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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Theater: Alice’s Anthem

This weekend we finally made it over to Ballard to check out Alice’s Anthem, an original musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The play was produced by Copious Love Productions, an impressive little theater collective in Seattle that my daughter Meg (who did the costumes and makeup design) and son-in-law Dick (in the ensemble) are involved with. I can’t claim to have a great deal of objectivity about the folks involved in Copious Love, so I won’t; this isn’t a formal review, therefore, just a write-up of my thoughts about the play after seeing it twice.


Copious Love creates genuine, passionate, down-and-dirty, built-with-elbow-grease-and-a-prayer independent theater, and Alice’s Anthem is their most ambitious project to date. Copious Love held a private fundraiser late last year to raise the money to put on this show. They operate (for now at least) out of this little dive of a theater called the Ballard Underground. Picture this: you enter through a nondescript door that opens onto a flight of industrial-strength stairs circa probably the 1940s or 1950s. You know the kind — they’re built so solidly that even in the event of a nuclear disaster they’d probably still be standing, with nothing but cockroaches left to run up and down in perpetuity. I actually kind of love the Ballard Underground as a space, especially for smaller productions. It feels so deliciously seedy, you can just imagine all kinds of improprieties taking place here over the years.

So down, down you go and finally into the space, which is, as theaters tend to be, all black and blank and waiting for the story and players to bring it to life. There’s a bar so you can get a drink and bring it in, and they pour them pretty stiff. You walk into the theater space, where there are a few rows of ancient theater seats (relatively comfortable seats, actually) and settle in with an eclectic mix of audience members ranging from a quartet of giggling drunk blonds to older folks who are probably grandparents, to artist friends/extended posse of the Copious Love crew, to a conservative-looking couple who look like they might have just wandered in quite by accident and aren’t sure how to politely let on that they’re in the wrong place. During the course of the evening, as Alice gets curiouser and curiouser, the Drunk Blonds get drunker and louder and engage in lengthy conversations during the show. People keep giving them the stinkeye and shhhhh-ing and even tapping them on the shoulder and quietly asking them to shut the hell up, but they giggle and talk loudly throughout the show no matter how many people shhhh them, and by the end of the play you fantasize that the actress playing the Queen Mother will loom over them ominously and sing, “Off with their heads!” and the audience will burst into spontaneous applause, and the Drunk Blonds will shut the hell up already or be embarrassed by their lack of live theater etiquette and gracefully exit stage left.

Through it all — through Drunk Blond chatter, through friends of the actress who plays the Cheshire Cat character “mewing” very distractedly Every. Single. Time. she comes on stage until you long for a blow dart with a tranquilizer, and through some audience members giggling hysterically in bizarre and inappropriate places — the cast soldiers on, giving it their all. And their all is pretty darn good. Standouts for me in the cast included Jillian Callahan as Charlotte (the Cheshire Cat), who has a great, sexy stage presence and terrific voice; Tony Gavilanes as Mad Max (the Mad Hatter), whose vibrant, manic energy and charisma are perfect for this part; and Rachel Gavaletz and Rachel Tyrrel in dual roles involving singing duels, as a pair of flowers in the first act and a pair of cracked-out Tweedledee and Tweedledum characters in the second act. Really impressive singing of some intricate vocals from these two (and impressive songwriting by Gavilanes as well).

Before we go any further, here’s a peek at the teaser for the show, which has a bunch of stills that give you a feel for it. Take a look:

The set is an interesting mix of simplicity and inventiveness. The DIY production has built a pretty nifty set device that’s a large cube with two walls, open on the two sides to the audience. This box can be rotated around so the back of the walls face the audience when they change the set from one thing to another, which happens quite a few times during the show. At one point late in the show, the set piece freezes, refusing to rotate all the way. The stage crew, who by that point are wearing glow-in-the dark paints and antennae, struggle to get it to turn. “Give us a second!” one cheerily calls out of the darkness, and the audience chuckles in appreciation of their effort, and because we feel for them that their set piece isn’t working because they’ve all tried so goddamned hard to pull this ambitious show off. I almost whisper to my husband, Mike, to go help them, because he has freakish upper body strength and he would NOT take any shit from some recalcitrant set piece, but they get it moving just in time.


Troubles with set pieces aside, though, let’s talk about the most important things about this play: the script and the music. Chelsea Madsen, who wrote the script and directs the play, is a fireball of a late-20-something. She’s cute and petite and bubbly in a tattooed, artsy, pixie-ish way, but what really strikes you when you talk to her is how her passion and energy radiate out of her when she talks about theater. She, like everyone else involved, works a day job to pay the bills and has spent her nights and weekends working on this play for months, but her energy never seems to flag and her enthusiasm is contagious. You cannot talk to Chelsea Madsen and walk away feeling uninspired or gloomy. She wrote the script for Alice’s Anthem, and here, in her own words from the Copious Love site, is why she felt compelled to create her own take on the classic tale:

Around age 12 or 13, I inherited a gift from my Aunt Nellie; Nellie was my Grandma’s best friend, her college roommate and “partner in crime”. She wasn’t technically family, not biological, but family nonetheless. She was an incredible librarian and she gave the best presents; always books of course, and they seemed to always have an alternative intention, to inspire something you might not realize right away. This, as it turns out, was a big one.

I remember opening the box, looking inside, ‘The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass’ by Lewis Carroll. The book was old and smelled like a book shop. Nellie thought it would be, “…of great use to you in the coming years, a girl’s teenage journey is a bit like falling down a rabbit hole. I hope Alice and her great adventures will speak to you as it did to me, while you uncover who you are meant to be.” Classic. I wish I could tell Nellie exactly what she did for me, giving me this book, but she knew exactly what she was doing. She GOT me; she knew that I had to understand exactly who Alice was straight from the author’s pen.

There are several editions of the Annotated Alice in print these days, I have come across them all over, but I am a proud owner of one of first printed editions. Enthralled, I dove into this incredible piece of history. My life, brain, and book collection have never been the same. It’s unfortunate to me how Alice has been portrayed, a damsel in distress, glossed over with an airheaded approach, just a vehicle for the story, waltzing around with lazy contemplation. She is so much more!! She is fiercely independent, obsessed with identity, conflicted with justice and punishment, incredibly clever beyond her years and mischievous. Good lord, this girl has depth. Who would throw that away? The world needs more kick ass, clever females. I was obsessed from the beginning. The story and the characters begged to be redefined, adapted to tell a more personal story. Alice needed an update. She needed an anthem.

In my head, it was meant to be told with music; it would be perfect, the story is plunky like a toy piano in the beginning and then, all of a sudden it gets very electric, synthesized. It changes gears rapidly; Electro Cabaret! With no money to purchase rights to anyone else’s songs, we would need original music to back up our original script. Unfortunately, Lacy and I are musically, sans-talent. But you want to know who isn’t? Tony Gavilanes. Tony can write music and SING, like, really, really well.  He is a crazy talented musician, performer, and a budding musical theatre actor. Before he was even a part of our company we had recruited him to play Max, the Hatter. I just have to say, we are lucky. SO, SO, SO lucky. Stay tuned my lovelies, the music will rock your socks off; you might have to throw them onstage just to prove my point. In fact, that’s an invitation.

Enter Copious Love, the Tri-Force of Chelsea, Lacy and Tony. We made it our mission statement to write, produce and perform our Original Works, stories that we have wanted to tell since forever, plays that we would want to be involved in ourselves and that showcase not just our talent but our entire community’s talent. When you put us all together, we have a shit ton.  ‘Alice’ is one of those stories; it’s going to take a village! So we have been slowly growing our little community into a company, involving just about everyone we know and tapping our resources, finding new talent, new inspiration. And I am so very happy to say that it is coming together, we are finding our groove and gaining momentum. I think back to where we were just a year ago and it astounds me, just thinking about what we wanted to do most in this world and THIS IS IT. We told ourselves we would go big, nothing less.

The best way to describe it is this,

“The church gets passed down, finds its own soundtrack, but the general rules and regulations stay the same: a space where the outsider is the insider, where the unusual is celebrated instead of judged and mocked, where we crush fear and worship at the altar of Get Your Freak On. All the shit of life, the pain, the sorrow, the loves lost, the health issues, the relationship problems, the jobs lost, the friends and families dying before our very eyes, we don’t come to this holy place to FORGET about it. On the contrary, we come to celebrate, to yell at the top of our lungs about it, scream-share it, throw the burden on the ground and dance around it….finding solace there among our brethren. All the pain and all the joy all together in one beautiful mishmash puddle of This Is Life and We’re All In It Fucking Together. And this is why we do what we do.”

Chelsea’s script tells a very smartly written, intricate tale about a girl who may or may not be a little crazy, with a domineering mother and a need to escape from her life. She uses the other well-known characters from Alice in Wonderland – the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit – as aspects of Alice’s mind as she fights within herself for sanity … or insanity. I’ve read a copy of the script, and it’s sharp and compelling writing. Tony Gavilanes, who plays Mad Max (the Hatter), also wrote all of the music and lyrics for the production – songs that weave and interweave and layer over each other and echo each other with increasing complexity. There’s some terrific choreography that brings the music to life on stage as well.

This first iteration of Alice’s Anthem was a labor of love, a guerrilla theater effort to pull off something remarkable and ambitious and HUGE. It took a great deal of tenacity not only to incept a project like this to begin with, but to motivate a group of cast and crew members to rehearse four hours or more every night after working all day, build sets, learn complex music and complicated choreography, design costumes and makeup, and generally pull together a show that people would walk out of feeling their $15 ticket cost was worth it. It’s a testament to the energy and love that Chelsea and Tony and their executive producer/stage manager/motivating force Lacy Sarco all bring to the table that everyone involved not only pulled it off, but did so with great passion and energy and love for the project.

I very much enjoyed getting to witness this inaugural production of Alice’s Anthem. While I hope that eventually Copious Love will be able to raise the funds to pull off an even more impressive production in a bigger space, it was inspiring and amazing to see what this group of young theater professionals put together here out of nothing but their own energy and passion and smarts and love of theater. Bravo to all involved, you did Alice proud.

You can buy the awesome original soundtrack to Alice’s Anthem over on Amazon right now. Go forth, and support original art.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon