'69 Love Scenes'

Gnap! brings the Magnetic Fields to the stage

'69 Love Scenes'
Illustration by Wayne Alan Brenner

In 1999, the Magnetic Fields, led by the brilliant and curmudgeonly Stephin Merritt, released the triple-disc album 69 Love Songs to much critical acclaim and a steadily increasing cult popularity. Ten years later, Gnap! Theater Projects decided to pay homage to the creation by remaking those songs into skits and sketches, sans music, and presenting them to the public – an idea which might seem absolutely cuckoo. With the show, titled 69 Love Scenes, about to open at Salvage Vanguard Theater, we asked Gnap! head honcho Shannon McCormick what led him to begin this transformational adventure.

"Not me, man," says McCormick. "This was Kerri Lendo's idea, and it seemed appropriate to let her run with it. She's better known as a stand-up comic, but she's been doing sketch stuff at No Shame Theatre for years, and I know she harbors broader theatrical notions than you might think if you only knew her stand-up work."

Kerri Lendo, then. Who, at the time of this writing, was preparing to compete in the finals of the Funniest Person in Austin contest at Cap City Comedy Club. We tracked that Lendo to the Dougherty Arts Center, where she was riding herd on a small troupe rehearsing sketches based on Merritt's clearinghouse ode to love songs of all kinds. So how did this come about?

Kerri Lendo: Me and Patton Quinn, who is also in Gnap!, were brainstorming ideas for the 2010 season, and we wanted to do a scripted piece. Because there's been a lot of improv with Gnap!, but Shannon wants the company to do all kinds of theatre. So we're kind of talking about different shows and throwing out stuff, and we were like, "Ah, we could do a show based on an album!"

Austin Chronicle: And who suggested this album?

KL: That was me. I was thinking about the Tom Waits show that went on in town and about what other musicians, what other songs people might connect to, what album would they want to go and see. And I think this one hits home for a lot of people – enough people know it and have memories with it.

AC: Did you have to clear the show with Stephin Merritt?

KL: We were hoping to fly under the radar. But very, very quickly, within like a few weeks of working on it, we got contacted by Claudia [Gonson], who's in the band [and is also its manager]. And they were unhappy at first, but then, when we explained what we were doing and that we're not actually using their music, they were very nice – and said we could use a little of their music if we cleared it with them first. It's funny, because then Claudia was apologetic, and I was like: "You don't have to apologize; you thought we were stealing your intellectual property! You should be concerned!" But it was good to get that cleared up, because, when we started talking about this, Shannon and I were concerned with, how far can we go with this, what exactly can we do here? And I never thought I could just Facebook them, but apparently I could. And they were very nice.

AC: Is this your first time being in charge of a show?

KL: This is my first time directing a scripted thing on stage. I've directed an improv show, and I've directed short films and some sketch work, but this is definitely my first, ah, dramatic directing.

AC: And how did you gather the writers and performers?

KL: We tried to get a variety of people from the community, various disciplines, but we've ended up with mostly sketch comedy and improv people. And we're trying to treat this as a workshop production. We plan on doing it again in 2011 – hopefully with a bigger stage and generally bigger productionwise. We had to concentrate a lot of it, just because of the time frame and trying to do 69 different things.

AC: So you're doing ... every single song?

KL: Yes.

AC: Holy cow.

KL: Every night, we do one disc. So the first night, it's disc one, and then disc two the second night, and so on. [She laughs.] It's a lot, yeah, and looking back, I think, "Maybe we should've just done one disc first and then moved on!" But it's going to be nice to have all three of them, to have the whole album done and then be able to tinker with them.

69 Love Scenes runs May 21-June 12, Fridays & Saturdays, 8pm; Thursday, June 10, 8pm, at Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Rd. For more information, visit www.gnaptheater.org.

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