The Mouthfull Shakespeare Company

This Saturday we’ve got another “7 Minutes” show happening at Space 55: “7 Minutes Down The Rabbit Hole”. It’s one of my favorite shows to be a part of (considering that I’ve been organizing them now for the last two years, it’d be weird if they weren’t!). Part of what makes these shows so fun is that it gives people a chance to do incredibly strange, fun, and just plain-batshit performances that wouldn’t make sense anywhere else.

One of my all-time favorite 7 Minutes bits was “The Mouthfull Shakespeare Company” put together by Lauren Karp, Ian Murdock, Jen Michelson and ensemble cast members (Marcella Grassa & Amy Ouzoonian) from The Firehouse Gallery’s production of “King Lear”. Local poet Joy Young also stepped in for a bit of the performance, and I reprised my role as dick-head extraordinaire Edmund for our very-short, sandwich-chewing version of “King Lear”.

I could explain what the premise is, but you’re just better off watching it and seeing it for yourself. I wish I still had a copy of the programs we handed out: In lieu of actor bios, we had very detailed descriptions of the sandwiches we had onstage that Ian made. They were delicious.

THE MOUTHFULL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY:

How Desperate Are You?

This is a comedy sketch I wrote a few years ago for The Firehouse Gallery’s sketch comedy show FFNL (First Friday Night Live).

How Desperate Are You?

By Ashley Naftule

SCENE: A game show. Bob, a grinning smarmy host is standing in front of a screen. To his right are 2 Jeopardy style podiums with 2 contestants standing behind them. One of the contestants has a high score of 400, the other a negative score of -10,000. In between the screen and the contestants is a limbo bar.

BOB

Welcome back, folks, to “How Desperate Are You”. As you can see, the Limbo Bar of Lust is almost touching the floor, so that means it’s time for the final round! Laaaaaaaast Call! Now Steve, you’re in the lead with 400 points. You feeling pretty confident?

STEVE
I sure am, Bob. I’ve got a lot of self-respect points, and I’ve got my eye on that trip to Cancun!

BOB
That’s right, folks! An all-expenses paid trip to Cancun for Spring Break! Where our lucky winner will get to live out all our hypothetical desperate situations for real! What a thrill, what a thrill…

BOB walks over to the negative contestant.

BOB
And Dietrich…. you’ve got a negative score of 10,000 self-respect points, the lowest score in the history of this show. There is no possible way for you to win this game.

DIETRICH
That’s right, Bob, not at all.

BOB
And yet, because we’ve never had to deal with a situation like this and have no default winner policy in place, the show must go on! You feeling pretty confident right now, Dietrich?

DIETRICH
Absolutely, Bob, nobody is taking this loss from me

BOB
Outstanding. Gentleman… it’s time for Last Call.

The screen behind Bob starts flashing. He holds up a card.

BOB
You are each offered a chance to participate in a filmed gang-bang of your favorite porn star. You will get to have sex with her on camera… but you’ll be the 187th banger in a 200 man gangbang. Would you do it? Steve: you’re up first.

STEVE
Absolutely not, Bob, I’m not that desperate.

BOB
Even though she’s your favorite pornstar? And you can do ANYTHING to her?

STEVE (thinks for a moment)
No, no, still not that desperate.

BOB
So you won’t go that low on the limbo of lust?

STEVE
Nope. Maybe to be Banger #6-28, but 187? No.

BOB
That decision doubles your self-respect score to 800!

Screen flashes and the studio audience applauds wildly.

BOB
Now Dietrich: you’ve been offered the exact same situation as Steve. Are you that desperate?

DIETRICH
Absolutely, Bob, absolutely. I’d be in it like a splinter in a toenail.

BOB
Are you sure? Remember that 186 other men have already boldly gone where you’re about to go.

DIETRICH
Absolutely, Bob, I’m absolutely that desperate. I’ll put on a snorkel, gas mask, 16 layers of Trojans, I don’t care, I’ll get in there. No shame at all, Bob, none.

BOB
So you will get that low below the limbo bar of lust?

DIETRICH
That’s where I live, Bob, everyday.

BOB
You are depraved beyond measure, Dietrich.

DIETRICH
Standards are over-rated, Bob. Show me someone with standards and I’ll show you someone who isn’t getting laid half as much as I am!

BOB
While this is entirely pointless, that answer doubles your score to a negative -20,000, a score six times as low as our previous lowest record-holder’s score.

DIETRICH
Suck on that, Pauly Shore!

BOB
Surprise, surprise, it looks like Steve is- you know, wait, I’ve got one more question. We’ve got 5 minutes of air-time, why not ask another question?

STEVE
Fine by me, Bob. My victory is assured.

DIETRICH
You know I’m game, Bob!

BOB
Gentleman: you go to a party with your sister. She gets extremely drunk and confuses you with her boyfriend and begins to undress. Are you that desperate?

STEVE
Absolutely not, Bob! I’d never be that desperate!

BOB
A bonus two hundred points of self-respect to you, Steve! Finishing at a respectable 1,000. Good show. Dietrich?

DIETRICH
Absolutely, Bob, and that’s not a hypothetical answer. I’ve been there… twice!

BOB
Mother of God. OK.. that-that puts you at -22.000…. well, that’s the end of our show! Steve, congratulations on your trip to Cancun, and Dietrich… if there is a merciful God above, you’ll be quarantined until the end of your days.

DIETRICH
My little brother watched the whole time! Hey Peter! I’m on TV! Say hi to Kristen for me!

Lights out.

Spaceship Phx

A few years ago, around the time of the first season of FFNL, I was also briefly involved as a writer for another late night Firehouse show, Spaceship Phx. Spaceship Phx was the brainchild of poet/artist Jason Allan Davis. It was an odd duck of a show: partly a serial sci-fi story about a crew traveling through the show (Phix: The AI; Dig: The Captain; Bridget Zaida: The Competent One; Foxy: The Dog-Thing), and also it served as an interactive art market, as the crew would be selling their wares during intermission. Most of what I wrote for them has been lost to time and dead computers, but this little segment survives. I will confess that it was inspired by Futurama’s neutral planet, but I still had lots of fun writing it. 🙂

Spaceship Phx 12.2
The Approach

The ship hurtling through the void of space approaches Grayhole I, the most densely populated planet of the Grays, a race notorious for their giant heads, black-slitted eyes, and crash-landing in New Mexico.

PHIX
One hour til planetary approach.

FOXY
Barks.

DIG
What do we know about the Grays? I don’t think we’ve dealt with them before.

BRIDGET
Well, I’m glad you asked! I’ve spent the last two days compiling a report on them-

She pulls out a phone-book sized brick of a file.

DIG
Where did you get all that paper?! I thought we were having a shortage-

PHIX
Yes, we’ve been rationing paper use for the last week of travel-

BRIDGET
Oh, I know. I just gathered up some old papers and re-purposed them for my use.

DIG
Wait a minute, that’s my novel! I can see my table of contents right there! *points angrily at back of her file*

BRIDGET
I had to requisition it for creative re-use. I hope you don’t mind.

DIG
I do, actually.

BRIDGET
Didn’t you get my memo?

DIG
No!

PHIX
You never sent out any memos. I have no record of that in my logs.

BRIDGET
Of course you don’t. There is a paper shortage, after all. Why waste it on a memo?

DIG
Bu-but-

BRIDGET
So… the Grays. An industrious people. Extremely technologically advanced, more so than the humans we dealt with. Soft-spoken with their speech, they like to move at a languid pace.

PHIX
Boring!

BRIDGET
I’ll bore holes into your mainframe if you interrupt me again!

PHIX clears its throat, obviously a litle uncomfortable.

DIG
Ok, they move slow, they talk slow. So what? How is that useful?

BRIDGET
As a race, they’ve established an almost perfect emotional equilibrium. Not a single Therapist has visited their civilization in over 300 years. They are paragons of control, restraint, and relaxation.

DIG
So they’re not warlike?

BRIDGET
Not according to my histories, no. The last war they were in was about a 100 years ago.

DIG
Great! Then they’ll love our art. Relaxed, peaceful people. Not going to steal our goods. Not going to try and take the ship hostage. This is a nice change of pace.

BRIDGET
Yes, this should go off without a hitch.

FOXY
Barks.

PHIX
Captain, we’re being hailed by Grayhole I.

DIG
How far are we from there?

PHIX
Half hour.

BRIDGET
They probably just want to say hello. They’re renowned for their courteousness.

DIG
Patch ‘em through, Phix.

A screen reveals the video image (an actor in a suit? Shadow puppet?) of a Gray whose face fills up almost the entire screen.

DIG
Greetings from the Spaceship Phx! I’m the Captain-

BRIDGET
And I’m Zaida, the ship’s cultural liasion. It’s such a pleasure to meet you..

THE GRAY
For the purpose of this conversation, my name shall be Number 32. It could be a pleasure to make your acquantice.

BRIDGET
32? Such a lovely name-

NUMBER 32
I come from a long and esteemed line of double-digits. But enough about my name; I must ask you to please state your intentions.

DIG
Excuse me? I don’t-

NUMBER 32
Your A.I. sent us your flight plan and confirmation of your arrival to our sensors a half hour ago. We have no record of your ship entering our space in the past. We would just like to know whose coming to visit. We’ve had… some unfortunate visitors recently.

BRIDGET
Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that! We can certainly relate, we’ve had our share of unfortunate visitors.

NUMBER 32
I see. I thank you for your sympathy. Now if you could please state your intentions?

DIG
We mean you no harm, we’ve just come to set up a market for our goods!

NUMBER 32
A market?

BRIDGET
Yes, we’re travelling across the universe to sell our wares of interstellar crafts and arts. Each crafted with love & the most exquisite skill!

NUMBER 32
Oh, I see-

DIG
And we do performances too!

BRIDGET
I can dance! Let me sho-

NUMBER 32
No-no-no, that won’t be necessary! Thank you. So your intention is to come to our world, set up a marketplace, and sell art?

DIG
Yes, indeed!

PHIX (suddenly alarmed)
Um… guys, guys, you might want to take a look at this-

FOXY (spooked)
Barks.

DIG
What is it, Phix?

Before PHIX can answer, the Gray chimes in.

NUMBER 32
I hate to be an unaccomodating host, but I must ask that you turn your ship around and leave our solar system immediately. Your flight plan has been rejected. You may not land here.

BRIDGET
What?!

DIG
What’s goin on-

PHIX
They’ve got space missiles locked onto us! Tactical space missiles!

NUMBER 32
I apologize for the vulgar show of force, but I must emphasize that we are unable to let you land at this time. Or anytime.

DIG
This isn’t a trick, we are just trying to sell art, we’re not spies or-

NUMBER 32
I believe you. We Grays have truth-detection wired into all our interstellar communications.

BRIDGET
That’s right, they do. I should have mentioned that.

DIG
Then what’s the problem?

NUMBER 32
Our civilization does not engage in commerce of any kind. Or the making of art. We have no need for the brutal competition of business or for the self-indulgent narcissism of art production. We have transcended the need to consume and create to make ourselves feel better or acquire glory. These things only bring sorrow and unbalance. We have no need for them. Or for you.

BRIDGET
Bu-but if you would just look at these samples! Look at these masks and buttons! The attention to detail, the color-

NUMBER 32
Our race loves all creatures. Except solicitors. Please remove us from future flight plans and interstellar call lists. We appreciate your prompt cooperation.

DIG
Are those missiles still locked onto us, Phix?

PHIX
Oh yeah. They’ve actually doubled the amount of warheads!

BRIDGET
I understand. We didn’t mean to alarm you-

NUMBER 32
You don’t. Nothing alarms the Grays. You are not a threat to us. You are a nuisance. Please leave.

DIG
Pilot, take us out of here.

FOXY
Barks.

BRIDGET
Could we at least leave you our number, in case you change your mind-

The screen cuts out and NUMBER 32 vanishes.

DIG
Was there anything in your FILE about that? No commerce? No art?

BRIDGET
I… I’ve never been wrong before. I don’t like this feeling. I should punch something to make myself feel better.

FOXY
Barks.

PHIX
Sometimes I love not having a physical body.

DIG
Oh, c’mon, you’re not wrong, you-you-you may have missed a detail or 2 here or there-

Stage darkens as Spaceship Phx flees Grayhole 1. We hear Dig shout as Zaida clocks him one.

Me attending the Spaceship Phx art market.
Me attending the Spaceship Phx art market.

Terra Cotta Soldiers: Goth Black, Disco Gold, Stiff All Over

Another oldie from my Tumblr days (circa 2011). This one was a combination slice of life/philosophical screed/vaguely-embarrassing-humblebrag about my days bumming around downtown Phoenix, dancing at goth nights and crashing on the Firehouse’s disintegrating couch.

“Terra Cotta Soldiers: Goth Black, Disco Gold, Stiff All Over”

1:30am and I’m walking down the sidewalk, wheeling my bike alongside me like I was walking a dog, or gently taking a drunken friend home. My body is sore after an hour of dancing, but it’s a good kind of sore: a soreness that feels earned. The moon overhead is too full to be a crescent but isn’t quite a half-moon yet, and it’s surrounded by a halo of hazy yellow light. The light streams down on the radio tower of the Westward Ho, making this corner of downtown Phoenix look like a classic film still shot. I expect at any moment to hear Fay Wray’s shriek cut through the night, as she wiggles in the grip of an ape ascending up the Westward Ho. Instead I hear the caterwauling of a different blonde: Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive” drifts through the air. I can’t tell which side of 1st ave and Fillmore it’s coming from: the dimly lit Bank Of America on one side or the locked Circle K on the other. I’m glad to hear it: “Wanted Dead Or Alive” is one of those songs that I like and feel embarrassed by the fact that I like it. “Living On A Prayer” is also in that category, the kind of song I’d never put on a mixtape for someone, the kind of song that could make a night of karaoke or game of Rock Band epic. A room being filled with the sound of friends “whoa-WHOA”-ing in unison is a sweet sound, even if those whoas are pouring out of mouths clenched in embarrassment.

It’s midnight and “clenched in embarrassment” pretty much sums up my physical and mental state of mind at the moment. I’m at the Crescent Ballroom, sitting at a table a few feet away from the DJ spinning Motown records, nursing a whiskey sour in my hand, my head bobbing along to the music. Normally on a Friday night when I’m in the mood to dance I head down to Sanctum on 7th ave, where they have a goth/EBM/darkwave dance night…. but I’ve gone there so often that their DJ’s playlists hold few surprises for me now. I needed a change of scenery and some fresher sounds to fill my ears with. Hearing that the Crescent Ballroom has started a no-cover Friday dance night of soul, Motown, funk & disco, I headed down there on my bike after a night of performing in a show in Tempe and watching a show in Phoenix. My body was having a Gene Kelly Moment and it could not be denied. It happens to me whenever I have a night out on the town: no matter how good the company I’m with, no matter the attractions, at some point some cluster of muscles in my body sings GOTTA DANCE and I have to go dancing. It’s like a fire ignites beneath the soles of my feet and the only way to stamp that heat out is to bust a move. The Gene Kelly Moment. GOTTA DANCE.

And yet I don’t dance. I sit on the edge of my seat, leaning forward, tense, as though I’m about to run headlong into a firefight at any moment. I don’t spring towards the floor because it’s empty. The place isn’t empty: the Crescent Ballroom is packed with people, standing by tables buzzing with conversation and buzzing on drinks. The Crescent Ballroom is packed with people, and none of them are dancing. I could sit and wait for someone else to step forward and be the first to dance, but that could take too long. The desire to dance might leave me and then I’d end up slinking to sleep heavy with defeat. But to be the first out there means to face down the stares of the Terra Cotta soldiers, and I don’t know if I’m up to that challenge tonight.

Wheeling my bike past the Westward Ho, past Bon Jovi, I walk by a lady asking me for change to catch a bus tonight. I give her a dollar, even though I know damn well that all the buses have stopped running hours ago. In Phoenix if your ass isn’t on a bus by 10pm, your ass is stuck and out of luck. Even on a weekend. But I give it to her because I feel the need to pay my There-But-For-The-Grace-Of-God-Go-I Tax, and because I know enough about the occult to know that it is unwise to snub anyone you meet at a crossroads. Past her lies the gay club Amsterdam. It’s blaring top 40 music and through the glass walls I see a room full of people dancing with wild abandon. A part of me regrets not going here instead. The music doesn’t appeal to me at all, but the energy does. And besides, while I’m not gay, I might have got hit on by a guy in there and I could always use that kind of ego boost. As crass as it sounds, few things sound as validating as the thought of another human being wanting to put my cock in their mouth; a thousand good reviews in print or a room full of laughing patrons doesn’t compare to it. Being a heavy-set man with social skills that fluctuate between “somewhat decent” and “somewhat disastrous”, that kind of validation is rare, both in words and in deed.

Terra Cotta soldiers is an expression that my friend Mr. Frip came up with in one of his poems to describe people who don’t dance. The dreaded folks who come to a dance club or at a raucous concert, stand around stone-faced, their stillness a stern refusal against the invitation to dance, to rock out, to revel. Dancing in front of Terra Cottas is intimidating: even if they’re paying no attention to me, I can’t help but feel they’re judging me, using every step I take as another piece of evidence to build their case that I, Ashley Naftule, am an awful dancer. I probably am, but I don’t mind it: I love to dance so much that my skill or lack thereof is of no concern to me… but what eats at my mind is the other ways they could be judging me. The way they could be judging my body. Almost everyone in the room is thin, talking with friends, flirting with people, not alone. They exude self-knowledge of their youth, of their sexiness. The world is not theirs and never will be, but they don’t know it yet. And I am chubby, wearing a shirt with holes in it, alone at a table. Even at my most confident moments, I could not float on my own self-esteem the way these people seem to. So long as I sit at this table, I am invisible. Fat men usually are: people are vaguely aware of us, the way they are aware of trees or telephone poles, aware of us as large cumbersome things to keep out of their way. The minute I step out onto that dance floor and start moving, I lose the protection of Jurassic Park logic: “don’t move, they can’t see you if you don’t move”. But then “Soul Man” starts playing. The music is too insistent. I feel like it has extended a spectral hand towards me and I have no choice but to take its lead. I could not refuse such grace. And so I danced.

Fire trucks and ambulances flashing lights dart past me. They make a sudden left on 1st and Roosevelt, my final destination, and for a moment I wonder if they’re going to the same house I’m going to. I hope everyone is alright. As I round the corner I see the lights flashing down the street at Margaret T. Hance park, and from the thumping sounds of a Ludacris/Taio Cruz song playing in the backyard of the Firehouse, I assume that the folks still here are a-ok. My feet are heavy, but not as heavy as my head with words. Best to sit and empty them out before they haunt me in dreams. Some people dream of lecturing naked or falling. I dream of untyped sentences.

To me dancing is a form of gnosis. It empties my mind and makes me feel attuned to the universe, to my higher self, in a way that nothing else does. And it’s hard to achieve that state when you’re surrounded by folks dissecting that gnosis. The Heisenberg Disco Uncertainty Principle: I am the dancing photon being observed by a room full of cocktail swirling social scientists. And it’s hard to really let go and dance when I can see out of the corners of my eyes the occasional finger pointing my way, the cruel grin, the watch-me-mime-this-guy’s-awful-dance-moves. It doesn’t matter what kind of club or what kind of music they play: be it Bat Cave goth haven or hipster meat-market, the Terra Cottas act the same. This kind of shit shouldn’t bother me, after years of dancing, but it does. It probably always will. But the music wins in the end: after awhile all I hear and see is snares and bass and falsettos and 12 inch dance remixes. For a period of time I feel myself stepping sideways out of this world into some other realm of pure Motown, pure soul, pure funk. Where the roads are paved in dance sweat and coke, where the clouds are all shaped like the Supremes’ hair, where birds fly by whistling the melody to “Funky Town”, where the trees shed dollar bills and hundreds of Berry Gordy’s shove wheelbarrows about raking up the leaves. When I leave that realm and slip back into my sweaty body, slipping on my heavy coat and stumbling outside to unlock my bike and walk down the sidewalk, I feel like my reptilian brain has shed a layer of skin. One day there will not be a place in this town that doesn’t have my old skin littering its dance floors.

Someone else is sleeping on the couch I was going to crash on, so I fill the morning hours typing and thinking. One person I saw at the Crescent Ballroom sticks in my mind. After I started dancing, he was one of the few that joined in. As the evening progressed, the dance floor started picking up steam until there was a good crowd on the floor as I was heading out. But this man was one of the first to join me in the fire-fight, and he was an old dude, too. He dressed like he was an old version of me: red buttoned up shirt, black jeans, black vest. A fashion sense equal parts Han Solo and Kenny Rogers, just like me. But his hair was white and balding, and on his face was a magnificent curling moustache, the kind of intricately waxed and styled beauty that would be a contender for the 2012 World Beard And Moustache Championships. Perhaps he’s competed in the past. I didn’t think to ask at the time. I think of him now because he was old in a room full of young people, with a moustache that was impossible to ignore, and when he danced I could tell that he wasn’t clenched with embarrassment. It’s like he didn’t see the Terra Cotta soldiers at all. If that’s the case, I can only hope to earn that kind of blindness in my old age.

“For The Fairest”

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This piece is the first piece of art I’ve sold. It hung at The Firehouse Gallery for a month during their magick-themed art show earlier this year. The piece is an ode to the two most important women in my life: the woman I love and the woman I worship. It’s also an ode to ABC, because ABC is awesome. NEW ROMANTIC FOR LIFE.