“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
It can be said that one of Seattle’s defining characteristics is its voracious love of the arts, but events like Spin the Bottle show just how unique Capitol Hill is when it comes to culture. The show, which occurs at 11 p.m. on the first Friday of each month, is a slightly anarchic assembly of just about every type of entertainment there is, for better or worse.
“One patron described it as always having one thing that he hates, two things that makes him say ‘meh,’ and three or four things that absolutely blow his mind,” said Bret Fetzer, the curator of Spin the Bottle.
Since 1997, Annex Theatre’s late night variety show has been offering up a smattering of just about every form of performance art that the Hill has to offer – whether it’s burlesque, poetry, music, short plays, or a ukulele rendition of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” that slowly builds from one performer to a chorus of 30, belting the lyrics at the top of their lungs.
“It’s a fun evening, and the crucial thing to remember is that it’s completely different every time,” Fetzer said. “There’s a little bit of dance, a little bit of music, a little bit of theater, a little bit of spoken word. I try to make sure that every edition has a full potpourri of artistic disciplines. There are reoccurring acts so people have some idea of what to expect, but the performers have to do something new each time. So it’s a different show every month, but I try to make sure that it’s consistently satisfying.”
As Fetzer put it, the show is designed as a “sampler platter” that aims to deliver exactly what it says on the tin: a full spectrum of variety that is unmatched by anything else in the neighborhood or the city. To accomplish this, the diverse arrays of performances are each strictly limited to around 10 minutes.
“I find that at that hour of night when people tend to be a little bit on the tipsy side, people will absolutely love something for just about 10 minutes,” Fetzer said. “After that, people get antsy. They want to move on to the next thing. It’s a variety show, so people want variety; they want all of their taste buds to be stimulated.”
Spin the Bottle proformances have ranged from the sort of spectacle that a patron would expect going in, like slam poetry readings by Terri Weagent, to the altogether insane, like the routines of performance artists like Gude/Laurance, who once had a show where the audience pelted them with marshmallows while combating each other.
To help stitch the wildly different acts into one cohesive whole, the shows are hosted alternatively by either the sardonic Bruce Hall or the boisterous Kate Jaeger, each bringing their own unique contributions to the proceedings. Hall, for example, once abandoned his usual dry persona during his hosting duties in favor of adopting Andy Kaufman’s lounge singer alter ego, Tony Clifton, which Fetzer described as both “amazing and terrifying.”
“They’re the glue that holds it all together,” Fetzer said. “Their job is to go on and clear the space and provide the audience with a good palate cleanser.”
To Fetzer, the types of performances that Spin the Bottle brings together are a reflection of the type of people that the show and Annex Theatre attract, both the audiences and performers.
“It’s kind of curated in an erratic way, but there’s a method to the madness” Fetzer said. “It reflects the Annex Theatre ethos of supporting new work. A lot of people have used Spin the Bottle as a forum for trying out new stuff because it’s a very warm, receptive audience. The kind of people who come to it again and again are ready to experience something new, something that might be a little raw, but nonetheless has a kind of current to it that’s real and exciting.”
According to Fetzer, the spirit that has kept Spin the Bottle the unusual, fun and slightly insane late-night romp that it has been for 16 years is beginning to dissipate with the neighborhood’s continued descent into a nightclub hub and its overall gentrification. Fewer and fewer of its patrons are from the Hill itself, and the edge that defined the neighborhood has begun to dull.
“There used to be a real appetite on Capitol Hill for late-night performance, but it’s changing a bit,” Fetzer said. “It’s not the same energy at all… that sense of burgeoning and bubbling art, it’s becoming less of that neighborhood. I’m not giving up giving up on Capitol Hill, but the flavor is definitely changing. So we’ll see what happens.”