Friday, June 18, 2004

Never Stop Rocking Part I

The following is a series of retrospective journal entries (i.e., written recently about shit that happened a couple years ago) on trying to write a crowd-pleaser for audiences, something Nosedive could possibly tour with, or hit the Off-Broadway stage, and written specifically for members of the company. It was called “Never Stop Rocking,” and it was the fucking bane of my existence. It took a while (staging “Jiffy Squid,” actually) before I could get acquaintances to stop going, “So, James. Whatever happened with that show with the puppets?”

This is a series of snapshots the way I remember it, so dates, the order of events and the bars in question could be a bit off.

Right. Here goes.


Shortly before staging “Ruins” in April of 2002 (so this would be…January or February of aught-two), a couple of us were at a bar called Recess on Spring Street (Pete, I believe Patrick, maybe Ben and myself). We were talking about an idea for the next Nosedive show. After “Ruins,” the backlog of Jimmy plays would be all used up, and I needed to write something pretty soon. Since “Ruins” was (is) a three-hour downer, we figured it was time to write something short, fun and funny; preferably something pandering and compromised. We wanted to take a whirl at doing “That Idea.” You know what I mean. “R&J”: “Romeo & Juliet” with men. “Spooky Dog and the Teenage Gang Mysteries.” “MacHomer” being “MacBeth” done with impersonations of Simpsons characters. Take a classic and modernize it with a gimmick. Something easily pitchable in a sentence (something I’ve never been able to do; trying to describe what any of my plays are about is about as interesting as watching paint dry). Make it fun for the whole family. Something easy to transport (read: minimalist set). Plus, we would give all our recurring actors roles specifically designed for them.

This would work.

We just needed That Idea.

I thought Shakespeare had been tapped out. So we probably needed to go back to the Greek myths. And by “we,” we meant “me.”

We decided we’d think of something. And continued to drink ourselves into an obligatory stupor.


I had always wanted to do something with puppets. Tell a fairy tale (of sorts) with the narrators being these two, mildly horny puppets (tentatively named Spizzim and Flazzum). Something fun enough for people who had never been to a Nosedive show and (more importantly) who didn’t know me or Pete. But also, it would be…I guess…“blue” enough for our regular audiences so they wouldn’t be bored to tears. I had written a couple scenes years before with these two puppets, with no story, no framework, no title, no premise, just them fucking around. I put it away.


A month or so after our “meeting” at Recess, the Nosedive gang went to The Raven (our, well at least, my, bar of choice; on E.12th & Avenue A). We talked about “Ruins,” about production shit, and the subject of “That Idea” came up again. It should be a fairy tale. Or a retelling of a Greek myth. I added, “With puppets.” Everyone ate it all up.

“So, what’s it going to be?” Pete asked.

I had no idea.


This shit went on for a while. We couldn’t find the framework. Often, when I’m writing something…wait, no. Scratch that. ALWAYS when I’m writing something, I don’t ask for suggestions. I don’t seek guidance or input when I’m writing the rough draft. I don’t ask people what it should be about or where it should go. Since this was becoming such a group effort (something I was encouraging), I was giving no thought on my own what the play should be. Since I had this intellectual crutch (i.e., the other Nosedivians), I subconsciously thought that I didn’t have to think of an idea. So I didn’t. It never occurred to me when I was by myself.

So when Patrick mentioned at one point, “How ‘bout retelling the story of Orpheus with puppets?” that was it. That was where we were going to go with this. “That Idea” had been found. And I would be right to work on it.

At the time, I of course mistook all this for genuine inspiration. Because I’m an idiot.


The name of the play would be called “Never Stop Rocking,” and it would be the story of Orph (Garrett Blair), the lead singer/lead guitarist of the heavy metal band “Orphanage,” saving his true love (Samantha Turk) from the Land of Suck, which was this shitty night club that only played shitty music (Creed, Knickelback, The Who). His best friend and roadie, a puppet named Flazzum (Christopher Yustin), would relay the story to boys and girls who would listen.

It had a whole slew of colorful characters, including Swagger the Insane Cowboy (a guardian of the threshold), Metallica-esque headbangers and groupies hot for puppet action. You know, Joseph Campbell-meets-TV Funhouse kinda shit.

This was gonna rock.


During more talks of this play, someone suggested (I can’t remember if it was me or Pete) that it should only be one puppet, not two. And the puppet should look like our newly adopted logo, the monkey (taken from our first play, “Monkeys”). Not only would it be a funny in-joke, but we’d be able to make our next big tourable crowd-pleaser itself product placement and name-brand loyalty. Hell, this would be killing five birds with one stone. Next stop, the West End.


During the run of “Ruins,” we started telling everyone in the cast the idea. We also started casting it. We knew who people were going to be, and I would try to cater each role to each actor. So, I tried to figure out what type of role they preferred (slapstick comedy, broad farce, quiet subdued roles).

In the program for “Ruins,” we had at the back: “COMING SOON: ‘NEVER STOP ROCKING.’”

In the curtain speech, I’d announce to the audiences, “Our next show will be ‘Never Stop Rocking,’ which is going to…well…rock.”

In our press packet for reviewers, we announced that our upcoming fundraising show would be done with puppets, primarily to promote our “silly mock rock opera done with puppets.”

It was on.


The deadline for the rough draft was supposed to be in by the middle of May. I’d write the rough during the run of “Ruins” (which was in April), and have two more weeks of tweaking, and send out the scripts. We also decided on having the cast participate in the workshopping process, creating their characters and me being a sort of mediator on what went in and what got cut out. This would be a good challenge for me. I had always said I never write for specific actors in mind, and maybe this would be a good experiment, to broaden my strengths as a writer. A good exercise. I was in.


It wasn’t until halfway through the production of “Ruins” that I was in no shape to be writing something new. The month-long production (“Ruins” being the first time we ran for four weekends) was taking too much time and energy to be noodling with a new draft of something. So, I asked if the deadline could be pushed back two weeks (the end of May). Pete seemed fine with that. I felt relieved.


Upon starting work on the rough outline, I realized: “Oh, wait a minute. I don’t give a SHIT about the story of Orpheus.” That was a bit of a setback. Not a big one, but one to make me just go, “Uh-oh.”

How did we decide upon this story?


In mid-may of 2002 I tell Pete I’m almost done the first draft. This is, of course, not just a little white lie. I hadn’t written a single page of dialogue. However, I wrote “The Awaited Visit” in a night. I had written “Evil Hell Cat & the Liquid Lunch” in four days. I still had 14 days to give them SOMEthing. I wasn’t too worried.


I was realizing, looking at the blank page and a handful of scrawled notes, that this was becoming a daunting task. The two plays mentioned above were plays where I had a vague idea of where I was going, and were based of stories of my invention. I had such a delight just jumping in feet-first with those plays. With “Never Stop Rocking,” everything (EVERYTHING) had already been mapped out. So there was no place to explore. It would just be transcribing minutes from a board meeting for 30 pages.


People in Nosedive were kind of, y’know, expecting something. A rip-roaring ride of some sort. Pure zaniness. Camp. PUPPETS! I couldn’t find any sense of fun when I sat down at my computer or notepad.

Regardless, I decided to get up off the mat and start writing the damn thing.

That was when I realized I was in hell.

To be continued,

James “Puppet Fucker” Comtois

June 18, 2004


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