Michael Novotny

Michael Novotny

AS: You would travel to different cities?
MN: Constantly. We did probably close to 300 shows a year and we performed in farmers’ fields, we performed in statehouses. The World Theater Festival invited us back three times. We had a train in Nancy, France that we redid as multiple theaters. The train traveled through Alsace-Lorraine near Strasbourg. You’d buy a ticket and get onto the car and go to a train station and there’d be a show greeting you. We had a show that was about 100 people in silver jumpsuits all with saxophones and they would greet you at the train station, playing one note when the train came in. And we often would be leaning out the windows with blank revolvers in Wild West garb firing at them as we came in. We played 40-50 different festivals all over.

Friends Roadshow International was our touring company that was very sacrilegious and surreal. Anything that was happening in the news that day was game. So we would do big opening numbers with dancing nuns and the curtains would open up and there would be Jesus on a foam cross and he’d break out with a microphone and do a Frank Sinatra number. It was very Marx Brothers-esque. We traveled with a full band…

And we had an inflatable theater we built that seated about 1,500 people and it could blow up around the crowd. We’d pull several vehicles into position and then these large, several meter high doughnut-like rings would blow up around them. The stage would fold out from the back of a truck and then these decorative buttresses would go about three stories high up behind the audience.

We did shows right in the Piazza della Senorita in Florence and got arrested because we were busking. The crowd loved the show so much that when the police took everyone to the police station right there on the square, they went crazy. My son Daniel was about two and a half years old at the time and the crowd in Italy loved kids. When they saw the cops taking the kid into the police station they went nuts. The crowd made such a racket that the police gave up and said, Everybody just get out of here. So they threw us out. And the next year the city brought us back and paid us an enormous amount of money.

AS: Would you bring other set pieces?

MN: The set concept always had to conform itself to fit in the truck. So unless you were doing a special show you had to get everything in the truck. And so that limits you severely. An exotic piece would be a big neon but it was a pain in the ass to pack it and then move it. When I left that theater company after all those years I was so glad to get off the road. I wound up in Los Angeles because it was basically the last stop before you got wet.

The gig that I was going to in the Coconut Grove was going to be very promising. But that thing blew up because it was a veterans’ fundraiser and some veteran had driven his jeep through the glass doors of the Federal Building during preproduction. It shifted the focus entirely from Los Angeles to Washington. So the gig evaporated and I was stuck here. But it seemed like a good place to work from and then I started sculpting for restaurants and doing their logos and stuff like that.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: tom@artstars.us