It is an undeniable truth that the Internet is full of strange things. And it will get even stranger around 3PM EST today when Jamie Loftus presents her show Swan Lake (Live from a Locked Basement) on the JASH network. The plot, as she describes it, is something that would give David Lynch absurdist fits. Loftus plays a ballerina/spy trying to escape a basement that is slowly filling with gas, caused by a stove full of ham upstairs. It is set on March 30, 1981, and Loftus and (also her character name) and an associate (played by Gary Petersen) need to keep themselves alive to stop an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. They will be doing this live on Facebook, with a “choose your own adventure” element of audience feedback.
This actually makes sense on the JASH Network, the comedy production company owned by Sarah Silverman, Tim & Eric, Reggie Watts, and Michael Cera. Their site is a repository of wonderful strangeness – animated shorts, music videos, and series like Pound House and Dynasty Handbag. I got in touch with Loftus to ask her about working with JASH and today’s show.
Tune in to watch the show on the JASH Facebook page here.
How did you hook up with JASH?
They were familiar with my animation work and I’d done a few livestreams with them in the past, and after I did ballet-comedy shows in Boston and Chicago they asked if I’d be interested in doing one as an experimental livestream. The whole thing functions as a choose-your-own-adventure play, which is a little different from the livestreams they usually do (Getting Doug With High and Norm MacDonald Live are their big ones, I think).
JASH’s mission statement says they give their artists full autonomy to create. How has that worked in your case? What do they provide if not feedback?
JASH gives us studio space, covers production expenses, gives us camera and tech operators who know what they’re doing and are extremely patient when I make a mess, and feedback throughout. The autonomy element has been completely true in my case – once I had the concept of a production of Swan Lake that took place in a locked basement on the day of the Reagan assassination attempt approved, they let me go with it and make it look and sound however I wanted. I ended up writing it with help from my brilliant friend and the other person locked in a basement with me Gary Petersen, made a bunch of cartoons, learned how to sew sequins and feathers and make tutus, made a pinata of Jodie Foster’s head, and filled another pinata with fake blood. I had to argue that I should be able to buttchug a little, but once I proved I could do it they said yes to that, too. Autonomy rules.
What was the inspiration for Swan Lake? IS this a show you’ve done live before?
I’ve done a version of this show in Chicago earlier this year, but all the historical and choose your own adventure elements were added to flesh it out from fifteen minutes to a full hour. All I’d done previously was tell the story of Swan Lake, dance and chug milk, so we had to add some more stuff and making the space into a basement felt like a cool way to take advantage of static space and no live audience. I’d taken dance classes for fifteen years or something crazy growing up, and I’ve been experimenting with ways of putting it to practical use for maybe two years or so. Ballet was always a big part of my life and I developed a similar kind of show built around The Nutcracker at the end of last year, so Swan Lake felt like the next logical step because most people will recognize the music. Selling people on watching ballet is tough, so the more familiar I can make it, the better. PlusI for sure still secretly want to be a ballerina and this was the easiest way I could think of without actually having to get good.
Who else will be performing with you?
It’s just Gary Petersen and I! We met doing standup in Boston several years ago and he’s great and has been so helpful in shaping the show.
How will the “choose your own adventure stuff” work, on a technical level? Are you relying on feedback through Facebook chat?
We’re at the mercy of the folks watching the livestream, yeah. There are four points in the show where they need to vote to determine what happens next and it usually involves injuring me or smashing something.
Will it be strange not to hear the audience feedback as you’re doing this? Or does that take the pressure off?
I think it’ll make me more nervous without instant audience feedback, but maybe that’s a good thing because we’re supposed to be in a basement facing certain death while we’re powerless to prevent the president from being shot. So looking nervous is okay for this one. Maybe the camera guy will laugh.
Are you planning more live Facebook shows like this?
I dunno! This is the first show of this nature for me and for JASH, so we’ll see how it goes.