The former Fort Thunder filmmaker and theater artist talks about traveling to the sun, debuting his solo show in Baltimore, and failed mini-malls
Published: March 23, 2011
Peter Glantz’s Being Impossible
March 25-27 at the Whole Gallery.
For more information visit imaginarycompany.org.
Peter Glantz, based in Providence, R.I. since 1994, is a filmmaker and theater artist known for his inventive music videos (for Andrew W.K., Lightning Bolt, and Lavender Diamond, to name a few), the tour film Lightning Bolt: The Power of Salad, and several other works of note, including an award-winning political documentary (Beyond the Spin) and a controversial TV commercial that was censored by Viacom. Glantz also founded the experimental theater collective trutheatertheater, a Providence troupe of “actors, silkscreeners, puppeteers, noisemakers, musicians, videographers and illusionists” that staged shows in parks and abandoned buildings, and was an active participant in Providence’s now-legendary Fort Thunder DIY artist community in the late 1990s. This week, he brings his latest intriguing project, Being Impossible, to Baltimore’s Annex Theater for a three-day run.
City Paper : Tell me a little bit about the concept of Being Impossible.
Peter Glantz: The basic story is about a guy who has been given an assignment to go to the sun. He’s sort of a scientific genius—a whiz kid—but he doesn’t want to build big, expensive, wasteful projects to get there. So he decides to do experiments in getting to the sun in a way that isn’t physical—by projecting himself, his spirit, into the sun. It’s a series of experiments in trying to do that, and it takes place over the course of a thousand years.
CP : A thousand years? How long is this show?
PG: One hour. Every night is different. There’s always room where I can add or change or do a different scene. There’s a fair amount of interaction. It’s a solo performance—I’m going to be the only live performer. But it will also have videos that are part of telling the narrative.
[The Baltimore musicians] Twig Harper and Dan Deacon provided original unreleased material that I’m going to mess with and bring to the show. And Lightning Bolt just recorded, two days ago, a new 11-minute track. I probably won’t include all 11 minutes, but I’ll blend it into the atmosphere of the scene, and music is a big part of it. Becky Stark [of Lavender Diamond] has some music in it too.
What I really love about doing live theater is being in a room with people and connecting with them. In the past, I used to be more controlling over performances. I used to prerecord all the dialogue and the music, so it was almost completely done before we started. What I really love is live performance, so I got rid of the prerecorded dialogue and got something more flexible, more exciting and dynamic. The Annex Theater is a real DIY theater, but it’s a space that’s welcome and inviting to the general public as well. It has the energy of an unannounced space, but it also has the energy of something bigger.
CP : What inspired you to do this story about a guy who tries to reach the sun?
PG: A couple of things. The first is that I had the amazing opportunity to interview a current and longtime member of the Sun Ra Arkestra [Art Jenkins]. I did a short documentary about them last year. We had a conversation, and in the conversation he said we should all be going to the sun. “Why are we going to the moon? We should go to the sun. Why aren’t we doing that?” And I said, “Oh, maybe it’s really hot there.” And he said, “Well, if I took a match and lit it and touched it to your skin, what would you say?” And I said, “Ouch!” And he said, “Well, what we need to do is learn a different reaction than ‘ouch.’” It stuck with me. I couldn’t put it in the documentary, unfortunately, but it really rooted the conversation.
A lot of productions I do are very rooted in the lighting—in the darkness and light, and how evocative that can be, how fun that can be. Also, it appealed to me because going to the sun is considered to be something that’s impossible, and I figured if I tried to write and produce a show where the goal is that the characters are trying to do something impossible, it would lead to a lot of fun and challenging scenes.
CP : I read that your first job in filmmaking was working as the B-movie king Roger Corman’s assistant in L.A. How did that come about?
PG: I was in Providence, living in a warehouse, and I was selling used cars for a living. I read Roger’s book [How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime]. Pretty soon after that, we got evicted out of our space. The entire building got evicted. I went to California, where I grew up for a little while. I actually just called [Corman’s] office and I said, “Can I speak to whomever’s in charge of hiring writers?” The switchboard put me right through to the VP of development, an amazing woman who had worked for Roger for 30 years. I told her I wanted to write for Corman, and she said, “Why don’t you just intern here for a day?”
The day I went in to intern, Roger had gotten a call asking for two or three pitches, for a TV network that wanted to do a made-for-TV movie. He came in asking [the VP] if she had any treatments, specifically around earthquakes. She said she didn’t have anything, but said, “Peter here wants to write, he can come up with some.” Roger looked at me and said, “If you write three treatments about earthquakes before 3 p.m., I’ll give you $200.” And so I did . . . Eventually, I was his assistant, and in the year I was his assistant, we produced nine movies and a TV series. I was his only assistant, and he was in his 70s, so I got to be really hands-on. I developed scripts, I did promotion, I cut trailers, I negotiated contracts.
CP : Talk a little bit about the days of Fort Thunder in Providence. It sounds like it was a very important time in your life.
PG: Fort Thunder was one floor of a warehouse building in Eagle Square in Providence that approximately eight people were living in. In 1998, I moved to a warehouse across the street from Fort Thunder and started doing DIY performances. [Fort Thunder] was sort of indescribable. It was like walking into a dream. It was like what I imagined an artist’s space to be like. The walls were covered with beautiful art and there were teddy bears stapled everywhere and they had shows there all the time that were very liberating, because it was being run by your friends. And in a part of town that wasn’t paid attention to very much so there weren’t very many rules from the outside to conform to, I guess. But what really made it incredible was all the people who lived there.
While we were shooting the Lightning Bolt movie [in 2001], Brian Chippendale got a call saying that it was over . . . There was a struggle to maintain the space, but it was turned into a mini-mall. The mini-mall has been a pretty big failure, which just adds insult to injury.
CP : What’s your connection to Baltimore? What drew you to premiering the one-hour stage show here? Do you find any similarities between the underground scenes in Providence and Baltimore?
PG: In a lot of ways, I feel like the Baltimore scene has taken the baton from Providence after a lot of our inexpensive buildings were bought and turned into condos. A lot of the energy and excitement from here has been driven even deeper underground. It’s less and less visible. Baltimore is very similar [to Providence]—it’s inexpensive—but it feels like there has been a real public support for DIY artists and musicians in Baltimore. There’s a lot of support [in Providence] but there has also been a lot of bad will that has been created, just because of the massive development of spaces that were used by artists, because of failed mini-malls.
The bottom line is that I feel like Providence and Baltimore have a real kinship creatively. It’s inspiring to me, because when you make work and you care about it, to find that other people are inspired by it and building on it is thrilling. I feel like the relationship between Baltimore and Providence is strong.