As we all know, decisions in the Abbey are made and handed down with a solemn grace and dignity befitting, well, nuns.
And then there's Colin.
Having seen the wreckage caused by his willy-nilly decision making process, the other Elders made the decision to restrict him to one decision a year. And that's one too many in some people's eyes. ::cough:: Bruce ::cough::
Now, since Colin was unable to attend Fest this year, his decision, like certain XF performances, was phoned in. What follows is a first person account of what transpired that terrible, terrible night.
First of all, I was drugged.
I just had to get that out of the way.
Friday night, a large group of people ended up hanging out in Go-Go Internationale after dinner. For the most part, everyone was behaving more demurely than usual, which, in retrospect, probably should have warned us of events to come.
La.. was flipping through her John Tesh CDs. Autumn was wondering where her next drink was. Lensie was polishing her plaque. Paula had this look in her eye like she was plotting something evil. I, of course, was sitting quietly in the corner minding my own darn business like I always do. There was trouble brewing and poor Colin really had no way of knowing that he was about to be tracked down from 1500 miles away.
Several dozen margaritas into the night, someone finally realized that Colin had yet to phone in his millennial Bad Elder Decision (tm). Since it was only 1:30 a.m. in Boston, it seemed like the perfect time to call and neener him from Minnesota. On the first call, Colin's roommate was mean to Autumn and told her that he wasn't home and that she didn't know where he was.
This was an unacceptable answer.
Mandy was nominated to make the next call. Of course, she pretended she had no knowledge of Autumn's call a mere three minutes before. Alas, this made no difference to the roommate, who was just as rude as she was to Autumn. Lens suggested that we call her back five more times in five different languages, but we abandoned that idea because we didn't want Colin to return home to find everything he owned on the curb.
Well, okay... some of us were altruistic. The rest of us were more concerned about who would twirl in black flannel boxers and make Scullyritas for us next year.
Within thirty seconds, someone (I think it was Lauren) had the bright idea to call Becky's apartment and see if Colin was still there. After numerous failed attempts to track down her phone number through Boston/Cambridge/Somerville information, we were about ready to give up.
This is where the "I was drugged" defense comes in.
I had Becky's number safely tucked away in my room and was thinking this quietly to myself when I realized everyone was looking at me. Evidently I lost not only my filter that weekend, but also the ability to conduct an internal monologue.
I tried to pretend I hadn't said anything, but no one bought it. Next, I tried to throw the blame over onto Lauren, but I guess that didn't work either, because thirty seconds later I found myself out on the street with instructions not to return without Becky's number.
To make a short story long, we eventually got Becky on the phone. She handed us over to Colin, who had prepared his Annual Bad Elder Decision in advance. Last year he chose to pick specifically on ShannonC by naming her Bruce. That capricious naming pales in comparison to "Decision 2000." We all know that Colin has certain issues with an episode that shall now be forever known around the Abbey as "all FREAKING things." You see, Colin decided to punish everyone at Fest by requiring us to sing the chorus of "Age of Aquarius" every time someone uttered the words "all things."
You get the idea.
I suppose it wouldn't have been too bad of a decision if certain festgoers ::glares at Glasses and Tammy:: hadn't insisted on mentioning those two little words ALL THE TIME. Before things got too out of hand (OBSSE beat a dead horse? Never), Autumn put her foot down and insisted that for now and always, the name of the episode be "all FREAKING things."
You just haven't lived until you've heard 40 drunken nuns warble the chorus of "Age of Aquarius" several (dozen) times. I'm pretty sure Colin just sat back and laughed. This is why Colin is allowed only one official Abbey decision each year.
This year's Fest featured the best and brightest of the OBSSE joining together to provide amusement for all.
We also had a talent show on Saturday night which I will attempt to review to share the, well highlights is perhaps too strong a word, but the many memorable moments that occured.
I'll begin by saying that this was no haphazard, seat of the pants operation, no sir. We had an Emcee (La..), an Emcee Assistant (Emma in a bee costume), an international panel of judges (Lens-of-Science, Ahab, Fialka, Princess, Paula, Suzanne the half a Brit, Reade, AJ and last but certainly not least, K1W1), a Canteen staffed by Janelle and Mandy selling goodies and, thank goodness, a trained mental health professional, Dr. Sarah.
In addition to acts we had improv, Charc monologues and Scullylympic events such as the Stop, Drop and Roll, the Porno Nurse Kick, the Amazing Maleeni hand twist and the Orison handcuff escape trick. Since I don't want this article to be as long as the show was, I won't be able to mention everyone that participated but that in no way means that your contributions to the night weren't important, just that I ran out of Scullyrita, uh I mean time.
The show began with Dr. Sarah, who was handcuffed to Sister Autumn for some unexplained reason, offering her services during and after the show for any psychological support that might be needed. She assured us that the Proztacs containers were full and that she was ready to listen so away we went.
The first act up was Sister Walrus, doing a fine clogging routine to the X-Files theme. Wearing a festive and colorful costume that she made herself, she showed far more originality and spark than Mark Snow has this season, plus she was prancy to boot. Next up was Tesos Dos Bitches featuring Jez as Fowley and Sassejenn as Scully meowing over Brother Mike as Mulder. Well, they were actually singing their meows in a kind of musical duel and they assured us that it was a real piece of music although I don't know if I believe that but at least they can both sing and Scully won so who could complain? Brother Mike certainly seemed to be enjoying it, especially when Jez started flinging that bra at him. They were even given a prize by the Princess at the end of the show since she knows a good cat fight when she sees one.
These first two acts were really the only ones that dealt with the X-Files per se. It soon became pretty obvious that it's all about how funny we think we are with skits that were based on Abbey personalities, bad fanfic, and Abbey in-jokes. Well, Loa did do the Love Song of CGB Spender (based on the Love Song of Alfred Prufrock) but I tend to think that the phrases Love Song and CGB Spender together in a sentence constitute bad fanfic right there.
Notables in the in-joke category were the St. Scully Charc Review 2000, featuring Tammy as Moan Slivers doing a very convincing Joan Rivers imitation and CathyS as her doting daughter, Mousy Slivers. This was the first multimedia review which required their own Stage Mgr., Sister Bruce, who had to man the VCR buttons to show this video review of Scully fashion. There was also the Rocky Horror Prancer Show which featured Jean the Prancing Machine, Glasses, Tina, Twee, Gen, Nanners, Ant and Revely performing what could be described as the Plam Warp. They managed to secure a prize not because of great choreography or costuming but because they excelled at pandering to the judges. They delivered the judges favorite beverages to them, complete with tags on the bottles that proclaimed that this bottle was brought to them by the Rocky Horror Prancer Show. The judges were putty in their hands after that.
There was also Sister Michele aka griot, in a nun's habit of all freaking things, with the historical review of St. Scully and the Flood, a Scullyist slant on Biblical favorites. She won for Best Solo Performance. Another winning solo performance was WildKat's Charc Goes to the Opera. I have no idea what she was singing about actually but she did manage to win a prize for highest note sung, snagging a Kuddley Koala clip-on for that.
Speaking of cuddly koala's, we had a surprise long distance entry from the ever so shy Skull. She sent us a lovely tape that featured her delightful Aussie lilt. I'm looking forward to next year when she will be there in person to see if that really was her voice or if she actually sounds like Crocodile Dundee. Of course, if she looks like Russel Crowe, we may not care. Or would we? It's so confusing sometimes with this group.
Remember those Proztac's that Dr. Sarah promised the audience if they were needed? Well, we needed them a few times, let me assure you. The first occasion was a badfic reenactment, starring Emma (sans bee costume), Brother Ben, CantWaltz and Sister Booblurker. This was bad fanfic come to life and as bad as fanfic can be to read, it becomes truly horrendous when it is acted out in front of you. The performances of the cast were fine, I think, it's hard to tell when the words are so bad. Proztacs were flying through the crowd.
The second occasion was Sister Rune's Season 7 Finale in D Flat. Sister Rune accompanied herself on violin. She had just started taking violin lessons 8 weeks earlier. It turns out that 8 weeks is not enough time to become proficient on the violin. As Sister Lens would say, "Who knew?". This caused such a demand for Proztac's that we actually ran out and I think I saw Paula stealing some from Ahab. However, in a ploy that served her well, Sister Rune guaranteed herself applause at the end by threatening to do seasons 1 through 6 if she didn't get the required feedback from the crowd. A pretty sneaky tactic but it worked, the applause at the end was loud and long (and heartfelt, believe me). Future talent show contestants would do well to keep that ploy in mind.
Before I get to the top three awards for the night, I'll try to recap some of the extra entertainment we had. We had several exhibitions (as though the whole night wasn't an exhibition). The first featured Bryn, in a red dress and black boa, singing to Sister Autumn. All I can say about that is thank goodness Autumn wasn't still handcuffed to Dr. Sarah when Bryn called her up to the front, people could have been seriously hurt. I frankly have never seen Autumn move so fast. The second was Lens and Reade proclaiming their love in song for bald headed men (and a certain Assistant Director of the FBI as well). In a touching display of family unity or bad genes, Meredith and Janelle did Stupid OBSSE Tricks.
We also had improv's throughout the night where a group would be given a location, a cause of death, and a MOW and told to be funny, damnit. The winner of the Best Improv Group was Sister Walrus, Sheriff Bob, Minor Shannon and Cel and I believe they won because Sheriff Bob was able to explain CGB Spender's initials as Constantly Getting Booty. I think they deserved that one.
There were Charc monologues given by Pteropod, Sister Aspen, Phledge, Sister Contradiction, Adrianne, Boris and Bead. They were all wonderful but the prize for Best Monologue went to Adrianne, who performed the Dimple Workshop with the cutest English accent, apparently sounding not unlike a stunning little redhead who many of the audience saw in LA earlier this year talking about another kind of workshop. Or so I gathered.
The Scullylympics went on throughout the night as well and I'll just mention two of my favorite moments. The first was the Orison Escape with Mandy and Meredith trying to escape with their hands handcuffed behind their backs. Now I had personally seen both of them practicing this and I know that they both did it in practice but come the evening Meredith was left struggling and unsuccessful and could only plaintively cry, "But I could do it before the pancakes." Meredith, if you think the pancakes are bad for you now, just wait till you turn 30, you'll be lucky if you can get your hands together behind your back at all if my experience is any indication. The second was the Stop, Drop and Roll. Predictably, the crowd chanted for Paula but, since hell is still hot, she ignored us. What was interesting is that no one else wanted to do it either until finally Tammy got up to try. Since there aren't great crowds of us rushing to throw ourselves on the floor, maybe we should cut Paula some slack here. (Note to editor: You owe me.)
Finally, we get to the three acts that were awarded the main prizes. Winner of third prize was To Schmoop or Not to Schmoop, with Naomi (made up to resemble Esther Nairn's love child with Frohike), Loa (in pink pants!), Cheezstk, Sister Aspen and Kiss as they struggled to settle the Romo/NoRomo debate. This was a play against types that had Sister Aspen and Loa jumping up and down and clapping gleefully, squealing "They kissed, they kissed!". Just seeing Loa in those pink pants has scarred me, much less the squealing. If only all Romo/NoRomo debates were this amusing.
Second prize went to Tesos Dos Bichos: An Interpretive Dance featuring Rania, Pteropod, Sandy, Jaina, Tracey and Lori with Scooby and Beer on percussion. This came from Rania's brain, it had kazoo's, dancing yaje and a killer stuffed cat and it came from Rania's brain. Enough said. But it did have a lot of dancing though and I like this Teso much better than the one on TV.
First prize - Blackwood, a little something that Kirby DeMille put together with the help of seemingly a cast of thousands - there was Chish, Beth, Mindy, Mandy, Sassejenn, Bryn, CathyB, Adrianne, Barb, Swoodsie and Leah. This was a reenactment of one of the funniest threads on the mailing list, The Jersey Devil project. There's really no way to do this justice in print so I'll just say that I about fell out of my chair laughing several times through this. Just the idea of Mandy playing the Jersey Devil, Sassejenn playing Mandy, Mindy playing Paula with those blinking red horns and CathyB as Creme Brulee, I tell ya, ya had to be there. I can't wait to see what they'll come up with next year. No pressure though.
So there you have it, talent night at the OBSSE. I can't imagine a funnier, nicer group of people could be found. So to all of you who got up there in front of over a hundred people, no matter how nervous you were, THANK YOU and bravo, you made it an incredibly memorable occasion (and there's photo's to prove it too).
Oh, and at the end, Mandy got Hooter of the Day and Dr. Sarah led us singing Kumbaya.
"It' just a bee to the left,
-- The Rocky Horror
I had a weird dream that I dressed up as a dessert, and Kirby wore a beret and carried around a soggy cigarette for two days. There was something about cheese, and I think balloons. Someone was a medical doctor. And you, and you, and YOU were there. Oh wait, that was REAL.
Blinking horns. Pool floaties. Badly lip-synching dessert. What do all these things have in common? You know the answer! It's that hit musical of the year 2000, the one that changed American pop culture forever -- of course, we're talking about Blackwood: The Jersey Devil Project: The Musical. First performed in Isle, Minnesota, the show toured dinner theaters around the country and had a successful run on Broadway, spawning a live television broadcast, a tie-in novel, a cast album, and a best-selling series of action figures bearing the likenesses of its charismatic cast, who were idolized by Blackwoodphiles around the United States and the world.
insert file footage of the cast in 2000 being chased by screaming adolescents in Milan
But have you ever wondered what became of that talented, hastily assembled cast? Well, wonder no longer, because we here at VH1, in our ongoing quest to bastardize and exploit your precious pop-cultural memories for ratings and quickie profits, have caught up with the actors who brought the show to life. So sit back, relax, and enjoy VH1's one-hour Where Are They Now special, Where Are They Now: The Cast of Blackwood: The Jersey Devil Project: The Musical.
cue cheesy opening graphic/theme music
Blackwood was the brainchild of one Kirby D. Tannenbaum, a.k.a. Kirby DeeMille, a.k.a. Julie Lynn Smothers. The partly autobiographical story was based on Tannenbaum's accounts of a summer adventure in the wild forests of New Jersey, in which an "elder" of a freaky Internet cult of which Tannenbaum was a member disappeared for several days. Tannenbaum had already had a successful career as a face-acting instructor, guiding the likes of Burt Reynolds, Alyssa Milano, and multiple-Oscar-winning actress/director/screenwriter Gillian Anderson through the rigorous demands of the discipline known as dimple manipulation.
insert footage of Gillian Anderson being interviewed on a beach, wearing tasteful black bra/white t-shirt ensemble, hair fetchingly windblown
GILLIAN ANDERSON: I really have Kirby to thank for getting me started on the right path to acting. Before Face-Acting Camp, I would act more with my elbows than anything else. Kirby showed me the wisdom of subtlety, helping me realize that one eyebrow twitch could be more effective than a solid hour of the Funky Chicken.
But despite the illustrious reputation she already enjoyed, Tannenbaum had a dream. And she was ready to start all over again in hopes of achieving it.
insert footage of Kirby being interviewed in VH1 studio at around the time Blackwood came out, wearing black beret and sucking on disgustingly soggy cigarette
KIRBY: You know, I just had the vision in my mind. It wouldn't let me go. Day and night it haunted me, demanding to be born. It was a f---in' pain in the ass, let me tell ya. So I had to do something about it.
So Tannenbaum turned over her face-acting franchise to her heir, WHPBDee [insert file photo, WHPBDee in mid-prance], a professional body double who specialized in a method she called the Arm-Flailing and Prancing Approach. Unfortunately, the radical new technique didn't catch on, and the school closed within two months. insert still shot of Face-Acting Camp with "CONDEMNED" sign slapped across the front entrance
But that was all in the past for Kirby D. Tannenbaum. She was on the road to something truly great. insert closeup on Kirby, holding cigarette, looking devious
Although Blackwood was based on her own memoirs, the Kirby character wasn't the main focus of the show. Nevertheless, Tannenbaum searched long and hard to find the perfect actress to portray herself. She settled on Cherish, an adorable curly-haired moppet who embodied Tannenbaum's own almost unbearably cute look perfectly. Cherish had to abandon her naturally flouncy ways and assume the more rugged, woodsy personality of the Kirby character -- something she threw herself into with gusto. A Minnesota native herself, Cherish had no problem dressing for the "great outdoors," even supplying the character's fetching red hat and hiking boots. The famous axe, however, was custom-made at a local prop house. insert still shot of axe, now behind glass in the Smithsonian
After her stint in the musical, Cherish moved back to Minnesota, where she dropped off the pop-cultural radar. So where is Cherish now?
insert footage of Cherish, with at least five flowers in her hair, talking on the phone and typing away at a computer in a busy office. Various awards and commendations decorate the bulletin board behind her.
We found her here, as the star reporter for the Mille Lacs Messenger. Once a tiny suburban paper, the Messenger has expanded its size and scope to attain its current rank as the third most widely read newspaper in America, behind only the New York Times and the one with all the colors -- due largely to Cherish's nose for news.
insert footage of Cherish being interviewed behind her desk, tapping her pencil thoughtfully
CHERISH: It all started when the Messenger, which was a very small paper at the time, came to do a story on the Presentation of the Cheeses, a very sacred ceremony in our Internet cult. I asked them to mention that we donated all the cheese to charity when we were done with it -- but instead they wrote that we sent all the cheese to pay for maintenance costs for Cher's titties. Needless to say, I was a little peeved at being misquoted. So I went in to see if I could do a better job. (sweeps her hand modestly around) And here I am.
cue somber, reflective music and a shot of Cherish strolling around the lake, hands in her pockets
Despite her success, Cherish's road hasn't been all easy. Throughout her life she's had a devastating secret: as a child she was diagnosed with curlus inhabitatus, the disease commonly known as "Fro Goblins."
CHERISH: It's something I've had to deal with for a very long time, and I've made peace with it. Them.
In fact, she's done more than that: she's used her Blackwood celebrity to raise thousands of dollars for the Fro Goblin Friends, an organization dedicated to helping sufferers of Fro Goblins and their families.
CHERISH: It's made such a difference in my life. Seeing the happy, smiling faces of the children, and the much tinier, also happy, smiling faces of the teeny goblins peeking out from their fros -- well, that's why I get up in the morning. (smiles cherubically)
Cherish's big musical number, "Sisters," embodied Tannenbaum's bitter lifelong rivalry with Lauren, Princess of Prettyland. Finding the perfect actress to portray Lauren was another difficult task -- one that led her to child prodigy Beth. A talented musician and dancer, Beth made her living screaming at tiny little girls to stay on the rhythm. When she was hired to play Lauren, Beth captured her so perfectly that girl kids all over the world imitated her, snatching Official Blackwood Princess Lauren Jewels & Tiara Accessory Kits, all bearing Beth's smiling face, off the shelves so fast the stores could hardly keep them in stock. Blackwood's production company licensed so much Princess Lauren merchandise, feeding the seemingly insatiable cravings of its small fans, that Beth's recognizability rating hit a level previously only seen by such icons as Moses, Pikachu, and Regis Philbin (before Philbin's tragic death in 2005, when he was bludgeoned to death with a giant novelty check by a disgruntled Millionaire contestant).
Yet, after the Blackwood frenzy had died down, Beth, too, disappeared from the limelight. So where is she now?
insert footage of Beth pounding away at a piano. She's wearing all black leather, her hair is short and spiked and platinum blond, and there's a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. A LIT cigarette. She has on way too much eye makeup and there's a tattoo of a musical note with blood dripping from it on her left bicep.
Now living in Los Angeles, Beth is a performance artist who mixes music, tap-dancing, and pyrotechnics in her popular (announcer coughs loudly) shows at this L.A. hotspot.
insert footage of sign outside seedy, abandoned-looking hotspot, "PIT OF DESTRUCTION," followed by a pan across the rapt audience of four or so people, ending with Beth on stage, screaming, setting stuff on fire, and playing the violin
When we caught up with Beth, she had a few choice words for us on the subject of the musical that made her a household name.
insert footage of Beth interviewed at home, sitting at her piano
BETH: F---in' Blackwood! I never f---in' want to hear that word again! God, I'm sick of talking about that prancy s---!
When Beth had calmed down a little, she gave us some more insight into her new style of art.
BETH: Y'know, that pretty princess s---, that got old real fast. Everywhere I went, people are asking me to do the princess wave, to put on the jewels -- that's not me, you know? Now this -- (gestures at various wall-mounted glossies of self holding violin, striking pose in tap shoes, and setting fire to a helpless chipmunk) this represents who I AM. My true self.
Does she keep in touch with the other cast members?
BETH: (snorts) Oh yeah, sure. Every time I want my EAR blown off by their insanely discordant singing voices. (looks misty) Well, except for Mindy. She was OK.
insert more footage of stage performance, punctuated by tepid applause from "audience"
One of the most memorable twosomes in Blackwood has to be the wacky pairing of staunch NoRomo Reade with gooshy shipper Sonya. This odd couple sparred entertainingly throughout the unfolding of the story, and casting the right pair of actors was crucial for the play's success. Kirby D. Tannenbaum found her Ship's Captain Sonya in a young actress named Swoods, who brought just the right amount of jaunty hat-wearing panache to the role. Fellow cast members remember her as "insanely giggly" -- and also as a bit of an amateur writer.
CHERISH: Swoodsie, yeah, I remember she was always talking about adding a monkey to the story. She kept saying, "But can't we work monkeys in in some way? Just as a sort of minor plot point?" Of course Kirby didn't go for that. Her behind met the axe more than once during production. (chuckles) And that hurts, you betcha.
So where is Swoodsie now?
pan over bucolic zoo setting -- giraffes, elephants, yadda yadda
Ironically (or not; we're not sure, as we have only Alanis Morissette's definition to go by), Swoodsie parlayed her freakish obsession with monkeys into a rewarding career. She works here, at the National Institute for the Monkey Sciences, associated with the prestigious Pete's Funny Animal Farm and Miniature Golf Course zoo in Fairmont, Ohio. Her job? She's a teacher. But the atmosphere in her classroom can sometimes get a little...hairy.
insert footage of a dozen or so monkeys, baring their teeth, patting their heads, wearing diapers, riding tricycles, shrieking, and in general doing other crowd-pleasing and horribly undignified monkey things
That's right, Swoods's students are monkeys. Here she is with her star pupil, five-year-old chimp Teddy, named for Swoodsie's favorite author, Theodore Dreiser.
insert footage of Swoods signing with the monkey, who sometimes signs back and sometimes just eats grapes - cross fades into - footage of Swoods interviewed with Teddy, who keeps climbing on her and trying to get the grapes out of her pockets
SWOODS: I can't tell you how rewarding it is to teach monkeys. They love learning! And it's a miracle when they can finally express their deepest thoughts to us, thoughts like "Loud noises scare me" and "I want more grapes."
Swoods fondly remembers her Jersey Devil Project days -- and she's pleased that it's being seen and enjoyed by a whole new generation. Or should that be -- CHIMP-eration? (sorry, our pun guy is on vacation this week)
SWOODS: Every once in a while we'll be watching Saturday Afternoon Movie Dregs on Channel 98 and Blackwood will be on. Teddy loves it! He even recognizes me. He starts signing like crazy. And he loves to put on his sailor hat and do his sailor dance, don't you, Teddy? (Teddy eats more grapes) So I guess you could say it's still in my life in that way. (giggles insanely; sound man turns sound down)
And how about Swoodsie's sparring partner? LOON Reade was played by the multi-talented Bryn, who took a sabbatical from her career as a torch singer to participate in the production. But she didn't just strut around on stage with her Skinner pool floatie. Here's some Blackwood trivia -- Bryn also provided the singing voice for Creme Brulee, weak-voiced poor sport Cathy B., who unequivocally refused to sing in front of an audience.
And Bryn didn't let her Blackwood experience go to waste. After the production closed, she went on to become one of the most highly regarded of those "unsung" artists -- the providers of uncredited singing voices for tone-deaf movie stars. At the peak of her career, Bryn was second only to dubbing diva Marni Nixon.
insert footage of Bryn from earlier interview, probably just after Blackwood
BRYN: Oh my God, I IDOLIZE Marni Nixon. My favorite work of hers is as the uncredited singing voice of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. "Just You Wait, 'Enry 'Iggins" is my audition piece. I can't do the Cockney accent as well as her, though.
So where is Bryn now?
cut to clip of Bryn singing onstage at a nightclub
She's back in the limelight, having returned to her original career as a torch singer. She travels around the U.S. on yearly tours, but her home base is here, at Black Branetti's lounge in Denver, Colorado. Why Denver?
insert footage of Bryn, now in the present, interviewed backstage at the club, wearing torchy kinda dress, still with Scully-esque 'do, looking mature and sophisticated
BRYN: Well, let's just say I'm paid very well here. (flashes brilliant smile)
Bryn enjoyed her stint as Reade so much that she kept a few souvenirs from the show.
BRYN: I've still got the Skinner pool floatie. It sorta grew on me. I've had it made into a chandelier, and it hangs over my dining room table now.
And what about her other role in the production?
BRYN: Yeah, Cathy B.'s spineless cowardice was actually a blessing in disguise for me. While I was doing voiceovers I got to work with a lot of fun sound technicians, and I kept my voice in shape. So it all worked out for the best. (smiles brilliantly again)
Joining Reade and Sonya on their quest for the Jersey Devil, or Paula (we're still not quite sure of the plot of this thing), was
BRYN: (rolling her eyes) My God, it was like the sonic boom when those two were together. The giggling carried for miles. Some days I had to wear earplugs at work.
Yes, Swoods and Leah, who were apparently cosmic twins born of the same insanely giggly father, but luckily not one-tenth as grating as Kathy Griffin, became fast friends during the production. But it wasn't all fun and games for Leah. She felt that to truly inhabit the part of Beer, she should become an expert on all manner of cheese. So she did, spending hours studying the dairy sections of local grocery stores. Many critics agree that this unparalleled dedication to the part made Leah's portrayal of Beer one of the most luminous and moving performances in Blackwood. And where is Leah now?
insert montage of many shots of cheese -- some borrowed from Tammy's video
Well, Blackwood fans who can't distinguish reality from fantasy will be delighted to know that Leah's followed in her character's footsteps -- she, too, is a renowned cheeseologist. She owns a cheese shop here in Wisconsin, America's Dairyland, not too far from her native Minnesoooota.
insert footage of Leah interviewed behind counter in adorable darling cheese shop
LEAH: I guess it was fate. Before Blackwood, I had no idea what a vast, intricate and challenging field cheeseology really was. Now I can't imagining doing anything else.
Leah says she's still recognized occasionally by Blackwood fanatics who can't move on with their lives.
LEAH: Oh yeah, you get the occasional fan in here. It's fun to be recognized every once in a while. I'll sign an autograph, give them a coupon for a free slice of Havarti, and they're happy. Let me tell ya, it's better than those people who come in and pretend to be John Cleese in the Monty Python "Cheese Shop" sketch. They always think they're the first ones to do it too. (giggles insanely)
Does she still keep in touch with fellow insane giggler Swoods?
LEAH: Oh sure! She'll come up every once in a while and we'll eat some cheese and have some laughs. She always brings that monkey of hers. Oh fer cute! Course, I have to keep my cheese put away up high, or he'd eat it all. (giggles insanely once more)
Another member of the merry band of would-be rescuers was willowy songstress and Pitch-Tac devourer Meredith, portrayed by Barbie S. Drum in her stage debut. Barb doubled as costume designer for her character, providing her preferred brand of green tooth dye, known in the entertainment industry as "Kool-Aid," as well as an extremely dangerous Uzi, for which she was required to obtain a special permit (whether she actually obtained it is another matter). Barb was also known among the cast for her ability to eat vastly unhealthy amounts of Tic-Tacs at one time.
LEAH: Oh, my God, she had the mintiest breath. I mean, her breath was like a DREAM. So fresh! It made me think of meadows and mountain streams. That whole Tic-Tac thing boggled the mind. She was truly blessed. (thoughtful pause) You know, it was a little unnerving to see her whipping that Uzi around, though.
But it was another talent that set Barb on her career path after Blackwood ended. Between performances, she would entertain her castmates with vivid tales of her experiences with the Los Angeles public transportation system. insert still of Barb in the story chair
And where is she now?
cut to footage of a smiling Barb, teeth only the faintest hue of green, signing books behind a table at a bookstore, a long line stretching out in front of her
Of course, she's a bestselling author, known and loved by millions for her Bus Stories series. Since the appearance of the first volume in 2002, the Bus Stories books have topped the New York Times bestseller list for an impressive combined total of forty-seven weeks. Not only that -- the rights to the stories were recently purchased by Warner Brothers, and the first Bus Stories movie, starring Sandra Bullock, is due to hit theaters next summer.
Barb, though, is happy to remain a humble woman of letters, taking an understandable pride in her books' huge success.
insert footage of Barb being interviewed at the bookstore table, adoring fans looking on
BARB: For this most recent one, Bus Stories Volume 4: Dirty Old Men Without Teeth & Other Tales, we had an initial printing of 4.2 million copies, which sold out in less than a week. That beats the previous record set by Harry Potter by almost half a million. Yeah, we kicked Harry's scrawny ass into the ground, all right!
Did she keep anything to remember those carefree Blackwood days by?
BARB: Well, I've still got my Uzi. (smiles green-toothedly; cameraman backs away slowly)
The final member of the Blackwood search party, that of small-animal-stomper Mandy, was brought to life by Sassejenn, who was forced to pull double duty during the production, as she was also starring in Teso dos Bitches, an irreverent farce in which she did a lot of meowing and prancing around.
insert footage of Sasse and Jez meowing and prancing around, as Bro Mike looks on with studied blankness
Both shows were well-received, but it's Blackwood, with its never-ending publicity machine which flogged the public with unending promos and marketing come-ons until their will to resist was slowly sucked away, for which she's remembered.
As the sproingy-haired Mandy, Sassejenn was required to wear an elaborately constructed wig as part of her costume. The wig, meticulously fashioned from a baseball cap, tape, and some strips of construction paper, took approximately eight months and cost an estimated $2 million to complete. It had to be especially sturdy so it wouldn't come off during "Mandy's" frenzied stomping of woodland creatures night after night onstage. insert still shot of wig, also in the Smithsonian
And where is Sassejenn now?
Well, it's a sadder story than that of some of the other cast members.
cue somber, reflective music -- can be the same somber, reflective music from the Cherish fro goblin thing, to save $$$
All that stomping took a toll on Sassejenn's delicate ankles.
insert footage of Sasse rolling down the sidewalk in a pink and green pastel wheelchair, decorated with little horseshoes and bows
Today, Sasse is unable to perform as she used to, but she spends her time on other things, such as her hobby of collecting and restoring My Little Pony memorabilia.
cut to footage of Sasse being interviewed in front of giant curio cabinet containing disturbingly large number of My Little Ponies
SASSE: I try not to be bitter. You know? It was a fun time in my life. Everybody pointing and laughing as I stomped across the stage in that damn wig. Do you know I suffered permanent hair loss from that wig? Anyway. It was a good time, even if it did permanently destroy my ankles. I mean, of course, if Teso dos Bitches had been the one to take off, I'd probably be an opera star right now. But it was the lowest-common- denominator musical where I played a stomping Indigo Girls fanatic that was the one to last. Yep, that's how life goes. (smiles tightly)
When she's not grooming her Little Ponies or griping bitterly about the past, Sassejenn runs a successful cracker distributorship. It's a business she started, ironically (maybe), just before Blackwood hit it big.
SASSE: Autumn sent me to buy crackers. I bought crackers. Geez. I don't know what the big thing is. But anyway, I liked buying massive quantities of crackers so much, I started doing it for a living after I got out of the hospital.
The crackers, in fact, have kept her connected to at least one of her Blackwood castmates.
SASSE: I provide for all the cracker needs of Leah's cheese shop. She's a good customer, pays on time. And, you know, sometimes we like to get together and reminisce about Blackwood. You know, like WHEN I COULD WALK.
slo-mo shot of Sasse feeding a cracker to a My Little Pony
The real-life version of Sassejenn's character, Mandy, the shoeless, cornless, fiery little wonder Jew, was a member of the cast as well: we all know and love her as the Jersey Devil herself, who runs by and growls a lot in the background and presents a vague, theoretical threat to the rest of the cast. While the real-life Jersey Devil was a vicious, murderous wild woman who dwelled naked in the forest and ate human flesh to survive, the Blackwood character was designed to be more "kid-friendly," sort of like Jar-Jar. The strategy worked -- plush "Jersey Devils" were a big seller during the musical's heyday, second only to Official Blackwood Princess Lauren Jewels & Tiara Accessory Kits. The talking -- or, growling -- versions sold even better -- that is, until a group of alert parents made an alarming discovery. The purportedly whimsical gibberish spouted by the toy, on careful listening, sounded uncannily like the words "Brain juice! Must eat brains! Delicious brains!" in Russian. Fearful of Communist propaganda, to say nothing of suggesting to impressionable children that it was "cool" to eat brains, parents protested, and toymaker Mattel pulled the product. The company insists to this day that the sounds were just a coincidence, and that in no way was it trying to subliminally influence youngsters to move to Russia and become brain-devouring Commies.
insert footage of Mattel Suit being interviewed in plush corporate office
MATTEL SUIT: It's really a shame, too, because those toys were so popular with the little ones, and because of a few reactionary individuals, the children could no longer enjoy them. I don't really understand what the big deal is. I mean, we sell Barbies for fifty years and nobody says a word about the self-esteem-crushing messages we're providing about body image, but one little Jersey Devil toy sounds like it MIGHT be saying something about brain juice -- not even in English -- and the spit hits the fan? (shakes head)
In spite of this controversy, the non-talking Jersey Devil toys remained extremely popular, a testament to the universal appeal of the character Mandy had created. So where is she now?
overhead shot of busy shopping mall. A few children clustered around raised platform, where Mandy cavorts, hair hanging in her face.
She loved playing the Jersey Devil so much that she's still doing it. That's right, Mandy travels to malls across the country and does her Jersey Devil act for delighted children.
quick shot of girl, maybe three years old, staring in bewilderment and horror at Mandy's antics - cut to footage of Mandy sitting on stage, bare feet swinging, mid-interview
MANDY: I tried other stuff after the show closed. I sold hair care products. I worked as a rat exterminator -- you know, the stomping. But nothing felt right.
So she got her creative juices flowing and penned a sequel to the smash musical, titled Jersey Devil: The Further Adventures, a one-woman show in which she acted out the Jersey Devil's escapades through monologues, character voices, and growling. The show opened on Broadway, but closed after a week and a half.
MANDY: I'm still so proud of that show. Even though it was critically praised, it just never caught on with the public. And that's OK. I mean, look at some of the things the public *has* embraced over the years. Britney Spears. Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo. That "Weight Loss Through Caterpillar-Eating" fad of 2005. I'm just as happy *not* to be included in that category.
After trying unsuccessfully to get the show produced elsewhere, Mandy took her Jersey Devil character on the road instead. She's been on the shopping-mall circuit for the last four years.
MANDY: I actually prefer it this way. It's so wonderful to get up close and personal with the fans. I mean, this is never the way I would have planned it, but who needs the bright lights of Broadway when you have this? (She sweeps her hand around to encompass the crowd. A little boy starts to cry and his mother gathers him up and hurries away quickly.)
Demure Internet cult leader Sister Autumn was a difficult role to cast by all accounts -- but Kirby D. Tannenbaum found what she was looking for in Adrianne, whose dead-on Rosie Perez impression during her audition won her the part, for some reason. Adrianne went above and beyond the call of duty preparing for the role, studying Autumn's every move, wearing her clothes, and acquiring a trout just like Autumn's famous -- and feared -- Sparky. She also, along with Creme Brulee Cathy B., had to learn a series of intricate and demanding dance steps. The pair devoted hours of study to practicing the complicated moves over and over again, until they were able to perform them flawlessly, all under the watchful eye of dance coordinator Beth.
quick cut to clip of Beth, taking a drag off her cigarette
So where is Adrianne now?
insert footage of Adrianne on a lighted stage, wearing "IT'S ALL ABOUT ME" t-shirt and holding trout, with a bunch of showgirls and guys dressed like Elvis prancing around in the background
Doing what she does best. Like her fellow cast member Mandy, Adrianne was never truly able to shake the magical hold that Blackwood had on her. After a dark period spent stalking Autumn and being repeatedly dragged away by the police screaming "You're so demure! So wise! I want to BE you!!" [insert file photo of mug shot], Adrianne has found fulfillment -- in Sin City. Yes, she's in Las Vegas, performing her Autumn impressions five nights a week.
cut to footage of Adrianne being interviewed backstage
ADRIANNE: You know, the feeling of...of power, really, when I was first playing Autumn on stage, is something I never forgot. It felt so wonderful to BE that demure, that feared, that loved. The way people looked at me, as if I could give them ops, as if I could provide spoilers, was intoxicating. It felt like a calling.
While Adrianne can't really give anyone ops, she's so good at pretending she can that her show sells out almost nightly.
ADRIANNE: It's great fun, I get to meet new people...and as long as I don't come within 200 miles of the state of Colorado, I'm not violating the restraining order, so it's all above board. (smiles)
insert more footage of Adrianne onstage
ADRIANNE: No. (Crowd goes wild)
And what about Adrianne's Blackwood sidekick, the irrepressible Creme Brulee? This pivotal role went to young ingenue Cathy B., who in spite of her refusal to sing and inability to dance or act managed to bring the yummy dessert to vivid, custardy life.
After Blackwood had finished its run, however, Cathy B. dropped out of sight again. So where is she now?
insert shot of Cathy B. sitting at her desk typing furiously on her computer. There is a cat on her lap, snacks to her right, and tons of clutter everywhere. Hm, kinda like now. Except that she's in BEAUTIFUL LOS ANGELES.
These days, Cathy B. spends her time slaving her fingers to the bone writing silly articles for niche publications such as Fishamajig: The Journal of the League of Dancing Fishermen; Wrapper Matters: The Official Magazine of the Wrapping Paper Manufacturing Industry; and News for the OBSSEsed: The Newsletter of the Order of the Blessed Saint Scully the Enigmatic. These articles frequently take the form of "rants," or long-winded, disorganized, often vitriolic spewings that poke fun at such easy targets as Joan Rivers and the Fox network. When she's not writing, Cathy enjoys correcting people's grammar, baking charred brownies, and spending time with her husband, actor David Duchovny, whom she wed in 2008 after the breakup of his brief third marriage to Shoshanna Lonstein.
insert footage of Cathy B being interviewed at her desk, above which is spread a large ROAD MAP, get it, ROAD MAP
CATHY B.: It's a good life out here in quiet Los Angeles. David's a good man. And boy, you should see him scarf his way through a charred brownie.
Cathy remembers her Blackwood experience fondly, in spite of her initial bewilderment over the part.
CATHY B.: When Kirby told me she wanted me to play Creme Brulee, I was like, "What the hell is creme brulee?" She told me it was a custardy dessert of some kind and that I should just shut up and be grateful she was letting me in at all, and it was really only because she wanted Mindy, my roommate, to be the star. So I went in pretty cold -- but as it turned out, that was good. Because my lack of knowledge of what creme brulee actually was allowed me to bring my own interpretation to the part, instead of having to rely on somebody else's conception. My interpretation involved a coffee filter on the head -- and that's OK. At least, Gene Shalit seemed to like it. (laughs modestly)
Of course, there's one more character to mention. You guessed it -- Paula, the lost Internet-cult elder. Tannenbaum conducted an extensive search before she found her star in multi-talented commercial actress Mindy, a veteran of several high-profile Tampax ads, and a singer and dancer as well as actress. The presence of this abundance of "actual" talent threw the cast off-balance at first, but they quickly rallied.
SWOODS: The only problem with her, really, was that she wanted us to rehearse and stuff. I mean, I can see how that's a good idea in theory, but it was a lot more fun to make videotapes of ourselves and then immediately watch them. But she had this thing about how we should know all the words to everything and where we were supposed to be all the time.
After Blackwood, Mindy had a well-publicized spat with her then-manager/agent, Cathy B.
CATHY B.: Yes, well, she had the idea that just because I didn't find her a lot of parts, and spent most of my time talking big about how I was going to go to awards shows with her when she got famous, and just because I didn't go to managerial school, or wherever you're supposed to go, or, really, have any idea of what a manager actually does, that she should find other representation. (shrugs) And I respect her decision.
After she changed management, things began to happen for Mindy. She became a Broadway star, her most notable role coming in the Disney stage adaptation of Oedipus Rex, music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice, in which she starred as Jocasta, the unhappy queen who sings of her discontent to her faithful butler, Heeves, and her little bunny-rabbit friend, Plookie. Her eventual ick-inducing union with her long-lost son Oedipus, portrayed in the musical by Kirk Cameron, not only enthralled children the world over but provided her with enough emotional material to win her her first Tony award in 2003. Other successes followed -- an album of Christmas songs, an endorsement deal with Prancine Natural Hair Care Products, and a Golden Globe-winning turn in the USA made-for-TV movie A Desperate Cry in the Night: The True Story of the Nashville Baby Kidnappings, which imparted to us all the sobering message that baby-kidnapping is wrong.
And where is Mindy now?
insert footage of Mindy walking around a delicate fountain, birdies chirping in the background, at her lovely home
She's living in Hollywood, where she's just completed filming on her new movie Heart of the Music, about a young music teacher trying to inspire a love of the arts in her rowdy elementary school students.
cut to footage of Mindy being interviewed, reclining gracefully on a plush white couch that has absolutely no cat hair on it
MINDY: Blackwood was what gave me my start. After that I knew I wouldn't be doing Tampax commercials anymore, no sir. It was a wonderful learning experience.
Does she ever see those other City of Angels-dwelling ex-Blackwooders, Beth and Cathy B.?
MINDY: Ummm...sure, once in a while. Cathy B. will come over and she'll rant a little about how I never took her to any awards shows, and we'll watch a few dozen X-Files episodes together, or at least the adorable Scully parts. And Beth has visited a couple of times also. I had to ask her to leave the last time, actually, since she was having a little problem with setting fire to my curtains.
And how does she feel about Blackwood's longevity?
MINDY: I think it's wonderful that it's remained so popular. I mean, when I get asked for autographs these days it's usually for something more, you know, legitimate that I've done, but every once in a while some 40-year-old man with no job, or maybe a young child whose parents forced her to watch it, will tell me how much they loved Blackwood. And...that makes me feel good. (smiles)
We wondered what it felt like to have been one of the ordinary people immortalized forever in the Blackwood saga -- so to find out, we tracked down the real Paula, the Internet cult elder whose New Jersey adventure inspired the musical, to see what she had to say.
insert footage of Paula running away as the camera chases after her, the interviewer shouting questions
PAULA: (panting, holding onto lamppost for support, looking warily at camera) Please, the whole thing scared me, OK? I'd really rather just forget about it. The media scrutiny made my life a living hell, but in the last few years I've finally been able to find some peace. (backs cautiously away, then starts running again)
We're almost to the end of our story. But there's one more Blackwood personality to visit -- the woman without whom Blackwood would never have existed. Of course, we're talking about Kirby D. Tannenbaum.
insert footage of Kirby still in VH1 studio, with beret and cig
KIRBY: It was my project from the get-go, of course. My vision, my concept. I did, you know, delegate some of the ACTUAL filking and stuff to others, which doesn't make it any less my project. Does Francine Pascal really write all those Sweet Valley Highs? Of course not. Do the books still proudly bear the words "Created by Francine Pascal"? Naturally. (takes pretend drag on cigarette)
So where is Kirby D. Tannenbaum now?
cut to view from helicopter, flying over Pacific islands
Kirby's story is perhaps the strangest of all. After the phenomenal success of Blackwood, she spent a little time just enjoying the good life. But after a while, friends say, she once more began to feel that itch, that need for further challenges. And it all started with a little CBS program called Survivor. Kirby was a casual viewer until Gretchen, one of Survivor's island denizens, was cruelly and unexpectedly voted off by a conniving alliance of mean, mean jerks. Kirby was so outraged by this event that she was determined to take action.
CATHY B.: The last anyone heard of Kirby, she was out on some island in the South Pacific, filming herself making fire and stuff. She said she was doing it "for Gretchen."
With only her axe, her dog, and a video camera, Kirby set herself up on the island of Zenyatta Mondatta -- an actual island, unlike Survivor's fictional Pulau Tiga, which of course was revealed in 2001 to have been a soundstage at CBS -- and proceeded to survive like crazy. VH1 has obtained an exclusive excerpt from one of those tapes:
insert footage of Kirby looking into camera, wearing knit hat with built-in sun visor, unlit cigarette dangling from her mouth
KIRBY: I just want to apologize to the Blackwood cast and the whole Abbey and say I'm sorry to everyone. I was very naive. (looks away from camera, scared) I was very naive and very stupid and I shouldn't have brought all this video equipment to a tropical island because the rats are slowly but surely devouring it. This was my project and I insisted on everything. I insisted on bringing a life-size cardboard cutout of Xena as my luxury item. I insisted on hiring Jeff Probst to ask me inane questions every three days or so. Everything had to be my way and this is where I've ended up. I love you Gretchen and Esme and all my new little rat pals. I am so sorry. (Begins to hyperventilate as mucus streams from her nostrils) I am so scared. What was that? God, please don't let it be Jeff Probst. I'm scared to close my eyes and I'm scared to open them. Every night I have horrible visions of Richard's bare ass. (camera fuzzes out)
And so, in the end, Kirby D. Tannenbaum has come full circle to find the truth.
insert more swooshy graphic
They made us laugh. They made us cry. They made us avoid New Jersey at all costs. Many have stayed in showbiz -- some legitimately, some pathetically. Others have moved on to different fields. But no matter where they travel in life, they will never be able to escape the fact that ten years ago they starred in a popular musical. For we here at VH1 will never let them -- or anyone else, for that matter -- forget. We hope you've enjoyed catching up with old friends on our one-hour special, Blackwood: The Jersey Devil Project: The Musical.
Fame. Ain't it a bitch?
cue cheesy graphic/music: fade out
T H E E N D