Writer/artist/performer Annie La Ganga has made quite a name for herself in Austin as a fearless and beloved over-sharer.
In last Februrary's FronteraFest Long Fringe piece, Let's Make Love Tonight: A Self Help Stand-Up Comedy Interactive Performance Art Improv Monologue, La Ganga really got to the brass tacks about sex, love and the spaces in between by sharing the nitty-gritty of her own sexual experiences (and engaging with an audience that may or may not have expected to be a part of each night's performance). Time and again, La Ganga proves she is one of the most engaging storytellers in town with no shortage of mindblowing, hysterical, heartfelt stories from her unbelievable life.
With a reputation like hers, it was only a matter of time before one of Austin's most innovative experimental theaters got ahold of La Ganga and launched her unique performance style into the spotlight. That company is Rubber Repertory, the weird and wonderful folks that brought you the Austin Critics' Table Award-winning show, Biography of Physical Sensation. Co-creators Josh Meyer and Matt Hislope love to alter the way audiences experience the "theater" and their new show, Surprise Annie, is guaranteed to do just that.
"We wanted to work on this project because we're such huge fans of Annie as a performer," says Meyer. "Her ability to get in front of an audience and talk about her life, tell outrageous stories and create a real dialogue, all of it 100% improvised, is something I've never seen anyone do before. It stands out as something unique, straddling the line between therapy and stand-up comedy and theatre and about five or six other disciplines."
Not only will the 12 intimate performances take place at various still-to-be-revealed locations throughout town, but the unsuspecting star of the show will be arriving each night blind-folded and holding cake. La Ganga's improvised storytelling performance will be dictated by how she responds to the new setting and who is in the audience. Nothing has been prepared ahead of time... except for the cake.
"She knows when she'll be performing, but that's about it," Meyers tells us. "For the venues, we tried to find places where people probably haven't seen a performance before, and we also wanted the venues to be very different from one another. Some are simply delightful, while others will purposefully push Annie a bit out of her comfort zone."
On the verge of her exciting/terrifying performance series, La Ganga was gracious enough to meet with us for an afternoon of introspective conversation and snacks.
I’m here to ask you about your upcoming show, Surprise Annie, but I also just think people should know about you. Is that alright with you?
Well, that’s great. I am my favorite subject after all. That’s why I write shows about me!
How did you get involved with Rubber Repertory?
Oh, I just love them and the work they do. So when they asked me in May if I’d do a show with them, I felt like they asked me to the prom. It’s been a love fest ever since. They asked, how’s October? And I thought, what kind of show will I do? Because I’ll do anything but facial tattoos and things that cause paraplegia.
They suggested the idea for Surprise Annie, and I feel like the universe provided me with this fascinating sort of monkey’s paw of wish fulfillment. I don’t have to worry about handling the production end of things at all, but I also have no clue where they’re taking me. They told me I just have to show up and perform.
Tell us about the party theme. Why is it called Surprise Annie?
I used to be a cake decorator, so they loved the idea of having it be a party where I come with a fully loaded cake and everyone enjoys a performance in this new party atmosphere.
And given my impromptu performance style, it made perfect sense to just allow the whole evening to be a surprise for me regarding where we were holding the event.
Does that scare you at all? Or just excite you?
It’s just the most exciting to me. I love it. I get talk for as long as I want about whatever I feel like? No problem.
We did a rehearsal already where the guys blindfolded me and drove me to a location. I had no idea where we were going. And where we ended up was Barton Creek Mall. And there were people waiting for me in a little courtyard chair area. It was the first time I realized, Yeah, this is gonna be fucking fuuuuuun.
I think the Rubber Rep guys really like me and my performance style. And they’re really helping me get better at what I do. So they’re helping me shape my performance by cutting out my bad habits and helping me create a clear beginning and ending to the performance. They’re definitely making me a better performer.
Are you pre-planning any of the material for the show at all?
No, I’m still figuring out what this show wants. The rehearsal taught me a lot, but it’s impossible to plan for an improvised show. I’m not drafting anything because I want the experiment to work. For myself, I want to see what wants to come out.
I want all the great things of an improvised show and all the parts of a fully produced show. That’s not too much to ask, right? (Laughs)
Is the conceit that it’s a show or that it’s a surprise party?
Oh, we’re there for the show. The surprise party is to get everyone included. In one of my shows, if you’re part of the audience, you’re indicted in the performance. I’ll never do anything nasty to anyone. I just mean that I want everyone to be present with the people that are there and acknowledge that everyone is there doing this weird thing. There’s not really a fourth wall, and we’re all in this together. I’m just the facilitator of the event.
My background and training is largely from doing workshops, so that’s how I approach my shows. So there may be singing, there may be Q & A, or they may be hugging.
Is there anything you aren’t willing to do?
On my list of how to make my kind of show, number 11 is: Know Your Boundaries. What I’m not willing to do is really scare or hurt anybody physically. And I don’t want anyone to do that to me either. I don’t really want to have a pap smear during a show. (Laughs) I don’t need that. I’ll probably have my clothes on the whole show. My last show, I had to have an underwear time. I can’t promise you anything, though…
You have so many project going all the time. How do you define yourself: An artist? A writer? A performer?
Lately I’ve been calling myself a performance artist. The focus of my life has been for theater, for writing out something that will be a show. But I don’t’ know. The thing that’s been the most important and most grounding to me has been writing. I’ve written every day for sixteen years. Ultimately, if I could choose, I would regularly write and perform around the country.
On the other hand, I make my money doing side projects. I’m a cake decorator. I’m a painter. I’m a workshop coordinator. I’ve tried making money from all the crafting and creating. But it’s mostly just a labor of love. Yet somehow every month something just keeps coming along. Oh! And I have a very sweet boyfriend. I recommend getting one of those. (Laughs)
Didn’t we hear you had a brush with Hollywood fame recently?
Yeah, I met (Party Down star) Megan Mullally recently after the director of my last show, Bob Byington, introduced us. I met with her during SXSW and had lunch at East Side Café. She was interested in potentially having me write a spec script for her, which was very exciting. We’ve been in touch, but I have to admit I don’t get Hollywood. So we’ll see what happens.
I feel like maybe for the first time in a long time, that experience showed me that, as creative writers, we really have something valuable. The world wants ideas. Especially our world where we’re streaming content constantly, and those of us who make things up are important.
Do you have formal or professional training in any art forms?
No, I’m self-taught. I’ve taken week-long drawing and painting classes here and there. I like to say I have “housewife training.” For writing, I’ve just always written. And I’ve been in plays and workshops. It was always about being in it and doing it.
Books have always been my teacher. I’ve been trying to fix myself for twenty, thirty years. All that reading and exploration has helped. And in all that has been a lot of spiritual seeking and understanding.
I’ve had a lot of so-called mystical experiences, and I’ve wanted to understand them. I think that inspires a lot of my work. I love to be in that kind of space and explore what’s in my own unconscious. That’s what I want to get at. What is it that I’m afraid to tell myself or don’t know how to tell myself?
Sounds like we’re all in for a rollercoaster of a ride with this show.
This show is going to be an adventure for anyone who goes. Because you have to buy the ticket without knowing where it is ahead of time. There’s a cool leap of faith to find it and be installed and then to trust me as I play with the form. The Rubber Rep guys love to change the convention of what a show is, so I can’t wait to see how they handle that part of it. Then I just have to show up, serve cake and then perform. It doesn’t get any better that!
To purchase tickets to Surprise Annie, visit the online box office and choose your evening in advance. Tickets are limited based on the limited seating at some venues. You will be contacted afterward with the exact location of the event at the phone number or email address provided.
A few quid pro quos:
1. The show on October 27th starts at 7 pm and is more expensive.
2. The show on October 28th is strictly 21+.
3. Rubber Rep welcomes people with disabilities. Please call 512-470-1735 to discuss the performances that will best accommodate you.