Friday, March 28, 2008

Episode 6: The Fundraiser From Hell

On Saturday, November 3, 2007, Horror Show produced (in the loosest sense of that word) a fundraiser performance for the Ivory Theatre. No, strike that, the invitation said it was a fundraiser for the Ivory, but she was telling people that it was a fundraiser for her nonprofit company, TAFFY (Theatre Arts for Formative Youth), that produces bad children shows that she writes. She swore these children's shows were going to make tons of money for the theatre, which would in turn fund other projects. Yeah, right. None of that would even happen.

It turned out it was actually an amateurish backer's audition (I'm talking Guffman amateurish). She convinced the owners to invite their rich friends, so that she could put on staged scenes from several bad musicals she had written, in hopes that these rich folks would fall in love with her work and offer to produce her shows on Broadway. No, that's not a joke -- she told several people that she really believed that would happen. For her, the Ivory was a place to develop her work before it went to Broadway. That's how delusional she was and is.

The NonProphets agreed to be part of the fundraiser as well, as did Leaping Lizards. New Line and Hydeware declined. What follows is an eyewitness account of this bizarre, tragicomic evening that was forwarded to me (and somewhat edited here) by one of the parties involved in the Ivory mess at that time. I'm amazed any of these people still had a sense of humor about this ongoing nightmare...

The show wasn't just bad; it was Plan 9 from Outer Space bad. What transpired that night was an act of accidental cultural terrorism so brazen, so utterly clueless, that it demands to be written down and recorded in the annals of theatre history. Never before has one person done so much to set back the cause of live theatre in our time.

First, there's a loud chord on the piano from behind the drawn curtain. The audience, numbering 42, scattered among the 230 seats, hushes and waits. (Horror Show was convinced this would sell so well they'd have to do two performances. Oops.) And nothing happens. Nothing continues to happen. Nothing happens for quite a stretch. Eventually the audience collectively realizes that the show isn't starting after all. Oops again.

Finally the lights dim and they hear the voices of two kids. They're coming down the aisles from the balcony, having a cute-as-kittens conversation about the language of theatre: "This is where the audience sits. It's called The House." It went on from there. And on and on. The most valuable information the kids taught the speechless audience was that The Wings are used for storage, waiting to enter, and sight lines. Huh???

The kids yammer on in front of the curtain about nothing and finally execute an awkward segue: "What do you want to be?" "I want to be HER!" And they gesture awkwardly to the curtain. And nothing happens. And nothing... wait... yep, the curtain is slowly, fitfully creaking open to reveal a well-known local musical theatre performer in black sequins (who will remain mercifully anonymous) singing "Welcome to the Theatre" (a song from the musical Applause about how nasty and back-biting the theatre is -- an odd choice to open the show). Soon the kids are singing too. Sort of. And they navigate this jungle gym of dirty black platforms, step units, and ramps randomly strewn around the stage. And then... Big Finish! Sort of. Applause. Sort of. More like golf claps.

Then Horror Show's writing partner enters as Emcee for the evening. (She had actually asked a well-known local singer to emcee the show, but then decided he wasn't good looking enough, so she put out an audition notice for an "attractive" emcee -- without telling the singer she didn't want him.) The Emcee is holding a wireless hand mic and talking into it dutifully, despite the fact that it's not on. And he's really soft spoken. We catch every third or fourth word. The audience soon discovers that he's one of those people who actually possesses negative charisma -- he actually sucks charisma out of others. So he starts telling them all the wonderful things the Ivory's gonna do -- classes, a concert series, weddings, a list of proposed programs so long and nonsensical and monotone that it reminds those in the crowd who are still awake of that Bubba character in Forrest Gump.

Then the audience is subjected to a slide show about the Ivory Theatre. On the bottom of each slide is a charming caption. For example, under the slide of the church's original altar, it says, "Thoughts...... this would be a great place for the stage!" To the audience's great (unintended) amusement, each caption starts with "Thoughts....." The last slide is an artist's rendering of the finished seating area. And of course they leave this last slide up, so it hovers inappropriately in the background of the NonProphets' scene which follows...

So the Emcee introduces the NonProphets, who perform a couple scenes from the play Corleone (with that slide still in the background). They do as good a job as possible, having never had a chance to rehearse the scenes on the stage and all the while navigating that pointless jungle gym of platforms, step units, and ramps that Horror Show has created.

And then the Emcee returns to lull the audience back to sleep. He starts to teach them about How a Musical Is Written. And Exhibit A is his and Horror Show's Halloween Extravaganza Things That Go Bump In the Night. Six or seven kids come out and sing this bland awful song, actually screaming once each verse (is that supposed to be cute?) and running around the jungle gym set like there are child molesters in the wings (you know, where they keep the sightlines).

Then the audiences gets treated to a string quartet from Webster University. A not very good one. And there is a stationary mic set right in front of the stage. Right next to the cello. The cello which can't seem to hold a pitch if it had tar on it.

Then the Emcee returns to introduce the director of Leaping Lizards performing a tap solo. She does a nice job of it but again has a hell of a time navigating the jungle gym. Sadly, there's still more than ninety minutes to go...

The Emcee comes back and announces comically (he thinks) that this is the "fund part of the fundraiser." And he half-heartedly and awkwardly reads his pitch for donations off a sheet of paper. Then throws the piece of paper on the ground. Maybe that's supposed to be funny or something?

Now a whole new part of the evenings begins. The Best Part. No wait, that's wrong, it's the Worst Part. This already suffering audience is going to be assaulted by songs from musicals written by Horror Show and the Emcee. And really, it's not fair to call them songs. They're amorphous "pieces." Or maybe more like "musical scenes." Reeeeeally extended musical scenes. Extended like fifteen minutes long and unbearably boring and generic and bland, so bad that a few audience members consider forcibly cracking their own skulls open on their cup holders just to avoid the unrelenting agony of listening to this crap. Or so I'm told.

It starts with Equus: The Musical. Terrible. Really bad. Not even Guffman bad. Worse than that. Then, While You Were Sleeping: The Musical. More ambitious but also more bad. Then, Dr. Lao: The Musical (based on The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, a bad and fairly racist 1964 Tony Randall film). Worser still. Much worser. And finally an "original jazz opera" which had precious little to do with jazz. And these four pieces (of unadulterated crap) take about an hour to perform, an hour no one in this theatre will ever get back. Horror Show has assembled 10-12 local actors to do these scenes, all of them reportedly walking away afterward hating Horror Show as much as everybody else does.

Now here's the funny part. About an hour into this abomination -- which ultimately clocked out at about two hours with no intermission -- all the rich folks in the balcony are Gone. There's not a soul up there. Which pretty much cuts the audience in half. Of course, the rich folks are the target audience tonight, since Horror Show is really just trying to find investors to take her shows to New York. Then the audience hears them all laughing like hell out in the lobby, which of course carries into the theatre just in time to muck up the Original Jazz Opera -- some woman singing about rain, rain, nothing but rain. As the second hour of the show staggers on, the audience starts leaving one by one, occasionally in couples. Just getting up and leaving. When the Original Jazz Opera and some wholly forgettable final words from the Emcee are done, the 12 people left in the audience (no joke, only 12 out of 42 stayed for the whole show) staggers out into the lobby to find that all the rich folks have actually left the building and gone home. Including the wildly embarrassed owners.

I guess Horror Show won't be going to Broadway after all. At least not this season.

Sic Semper Tyrannis!
An Ivory Survivor