When I joined up with Alamo Basement, most performances followed a “24-Hour” format. For a few shows, that meant that the entire production was done during the 24 hours leading up to performance with writers having 12 hours (8pm to 8am) to write sketches and directors and performers having 12 hours (8am to 8pm) to prepare for performances. Most of the time, however, we took a less strict approach with performances being a mix of brand new sketches written the night before and successful sketches from previous shows, although the exact sketches were still decided on just 12 hours before performance time. It was a completely ridiculous way to do theater that should have been a nearly foolproof recipe for chaos and failure, yet it worked a lot more often than it didn’t thanks to the talent and dedication of everybody involved.
To guarantee that writers really were writing something original and not just trotting out canned scripts, writers would meet the night before, jot down character ideas and put them in one hat and setting/situation ideas and put them in a second one. We would then take turns drawing a character and a situation at random until everyone had two options to choose from. We couldn’t mix and match–character 1 went with situation 1, character 2 with situation 2. Also, of the two ideas, one had to be central to the sketch and the second had to at least be referenced. For example, if a writer drew “narcoleptic astronaut” and “the Taj Mahal,” she could write a sketch about a narcoleptic astronaut visiting the Taj Mahal, a sketch in which a narcoleptic astronaut mentions that he had a dream about the Taj Mahal, a sketch in which a visitor to the Taj Mahal who tells a friend about his narcoleptic brother who currently on the international space station, etc.
Here’s what I drew for the following sketch: “Count Chocula” and “A Mausoleum.” Actors and audience both really seemed to enjoy it. Fun side note: during a Halloween performance, an actor in the company named Darryl played Frankenberry in this sketch as well as Frankenstein’s monster in two other sketches and was quite proud of the fact that he managed to do something different with each performance, all of which were quite good.
Drake–beloved AB vampire character
The Scene: A fancy mausoleum.
(Drake and Marshall enter.)
DRAKE: See, this is the sort of thing I’m talking about.
MARSHALL: I don’t know…
DRAKE: Look, you’re a vampire, right? You need a place that fits the whole vampire lifestyle.
MARSHALL: It seems pretty drafty.
DRAKE: You’re the walking dead. What, you think you’ll come down with a headcold?
MARSHALL: I just don’t see why I should give up a perfectly good apartment–complete with heat, electricity, and, most importantly, cable–to live in some damp old mausoleum.
DRAKE: Because that’s what we vampire’s do! We’re creatures of the night, and creatures of the night do not live in third-story, walk-up studio apartments. We live in tombs or condemned houses, we avoid hallowed ground, we feast upon the blood of the living…
(Count Chocula enters and interrupts.)
COUNT: And ve respect our verdammt elders und do not annoy ze piss out of zem mit our infernal racket!
MARSHALL: Oh, we’re sorry. We didn’t know there was anyone living here.
COUNT: Vell, zere certainly is! I didn’t bust mein hump shlepping cereal for decades to buy zis mausoleum just zo little pishers can vander in like zey own ze place und vine about being vampires! Now get out!
DRAKE: Okay, okay! We’re going! Take it easy there, Count Dracula. No need to get insulting.
MARSHALL: Let’s just go back to my third story tomb.
DRAKE: Don’t start this again… (they exit)
COUNT: Zat’s Count CHOCULA! CHOCULA! Und I know Count Dracula, und you are not vorthy to smell his sheis! Verdammt swinehundts! (sighs and takes a seat. Looks around impatiently.) Vere are ze others? I know ve agreed to meet at half-past one…
(Frankenberry and Booberry enter.)
COUNT: Wilcommen, mein friends! Wilcommen!
BOOBERRY: What’s shakin’, Count? Sorry we’re late. Some kids were havin’ a bonfire near here, and Frankie wigged out big time!
FRANK: Fire bad!
BOO: Yeah, fire bad, but chasin’ yer reanimated ass along the coast for two hours is a lot worse.
COUNT: Please, mein friends! It has been a trying night vor us all. I just chased two mouthy pishers from mein tomb before you arrived.
FRANK: Pishers bad!
COUNT: Zat zey are. Und zat is ze very problem I vant to talk about.
BOO: What, punks breakin’ into yer pad? Just get yerself some a’ them hellhounds or a security system or somethin’.
FRANK: Frankenberry no bouncer!
COUNT: No, no, mein friends. You misunderstand me. Ze problem is nobody takes us seriously.
BOO: Hey, that ain’t true! General Mills knows that if they don’t pony up the cash, we walk on over to Kellogs and take a big, fat chunk of their profits with us!
FRANK: Frankenberry command great brand loyalty!
COUNT: Sure, sure, ve are taken seriously as cereal spokesmen, but ve are mocked as monsters. Vere is ze fear? Vere is ze terror? Ze sight of us should cause horror, not hunger.
BOO: I gotta say, ya gotta point there, Count. I haven’t been able to hold down a steady hauntin’ gig in decades. On the last one, I try hauntin’ this five-year old kid, right? I figure “easy pickin’s.” So I got the bed shakin’ and the walls bleedin’, and then I materialize and what happens? The kid demands a bowl of cereal and kicks me in nads when I won’t get her one!
FRANK: Villagers no run in fear when Frankenberry go on rampage. Just ask for autograph.
COUNT: I have ze same problem. Und I am ze laughingstock of vampire society. Dracula von’t return mein calls, Van Helsing doesn’t consider me vorth ze trouble of hunting, and even zat Count on Sesamestrasse calls me “Count Crapula” behind mein back.
BOO: Heh, heh. “Count Crapula.” That’s a good one. (Count glares at him) But I see what you mean. It’s a problem, but what are ya gonna do?
COUNT: Do? Vhy, I tell you vat I’m going to do! I am going to make zem all pay! I vill teach zem all to fear the chocolaty Prince of Darkness und his fruity partners in pandemonium! Zis very Halloween, ve vill again rule ze night!
FRANK: New marketing campaign?
BOO: Yeah! Did the advertising boys come up with somethin’ that let’s us be scary in addition to delicious? This is going to be awesome!
COUNT: No, you fool. No marketing. No cereal. Zat is vere ve vent wrong in ze first place. To hell mit ze cereal! Tonight, ze streets vill run red mit ze blood of ze innocents! Tonight, ve cut a bloody swath through ze Halloween revelry! Ve spare no one! Especially not ze children! Zey vill die mit our names on zere lips und our cereal in zere tummies!
BOO: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Listen, Chocula, I gotta take a pass on this.
BOO: Somethin’ like that is gonna seriously hurt our sales, and I for one would rather be rich and famous than poor and spooky.
FRANK: Frankenberry, too. Plus, Frankenberry get more ass than toilet seat now.
COUNT: But vhat about our nature? Ve are monsters!
BOO: Correction–we are RICH monsters–and I’m stayin’ that way. (Gets up to leave) You comin’, Frankie?
FRANK: Frankenberry come.
(Booberry and Frankenberry exit. Chocula sits down, dejected.)
CHOCULA: Vell vat’s a fine how-do-yo-do. Sell-outs! But zen again, so am I…
(Renfield enters, eating a bowl of cereal.)
RENFIELD: So how’d it go, boss?
CHOCULA: I don’t vant to talk about it.
RENFIELD: Turned you down, huh? Figures. Give a monster a little taste of fame and fortune, and he forgets his roots.
CHOCULA: Is zat vhy you quit vorking for Dracula and came to me?
RENFIELD: Yeah. He kept it together pretty well through the Murnau, Browning, and even Hammer stuff, but he lost it after the deal with Coppola. Hired an agent and PR guy, got a really queer hairdo, moved out to Bell-Air. At least you still got the crypt thing going. And the food here’s way better. I’ll take cereal over bugs anytime. You should try eating some of this stuff–it’s great!
CHOCULA: I never eat…cereal.
RENFIELD: That’s a good one, boss! You still got it!
CHOCULA: Yes, I suppose I do. I suppose I do.