There was a small event that occured in Austin, TX during SXSW that wasn’t a part of the festival, but was most definitely one of the more memorable events of the week. You had to know when and where to look, but it occurred a stones throw from the famous Alamo Drafthouse Lamar in the Alamo-owned Highball Restaurant/Karaoke Bar/Bowling Alley/Stage Venue. The event was Back To The Future LIVE! and it was assembled and performed by the Old Murder House Theater, a group of young performers, filmmakers, and artists that immortalize classic films as staged performances. Using custom-made props, unending energy, and a shared understanding of what makes these films special, they create truly extraordinary events that are never forgotten by those able to attend.
The performances started in Savannah, GA why the key players attended college, and the audiences grew until their final Savannah performance of Independence Day drew in a crowd of hundreds. Now they’ve been relocated to Austin, TX and the Alamo crew caught wind of their special brand of film worship, and have adopted them into their Highball venue. The first such performance was the aforementioned BTTF, which happened right in the middle of SXSW in front of packed crowd in the sold-out concert wing of The Highball. Cosidering the dozens that were turned away that night (I myself, an old friend of the crew, had to sneak my way in with the help of a steak), the show could be performed in a much larger venue, but the Highball provides a special atmosphere that’s the perfect home for the show. For now.
For those folks who couldn’t make it all the way out to TX, or didn’t know that the best show in town was happening only a few hundred feet away, I’m happy to be the first to debut the video from the performance that night, along with an interview with director Sam Eidson. Before that though, I wanted to be the first to announce the next Old Murder House performance, which will tackle…
That’s right, Robocop. Dates, prices, details and the works will come later, but it will be at The Highball, and it will be awesome.
So before we get into the BTTF video, a warning: The coverage and audio is a bit spastic. It all fits with the DIY nature of the whole thing, but be prepared for some loud audio spikes and quiet moments.
Now, you should watch the full version, but there’s an annotated 10 minute version as well, which you can watch in HD on YouTube…
Photo Credit: The Human Survey
Now let’s dive right into an interview with Sam Eidson, the erstwhile leader of the Old Murder House Theater, director of Back to the Future Live! and a friend of mine. There’s a hysterical sarcasm to almost any communication with Sam, so be prepared for some weird. Sam is an actor, writer, director and pretty much everything in between, having produced a werewolf death-metal-opera as his film school senior thesis, and having starred in a SXSW-accepted midnight short called Billy’s Birthday that is indescribably insane. He’s no run of the mill Austin hipster: he’s a creative dude that’s not afraid to pursue what he finds funny, even if it might cause every asshole in the room to clinch up. He’s a part of a crew of very similar guys, who all bring a lot of genuine talent and creativity to the table. Also, I’ve stayed in this kid’s apartments, and these are no rich yuppie assholes posing as dirty bohemians… they’re legit.
Onto the questions!
Talk about the very first spark of this movie performance idea, and how the first one came together…
This all started when we were all joking how cool it would be to do Jurassic Park as a play. Then we put one together sorta just as a joke but also to celebrate [Josh Jones, co-star and prop master] birthday and we were seniors and we were bored. So yeah, even though the cops came and gave us citations for being loud and shit and taking dumps on Keys Hall [the film school radio building], we figured people liked em and they were alot of fun for us to do. Anyways you can see the whole process of the first one in the Jurassic Park Party [see that right here].
Describe the evolution from the first one to what it is now.
The first one had no lights, it was broken down to just the essential quotes, very little props. No coloring the props or anything either. Back to the Future was like full on-elementary school production, except we didnt really have a stage theatre to perform in, we were using a bar. So it still was different but we made do. Having a real theatre would be cool though- we could probably get away with more stunts and stuff. We’re still using cardboard and just recycled shit so that much hasn’t changed. But yeah, I didn’t take out really any scenes from the movie. So we’re pretty much doing the whole movie scene by scene now, it’s just some scenes I simplify more than others. And I think now we’re taking liberties more and more with the source material. There’s some things I want to stick to right to the bone, but other things we can be silly with. Oh wait, it’s all silly.
How are the films decided upon, how much do logistics play into your decision- do you choose carefully or pick whatever and just make it work?
Lately since we came to Austin and did Die Hard | Home Alone, I’m trying to make the movies more season-appropriate. It’s weird because at the time we were doing BTTF, alot of BTTF references and shit were coming up everywhere: they were having a BTTF reunion, a BTTF video game and… I dunno, I was just seeing it everywhere. So with Robocop it just seems like a great big explosion blockbuster movie to start off the summer. And with the whole deal with Robocop statue being made and them remaking Robocop over at MGM like a buncha fags. I just thought Robocop was a iconic enough name and even if they arent that familiar with the first movies they’ll fucking know, “oh duh, he’s a robot and he’s a cop.” Enough said. Explosion. More explosions.
What kind of process is it to customize the performance for the venue, and talk a little bit about the unique challenges you’ve faced as the shows have been in such wildly different places.
Well this is the second time we’re doing a play at the Highball. We were originally doing these outside our house on our porch back in Savannah GA, so it’s definitely an upgrade in quality. I GUESS. But I mean, we try not the lose the spirit of the original, which was just to have fun and make people laugh about old movies they remember while they get blitzed. And we love it when we get a rowdy audience who’s drunk off their asses and are yelling at us. So I think it’s been kinda different with the Highball because we don’t get that crowd, but we’re trying to mix it. We definitely feed off the crowd’s intensity: if they dig us we’ll cum on them. I mean… It’s like I’m cumming everywhere.
Obviously we don’t want to ruin future potential picks, but talk about the movies you love and that could happen as plays in the future? Would you ever consider doing something weird, like a Malick film or something, that doesn’t lend itself to the format quite so easily?
We’ve talked about everything from Aladdin to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! We have mostly stuck to 80s and 90s blockbusters and that’s worked out for the most part. We were talking about doing some earlier Spielberg and some 70s stuff from Coppola or Scorsese. Really, the more one-liners and dialogue the better, and if something older like Clockwork or even Malick had that we wouldn’t be opposed to that later down the line. There was serious talk about Wild Strawberries at one point, actually. Really it’s all about the audience because I love everything. Princess Bride and a more female-oriented movie has been talked about too. But really who cares what women want AM I RIGHT??? [I think we just figured out a perfect candidate.]
Talk about improving during the shows a bit, and where you draw the line between giving the audience the classic lines, and putting in your own twists. How much of that is planned, and how much just happens?
Well we never improv during the actual shows (I mean, unless things fuck up, which they always do). But during practices alot of kind of inside jokes arise and shit. And the overblown performances kind of turn into caricatures that are so far from the movie that we just keep them anyways. You know… Maybe Byron kind of did this voice and he sounds like a pirate. Well good! He’ll sound like a pirate for that line! HAHAHAHA Most of the time the audience dont even pick up on it and we get no laughs. But yeah we add cursing and shit here and there to make it like for cool people (CUZ CURSING IS COOL, GET IT?). But yeah staying true to the source material is important, but silliness is also important. But it’s all planned. Just like my son.
What kind of influences have had an effect on your particular brand of humor?
Our brand of humor stems from everything. I think we’re leaning towards lots of political satire lately. Definitely. The crowd really responds well to it. We don’t lean to the right or the left, though we step on all toes- that’s where we get ya! Really? No. All of our jokes are dick jokes.
How has your experience been living in Austin? Is this something you’d take on the road if the demand was there?
I love Austin! It’s got a great vibe and love for films and everything geek, it’s a geek haven. But I mean it’s also a haven for all types, like there’s a lot of health nuts here and everyone is in shape. Like everyone runs or takes a bike and they train for the Olympics it’s great. No they don’t. But for real they have a place here and they stuff all your ingredients in the burgers and then wrap the burger in bacon, it’s great! Oh and yeah we’d take it on the road, we got some ideas. Canada really likes us, apparently.
Talk about an ideal crowd size.
Our ideal crowd size would be like a solid grand. But seriously, we want to just host these things with as a huge a kegger and have everyone come drunk and throw lettuce and tomatoes at us. We’d prefer it that way. The more drunks the better and if we suck they can pee in our faces.
Photo Credit: Bob Jones
Any other shit to pimp?
YO YO CHECK OUT HARDGRAVEL.COM GO THE EPISODES AND WATCH OUR COOL LITTLE SHOW WE”RE TRYING TO MAKE MORE OF THEM SO IF YOU LIKE THEM SPREAD EM ROUND! AND WATCH THE EASTER SPECIAL!! Oh and new music video from Hard Gravel coming later in May! I dunno, really just that and I dunno what else to pimp. Come to Robocop in June!! Like us on Facebook!
… so that’s it.
Do likethem on Facebook, and do check out The Hard Gravel. I’m a part of the later- I play the band’s mutton-chopped manager Steve from time to time. I promise you that show too is every bit as absurd and bizarre as the live performances, but with an incongruous sophistication to the production value. It’s good stuff if you’re into that sort of thing.
Keep an eye out on FB and twitter for more news about when and where you can buy tickets to Robocop, and we’ll keep you up to date on all the crazy shit these guys do.