An Ann E. Wrecksick Interview with Damon Intrabartolo and Scott Allgauer
Ann E. Wrecksick & The Odyssey of the Bulimic Orphans, which describes itself as "a delightful, heartfelt, song and dance journey that takes several orphans on a quest for love, acceptance and the perfect diet," is headed to the Ars Nova (511 W. 54th St.) for eight performances only from Monday, February 20 through Sunday, March 19th. The show is written by bare actor Scott Allgauer and bare composer Damon Intrabartolo with music and lyrics by Intrabartolo. It seemed like the perfect time to sit down with both to get the scoop on the show...and lots more.
BWW: To start off, where did the idea for this very unique-sounding musical come from?
Damon: The Ann E. Wrecksick journey began in Colorado in 1999 after an acid-trip that I'd done up in the mountains with my friend. I had this vision of all these overweight orphans, being unloved and unadoptable just because they were fat. While I was driving from Colorado to LA, I thought of the basic idea, the kind of broad strokes and it just fermented like a good wine. When I got back to LA, I wrote it out, and I had one person in mind to collaborate with, somebody that I had not collaborated with before, and...
Scott: We didn't meet till later though, you had that vision in 1999.
Damon: Let me tell the story! So, I hadn't met him yet, but I knew that I wanted to collaborate with him! Scott was one of the actors in Corpus Christi, which my company God Help! produced in 2001, and sitting on my shelf was an outline for Ann E. Wrecksick. So, I met Scott, and saw him work, and I knew I wanted two things - one for him to write the book, and two for him to star in it as the title character of Ann E. Scott is one of the funniest people that I ever met in my life; he's a laugh a minute. There was just a natural chemistry between us that we could just feel. We had a rapport right away, and I was amazed that we hadn't intersected before.
Scott: I got a random phone call that was "This is Damon, and I need you to meet me at 'Numbers,'" and Numbers is...
Damon: ...My favorite upscale male hustler bar in LA, which has great beef - and I mean the best filet mignon in town. Scott sits down with a big grin on his face...
BWW: Dare I ask why?
Scott: I had no idea why I was being summoned...
Damon: Summoned is the right word, because we had just done this very serious Terrence McNally play, where Kristin had re-imagined everything in mid-southwestern American style.
Scott: And that play was running through 9-11, and the anniversary of Matthew Shephard's death and all these different things.
Damon: So I bought him a drink, pitched him the idea, handed him the outline and said 'Go knock yourself out...'
BWW: And what was your first reaction?
Scott: I just loved it. I felt like starting with the title was a really bad way to start writing a musical, but I thought that it was also hilarious. I loved even the broad strokes outline that Damon had, and we had fleshed it out on napkins many drinks later before leaving the bar. We didn't waste any time, because I thought that it was a great idea, and we didn't have any grand sort of idea for what it was going to turn into, but we decided to just do it.
Damon: Really for fun... There was no other motive than that Scott, Kristin and I wanted to put something up that we got off on, that was the only catalyst. We wanted a fun night out for us.
BWW: Has that changed at all from the original vision?
Scott: To be honest, that has not changed! People will always say 'where do you see this going and where do you want this to go?' Our reasons for doing this show have always been to have a blast, and it's so much fun;we laugh and just have the best time. I can speak for myself, Damon, Kristin, Kelly Devine our choreographer, Marco Morante our costume designer, all five of whom have been through this since its inception, that it's the most fun we've ever had working on a piece of theatre. We've all worked on bigger things; Kelly just finished Jersey Boys, Damon and Kristin had bare, I'd done Jesus Christ Superstar on tour, all these different things, but Ann E. was sort of like our little baby... Our little, dirty, naughty, fun, secret.
BWW: So how did it go from the bar to stage?
Damon: Scott and I would meet a couple of times a week, and Scott is one of the fastest collaborators that I ever worked with. This is what happens when it works, and when you're on the same page - not just in the same book, but in the same page. We'd sit down, and he'd read out loud the scenes that he wrote in longhand on a legal pad - and I'd crack up. It was a laugh a second, and I knew that it was just to have fun - there was no ambition per se at all.
Scott: One of the great surprises, is that there was no guarantee that just because he came to me with this and wanted me to do it, that we would be a match. But, as soon as we got in the room together, and it hasn't changed since we have the same esthetic for what we think is funny. I think that what makes really good collaborators, is when you're also a good editor. There's no ego there...
BWW: How long did the writing process take?
Damon: We wrote it really in four weeks. Corpus Christi closed in November of 2001, I did that mega-hit 'Eight Legged Freaks', and Ann E. was in its first draft by March. bare was in such flux that Kristin and I essentially had nothing to do. I had this production company called God Help which produced bare in LA, it's kind of my Really Useful Group, but I don't own theatres... yet. I pitched the idea to the other partners in the company, starting with Kristin who loved it. We had a very informal reading in my living room and they turned green, saying that this was the sickest thing that they ever heard, but they loved it.
Scott: Now that I look back, I think it was exactly what we needed coming off of bare and Corpus Christi without knowing it.
Damon: Again, because we didn't have any grand ideas about the production, we barely put any money into it! The show was really an homage to the book musical, which is not something that I dabble in much.
BWW: Where did you ultimately settle on doing the show?
Damon: We found a theatre in Silver Lake, underneath a Mexican Restaurant in what used to be a Catholic Church. In the Church basement was a theatre, but when I say theatre, it was about a postage stamp of a space...
Scott: It was a dump.
Damon: It was a beautiful dump, but it had a bar upstairs that served margaritas for $4.25, and a varied clientele.
Scott: Every cross-section of life in LA would come together there.
BWW: How many people did it seat?
Damon: By law, 63, but we'd cram a lot more than that in. It's God Help's passion to break fire code laws. The rental on the space was very cheap, so our overhead was nothing.
BWW: How was the show cast?
Scott: We cast the show in Damon's living room...
Damon: ...which really opened my eyes to the casting couch concept, because literally, we were all on my couch. It was very comfy.
Scott: We called in our favorite people that could sing and dance and most importantly that were funny.
Damon: And they had to subscribe to the material. And having a collaborator who was also a great actor was a very unique perspective. Scott taught me a lot and I'm not just saying that because he's here!
BWW: When did the show get on stage?
Scott: The show went up in August 2002. The show ran for 6 weeks.
BWW: And how did audiences react?
Scott: It was pretty much an instant cult hit, in sort of the underground LA sense. We had no idea what we had. We had the worst dress rehearsal in history. Because our show goes to a 'certain place,' we only had a few people sprinkled throughout the audience at the invited dress, all of whom felt nervous to laugh because the material goes for broke. I remember that no one was laughing, we were all just thinking that this isn't funny.
Damon: I thought it was funny - I was laughing hysterically!
Scott: Right! But, the next night there was sort of like an electricity...
BWW: It sounds like a very grassroots beginning.
Scott: Exactly. And not one of us - the actors, the writers, the design team - not one of us was making a cent on the production so we were all there for the right reasons. It was like us all getting back to why we were doing theatre in the first place and it was the time of our lives. We didn't know what we had, and suddenly you couldn't get a ticket and we were turning away a few dozen people a night. We never thought that it would be beyond six weeks, and someone else had booked the space after us so we never even thought of extending. When the run finished, we made a vow to each other that someday we would all come back to the show at some point.
Damon: And 3 years later we did. We always talked about it over those 3 years, and we'd joke about it all the time during the stressful periods of bare in New York.
Scott: I was fortunate enough to be cast in bare in New York, and there were lots of moments in tech, or during the rehearsal process that we'd all look at each other and look up to the sky, smiling, saying 'Ann E. Wrecksick!' It was a constant salvation.
BWW: And then three years later, you did revisit the show again first in LA?
Scott: We holed up in my apartment for 2 weeks to revisit it with a really bad archival video tape, and our old script, and we worked on it. Again, we were on the same page in terms of what stays and goes.
Damon: We spent 2 weeks throwing out garbage, and putting in some better material.
Scott: There were things that hurt our ears, and things where we were like 'wow, this is funny!' I think that we were both nervous to revisit it, but we hammered out this rewrite, shaved off a ton of fat, and eliminated what were topical jokes back in 2002.
Damon: So this summer, we got together, booked the same theatre and decided to try it again.
Scott: We wanted to do our version of an out of town tryout, but doing it in the same place.
Damon: Even though we still had no ambitions regarding the show and its geographical production possibilities, it was a great exercise in getting to edit and put up new material to see what sticks.
Scott: One of my friends came to see it, and put it pretty well saying that our show gives you a glimpse of what everyone is thinking, but not really saying, or wishing that they were seeing when they went to see theatre, but would never admit.
BWW: So there's something in it for everyone?
Damon: I think that there's definitely something in it for everyone. Last summer ,a lot of new people came to see it, but it was still the same in terms of Kristin directing, Kelly choreographing, Marco doing the costumes. It was the same group of people with the right sensibility.
BWW: And how did it then find its way to New York?
Damon: My manager Steve brought it to the attention of Jason Eagan at Ars Nova.
Scott: And Jason had heard about it from some friends in LA who had been telling him about it. He read the script, he saw some stills, and a tiny bit of press that we got this time around. They looked at another really bad archival video and all that stuff, and before we knew it, they were on board, and we started to put it together.
BWW: Had you ever had New York aspirations for the show before?
Damon: It was never our intention, it was always our dirty, private joke.
Scott: We were in the basement of a Mexican restaurant, with these ridiculously talented people who had tons of heart, and audience members are nearly pissing in their pants because all the actors onstage are having as good if not better of a time than the people watching the show. We never had aspirations other than having a good time.
Damon: There was no goal involved other than get us to the basement on time. What's great is that being in New York, we have found a group of people, who very much subscribe to the philosophy of doing it for fun. Especially someone like Darren Cohen our musical director, who is one of the smartest musician's I've ever been able to work with, and Damon Arrington, our stage manager...two passionate and defiant artists. To say nothing of the cast...
Scott: With the exception of myself, it's an entirely brand new cast. You also don't know when you bring 10 brand new people if lightening is going to strike twice in the same way, or not. We cast the show here ourselves, no casting director, but some help from Ars Nova.
BWW: Was it a challenge casting the show here?
Scott: It was tough to find actor/singers in New York City that were funny, who would read our script, and still say yes. We were really lucky that all 10 people we offered the show to all said yes after sending them the script. That was very lucky.
Damon: It was also a lesson for someone that had done a show...this was the second show that I have composed that has come to New York in the last two years. One of the great lessons that I learned is that it's not enough for a piece to be rooted in something organic, it really has to be executed organically. With this experience, everything is executed completely organically. Casting, production meetings, design elements. It's a real important lesson to hold as a composer and as a writer.
BWW: Has the show changed again from the summer to now?
Scott: Damon and I have consciously made this a totally collaborative experience for the actors, designers, and production team. We were never like "We wrote this, and it's funny, so do it as we wrote it!" With Ann E. Wrecksick, the funniest jokes always win. If an actor comes up with a line that was better than something that we had written - it was in! If someone came up with a character choice or whatever, Kristin would tell them to go for it. I think that that's why the show has grown so much with the amazing original cast we had in LA to now when we have 10 brand new actors, who are bringing all of their sensibilities to it.
Damon: These are very new perspectives, very new sensibilities, but again completely on the same page. That is unique to my experience as a composer, with theatre anyway, and they harness their own energy.
Scott: And, we're giving actors who haven't been able to flex their comedic chops in New York City, a platform to do that. We just had a 5 hour dance rehearsal and we kept cracking each other up. You do take the work seriously, but it's laugh, laugh, laugh.
Damon: Very very early on in my career in film music, I said that if it's not fun, I'm not going to do it. That sounds very ostentatious, but it's true. If it's not fun, I'll do a crappy job on it.
BWW: How often does that happen?
Damon: I think that I've learned as I've gotten older how to make things fun, as a mode of survival.
Scott: I think also that coming off of bare, which was a brand new work, that you get spoiled doing new work, with new composers, and with the nouveaux of people that are coming up in the city. It has nothing to do with money, it's about the work, and about the fun. Having a few drinks and having a blast. And creating an experience.
BWW: The audience having a few drinks, or the cast?
Damon: Both - it has been budgeted accordingly I look at Andrew Lloyd Webber as sort of exemplary that way... not regarding moonshine! But look, he has crafted his career in a way where he's able to create experiences for people as a producing partner. It doesn't mean everyone will always like them, but he ultimately gave all of himself, beyond the realm of committing tunes to lyrics. Even if you don't like everything he does - and I really loved the last two or three, actually - I think there's something very humbling and admirable in that whole kind of thought harnessing.
Scott: One thing that I want to say about Damon, is that it's great to be able to sort of watch the trajectory of his career as a composer in theatre. I think that what's so exciting is that he was able to present something like bare, and now to come back to New York City in a way which he's not pigeonholed himself at all. I think that a lot of people are going to be surprised that the same composer of bare wrote Ann E. Wrecksick, and I love that, and that I get to watch that and to share in it. As an actor you strive to have that versatility in your career, and to see Damon achieve that is very exciting.
Damon: There's no sense writing the same show twice.
Scott: I thought you were writing a sequel to bare?
Damon: Right, bare 2: Electric Boogaloo. Jason returns and he's got a hockey mask on...
BWW: Speaking of bare, I have to ask...
Damon: Well, bare is not dead, it's very alive in the memories of people that saw it.
BWW: What about the future of the show?
Damon: The thing is, I wrote that show six years ago, the bulk of it at least. A lot has happened in six years, and I don't like being mired in one world. I like many different planets. I want to tell as many stories as I can.
BWW: Any chance of that being revisited over the next 7 years?
Damon: You need to qualify what you mean. People revisit it every day, but I don't have to be there for it...
BWW: I'll rephrase, what are the chances of it being revisited in a public forum?
Damon: Anything can happen.
Scott: Which is the truth...
Damon: I think people have a notion that it's just a money thing with bare. The truth is the show went into a kind of shell shock in April 2004. I have to save details for the Ann E. coffee table book, you know. But like I said, there are other shows, they're coming - sometimes faster than I'd like but what can you do? There are many many other stories to tell.
BWW: Is there anything that you can you tell us about those projects?
Damon: Stay tuned... you'll know first! I've learned a lot during the past four years of what not to do, versus what to do. In learning that, I see very clearly now how the new shows are going to happen. That's not just in my head either, but we're talking about doing things in a way that not everybody suspects. Not to surprise them, but because they serve the pieces well. Going to different architects, different kinds of alchemists. You can't put a price on that kind of education. There is a machine, and I choose to work outside of that machine, because I believe that at the end of the day, it's just a more honest approach. I sleep better, and like with Ann E., people seem to have a better experience and a better time. You learn to learn; you can take everything into your brain, really digest it, and mean it, and go 'ok, this didn't work out the way I thought, but I'm going to follow this new path , and not have a preconception'
I do the same with orchestrating movie scores. I'm doing Superman Returns right now, which of course has a huge history with John Williams, but I go away from that, as far as I'm able to. It's a good example of not putting the cart before the horse, because you're honoring this particular movie, this particular story, with this particular director and set of actors, and I think that you live a much more fulfilling life artistically like that.
BWW: What about Ann E. Wrecksick and any similarities to other musicals about orphans?
Scott: I think that when you come to see our show, that you will see that it was sort of inspired by many of the great book musicals, and that's the whole point of our show, that we're taking the traditional book musical form, and turning it on its head. It really is its own play, with its own story, and its own score, its own rules. If people want to make allusions to certain source material, they are free to do so, but we're doing this thing, this crazy sick little show, that we love and we really hope that people come and have a blast. They should have a few cocktails before they do, or while they're watching.
BWW: How good of a fit is Ars Nova for the show?
Damon: I love Ars Nova, because in LA, we have a geographical fortress that we call the Mississippi River. In LA you can do very experimental ideas for very little money. Scott and I have another show we wrote called "Plop" - it needs an extreme makeover to say the least. But, you can do these things for very little money, because you have the ability in that city to write something that was way, way out there, and not be bound by certain restrictions - artistic, professional, or otherwise. Ars Nova is one of the only places in New York City that I know of that really, and genuinely embraces that approach. A lot of places say that they do, but Ars Nova really means it.
Scott: It has the most diverse programming that I know of any theatre in New York City We couldn't have done this here without them.
Damon: The producers are open to organic follow-through in producing, which is a huge element of getting your idea realized without going through a filter or a machine. That being said, they're also conscious enough to help you get the word out. They're cultivating the next generation of writers and I am incredibly humbled to have been invited there with this sick little odyssey.
BWW: Are there any goals or thoughts on where the show might go next?
Damon: Goals? Just getting to opening night happily, and doing the show right! I never had goals with doing bare in Los Angeles as composer, or co-book writer, or producer, I just said 'lets do this,' it's important to tell. I feel the same way about Ann E. ... she's a troubled little girl, and she needs to tell her story.
Scott: I don't have an expectation myself as a writer, or an actor, I just want to show a tiny bit more 'ass' this time around... You're getting a dirty, raunchy show for only 20 dollars. That's why I moved to New York City.
Damon: This is definitely a show for adults. This is not a show for children... It was just written by two!
The cast of Ann E. Wrecksick features Scott Allgauer, J. Cameron Barnett, Beth Curry, Byron St. Cyr, Joey Dudding, Matthew-Lee Erlbach, Amy Goldberger, Karen Katz, Caroline McMahon, Eddie Pendergraft, and Sandy Rustin. Ann E. Wrecksick will feature choreography by Kelly Devine (choreographic assistant on Jersey Boys), as well as costumes by Marco Morante; lighting and projections by Richard DiBella; sound by Jorge Muelle; and musical direction by Darren Cohen.
The show's performance schedule is Monday, February 20th at 8pm, Sunday, February 26th at 9pm, Monday, February 27th at 10pm, Monday, March 6th at 10pm, Saturday, March 11th at 9pm, Sunday, March 12th at 9pm, Monday, March 13th at 10pm, and Sunday, March 19th at 9pm.
Tickets are $20. To purchase, call SmartTix at 212-868-4444 or go to www.SmartTix.com.