Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008

Excerpts from a Talk with Patrick Schmitz

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Patrick Schmitz has reached a rare kind of commercial success as a director, playwright and marketing department for his holiday show. Schmitz’s Rankin and Bass TV special parody: Rudolph the Pissed-Off Reindeer doesn’t open until this coming Friday and, as stated in the preview piece on the show in this week’s Shepherd, that opening night is sold out. In the time it took the issue to hit the streets, the show ha almost completely sold out. Scattered seats are still available, but for the tiny Alchemist Theatre in Bay View should be relatively packed for all performances—not bad considering this is a show making its way to the stage for the very first time this coming Friday. Though the Alchemist comfortably fits something like 40 people per show, Schmitz’ early success here is significant when one considers the length of the run—roughly twelve performances over the course of three weekends—virtually unprecedented for a tiny independent production like Rudolph. I had an opportunity to talk with Patrick a couple of weeks ago. Here, then, are rough transcripts taken from that conversation:

THE IDEA FOR THE SHOW

Me: Where did the idea come from exactly?

Patrick Schmitz: I grew up with the . . . movie. I always saw it to be so humorous. The fact that these adult characters are being so cruel to Rudolph. I always found that to be extremely bizarre. I always loved the story. I loved the message, the message of acceptance. Everyone can feel like a misfit at one time in their life. And being the youngest of ten, I have definitely felt that way. So I think seeing that movie and growing-up on it and not seeing anything around me that’s being . . . y’know, there’s no stage version of Rudolph. There’s nothin’ for the most part, so I though, “this’ll be fun.” So I just kind of embellished the humor that’s already there. I made . . . here Santa’s a COMPLETE jerk. He was kind of a jerk. Here he’s a complete jerk.

THE LEGAL THING

Me: And so this is a satire?

Patrick Schmitz:
Yeah. A parody. I met with an entertainment lawyer.

Me: [laugh]

Patrick Schmitz: I got the exact definitions and made sure I was safe. And pretty much the difference between the two are: parody is when you’re imitating and commenting on the product itself. So if I’m going to do something about Rudolph, it better be about Rudolph. I can’t use Rudolph to promote The Gentleman’s Hour, though. [The Gentleman’s Hour is a sketch comedy group Schmitz is involved with.] I can’t put a ig Rudolph head to promote the Gentleman’s Hour. I can do it to promote a Rudolph show, because now I’m commenting on the work and that’s freedom of speech. So that’s what I’ve been told.

Me: And even naming two of the characters Rankin and Bass, that’s okay? [Rankin and Bass did the original animated TV specials.]

Patrick Schmitz: I was even told I could have video footage from the actual show. The only things I need to be careful of is: music, and I can’t use the picture of the Rudolph that Rankin and Bass created to promote my show.

Me: And the picture of Rudolph that’s being used?

Patrick Schmitz: I had that made.

Me: Really.

Patrick Schmitz: Yeah, I ha a professional animator make . . . this whole animated beginning with opening credits. It looks pretty much dead-on to the Rudolph opening. A lot of people think that’s the original opening and it’s not. So once again, I’m spoiled. People are hearing about this and [saying,] “I want to be a part of this and how can I help?”

Me: And so that opening establishes the visual.

Patrick Schmitz:
mm-hmm.

Me: And then you bring in the live actors and attempt to bridge that gap.

Patrick Schmitz:
Right. And I’m taking a slight risk of . . . I might get a letter n the mail, or a call or an email saying, “we got word that you’re doing this.” And there’s a risk there.

CLARIFYING THE WHOLE ‘PISSED-OFF’ THING

Me: And without getting too far into it, the title begs the question: this is a cultural icon with a bioluminescent nose, approaching 70. Maybe he doesn’t get the right endorsement deals, he’s worried about retirement. What’s making Rudolph pissed-off?

Patrick Schmitz: Once again, going back to these adult characters being so rude to him. Eventually, a normal person’s going to snap. They’re going to get so pissed off and sick of these people and their hypocrisy of—first the like him. Then he’s got a red nose: “Oh, now we DON’T like you.” Now he’s leading Santa’s sleigh. “Oh, now we like him.”

Me: And he hasn’t put all that behind him.

Patrick Schmitz: No.

Me: How long has it been? It’s been decades, right?

Patrick Schmitz: Yes. So I do have little bit of a concern with the title because. People are gonna think, “oh it’s going to be him with a machine gun. Going around Christmas Town with a machete.” The title might be little misleading in the sense that . . .

Me: He’s pissed-off, he’s not disgruntled.

Patrick Schmitz: Yeah. He has outbursts. There’s still a happy ending. He doesn’t end up just killing everyone. It’s not a Shakespearian tragedy. He just gets to a point where he goes off on everyone . . . and he DOES do some killing.

Me: [laugh]

Patrick Schmitz:
I don’t wan to give away too much.

Me: This would be reindeer on human homicide?

Patrick Schmitz:
Yes.

TOMORROW: More from Schmitz on Rudolph and a clarifcation on the whole "homicide" thing.

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