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Kevin has some very unexpected adventures, playing Linus in YOU’RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN, an experience that was COMPLETELY EFFING CRAZY!
We go on a wild and crazy journey as:
CHAPTER 18 (#87: 2014!)
> THE MOST WONDERFUL PANDEMONIUM THEATRE CO. PROUDLY PRESENTS AN EVENING OF COMPLETE MADNESS AND INSANITY (Pt. 1)
. All my mates were gathered round at 11:30 PM on a Saturday, beat from the day’s rehearsals and preparations. But it was not just any Saturday night. It was Saturday October 11th, 1975.
. TVs were different in those days. They were big and heavy with relatively small screens. There was no stinkin’ cable box or satellite dish or Internet stream- the signal was pulled out of the air, from a rickety antennae on the roof. Nobody had a remote control- at least nobody I knew. You had to get up to turn the channel or mute the commercials. (Sounds barbaric now, no?) There was a new show on one of the few channels we could suck from the ether. NBC was premiering some comedy show called “Saturday Night Live”. George Carlin was the guest host, and the brash energetic young cast looked a lot like… us! After the first mock-commercial (a broad parody of the kind of dreck we watched and listened to every day, since most of us were too lazy to get up and fiddle with the TV,) we eyed each other, dumbfounded. Holy shit! This IS Madness and Insanity, set in New York City! The phony commercial seemed lifted directly from my piece “The Insult of Commercial TV”. Bob Stechowiak was Dan Ackroyd, Jim Needham was Jim Belushi, Chris Tidstrand was Chevy Chase, Margie Selke was Lorraine Newman and Joyce Gadiot was Gilda Radner. If I were anyone, it would be Lorne Michaels, pulling the stings and wielding the saber of power, mostly out of camera shot. This was nothing if not terrifically validating. If S.N.L. was a big hit for NBC, Madness and Insanity damn well ought to be a big hit for Pandemonium Productions (a fancy name for me). Saturday Night Live was an instant smash. Watching that first episode, we whooped and hollered and laughed an high-fived and passed the bhang around…
* * *
. There is a class of theatre: an organic, grassroots, fly-by-night, seat-of the-pants kind of venture between friends- the kind Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were always spontaneously assembling in somebody’s barn in those old Andy Hardy musicals. One of them was always ejaculating: “I know! We could have a show!” in response to some problem or shortcoming. All one need do is look at the title of this madcap comedy review to know Madness and Insanity is one of those.
. In spring of 1975, I saw the window closing for this kind of thing in my world. Time was not on my side. All my crazy drama buddies were graduating from high school or just had, and the demands of Real Life suddenly commandeered center stage in their suddenly expanding or constricting worlds. None of us were from rich families. Time was a ship under full sail. Some of us were college-bound, some were not. Some had plans, some did not. But in all cases, the protective shroud of parental stewardship was inexorably withdrawing, and things could absolutely, positively not remain the same for long. If I wanted to self-produce my own amateur do-it-yourself theatrical extravaganza populated by my extended theatre family- it was likely now or never.
. But this presented a number of issues: What exactly, would I do- and where, exactly, would I do it? It’s not like I had easy access to a theatre- or somebody’s barn. What would Mickey and Judy do? Why of course! They would build a stage! Right there, if there wasn’t anywhere better, in their own back yard. So that’s exactly what we did.
* * *
. As fate would have it, the current Keelan abode in Reseda couldn’t be more perfect for the plan. The house on Calvin Street had a big, oddly wedge-shaped yard, providing a natural spot for the stage in the back, and the lack of obscuring trees made for good sightlines. Best of all there were rarely any parental-units around to say “No” to anything. My mom lived with her boyfriend Paul in many miles away. Paul essentially rented the house to us- his partner’s six kids. We only saw our mom when she came by to pick up the mail and make sure we hadn’t yet burned the place down. It was that desperately short season between the comfort of the family nest and the life-transforming reality of independent adulthood- by nature a turbulent time. For my friends and I, that house on Calvin Street was a welcome haven, a sanctuary from the rush to grow up and be a Responsible Adult. Needless to say, it was an arrangement we kids liked very, very much!
. The only problem with staging a play in the Calvin Street backyard? A big fat tree stump squatting right where the stage should go. There was really no way around the hard physical labor of hacking the damn thing out of the earth chop by chop, if we were going to build a stage there. As hard physical labor was not nearly as fun as smoking pot and writing a play, I focused on the latter task.
. Eventually, I began to assemble a kind of madcap comedy review, stealing funny bits from everywhere I found them, from Jules Feiffer to Laurel and Hardy and the Firesign Theatre, from late night TV to the unspoken racism of our American culture. Digging through the archives, I found and refreshed an old script called “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide ‘cept For Me and My Elephant”, that had been part of All About Love, the very first complete play I was ever in, and started to rework a playlet my friend Shannon Vance had written with his friend Steve Gulie, a clever, literate little literary piece called “Favor of the Gods”, so that it would work better onstage. I was also writing original material- loony stuff that made me giggle alone in my room like a madman. I hadn’t the slightest idea if it would have a similar effect on others, but writing it kept me entertained.
. But the hypothetical play somehow became real when an unfamiliar sound wafted in on the heavy summer air, making me look up from the bed on which I sprawled, a tsunami of notes surrounding me as I wrote: CHOP CHOP CHOP! I peered out through the herbal haze and saw my stalwart pal Eric Anderson beginning to hack away at that annoying tree stump with a small hand axe. Was he crazy? Did he realize how much work he was setting himself up for? In this heat?! I leaned out the window and pointed these things out to him. He paused for a moment, wiped the sweat from his brow and pointed out the obvious: “Stage is not going to build itself. It’ll never be finished if we don’t start it…”
. And so we did.
. When Eric exhausted himself, I took a few swings- but being a 99 pound weakling and a total heat-wimp, I tuckered-out pronto. Big Bill Caulfield gave it a good thrashing, before Byron Brace swaggered along, and set to work on the stump like a starving savage attacking a wounded mammoth. Over the next few days we whittled away at the stubborn bastard until every time I saw it, the beast had diminished notably. The skills I learned in drafting shop became helpful when we began to draw up plans for the structure. Since sheets of outdoor plywood came in 8 x 10 feet units, we decided to piece together four, to form the stage floor, making the whole thing 16 feet deep by 20 feet long- not big, but with the risers, stair units and boxy setpieces we had, we could enlarge the playing area considerably. It took several trips to the lumberyard to assemble the needed materials, buying the necessary, hardware and tools, concrete to set the posts in embedded coffee cans, and tarpaper and caulk to weatherproof the sides and seal the cracks.
. And one more thing: we would also need a secure lock and some hinges for the secret side door to the secret underground marijuana plantation we planned to place secretly beneath…
Things get really mad and insane, in Part 2 of MADNESS AND INSANITY.
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.