Spin the Bottle’s reign of “longest running late night cabaret” came to a close in December of 2018 when market economics and audience apathy regarding the Capitol Hill neighborhood forced the Annex community to stop doing late night shows in its current space.
So we held a funeral.
Some familiar faces graced the stage, as well as performances from people who haven’t seen a Spin the Bottle stage in years.
The eulogy is as follows:
BEN: Thank you all for coming. For those who don’t know, my name is Ben Laurance. Welcome to Annex Theatre on a very solemn night. We are gathered today to pay respects to Seattle’s longest running late night cabaret, Spin the Bottle. When someone of a corporeal existence ceases to be, we sometimes say that they have ascended to a higher plane. And indeed that is what will be happening to late-night Spin the Bottle, for late-night Spin the Bottle’s time on this earth, in this theater, has come to an end, for it will be ascending to a new plane, and beginning the second Thursday of January 2019, Seattle’s longest running late night cabaret Spin the Bottle will become Seattle’s longest running PRIME TIME cabaret Spin the Bottle (we don’t know if that’s actually true or not, but nobody else is claiming that title so we’re sticking with it). So this is an evening of both mourning and celebration. And that is why we are here.
What can I say about late-night Spin the Bottle that hasn’t already been said, or written on the inside of a men’s room wall before? Spin the Bottle was born September 12th, 1997 when Bret Fetzer, newly arrived back in Seattle after being chewed up and spit out by Los Angeles, saw that New City Theater’s Late Night Club – the gold standard of late night variety shows in the late 80s & early 90s, had closed up shop. As had other late night cabarets such as Up Past Your Bedtime and Dew Drop Inn. Noticing an obvious hostile environment for late-night variety shows in the Seattle area, Fetzer, for some ungodly reason, proposed to the Annex company that THEY should produce a late-night variety show. And, because Annex has always had the philosophy of fail gloriously, then drink, they decided what the hell, and gave Bret Fetzer his late night show, not having high expectations for its success.
And here we are 21 years later.
Every month for 21 years, Spin the Bottle had been a fixture in the now dwindling theater sections of the local papers. That’s 255 shows, about 2000 individual and unique performances, 15,000+ audience members, and too numerous to count PBRs and cocktails served.
Beginning in the black box, then moving to the mainstage in Annex Theatre’s original home at 1916 4th Avenue, Spin the Bottle found a home at the Velocity Dance Center in the Oddfellows hall when Annex moved out of 1916 in the summer of 2001. Today, that space in the Oddfellows hall is known as the Tin Table Restaurant. But for every month the stalwart staff hauled all of the microphones, cables, music stands, cash boxes, candy, soda, beer, and booze from their then office space underneath what is now Bimbos a block and a half away to produce a variety show in a pretty sparsely equipped dance studio, and back again at the end of the night. Nevertheless, Spin the Bottle’s time at Velocity was pretty magical.
Almost two years later, on May 2nd, 2003, Spin the Bottle moved down the hall to Freehold’s Rhino stage. I don’t know what is there now, but Freehold’s Oddfellows offices and auxiliary rehearsal room is now the Oddfellows Cafe.
Capitol Hill has changed a lot in the last 17 years.
The staff still had to haul the concessions and booze from the Annex office a block and a half away, but Freehold allowed Annex to keep all of the electronics – microphones, cables, and such – locked safely underneath the risers. Which was convenient, except for when the Spin the Bottle crew showed up one Friday evening to find that their secure locked area was not so secure after all, and all of their microphones and cables and stands had been stolen. Fortunately, Annex still had a couple mics and cables at the office, and the show went on. Ultimately, some artists complained that they requested four microphones and stands, but only received two, however the Annex staff had no fucks left to give. As our stage manager said at the time, “I’m sorry, they were stolen, what do you want me to do?”
Some significant moments happened in the Oddfellows building during the years Spin the Bottle had residence there – 2001 through 2007. The first being the staircase show. On this particular evening, the Freehold staff had forgotten Spin the Bottle had rented the Rhino, and had left for the weekend with the keys. So Spin the Bottle, being ever adaptable, decided to perform the show at the bottom of the east staircase, with the audience sitting on the stairs, and the performers on the ground level in front of the doors leading out to 10th Avenue.
Another significant moment happened when the Annex staff had arranged to rent the Seattle Mime Theater for Spin the Bottle. If you recall, the Seattle Mime Theater was on the top floor of the Oddfellows hall, and yet again the Spin the Bottle crew arrived to find the doors locked, due to a misunderstanding. And again, being ever adaptable, the Annex staff had BROKEN INTO the Seattle Mime Theater, scaled the outside of the locked booth, teched all of the acts, let in the audience, performed the show, and left the space at the end of the evening cleaner than they had found it. Annex’s Managing Director Stephen McCandless delivered the rent check to the Seattle Mime office with “You’ve Been Rented!” written on the memo line.
And then, in 2007, Annex landed here – 1100 E. Pike Street, its new permanent home. Just eleven short years ago, but a lifetime when you consider the complexion of the neighborhood outside. And every month, every first Friday, Spin the Bottle has gone on without missing a beat.
Spin the Bottle has always been the place where you can try new things, to experiment and fail without worry because you knew the audience was on your side partly thanks to the generous pours at the bar in the Annex lounge. This audience has your back, they want you to succeed, they want you to win, unless you go on… for far too long. Which is why I am going to wrap up my opening remarks by saying there are always memorable performances that stick with you year in and year out after a Spin the Bottle. Some are the terrible performances, like the father-son duo who performed a routine as Jesus and the Devil, where the son, playing the Devil, got down on his knees and alluded to giving Jesus a blow job. Or the performer whose alter-ego was a weimar cabaret singer and after 45 minutes of uninteresting “comedy,” the booth shut the lights off and muted her microphone. She didn’t stop, she was quietly and politely asked from the wings to leave the stage. These stick with you. But so do the sublime performances. Any monologue by Richard Lefebvre, or the cover of Like A Prayer by Stephanie Roberts and Ceceila Frye, which grew from just those two performers on ukulele to over twenty singers, musician, and break dancers. The sublime come few and far between, and you never know when they will hit. You might not even know in the moment, or immediately afterwards, but maybe days, months, or years later you will say to yourself, “yeah, that performance was sublime,” and to bring us our first moment of sublime this evening, I want you to welcome now, no strangers to the Spin the Bottle stage, Filament: A Collab Lab.
FILAMENT: A COLLAB LAB
BEN: I’ve estimated, as I’ve said before, that over 2000 performances have happened in the last 21 years at Spin the Bottle. That doesn’t mean that there have been 2000 performers, as many performances include more than one performer, and many performers have trod these boards multiple times. So who’s to say how many can claim a Spin the Bottle on their resume, but we do have some notable alumni here. Monologist Mike Daisey has entertained us with his stories, performance wizard Reggie Watts used to show up miraculously, five minutes before his prearranged slot, wow the audience for 10 minutes, and then disappear into the night. NPR host John Moe was a frequent contributor back in the Freehold days. And I can vouch that on April 7th, 2017, actor, director, comedian Bobcat Goldthwaite… was in the audience. So you never know who you might see at a Spin the Bottle. Heck, if you were here on November 2, 2012, you might have even seen a post-show wedding. Frequent smut contributor Gillian Jorgensen sent along some words about Spin the Bottle, and to read those words please welcome Joe Zavodil.
GILLIAN: Once, we brought a 4-month-old baby to Spin the Bottle. She was my own kid, so it was okay—although the people on the streets of Capitol Hill decidedly didn’t agree. But that’s the thing: indoors was always different than outdoors. Whether it was up the stairs on 4th avenue, up the stairs at Oddfellows (or ON the stairs at Oddfellow or breaking in over stairs at Oddfellows), or up the stairs on 11th, once in the room StB was home. A loud and messy home, sure, but a home with surprise guests, knowing looks, groans, laughs, and the promise of tater tots at the end of it all.
BEN: Coming up, you’ve already seen this next performer already today, as they took your ticket at the front desk. We’re delighted to be surrounded by so much talent here in the Annex family, and to share with you some of their talent, please say hello to Sam Ro.
BEN: Many hands have been responsible for making the Spin the Bottle machine turn and operate. Over the last 21 years we’ve had countless box office personnel, bartenders, sound and light board operators, stage managers, and hosts. For the first number of years, though, there was the core group of Bret Fetzer curating, Stephen McCandless Stage Managing, and Bruce Hall Hosting. In fact, Bruce has sent along some words which I will now invite Val Brunetto up on stage to read.
BRUCE: Spin the Bottle staying up late. playing, trying things out, seeing a mix of dance and film and song and puppets and sketch and bands and writers. The nexus of a great artistic community at Annex. A friendly Friday night house. And a late night staple for 21 years: new performers, repeat performers, some regular staples for a time. Like the happenings of “the Orange Project”, Sgt Rigsby and his Amazing Silhouettes, “Awesome!”, Rick Miller, Half Brothers. Richard Lefebre. Smut by Bret Fetzer, Keri Healey, Kelleen Conway Blanchard, Catherine Blake Smith. So many more. Emmett Montgomery, Gude & Laurance. And adept light and sound operators, and stage managers! We held many raffles of treasures from my basement (literally), with the beautiful raffle queen Val Brunetto. How many times did I come to host Spin the Bottle, getting my butt here after a long work day at the end of a long week? And then there would always be something really inspired in the show and just generally sexy people. And I was so glad I came. Here’s to you Annex Community!
BEN: Thank you. You could always count on seeing the faces of Bruce, Bret, and Stephen every first Friday. But not everybody can devote their time to a volunteer artistic endeavor for 21 years, not when you can no longer live in Seattle on a part-time barista’s salary, so we have seen these faces change over time. Other stage managers have included Meaghan Darling and Katie McKellar among many others. Other hosts have included Kate Jaeger, Terri Weagant, Joe Zavodil, Matthew Middleton, Val Brunetto, Tony Clifton (although Bruce was supposed to host that night and didn’t show up – suspicious), and many others. And of course Catherine Blake Smith took over from Bret as curator in 2015 and has kept this ship sailing, putting on show after show be it shoehorned into the existing set of that evening, or let loose on this large empty set you see before you. There is a group of filmmakers and dancers in town who have come up with a simple premise. If the set for your play has a dark night, they won’t let that set sit cold and lonely, no. Instead they will fill it with warmth and art, and preserve it all for us to see. And now, another presentation from Dark Set.
DARK SET FILM
BEN: As I’ve said before, Spin the Bottle has been the place to try new things. Do you not consider yourself a poet, yet you wrote a poem for your broken car? Spin the Bottle is the place to read it aloud. But also, Spin the Bottle is the place where people who are masters of their craft come to share their gifts, and we have been privileged to have these fine gentlemen play for us over the years. I consider them friends, and I genuinely do love their music, so it’s not awkward when they tell me they have a new album out. I rush to buy it, and so should you. Please welcome The Half Brothers.
THE HALF BROTHERS
BEN: I think it’s time for us to be able to pay our individual respects to Spin the Bottle, so I invite all of you up on stage for a viewing of the symbolic body. And while we’re up, please feel free to refresh your drink at our bar, and buy a last will and testament ticket from the Raffle Queen.
BEN: I will now commence the reading of the will. I, Spin the Bottle, being of Sound, Lights, and set, do bequeath my personal belongings, consisting of whatever Catherine can gather together this month, to a collection of my favorite audience members, especially those who bought more tickets from the Raffle Queen.
READING OF THE WILL (RAFFLE)
BEN: People have often asked how Spin the Bottle got its name. Was Spin the Bottle played at early shows? How did that come about? Well, original curator Bret Fetzer sent along some words, and to read those words, please welcome Bret Fetzer.
BRET: Annex at the time was notorious for its opening- and closing-night parties, at which drunken games of spin the bottle, played by eager and loose-moraled twentysomethings, were a recurring feature as the parties would wind down. I believe many relationships (of varying success) were launched from making out in these games. So when we were brainstorming a name for the late-night variety show at the retreat that year, someone suggested Spin the Bottle and everyone in the room fell over themselves laughing. Thus the name was chosen. The game has never been played at the show itself.
BEN: Thank you, Bret. This next performer is truly a treasure here in the Seattle drag scene. You have seen them at Kremwork, 18 & Union, and here at Spin the Bottle. Please welcome Arson Nicki!
BEN: Thank you Arson. Arson Nicki everybody. This upcoming merry band of mischief-makers played their first show at Spin the Bottle back in 2004, and since then they’ve gone on to play the Crocodile, the Moore, Sasquatch, and many many others. We’re very excited to bring them back to Spin the Bottle for one more show. Please gasp in awe, for “Awesome”.
BEN: By design, Spin the Bottle is a kaleidoscope of disciplines and performance, and you never know what you’ll be getting. But over the years, a few stalwarts have agreed to perform at every single one for a duration, so audiences have had some stability to grasp when the show just got too wild or, as the kids say, random. This includes in the early days Jason Tractenberg and his Family Slideshow Players, and, most notably Sgt. Rigsby and His Amazing Silhouettes. Sadly, the Sargeant was originally booked for tonight, but couldn’t make it. So he sent along a letter. To read this letter from Sgt. Rigsby to you, please welcome to the stage Sam Ro.
SGT RIGSBY: Hello Gentle Folk! Sgt Rigsby Here! I am frightfully sorry I can’t be joining you this evening but I am currently being held captive in a derelict horse meat cannery somewhere in Eastern Europe. At least I hope it’s derelict.
As you may or may not know, my ward, Young Penny Wentwhistle disappeared ten years ago whilst at a church bazaar and jumble sale. Six weeks ago I heard rumors she was at a clothing optional spa in Baden Baden. Sadly, that was yet another red herring in a long string of red herrings. I fear Penny has gone to stay with Mrs Melton Jones and Good Old Iowa Joe. And Chicken Jenny has…oh, dear, that sweet bird. I… Let us speak of happier things! Better days and brighter times! When we were young and didn’t really believe horrid things happened and life would be smashing for all of us! Oh, I have loosened one of the ropes just enough to raise a celebratory glass of sherry to where it all began! Cheers to five glorious years of Spinning the Bottle at the Annex Theater and Jumble sale! I will always think fondly of you. For a short while, you made my meager dreams grand!
BEN: Thank you Sargeant. Other stalwarts of the Spin the Bottle stage were two gentlemen known by the moniker gudelaurance. Paul Gude and Ben Laurance were the resident ne’rdowells of Spin the Bottle for more than 11 years, but heaven help us if we know what happened to them. One final artifact remains in the Spin the Bottle vault of gudelaurance, and it is by sheer coincidence that it is available to us tonight. Now, let us observe what gudelaurance hath brought.
BEN: In the early years, you knew what you were getting. A shadow puppet performance by Sgt. Rigsby, the silky-sweet voice of host of Bruce Hall, and smut, month after month from Keri Healey. Keri was kind enough to send along some words about Spin the Bottle. And to read those words, please welcome Catherine Blake Smith.
KERI: It was a different world every month, every first Friday-night-into-Saturday-morning. Whatever else it was, it was the mystery at the top of the stairs. Who knew who would be there when you arrived; the warm-fleshed, delirious crowd pouring out of the packed house of a hit or the gloomy dribble of humanity exiting a well-intentioned but unfortunate miss. It was the thing that rescued you from the rest of your week, pulling you into the welcoming hug of fellow creators ready to try again and again to make the late nighters laugh/cry/think/drink and remember. Funny puppet voices, songs both silly and sublime, rats under the bleachers, oranges being thrown at me, finding new ways to say pussy and cock every month. The mystery at the top of the stairs. It meant there was at least one night each month that I wasn’t alone.
BEN: When Keri stepped down, Gillian Jorgensen took up the mantle of smuttress, maintaining Keri’s habit of writing her story up until the very last smut minute. And since Gillian passed on the smut torch, many have braved the smut realm, but maybe none moreso than Kelleen Conway Blanchard and Bret Fetzer. So tonight, for our very last late-night reading of smut, we present an original tale from Kelleen and Bret, read for you all by Tracey Leigh and James Weidman.
BEN: That is it, friends. That is the end of late-night Spin the Bottle. I want to thank you all for coming out, month after month. Year after year. Braving the elements of the relative safety of Capitol Hill below. You all made it sublime. Don’t forget to put on your calendars January 10th 8pm for the beginning of the next iteration of Spin the Bottle. We’ll see you in 2019!