2016 was a marathon year of hard work and late nights for us, so it’s only fitting that our final act was a 24-hour live telethon during which we didn’t “nap” anywhere near as much as we optimistically told ourselves we would. Despite the fact that some of our natural rhythms have been thrown out of balance for the foreseeable future as a result, it was a deeply satisfying and affirming experience - and, as it turns out, an endurance performance that makes us feel truly proud! Particularly because trying to plan such an undertaking while simultaneously getting back into rehearsals for Ski End AND trying to understand how to be active participants in our faltering society was...not easy. Credit for carrying us over the finish line (or, let’s be honest, carrying us to the starting line in the first place) must go first and foremost to our dear friend Allen Riley, whose complex and sculptural live TV set-up has been inspiring us for a few years now. When Alexandra interviewed him during the second and third installations of the ‘thon, the whole event gained a sense of meaning and context that went way beyond raising money. Which is not to malign raising money, of course, because that’s what we were doing! And it worked! As I myself have learned during many a public radio pledge drive, people will pay if they see you workin' for it. Is your voice cracking from repeating the same number over and over again? Yeah, I’ll donate to that, absolutely! But of course there was more to it than that. There were times when we felt we were engaged in a public experiment, a brief way of life, in which many of you were actively participating...commenting, staying up later than you meant to, egging us on, watching us get looser and weirder. Even though it was only 24 hours, I’ll probably eventually remember it as a distinct period in my life where we all lived together in a super-secret-location somewhere in Brooklyn. And what happened during that wild era in the waning years of our youth? Almost too much to name! But here are some highlights (possibly out of order):
We got off to a thoughtful and invigorating start with old chums Sarah Campen, Bob Christensen, and Hannah Pepper-Cunningham. They were calling in from Juneau and New Orleans, respectively, and offered perspective on making art and theater not only way outside of New York, but in parts of the country that exist on the front lines of climate change.
We were shocked to realize we’d been chatting with them for about an hour when our next guests, Lauren Whitehead and Alec Duffy showed up, live and in-person! We hadn’t planned to interview them at the same time, but we were glad we did because their work dovetails so beautifully and now they’re going to get a cup of coffee!!
Our teenaged collaborators Kijani and Maite joined us and we got to catch up. Our temporary society felt a lot more like a real society when we got a little intergenerational conversation going. Maite performed a few pieces for us, and Kijani made the case for our fundraising effort. We’re so excited to spend more time with them in rehearsals! Also, Alexandra taught us how to draw a powerful horse.
International reinforcements starting appearing - Sina Heiss and her collaborator Marlene came all the way from Austria (maybe not just for the telethon, but still) and we talked about theater, politics, and the color green in Austria. Piehole collaborator Hye Young Chyun, in town from South Korea, appeared briefly and miraculously to deliver donuts.
Our friend Deepali Gupta, who wrote music for Ski End, sang original songs for us as we sat down to dinner. Maybe this would become part of the nightly ritual forever? Hopefully?? This was reality now, wasn’t it?
More friend reinforcements started appearing, and Matt Tong, stalwart Piehole ally, barely realized that he’d been manning the video station for hours. Jess Goldschmidt gave us a rousing performance of “what’s in the bag” (must be seen to be believed). Emily Friend Roberts, aka Erma Fiend, provided us with a makeup tutorial that turned Elliot into a glamourous melting mall elf for the next 16 hours. Maya Taylor provided us with a box of caffeine pills, two of which were promptly downed by Brendan Thomas Crowley, who would bravely carry us through the late night.
Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzarro, in solidarity from California, had crab legs delivered to our super secret location. We devoured them for your viewing pleasure.
When Ski End ensemble member Ben Vigus starting juggling to the rhythm of Elliot’s perfect apple-chopping, we knew we were in for the long haul. It would not be the last time we saw the world through juggle-cam.
Brendan introduced us to the terrors of the night by telling a series of bone-chilling ghost stories. He also introduced us to the terrors of the present by promising to sing an improvised parody song entitled “Trump Says” to the tune of “Jane Says” for a donation of $50. Much to his chagrin, his challenge was met by devoted Telethon viewer Kevin McKenna.
The apple-chopping became part of an overnight pie-making ritual which briefly landed us in another dimension.
We settled into a quieter period - toasting our high school English teachers with a glass of traditional wassail, enjoying readings from Anne of Green Gables, Johnny Got His Gun, and Margaret Atwood’s Moral Disorder...all of which brought us treacherously close to the dark heart of total awareness in the moment. Some people took naps while others doubled down on a wakeful mania.
In the early hours, we began to hear from other parts of the world - our friend Blair told us what the dawn would be like from her vantage point in Brazil, and original Piehole-er Michelle Oing called us from Amsterdam. She was a lot more conscious than we were, and she pulled us through the darkest hour. We argued about onion rings. Just when Michelle could hold the lifeline no longer, Ski End ensemble member Emilie Soffe and her partner (and our pal) Jeff Doyle arrived on their way to the airport with a box of granola bars.
It was time for more intergenerational connection: Alexandra called her grandmother in Denmark. Granny gave us some advice. Later, her granddaughter would teach us all to draw a boat.
Coffee, breakfast, the crossword, nearly dropping the camera on Elliot’s dog Keira while we tried to feed her. The crossword was a true group effort, as our loyal viewers began to awaken bright and early on a Saturday morning. After having played the master of the night and telling one more horrifying ghost story, Brendan finally collapsed. Later we would see his sweet sleeping face up close and personal.
Maite, up earlier than I ever was on a Saturday morning at 17, re-joined us and helped Elliot finish the pie of the night.
Chana Porter, co-founder of the Octavia Project, arrived with her collaborator Chandanie Hiralal - a young fantasy writer who read us an excerpt from a novel she wrote as a teenager. By that point things had reached the fantastical at multiple levels.
Bahar Behbahani called in to tell us that donating to Piehole helped her find her wallet. Seemed like a solid endorsement to us!
Kathryn Wallem, original Piehole with a depth of fundraising knowledge, arrived to lead us in some stretches and teach everyone the lost art of the check. Surprisingly informative!
Matt Tong re-appeared with a reprisal of “What’s in the Bag.” The Bag contained coffee jelly and caffeinated gum!
WE MADE OUR GOAL! After an explosion of emotion, we realized we still had a couple more hours to go, so there was nothing for it but to settle into a game of Scrabble while Elliot read from Moby Dick.
We could tell the sun was shining. The donations kept rolling in. The tree was lit. Finally it was time to emerge into the daylight, renewed and buoyed by the lifetime we all lived together between those walls for those 24 hours. I don’t know about anyone else, but I personally have no memory of the following week. All I saw was the support and solidarity represented in our Winter Wonderland Donorama Diorama, where tiny anthropomorphic avatars for our donors formed our ideal town.
Cover image by Carol Rosegg.