of the most under-appreciated storytelling modalities in contemporary culture.
The opportunity to explore what we all secretly want to believe but are unable to fathom. And, once you’re ten feet away from an ominous act of violence or a creeping stalker, you feel that immediacy, you’re sucked into that blissful plane of suspended disbelief – where physics can be dashed and true terror, with all its contradictions and spectrum-running styles, can be seared into your retinas. Ever had to stifle laughs while feeling the nagging scratch of impending doom?
For this inaugural post, let’s answer the obvious question:
In late 2012, spurned by a quarter-life crisis, I began a flurry of pitching shows to anyone who would listen. One of these people was a fella whom we will call “Jobu”
(Fans of the Film Major League will appreciate this name later). Jobu was a perfectly nice guy who I had known in passing for years. Most important, he was what I like to call a “do-er” and these were the people I needed to know right now. Having spent a major part of my 20’s, self-producing all
sorts of shows, I was over the romanticism associated with DIY. I knew the workload would not allow m
e to focus on writing. I needed the talents of people who actually knew and loved what they were doing. Here’s the trick; I hadn’t actually seen anything that Jobu had produced. (For a guy who LOVES theater, I don’t get to see a ton of it.) All I knew was that he was producing with more than a modicum of success, and people had great things to say about him. That was enough for me, because these days, I wasn’t producing a friggin thing. Right?
The day before we met up I didn’t have anything specific to pitch. So I took a look at their past shows. While the previous lines are a testament to my unwavering dedication to preparedness, this next part serves as first proof of my ability to overlook the obvious: Previous productions, mission statements, project photos, all made me think, “This isn’t really what I do at all”. But I would be undeterred! Based on everything I looked at, I figured my best angle was to have a play with death in it. Can’t beat em? Join ‘em! Can’t join ‘em? Kill ‘em! Yes?
I’m not going to go into why death is an easy topic for me or why I wrote Camp Evil, because that story is for another day. Suffice it to say; soon after conceptualizingCamp Evil, Terror-Rama’s seed was planted. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about a horror-play double feature, a Grindhouse for theatre. Camp Evil would be the funny horror-play and the second play could be completely fucking depraved.
Our first meeting was in some shitty bar in the Mission District. For those of you not familiar with this part of San Francisco, just imagine the look on someone’s face when they realize you’ve farted. Now imagine that face as a district of a city. So here we are in some over-dark bar drinking flat Tecate and I understand most of what he’s saying. So at some point, I pitch TR (I’m going to start calling it TR now, Ok?), and he actually digs it. He asks for a more formal proposal and I go home feeling pretty good about myself.
Between then and our next meeting I started sketching out ideas for TR andCamp Evil. I needed to figure out what could tie these two polar opposite plays together. Without some grandiose unifying concept, it was just two one-act horror-plays. Which is cool, but not that cool. One of the best things about seeing a horror movie in a theater is the group experience. When I think of seeing horror movies in a movie theater I think of screaming alongside perfect strangers, feeling moments of relief and vocalizing it, reacting together. I also think of people throwing popcorn, which made me think of the scene in the classic film Elvira Mistress of the Dark where she hosts a horror movie.
Fuckin’ A! A Horror Host!
I thought of Elivira, The Crypt Keeper, Rod Serling, and of course Vampira. (Look up ‘Vampira show opening’ on YouTube, it’s brilliant.) These hosts made watching a low-budget horror movie on TV a shared experience. The host took you with them. It added a whole new dimension, you were in it together. That would be TERROR-RAMA.
For our second meeting, I laid it all out. Once again I was really surprised, he was receptive and prepared (He had notes on the pages I had sent him, notes!). When we talked about who would write the other play, we didn’t really have any amazing ideas, there were some good ones, but not amazing. We decided to keep brainstorming and meet again. This was going well.
A week or so later, I was in Southern California (Simi Valley, if you must know) seeing my dear old friend and playwight Nick Pappas. Nick and I met in college, and worked at the San Francisco Playhouse together. Which might be a really cool thing to say if we didn’t work there as Telemarketers. (To be fair, I also fixed the toilets there.) So I’m hanging out with him, talking about projects and I mentioned needing a second playwright.
He stops, looks up, and says; “Duh, me”
“Oh yeah, huh?” (We’ve mentioned I have issues with the obvious at this point right? Good.)
I am a terrible friend. OK, now we had to do this show.
It was April, maybe March and we have our third meeting, there’s no effing around now. Jobu and I meet for lunch and all I want is for this guy to say “Yes Anthony, let’s produce your crazy ass show”. I lay out the whole idea; we talk about the pages he’s read. And yes, every now and then I thought maybe he wasn’t totally digging this idea. But no matter, we were gonna do this friggin thing, and we were gonna do it this October. (At the time this seemed totally doable, more on this later.)
As we both get up to leave I say “So…what do think?”
“Ah, you mean the ‘Green Light’ as it were”
Flashing yellow…proceed with caution, (Right?) I’ll take it.
There was never actually a fourth meeting. It was cancelled last minute and contact was brief after that. At this point, we were getting close to June and if we were gonna do it in October, we needed to act now. Here’s something fun to know about me; when I have an idea, I want to do it right now. So writing and producing two brand new plays in roughly 9 months seemed totally doable. Now the only one that agreed with me was my girlfriend, Natalie. She and I had produced a show together before under crazier circumstances, and despite her better judgment, she was up for another challenge. She finally said, “You probably just need to do it yourself, I’ll help you.”
Then, more curveballs-
The next day, I got an email from a prospective director saying the timetable wouldn’t work. Then we found out we couldn’t get the venue we wanted. All of a sudden it felt like too many compromises were being made in order to do it now.
What was I gonna do? There was no way Natalie and I could pull this off so soon. It was pretty clear Jobu wasn’t on board. So I reached out to a friend of mine, explained the situation and asked what he would do.
“Anthony, you can’t wait for someone to do your idea.”
And there was the moment. The moment where I accepted that no one was going to do this for me. Now let’s be clear, self producing is hard. It requires money, resources and your eternal soul, but mostly money. I also thought the idea of just being the playwright was kinda neat. But dammit, this was the kind of theatre I wanted to see. In my case, that means no one else is going to do it, but that’s also for another post. For the first time in years, I had that fire, that excitement to put on a show. This moment can be summed up in that pivotal scene of the Charlie Sheen masterpiece Major League when Serrano walks up to the plate and says in frustration;
“Jobu, I go to you, I stick up for you and you no help me now? I say fuck you Jobu, I do it myself.”
See what I did there?
Natalie and I decide to instead book a reading for October and use it as a fundraiser, but also a last ditch attempt to get any interested party on board. To his credit, Jobu attended the reading, and at the end, shook my hand and said “thank you for doing this”. (All while making eye contact, it was impressive.)
Thatwas basically that.
The guy had heard me out, gone through three meetings and a reading and he just wasn’t feeling it. It happens. In the end, Jobu had served the only purpose he really could serve, getting me to step up to the plate. I was gonna have to swing at the damn ball myself.
So Natalie and I are in the Theatre business now. We raised enough money to book a venue and there will be an inevitable indie go-go campaign. But the point is, it’s happening. We now have a great director in Colin Johnson, and Production Stage Manager in Alandra Hileman. Camp Evil will be silly and Creep will mess you up for life.
We cannot wait to put on this show for you.
Stay tuned for more TERROR-RAMA diaries my dearies,
So after about a year of back and forth-ing with Artistic Director Scott Davis, It is my overwhelming pleasure to announce that The Musical that ate SF alive is returning! ZOMBIE! has been chosen as the “Anchor Musical” for the inaugural Inhuman:A Festival of New American Undead Theater, (INHUMANA ,get it?) premiering March 2012 at The Alley Theater! A first of its kind, Louisville’s home for alternative theater will present a month of mayhem from beyond the grave.
You’ll be hearing more about this is the coming weeks, but I was pretty much going to explode if I didn’t make the announcement already. Louisville, KY is home to one of the best theatre scenes in America, and the legendary Actors Theatre of Louisville. The Alley Theatre is an incredible alternative theatre company whos current season feature Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo, Evil Dead the Musical, and Gillgans Island the Musical. So you may ask “what can I do”, well, short of flying to Kentucky (I’ll be there for the opening if anyone wants come along). You can donate, theyre recieving matching funds for everything they raise and they’re a non-profit theatre (so they need help) you can do that here.
So a big thank you goes out to Artistic Director Scott Davis, who just happened upon our website looking for ZOmbie musicals. A big thanks to Zero Coordinate for Keeping the site up and super web optimized. And of course to all the people who worked on those original readings and productions. I’m thrill to see what Scott and the wild folks at the Alley do with it. This is a dream come true and i couldn’t be happier about it.