Friday, October 19, 2012

You Have the Right to Remain Silent! (1992)


This is what happened.

10:30 PM on Friday October 23, 1992. The Guerrillas were all prepared, we were all in the “auditorium” -- except Jelly Jam, who was off by himself somewhere in the house.

The Wheel was up and ready, with a laminated picture of each of our faces on it and one of the Guerrilla Gorilla. The Guerrilla Gorilla himself was seated in a chair on-stage, wearing a helmet and a GTC T-shirt.

A prize from Big Fun was hung behind Door #2, a free-standing door with a big, rainbow-colored, happy number two painted on it. All the props were laid out with care on a long, narrow table, made out of one by eight and some cinder blocks.

We had fifty folding chairs, on loan for the weekend from Our Lady of Mercy, in four rows -- a big block of seats in the center, and two smaller sections to the right and left, which were angled slightly to better face the stage. The stage was a runway about five feet deep and thirty feet long -- one side of the room. The bathroom was clean. The coffee was brewing. There was a platter of fruit, cheese and crackers sitting on a stool in the center of the playing space, a few feet from the first row. That was for our audience. 

Geddy was our Technical Support and Sound Guy. He was in the booth, an actual little sound booth that had been built and then left behind by a previous tenant, situated at the far end of the stage, and he started the pre-show tape. We opened the door.

And a couple of friends were waiting to come in.

Upon entering, people were directed to the ticket booth, where they would be asked if they had prepared for The Theme of the Weekend. Those who were got in for five dollars, those who hadn’t, for seven.

Theme for the First Weekend was “Theatre.” Most of us simply wore T-shirts advertising other theaters (I was wearing my Karamu House shirt) and those few audience members who really understood what the whole “theme” concept was about either did the same or some of them brought scripts or ticket stubs, programs from other theaters, which were fine. Our family members and close friends sported the new Guerrilla Shirts we had extorted them to buy.

Some tried to use the word “theatre” as a password, they were not given the discount. I was appalled at all of the people who made a fuss about having to pay two extra, stinking dollars at the door. Our explanation that seven dollars was the admission, and preparing for the Theme was a discount did little to mollify their tiny, withered souls.

Wee-Bear’s husband was one of them. He was dismayed he had to pay at all. On the way past the box office he noticed a sign we had made and stuck to a wall in an obscure place, a sign we hoped we might need to put out on the door sometime soon.

It read “SOLD OUT. Please come back next week!”

“Heh,” he said, spying the sign and pointing it out to Beemer, “wishful thinking, eh?”

Around 11:15 PM we had roughly thirty people in the house, mostly friends and family. When we decided we couldn’t hold the house any longer, the Guerrillas moved through the space, turning the four bare bulbs in the ceiling off one by one. The stage lights (four flood lights, directed at the stage area, their bases screwed to the tin ceiling) were dimmed for effect.

Geddy hit the Theme Music, and we all burst onto the stage from left and right.

“Good evening!” I said, “and welcome to You Have the Right to Remain Silent! Cleveland’s own live action game show! Fraught with radical political thinking, dangerous social expression, and FABULOUS PRIZES!”

Cheers and applause.

“Thank you all for hanging on there, we wanted to wait until we had an audience. NOW --”


“-- I’d like to explain the rules of the game. If you will open up your program, in the center, you will find something called a Hit List --”

I was talking very, very fast.

“What we’ll be doing for you this evening are a bunch of plays, ranging from five seconds to two minutes, that we call HITS. We’ll be doing them in a Hit and Run format, you’ll know a piece has begun because we will yell the title of the Hit, and then the word, HIT, we’ll perform the HIT, then yell the word RUN and we’ll go onto the next one.”

Oh boy, did this need to be rehearsed.

“We’ll choose the order, we, all of us, uh, of the Hits, by playing games. We’ll be playing games with you, the audience, and we’ll be picking certain members of you to decide what we will be seeing next. All right?”

No response. 

“Now we only have 27 Hits, you’ll see that there are 24 titles listed there, and that’s because three of them are what we call ‘Misses’.”

“Twenty-one,” Beemer mumbled.

“Twenty-seven Hits?” Torque asked.

“Did I say twenty-seven?” I asked. “No, we have twenty-one Hits, there are twenty-three names in the program, three of them are Misses --”

Okay, by now the audience was completely confused, and the Guerrillas were laughing at me.

“-- which are titles without any plays attached to them. If you stand up and pick a MISS, Geddy will play the theme song, and we’ll bring you up here to spin --”

Jelly Jam spun the Wheel. Click, click, click, click, click!

“-- our own Wheel of Misfortune.”

Big laugh.

“Which this weekend is sponsored by Heart of the South Side,” and I pointed out the large, round ad for that establishment that was taped to the center of the Wheel.

“Now. If it lands on, say, Torque, you get to do a piece with him. We’ll give you a script and you’ll get to perform with him, for everyone. If it lands on the Gorilla, you get the shirt off the Gorilla’s back --” gesturing at the Guerrilla Gorilla “-- OR what’s behind DOOR #2!” And Jelly Jam pulled a Vanna next to The Door.

Very big laugh. And thank God for it.

“The prize behind Door #2 is brought to you by Big Fun on Coventry. But you will have to sacrifice the T-shirt to find out what it is. You don’t get to find out what is behind Door #2 without trading the shirt for it.”

Wow, that took a long time.

“Have I left anything out?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Torque said, wild-eyed.

“There will be three rounds, the first will be The Quotation Round, you all filled out cards when you came in, sharing your thoughts and your name, we’ll bring two Guerrillas up here, they’ll read the quotes and whichever gets the loudest audience response gets to pick the first Hit. Easy enough?”

No response.

“Let’s begin!”

The Guerrillas ran to me, standing center. I pulled two quotes blindly out of my Fanny Pack, handed one to Torque and one to Beemer.

“Torque!” I said, asking Torque to read the quote I given him.

Quotations. There would be over 700 quotes read during the first season, and maybe 2000 read during the second season.

Torque read the very first quote ever read in a Guerrilla show.

“Fuck off!” he said.

And off we went.

It was all very rough, but everyone, including, thank goodness, the audience, was up for it.

These were some of the other quotations that night:
  • “They say no man is an island, who are they, anyway?” 
  • “The half-life of a cheeseburger in red pumps.”
  • “I wuv you.”
  • “Fuck me like fried-potatoes on the most beautiful, hungry morning of my goddamn life.”
  • “While the juices of society flow gently into mediocrity.” 
  • “Happiness.” 
  • “It started out as a wart on my ass.” 
  • “Left turn on red.” 
  • “Bugs!”
But my, we flew through the Hits. The first two happened to carry strong feminist messages from Torque, which inspired some self-conscious giggling.

Then we got to Retro’s first piece, Short Term Memory, in which Torque and Retro beat the hell out of themselves trying to remember the name of Joyce DeWitt. Now that got applause. 

We sent up Hamlet. We made fun of Ross Perot, and the Cleveland Play House. We slammed Deadbeat Dads and Catholicism. Retro shared creepy stories from work and Mammy revealed how sexist the names of cocktails are. And of course, "Disaster Movie Theater".

By the end of the show ... well, the most important thing that night was, we reached the end of the show.

“Thanks for coming!” I called, over the applause and music, “We will continue to do this show every Friday and Saturday night at 11 PM from now until the end of time! So tell your friends, and remember --”

“You Have the Right to Remain Silent!” yelled all the Guerrillas, and we all did the Dating Game Kiss -- MMMMMWHAH!

We danced to the music and let that carry us into the audience where we shook hands, hugged our friends, and talked to as many people as we could.

As the last few people filed out, and we were cleaning up, Torque came up to me and we gave each other a big hug.

“We did it,” he said, overwhelmed. “I can’t believe we’ve actually done it.”

“Yeah, we did,” I said, laughing. “I gotta tell you, I was expecting the police or the Fire Marshall to show up any minute and shut us down. I guess they don’t care.”

“Yeah. Hope that lasts,” he said. “What I can’t figure out is ... why doesn’t everybody do this?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, this was easy,” he said. “Everybody talks about doing a show, everyone talks and talks about starting their own company, their own theater, and we just did it. It doesn’t make sense.”

“This wasn’t easy,” I said, finally. “We spent all summer doing this.

“All of this,” I said, and waved my hand at our space, “we put a lot of long hours into this place. The three of us have been having meetings, being serious about it, putting the time in. Nothing easy about it.”

He said, “Hmn."

Wee-Bear had tallied the box office receipts.

“Hey, everybody!” she announced to all the Guerrillas after the front door was closed and locked, “Guerrilla Theater Company made over $150 tonight!”

A hundred and fifty dollars, in admission and donations! In one night! That was truly stunning. There were cheers all around.

She went on to proclaim happily, “I think the first round at Edison’s is on Guerrilla Theater Company tonight!”

“Yee-ah!” Retro howled.

“I don’t think we should spend our profit on beer,” Torque said.

“Oh come on,” she said. “It’s Opening Night! I mean ... I mean -- come on!”

“I’ve got the first round,” I said. “We’ll let the company hang onto that money until we decide what to do with it.”

And we went to Edison’s, and I got the first round. I may have gotten the sixth as well, but by then I had stopped counting.

On Monday I handed in my two-weeks notice at Karamu. 

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