WHAT THE FUCK IS THE ANNOYANCE THEATRE ?
A long time ago at Indiana University, Pat Towne met Mick Napier and they both liked each other a lot especially since they both thought that much of the theatre they were being exposed to (and frequently participated in) was boring. Then Pat went of to graduate school to study Shakespeare, which Mick thought sounded more boring so Mick went to Chicago to study comedy at The Second City. That got boring for Mick so he got together with friends and created an improv group called Metraform.
When Pat finished graduate school, he headed to Chicago just in time to see the new show Mick created with Metraform and even more friends (including Pat's future wife Brett Paesel) called SPLATTER THEATER which was a live stage parody of the slasher movies we'd all grown up with when we were small children.
THEN WHAT HAPPENED ?
SPLATTER THEATER was a big hit and even though Pat wasn't in it, he hung around alot because he loved Mick from way back, and this here theatre shit Mick was making was most assuredly not boring. Plus he would walk Brett home after the show to try to convince her to fall in love with him because she hadn't yet.
Then they did SPLATTER THEATER TWO and it was a hit too even though it lost money too, and Mick decided he wanted to have his own space to make more theatre that wasn't boring. So Mick asked Pat and some other friends from Indiana University (like Mark 'Howard' Sutton, Faith Soloway, Joe Bill, Eric Waddell, Dave MacNerland) and some new Chicago comedy friends if they wanted to play. And they did. And the Annoyance Theatre was born in the upstairs dining hall at Ann Sather on Belmont in Lakeview in Chicago, Illinois in 1989.
But it wasn't called the Annoyance yet. There wasn't even a building yet. Mick, who was never really good with money, somehow got enough of it together to get an old drag bar space on Broadway at Brair with a weird Swiss chalet house-like space above it that he could live in.
Up there in Mick's bedroom, Pat and Mick hung out one night trying to come up with a name for the new place. They picked up the random books Mick had laying around on the floor and just started reading passages looking for words. Somewhere in some book Pat read the phrase 'the mumbling annoyance' out loud and Mick giggled out loud. They wrote down a bunch of other words and phrases, but eventually Mick chose The Annoyance to be the name for theatre.
See? This is a photostatic copy of the sheet I wrote the names down on. That's my handwriting.
WHEN DID IT OPEN ?
The Annoyance Theatre opened the day after Halloween in 1989 with Mick as the Artistic Director, and Pat became the General Manager, which meant cleaning and organizing alot, and he also organized the first training center there, and did a couple of shows (including directing SEX BOY that Mick starred in). Some info on those shows Pat was involved with can be found around this page.
The Annoyance was and is a place where you can go and create any kind of thing on stage you can think of from any corner of your imagination, which has made it a very attractive place for performers and writers and improvisors and generally strange people who didn't want to be confined by any traditional theatrical restraints. It made its mark mostly by being the first improvisational theatre that devoted itself to creating full-length plays and musicals from improvisation. But really you could do just about anything you wanted to do there.
If you've read this far then it may have become clear to you that the Annoyance holds a very very important place in my heart. Not only for what it has meant to my career, or for how it helped shaped who I am as a performer, but also for the eternal friendships born there and the communing with the spirits of like minds who love to do what we do.
This is Mickey Joe in front of the first Annoyance Theatre space on Broadway in 1990.
WHAT IS COED PRISON SLUTS ?
COED PRISON SLUTS was the first show on the Annoyance stage, but it is also the prototypical demonstration of how creating a show at the Annoyance works. Mick's idea for the show was simply this: "I wanna see a guy in dress in a fight with a clown." Then the cast, under Mick's direction and with music from Faith Soloway, wrote an entirely new musical that blossomed from that idea. That's it.
SLUTS became the flagship show of the Annoyance and eventually became the longest running musical in the history of Chicago Theater with hit songs like "Hey, We're in Prison", "Shit, Mother Fucker" and "The Dog is Eating My Hamster Now".
It should be noted here to answer any assertions to the contrary and to settle any and all historical inquiries, that even though he did not originate the role, and even though the role has been performed by many, many talented and talentless performers, it is universally agreed that Mr. Towne's portrayal of The Clown in COED PRISON SLUTS stands as the quintessential interpretation of the role and all others paled in comparison. Opinions in opposition are specious.
Within the program of SLUTS was Mick's director's note for the show. Although it's in reference to SLUTS specifically, the note nicely sizes up the philosophy of the Annoyance if we ever really had one:
"It's called a 'play'. Not a 'bore' or a 'tedium'. It's a play. So let us play. Let us drink beer and smoke cigarettes. Let us play so hard our tits fall off. Coed Prison Sluts The Musical - ENJOY!"
PAT TOWNE AS THE CLOWN
WHAT IS SEX BOY ?
So after Mick left Indiana University and went to Chicago to do comedy Pat went to graduate school in Milwaukee and studied Shakespeare and the Greeks and alot of tragedies. So when he got to Chicago and started working with Mick at the Annoyance, Pat wanted to create a tragedy using the same create-a-show-from-improv method that Mick was using to make comedies. It would still be funny - ugly funny - but it would be a tragic story. Pat's idea was this: "I want to do a tragedy about a guy undone by sex called 'SEX BOY'."
So under Pat's direction the cast created the script, and Mick starred as the title character. SEX BOY opened on Friday July 13th, 1990. It became the first midnight show at the Annoyance. Since it was done in the basement of the Annoyance, half of the folding chairs in the main stage space had to be brought down immediately after each performance of COED PRISON SLUTS. And it was annoying.
SEX BOY is a one act play about how the abuse of and the confusion with one's sexual identity and behavior can destroy a human being. It is a darkly funny play and made many people uncomfortable as they laughed.
The GayChicago review below is particularly interesting because it puts SEX BOY in the context of what the spirit of the Annoyance was in general at its beginning. It gives you a good idea of what it was at the time and where it was bound to go.
THEN THIS HAPPENED
"...no socially redeeming value..."
WHAT IS THE REAL LIVE BRADY BUNCH ?
Faith and Joey (nee Jill) Soloway were watching a rerun of the Brady Bunch with their friend Becky Thyre, and Becky started doing an impression of Jan Brady. That gave them an idea. So Faith and Joey went to Mick with this: "We wanna do reenactments of old Brady Bunch episodes live on stage." At the same time another Annoying person, Eric Waddle - who always wanted to be a game show host, presented Mick with this idea: "I wanna to host a real live game show live on stage."
And thus THE REAL LIVE TV NIGHT was born at the Annoyance.
PAT TOWNE played Greg Brady and was widely regarded as the handsomest of the all the Bradys in the cast. He went on to direct the replacement cast Off-Broadway after the original cast left to play the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles.
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You can google to find out all you need to know about the Brady phenomenon, but suffice it to say that it rocketed The Annoyance to international attention as the show moved from The Annoyance to Off Broadway, to a National Tour, and then all the way to Australia.
Although the Bradys was not a show created through the usual Annoyance process, it was an example to the world of how far beyond the traditional ways of doing theatre and comedy and improv the Annoyance was willing to go, and the attention set the stage for its growth into one of the powerhouses American comedy.
PAT TOWNE AS GREG BRADY
PAT TOWNE AS GREG WITH EVE PLUMB AS TAMI CUTLER
It is no exaggeration to declare that The Annoyance Theatre has been one of the most significant influences ever in American comedy since it first opened its doors. Another googling will instantly produce a long list of comedians, writers, performers, actors, directors, and freaks who have performed and/or studied at the Annoyance. From Jane Lynch to Steve Carell to several members of SNL to the CFO of Twitter - The Annoyance's influence on American culture is vast.
It is also no exaggeration to say that Mick Napier is one of the best teachers of the art of Improvisation in the world. He even wrote a book about it. In fact he wrote two (maybe more - I don't know), and for anyone with any interest in improv or just performing in general, his books should be required reading.
THE FIRST ANNOYANCE SPACE
As with just about every other theatre everywhere, the tragedy of Covid-19 has bitch slapped the Annoyance very hard, and as of this posting its future is still not clear... I'm saying they may have to close their doors soon and that would really suck because I know Mick wouldn't bother to go through the hassle of trying to open another one because he's getting old.
They've kept the old girl going with zoom classes and questionable zoom performances, but of course it has been very difficult and is not getting any easier, and come on - most zoom performances of just about anything suck and they should never be called 'theatre.'
So...if you love theatre that's not boring, and if you are the type of person who is inclined to help, and you want to help The Annoyance through this unprecedented time of suck, below are ways that you can. If you are not so inclined then please feel free to fuck right off and be secure in the knowledge that you helped destroy America... and children.
AUG 18, 2012
PARTY @ PARK WEST
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