The every-first-Friday variety show at Annex Theatre is a “testing ground” for performers who want to try out new material, or who are newbies to performance in front of an audience. Expect magic, music and more.
It’s late on the first Friday night in July, and as the Annex Theatre audience of about 75 squeals in amazement, magician Aaron Wheeler slides a playing card out of his mouth. Over the course of the evening, they also heard a mouth trumpet and an excerpt of a play about race and gender. In other words, it’s another installment of “Spin the Bottle.”
For his trick, Wheeler had attached a yellow bucket to the end of a pole. In the bucket was a deck of cards held with a rubber band. Five audience members thumbed the deck, committing a card to memory. Wheeler guessed the first four correctly — but the fifth? It slid from his lips.
One of the card-thumbers, Woody Shticks, had been dancing on stage earlier in a small pink leotard, lip-syncing like a contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Now, as some of the performers are apt to do during the show, he’s seated in the audience, next to his partner, mouth agape.
IF YOU GO
‘Spin the Bottle’
11 p.m. first Friday of each month, Annex Theatre, 1100 E. Pike St., Seattle; $5-$10 (annextheatre.org).
“Spin the Bottle,” the brainchild of writer and artist Bret Fetzer, was founded in 1997. After Fetzer stepped down in January 2015, Annex Theatre’s artistic associate, Catherine Blake Smith, took the reins. She’s the curator now, responsible for bringing in performers of all kinds for the first Friday shows.
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“Spin the Bottle is such a laboratory space,” explains Smith, who started volunteering at the theater in 2012. “People use it to explore different ways of making art — really the night is a lot about trust.”
She books performers who want to do a “slightly different version” of their usual art form as well as people trying out performance in front of an audience for the first time, she says.
“I choose the acts based on a combination of people who approach me and say they want to perform,” Smith explains. “I also approach people who I talk to or have seen perform elsewhere. Or I’ll invite artists to use an underutilized talent.”
One past standout performance involved a musician, Mike Hamm, in a bathrobe, creating looping sounds from an electric toothbrush and kitchen pot.
“You could hear everyone who’d been talking in the lounge become quiet and ram into the theater,” Smith says. “It’s these transcendent moments that get me every time.”
July’s “Spin the Bottle” closed out — as it always does — with erotica. Smith read the work (written by Kelleen Conway Blanchard, a regular contributor).
“Bret was writing fairy tales for a new city late-night club years ago,” says Smith. “But he started writing smut and wanted an opportunity to perform it, so he created this show.” Smith says she has a lot of reverence for Fetzer and what he’s created. “The first time I met him I joked that I wanted to be him when I grow up,” she says.
Now, nearly 20 years later, audience members take the steps to the 99-person Annex Theatre on 11th and Pike, braving the barhopping masses on Capitol Hill, plunking themselves down to watch the varied performers participate in the monthly “testing ground.”
With a show like this, one might expect amateurism throughout; bits from performers that fell short, undeveloped. But every act during the July show was rousing. Smith, however, could only watch a few acts.
Smith, who’s performed guitar and poetry at the shows, admits she doesn’t always watch. “Especially when I’m performing — I get really nervous.”
Smith has kept the structure and pacing of the show intact, including frontloading the show with three or four performances and concluding with two or three.
“I used to call it my ‘my baby,’ ” she says, “but I quickly realized it’s a teenager by now.”