History of the Annoyance
From Improvise. Scene from the Inside Out
by Annoyance Artistic Director and Founder Mick Napier
“On September 10, 1987, a group of us were sitting around a table at an Italian restaurant talking about slasher films. As the discourse pursued, we got the crazy idea of producing a blood show for Halloween, which was a few weeks away. We set our goal for the opening at October 10, exactly one month ahead to the day. In the next frantic four weeks, we pulled a show out of thin air. We created makeshift beats for the show, more or less a parody of contemporary gory horror films, learned about stage blood, and created and “perfected” our effects. Through improvisation, we honed the beats and developed the characters. Borrowing from Alfred Hitchcock, our stage blood consisted of chocolate syrup, water, and red food coloring. We created different consistencies for different effects. Some of the stage effects included a nun getting drilled in the back of the head, a bimbo getting her tongue ripped out, and a policeman having his intestines removed. With a freshly painted white set, Splatter Theatre opened on October 10th, 1987. After a chilling original song performed by a night club singer character, several deaths turning the white set blood red, a real meat puppet intermezzi, and many laughs, Splatter Theater received a standing ovation. Nobody knew at the time that we were launching The Annoyance Theatre. We were just doing a show. As a matter of fact, annoyance wasn’t the name for us yet. We called ourselves Metraform. “Metra” because we were performing a long form at a theatre on the fourth floor of a great music club called The Cabaret Metro, and “form” because we were performing other various original improv forms at another venue. It wasn’t until we formally rented a space in 1989 that we came up with The Annoyance. Metraform didn’t seem like a very compelling name for a subversive comedy theatre, so a few friends and a bottle of tequila yielded The Annoyance, but at the time just as the name of the theatre itself, with Metraform being our company name. As The Annoyance became The Annoyance, Metraform went away.
Since this time, in six different locations in Chicago and now New York, The Annoyance has created over 250 shows, comprised of improvisation, sketch, full-length plays, cabaret, and full-length musicals. Hundreds of people have performed in Annoyance shows, and you see many of them today on stage, in films, and on television.
Our flagship show, Coed Prison Sluts, was created from improvisation. It ran for 11 years, the longest running musical in the history of Chicago. Because of the content of Coed Prison Sluts and other shows at The Annoyance, the theatre has became known for its subversive language and themes. Such titles as Manson: The Musical, Tippi: Portrait of a Virgin, and That Darned Antichrist helped fuel this notion. Shows like these were not so much born from the desire to be radical, as they were more a consequence of the invitation to do whatever you want on stage. Our work is uncensored. The only censorship is self-imposed, and the criterion of that censorship is whether or not the content fulfils the mission of the show. Under the umbrella of the same invitation to freely create on stage came The Real Live Brady Bunch, a re-enactment of Brady Bunch episodes on stage, God in a Box, an exploration of commercialism in America, He Who Says Yes, a tribute to the music of Kurt Weill, along with original Christmas Shows, improvisation, and sketch. The Annoyance has made its mark mostly from being the first improvisational theatre to devote itself to creating full-length plays and musicals from improvisation, but is always open to any type of show. The Annoyance scored a first also in Chicago for committing itself to performing multiple original shows per week. At one point, we had 13 different shows a week running.
In 1999, The Annoyance branched into production and formed Annoyance Productions. In that year Annoyance Productions released their first feature film, Fatty Drives the Bus, through Troma Pictures, on video. Currently, The Annoyance strikes a balance between live performance and production with continuous projects on the slate for both.
Along with the creation of shows, The Annoyance has provided training in improvisation since 1989. As our approach to improvisation has evolved, we are able to provide a healthy alternative in the study of improvisation. Highly individual attention has become The Annoyance trademark, with students leaving our program with a better sense of themselves on stage, and strong tools to navigate through an improv scene. Although The Annoyance has respect for long-form and games, we focus our training on the scene itself, and the individuals that make up the scene. Like our creations on stage, The Annoyance training program is uncensored and void of traditional improv rules, providing a free and encourging environment to improvise in.
The Annoyance ensemble has changed over the years, but they have and continue to be the funnest, funniest, and finest people I have ever met.”