Some folks dabble in multiple areas of interest. The risk, of course, is spreading oneself too thin. But that’s not a problem for Michael Allen Rose, author, actor, and musician. I had a chance to converse with him recently about his many artistic endeavors and past successes, including the recent publication of his first book, Party Wolves in my Skull.
1. First and foremost, can you tell us a little about your book?
Of course! Party Wolves in My Skull is about Norman Spooter, who awakens one morning to find that his eyeballs have fallen in love and are leaving him. They tear themselves out of his skull, steal his car, and take off for parts unknown. He doesn’t know what to do, so he does what most of us would – he goes back to bed, hoping it’ll all resolve itself. Unfortunately, a pack of wolves moves in overnight, since his skull now has a vacancy, and worst of all, they’re party wolves. They end up joining forces, and go on a wild road-trip as poor Norman tries to track down his eyeballs. A woman named Zoe joins them, and she’s on the run from her psycho ex-boyfriend who happens to be a walrus. Really, it’s a satire of road-trip stories with some really crazy characters and some fun set pieces, like the Motel Sick and a tiny cult town in the middle of North Dakota. Oh, and crazy walrus violence! It’s a sweet story though, I think, and the reviews so far have found it a very funny book, so I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.
One of the fun things for me about writing this book was that each of the party wolves has such a distinct personality. Through them, I get to explore parts of myself as an author I might not always give voice too. That’s especially becoming apparent with the reviews I’ve been doing on www.partywolves.com where I’ve been reviewing books as the party wolves. It helps me really accentuate the positive, since I can let different books appeal to different parts of me and use that particular character to talk about an aspect of the book I’m reading. It’s also a nice way to extend the fiction into the real world a little bit, which hopefully will get more people interested in the book.
2. You work in theater as well. Can you tell us what the strangest or sexiest production you acted in was? Give us details. Juicy details! (and photos!)
I’m actually pretty proud of the work I’ve been doing with RoShamBo Theatre and also with Hot and Heavy Productions here in Chicago, because everything we do is both sexy and strange! I think my crowning achievement with RoShamBo so far may have been our production for a WBEZ (NPR) event last year themed around the history of Chicago theatre. They had a bunch of famous people come in to do a panel discussion and story share about the history of professional theatre here in the windy city. We were tasked, along with a handful of other tiny theatre companies, to create a piece illuminating some aspect of that. We chose to highlight a “brief history of nudity in Chicago theatre.” It was amazing. We took real stories of actual “naked moments” and productions featuring actors in the buff from the last 40 years and performed little blackout sketches about them. As I narrated from backstage over the mic, the cast cleverly covered themselves with strategically placed props, body paint, etc so that none of them were actually naked. Of course the twist was, at the end, they’re all lined up at the front of the stage and I’m narrating about how audiences have come to expect that they could see nudity on a Chicago stage at any time without warning. As I’m doing this, I come out from the back buck naked. The only person in the production who didn’t need to be naked. We got a pretty nice reaction from the crowd for that one. That led to us producing one of (Emmy winner) Joe Janes “50 Plays Project.” I directed a piece that involved a cast of four in this bizarre mash-up of Butoh dance, S&M bondage and absurdism regarding a possessed ATM machine. Good times. More recently I’ve been working with my friend Viva La Muerte and her Hot and Heavy Productions group. I was honored to be part of their tribute to Pink Floyd’s The Wall recently, where I got to show off my amazing back-bend and paint myself red. Sexy and strange all the way through.
3. You’re also a musician as well. Are you still active?
For a while I had to put Flood Damage (my industrial band) on hiatus, but it’s back with a vengeance. It’s finally coming together in the way that I dreamed when I was a sixteen year old kid in my parents’ basement. Last summer was our first show in years, and with the new incarnation, and it involved fire, sparks shooting from a woman’s crotch, zombie abortions, strippers peeling skin off, and the summoning of a tiny Cthulhu, among other things. I always wanted to be synonymous with blood, fire and titties. It’s finally happening. We’re planning a big show in April (4/20) here in Chicago in conjunction with Hot and Heavy, doing a burlesque tribute to industrial rock. It’s going to be one hell of a show.
4. Can you give us a brief explanation of how you made your way from musician to head of RoShamBo Theater?
I guess all the things I do kind of cross-pollinate. I never claim to be particularly good at any one thing that I do, but I do a lot of things, and sometimes I get lucky and wonderful people come along who support my vision. RoShamBo, Flood Damage, and my writing are all just different arms of what I like to do trying to “make art happen.” I’m just happy that there are people surrounding my life who are talented and generous to help me make all these things work.
5. You’re a Chicago native, correct? What’s the strangest place you love to frequent in the windy city? (you’re under no obligation to answer if you have stalkers).
I grew up in the frozen wastes of North Dakota (at least the summers are nice). I moved to Chicago in 2007, after finishing my playwriting MFA in southern Illinois. I moved here because of the amazing art scenes, the awesome people and the best food in America. We combine world class restaurants and urban diversity with the Midwest love of eating. There’s no other place like it.
There are lots of places I regularly hang out. Actually, I’m looking for stalkers, particularly attractive women, so I might as well divulge. I spend a lot of time at Knockbox Café over in Humbolt Park. It’s a great little coffee shop with some super cool owners, and they’re also letting us use their space to host the Bizarro Hour on March 1st, featuring myself along with the amazing Mykle Hansen, Garrett Cook and Andersen Prunty. Hell of a lineup. Oh! And the Pop Tarts are hosting! They’re the most famous British pop duo since… the last one!
6. Who were some of your biggest inspirations when you were growing up? (music, writing, drama, film, etc.)
Music has always been a huge part of my life, and many of the artists I most admire are multi-threat artists, like I’ve always tried to be. I’m a huge fan of Jim Thirlwell (Foetus) who I think is one of the greatest composers in the last century, bar none. He’s literally able to go from an industrial rock god to a symphony conductor to a big band nut to a dark and disturbing score creator in the scope of a single album. He’s also been releasing music since I was born, which is pretty amazing. There are tons of others of course… Tod Ashley of Firewater, Trent Reznor of nine inch nails, Johnny Cash… people who have really done it all in a variety of arenas.
I’ve also developed a healthy interest in philosophy, of the armchair variety. Jean Paul Sartre is amazing. Samuel Beckett is one of my favorite playwrights ever. I love the existentialists in general, because it really is a fundamental humanist view. The choices we make are what matters. Not some uncaring, chaotic universe, but how we define ourselves as humans and move forward, choosing to act, making our own destiny. It’s really an optimistic philosophy, but a lot of people miss that I think because they get caught up in the “uncaring Godless universe” thing. I feel like that gives us our power back, as well as making us take responsibility for our actions, which is always a good thing.
7. What are the benefits of each art form you participate in? Why do you engage in multiple forms of expression? There must be benefits to each.
Like I mentioned earlier, I think everything feeds everything else. I’m a better director because I know how to write a play. I’m a better actor because I’m thinking about how a director might want me to act. I write better fiction because I’m used to writing dialogue. It goes on. Not saying that I’m amazing at any of those things, but I think being a jack-of-all-trades, while it may not ever get you to the top of any one field or art, is the way to go. You don’t limit yourself by choosing form before idea that way. If I have inspiration for something, maybe it’ll be a song, maybe it’ll be a short story, you know? Again, most of the people I admire are those folks who delve into whatever form strikes them for a given project.
I guess the short answer is, I don’t know how else to do it. I can’t focus long enough to stick with any one particular thing! Thankfully, there are people in my life who help me hone in on one thing at a time. And it seems like right now, I’m lucky enough to have people noticing and enjoying what I’m doing, which is a huge blessing for any artist.
8. How do you balance your various roles as an artist?
9. This year the NBAS crew had their books in electronic format from the start. With the previous crews this was not the case. We were required to sell 200 print copies. Have the stipulations changed at all since the electronic book was added to the equation?
They have. Thanks to you guys being all successful and awesome, they made it a bit harder for us and raised the number by another hundred. Every sale matters! It’s been fun though, and it’s nice because all of us are promoting each other as well as our own books, which I think will pay off in the long run. It’s a great crop of crazy authors this year, and we hope to follow the trail that you guys have been blazing these past two years.
10. what are your plans for the future, in terms of your artistic endeavors?
I’m going to keep trying to spin all these plates at once, hoping none of them shatter!
11. Finally, what’s with the bathrobe?
So my first year at BizarroCon, I was meeting everyone and hanging out, and I had just come back from the amazing salt-water spa at Edgefield. As you might have noticed from the pictures, I’m not that self-conscious about my body, so I was just standing there outside in a bathrobe. People found that amusing, especially since I didn’t think anything of it until they mentioned it. So, Rose O’ Keefe (editor in chief of eraserhead press and Bizarro queen) was kind enough to give me a reading slot. I asked people if they were coming, and without fail, almost everyone asked “Are you going to wear the robe?” So I kind of had to. So it became a joke, and I wore it most of the weekend. There’s actually a character in Jordan Krall’s “Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys” based on a situation involving the robe and a donkey-headed woman. It was a thing. So the next year (my 2nd) I didn’t want to be “the robe guy” but people kept asking, so I integrated it into my bizarro showdown performance, doing a short story about a guy in a robe, the climax being that I disrobed… and had another robe underneath! So this past year, I had to at least reference it. It’s one of those things where, you don’t always get to choose your persona, sometimes it just happens and something resonates with people. It’s fun. It’s comfortable.
Learn more about RoShamBo Theater HERE
Stop by the fan page for Mr. Rose’s band, Flood Damage: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Flood-Damage/10704896687
Party Wolves in my Skull is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Click on the image below for more information: