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RoboCop Is Alive and Well and Kicking Ass Onstage

Eighties blockbusters and a 'cardboard aesthetic' courtesy of the Old Murder House Theatre

By Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., June 17, 2011

Sam Eidson (center) with Old Murder House players (from left) Byron Brown, Josh Jones, Nathan Sakulich, and Kirk Johnson
Sam Eidson (center) with Old Murder House players (from left) Byron Brown, Josh Jones, Nathan Sakulich, and Kirk Johnson
Photo by John Anderson

Police officer Alex Murphy is murdered by a street gang and brought back to life as a depersonalized, metal-plated cyborg called RoboCop that proceeds to wreak turbo-powered justice on the criminal scum of a future Detroit. You remember that Eighties sci-fi blockbuster, right? Of course you do, citizen. And next week the movie will be brought back to life as a personalized stage play, with bargain-basement production values and ravening fanboy energy, by the Old Murder House Theatre crew at the HighBall on South Lamar.

You can thank or blame Sam Eidson for that: He's the driving force behind the popular troupe, having previously turned other cinematic upheavals into live plays, mounting stage versions of Jurassic Park and Independence Day and so on. He did those in Georgia while studying film at Savannah College of Art and Design. And now here he is in the ATX, along with his SCAD buddies Nate Sakulich and Josh Jones, along with new friends Byron Brown and Kirk Johnson, to foment further celebration of Hollywood's biggest lowbrow spectacles.

I recently met with Eidson and his cronies at a busy coffeehouse in the heart of our fair and sunbaked city to ascertain just what led them to this wacky diversion.

Austin Chronicle: How'd you get started on this live performance stuff?

Sam Eidson: We started with Jurassic Park back in Savannah. We did it just for fun, but a lot of people came, so we started picking more blockbusters that we liked from our childhood, that we thought other people would dig, too. We did Independence Day; we did a double bill of Predator and Lion King. We tried to mix it up – one for the kids and one for the adults. We did it late at night, like 12:30, and we got all the drunks. We essentially wanted it to be an old minstrel-type of thing, where people throw lettuce and tomatoes at us, but we were just trying to please the crowd. It was a lot of fun, and when Josh and I moved here, we thought, "Let's do more of those." Because everyone can enjoy a play version of movies they love, y'know?

AC: You ever do regular plays?

Eidson: No, we haven't done any of those.

AC: So your first thought was, "Oh, I love this movie – I'm gonna make it happen on the stage"?

Eidson: Yeah, I wanted to do theatre stuff, but I just wasn't interested in any of the stories – like Shakespeare or stuff like that. And we're all mostly in video, so stage was new to us. And it was kind of nerve-racking at first, but, y'know, people like it.

AC: How do you choose which movies you're going to stage?

Byron Brown: At gunpoint.

Eidson: Well, the big ones that everybody knows, where everyone's familiar with the story. It's really about the one-liners, the memorable characters, the memorable scenes.

Brown: Sam, it seems like every film you've selected so far has a kind of a die-hard, a built-in audience.

Eidson: Yeah, like ...

Brown: A die-hard audience.

RoboCop Is Alive and Well and Kicking Ass Onstage

Nate Sakulich: What was that a reference to?

Eidson: Yeah, when we did Die Hard Home Alone, that was two plays at once.

Brown: People are fanatical about both of those movies.

AC: That sounds like a helluva good mash-up, actually.

Eidson: Yeah, it was great, and it was all elementary-school production values. And, especially with RoboCop, we're gonna blow more stuff up, and it'll be cool. If I had my way, it wouldn't be inside, y'know? We'd do it on an outside stage. I mean, I love the HighBall, but we can't be as messy as I'd like. I wanna jump in the audience, I wanna have people jumping and falling on tables.

Brown: Didn't you have fireworks at Independence Day?

Eidson: Yeah, we had fireworks there, in Savannah. But we had one explosion in the HighBall already, and we're gonna have more with RoboCop.

Brown: What we don't want to happen is, like, a Great White situation – you know what I'm talking about?

AC: That metal band?

Kirk Johnson: Yeah, they caught that club on fire a few years ago.

Sakulich: And 14 people died.

Eidson: Yeah, we don't want that. But it'd be a good story.

AC: Why did you move to Austin?

Eidson: There's a really good film community here, and it seemed really tight-knit. And you can get your films made here, as opposed to going to L.A. or New York where you have to jump through a hundred more hoops. Here you can just go down the street and shoot; you don't have to pay a huge sum of money a day just to shoot a story. On the other hand, there's not as many films shooting here as I thought there'd be. Especially because of Rick Perry screwing everything up, the son of a bitch. When I was about to move here, everybody was like, "Austin is thriving as the newest! city! in! film!" And then I got here, and it was like, "Oh, the governor just signed this bill ...."

AC: So, wait, you moved here for film, but you're doing live plays?

Eidson: We still do film stuff, too. I act in ...

The Old Murder House live production of <i>Back to the Future</i>
The Old Murder House live production of Back to the Future

Brown: Sam is a machine. Seriously, he's been in a movie every week; he's always doing some kind of film project. We all do, we're involved with Hard Gravel, Beef & Sage, Kirk just finished his feature, Austin High, but Sam's got the most ...

Eidson: Yeah, Avatar 2 is coming up, and they want me for the lead in that.Jurassic Park 4, they're talking about having me ....

Johnson: Okay, that's not true.

Brown: No, but he's very active, he's like the Parker Posey of ...

Johnson: Well, we all are. We're all trying to, you know, make some good stuff.

AC: What movie-plays have you done in Austin so far?

Eidson: Die Hard Home Alone we did at Cheer Up Charlie's in December. And we did Back to the Future at the HighBall.

AC: How'd you get hooked up with the HighBall specifically?

Eidson: Somebody found out about what we were doing, and they went to Kirk and said: "Hey, we want you to do a play here. We'll sponsor you." And the HighBall is really awesome. We weren't making any money before, and now we're making a little bit, at least enough to put on the shows. It's always been more of a love project, but now maybe it could be a huge Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, or whatever that fiasco was.

AC: What about after RoboCop?

Eidson: We want to do Jurassic Park again. But we want to do a Jurassic Park tour around the U.S. That's our dream. And we're thinking of doing older movies, too, like Apocalypse Now and Jaws. Blockbusters, mostly. But I wouldn't wanna do Jaws unless we could get a full water setup. Maybe one of the Rolling Roadshow kind of deals.

Sakulich: We could do it on Lake Austin or something.

Eidson: I mean, if these things keep going well, if we can get more money ...

Johnson: The Erwin Center!

Brown: Austin Music Hall!

Sakulich: Top of the Austonian, on the helipad!

Eidson: Yeah, yeah – forget the cardboard aesthetic we work with now.

The Old Murder House Theatre performs RoboCop Fridays at 11:30pm at the HighBall (1142 S. Lamar), June 24-July 8. Tickets are $5.

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