BWW Interview: Annoying Actor Friend Explains Why #SOBLESSED Live at 54 Below is Like the Hamilton Lottery
At this point, any BroadwayWorld reader who has even ever heard of social media has heard of Annoying Actor Friend (@Actor_Friend). What started out as your run-of-the-mill parody account has become an important cultural touchstone for theatre-lovers across the world. From holding a mirror up to actors' nature, to championing gender equality in theatre, to leading the charge for Broadway houses to dim their lights in honor of Joan Rivers, Actor Friend has become an invaluable figure in the theatre community.
In 2013, Actor Friend published his/her first book #SOBLESSED, with the follow-up #GRATEFUL available this year just in time for the holidays. With the success of #SOBLESSED, and its star-studded audio version, A.F. brought the book to the stage in concert form. After two sold-out runs at 54 Below, the show is back for what might be its final performance ever, Monday, July 27th at 9:30 pm. As always, the show benefits Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
This time, the evening will be hosted by Lesli Margherita, and will feature performances by Christine Dwyer, Chris McCarrell, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Kate Shindle, Alex Wyse, Chelsea Nachman, and a few other big-name stars to be named later. Don't miss out on this one of a kind event, get your tickets before they are gone.
spoke emailed with Actor Friend, and was even more convinced that he/she is as a mad genius intent on BroadwayWorld domination:
BWW: This is the third #SoBlessed Live concert. You've sold out the first two and everyone has raved about the shows. So, why should someone come back and see this version if they've already seen one or both of the first two?
A.A.F.: BECAUSE ALL OF THEM ARE AMAZING.
But seriously, my kick ass concert producing partner (Nikka Graff Lanzarone) and I have been able to switch up the cast and stories each time, so 85% of the main content is always different. Nothing is scripted, so a lot can happen. Each concert has only been performed once, and even if we repeated a show with the same cast, it would just naturally be different given the amount of freedom each person is allowed to play with in their own section. We've also never recorded one for YouTube. What happens in #SOBLESSED: Live! stays in #SOBLESSED: Live!.
I know you are still nailing down some of the performers and what everyone is going to be doing in the show, but as it stands now, what is the concert going to look like?
It's part standup and jokes, some singing, personal anecdotes, a bit of sketch comedy, and a fair amount of drinking. There are two more performers I am waiting to confirm, so things might change right up to showtime. This is the beauty and the curse of these concerts. The plus side is that you never know what is going to happen, and that's exciting! The downside is you literally don't know what is going to happen, and that's terrifying!
I never have a plan when it comes to casting any of the projects I do, yet somehow, when all the people come together, it clicks. This concert has a rather eclectic cast and I'm thrilled about it. They are all insanely funny and talented people, and I am so happy to have them.
Last week you did a great interview with one of the performers from #SoBlessed Live, Chelsea Nachman. As far as I'm concerned, when you announced that she was going to be a part of the show, that's when things got serious. For those unfortunate few that aren't familiar with Chelsea, can you give them a background as to who she is, and why you wanted her to be a part of the show?
Chelsea Nachman (@chelseanachman) is one of those Twitter stories that makes me really appreciate social media. I saw her popping up on my Internet about a year ago. I didn't know what she did, I just found her humor to be really unique. She has created a defined social media character that is heightened and extremely interesting to watch. I only found out months after following her that she worked for O&M Co. as a press representative when she started tweeting about Fun Home.
What I love about Twitter (and other social medial platforms) is you can use it as a way to channel creative energy that you might not otherwise be able to in your every day job. There was a guy who got hired as a staff writer on Seth Meyer's show because someone found his Twitter and liked his style, and then later found out that he worked in construction or something, out in Montana. Chelsea is just one of those genuinely funny people who knew how to funnel that talent into 140 characters or less, and people noticed.
I've always found Laura Benanti to be another one of those people who changed the public perception of themselves because of what they posted online. There's never been a doubt that Laura is talented, but I never knew she was funny like that until I started following her on Twitter. A performer didn't have the opportunity to easily showcase that side of their talent on such a huge platform ten years ago.
Because Laura and Chelsea have a comedic relationship online, one of the original ideas for this concert was to have them do a "tweet off" at the end of the show. Unfortunately, Laura is out of town, so Chelsea graciously agreed to "play" her after I begged and pleaded for hours and said I'd pay her in retweets.
The idea of someone "playing" an actor came about in the February concert when Jeremy Jordan had a scheduling conflict and couldn't appear, so Julia Murney played him. It was such a random but solid way to end the show that we thought it would be fun to do something similar again. Don't expect Chelsea to sing (she's on vocal rest), it will be more of a "Weekend Update" style interview with Lesli Margherita.
Speaking of Julia Murney and Lesli Margherita, you have had some great stars help out with the #SoBlessed audio book and concerts, but being an anonymous internet personality, I would imagine getting them on board could be difficult. So, how do you get them involved? Do you just slide into their DMs? Do you have @Blessedterns stalk them at their stage doors? Does Lesli handle all of the booking?
There are only so many people I know (which is much more limited than you'd expect), so I have to try every avenue I can and just hope and pray they don't think I am a crazy person (which is open to discussion). Mostly I contact through direct message, which means they have to follow me, so they at least have a passing knowledge of what I do. Sometimes I go through mutual friends, and in the case of the audiobook, I accessed Alan Cumming by delivering a package to the stage door of CABARET. I'd love for Lesli to handle all the bookings, because that would probably be a lot easier.
In regards to @Blessedterns, Ashlee Latimer runs that account and pretty much developed the job all on her own. She was a follower of mine who made a joke on Twitter about being my intern, and I noticed it. The concept of Annoying Actor Friend having their own intern or "team" just seemed right, so I sent her a message. She pitched the Twitter account to me and took it from there. She's created her own voice and detailed character traits that still fit within the universe of Annoying Actor Friend. It's been really cool to watch her do this because she's still in college and I did not have a fraction of the unoffensive ambition she has. We are all going to be working for her someday. It's going to be like Jennifer Ashley Tepper and Ashlee Latimer in control of everything.
The Annoying Actor Friend persona has changed a lot over the years. You've gone from leading the SMASH hate-watching movement to championing important causes like #Dim4Joan to being a major media mogul. How do you see the development of Annoying Actor Friend since its inception?
On its third anniversary earlier this month, I added @Actor_Friend to my TimeHop, and it's crazy to see how it's evolved. It was really just trite social media statements in the beginning. There's nothing groundbreaking about that now, but I think in 2012 I may have been the first person shining a light on social media behavior, and that's why it caught on. Now, publications like "The New Yorker" are doing pieces with satirical status updates that sort of sound vaguely like the chapter on social media etiquette in "#SoBlessed", which I wrote in 2013. I know this sounds like I am bragging or complaining that I got there first and feel like I hold ownership over that concept, and yes, that's exactly what I am saying (plus, it's on brand to say things like this even in more honest interviews).
I don't think anyone is knowingly copying me, I just think this community was ahead of the general public when it came to the subject of social media awareness. We were the first to abuse the word "blessed," the first to use it ironically, and the first to throw it away. My TimeHop has also taught me that I used to say things like "blessed" and "on cloud nine" in my personal life, so I've been there too. We have all been an Annoying Actor Friend at some point, and to deny that would be a disservice to how far we've all evolved.
When it comes the development of Annoying Actor Friend, there's a healthy balance of careful planning and not having an effing clue what I am doing. I set benchmark ideas to work toward, and then adapt myself around what is currently happening in the community. I think that first started with the REBECCA scandal, and then SMASH came, and I kept building the character from there. Sometimes I get lucky and things get dropped in my lap like the NBC live events or the initial egregious overlooking of Joan Rivers by the Broadway League, and sometimes I have to come up with new character traits like flirting with the SMASH Twitter account or fighting for more women on production teams.
The landscape of the culture has changed drastically in three years, and that sort of mandated that I change the character as well. If I stuck with only playing the "annoying" aspect of Annoying Actor Friend, I think I'd have faded away a while back. Or maybe -- and this is a big maybe -- I have a tremendous amount of time on my hands.
So, what's next for Actor Friend? Are you going to keep staging the #SoBlessed concerts until years past their relevancy, like Carol Channing in HELLO, DOLLY!? Or, do you have other projects on the horizon?
This will be the last #SOBLESSED: Live! of 2015, with no plans to return as of now. I want each one of these to be a truly unique event, and the less we do them, the more special they are to attend.
My next project is the sequel to #SOBLESSED, which is called #GRATEFUL: Everything Happens for a Reason, and it will be published in December. It's a "choose your own adventure" book, with four main trajectories that branch off into hundreds of mini-stories, and yes, I am in way over my head.
In #SOBLESSED, the reader had the business explained to them, and in #GRATEFUL, they get to take what they learned and navigate the industry themselves, based off what they learned. There is an added element in this book that will definitely change Annoying Actor Friend from what it is now -- possibly its biggest change -- but I'm nothing if not constantly trying to find a way to reinvent it.
To wrap it up, I figured I'd give you an open platform to pitch the concert anyway you want. Annoying Actor Friend, the floor is yours...
Missing #SOBLESSED: Live! will be like that time everyone was at the Encores LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and you weren't. If you like the feeling of losing the HAMILTON lottery, then you'll love skipping #SOBLESSED: Live!