To find out Infernal Bridegroom Productions' secret to "putting asses in seats," one need only turn to the "IBP Bible" portion of the group's Web site. Audiences have "heard all about the recent leather-themed Shakespeare, with the loud rock music and pretty girls," it crows. "They do not care. They do not need a half-price ticket. They do not need fresh costumes or soundtracks. They need a new theater."
And that's exactly what founding artistic director Jason Nodler provided with the staging of the play he wrote for his NYU thesis in 1993. In the Under Thunderloo opened at the Axiom, a former punk rock club, known in its heyday as Catal Hüyük, that once served as the pierced navel to Houston's art scene underbelly. The house was packed with an atypically young crowd of skinheads, hoboes and punk rockers -- the sort who would never go to any other cultural arts event.
Why is it that people stand in the rain for hours for a U2 concert but won't go to a play? It's a question one of Nodler's professors at NYU was fond of asking. Nodler found his answer partly in the marketing approach. IBP is not competing with other theaters or repertory companies but with dinner. Few people go out for a theatrical performance, but practically everyone goes out, so why not simply tussle with the more general notion of becoming "somethin' to do"?
Since Thunderloo's premiere, the astute band o' misfits has gone on to stage numerous plays, get grants and start a mentoring and outreach program for at-risk high school students. Take that, Rude Mechanicals! Now they're back to the idea of creating a new theater, this time out of bricks and mortar. In the interim, they'll set up shop in their new home at the old Axiom. So it seems only right to rework Thunderloo this season.
"People had been asking for us to bring it back," Nodler explains. "I wanted people who we had built up as a following over the past years to get a chance to see it." Ever wished you could have seen the Ramones play their first ever set at CBGB's? Opportunities to relive such epochal events are rarer than a dodo egg.
Featuring new rock music from Bridegroom associate director Anthony Barilla with lyrics by Nodler, the play features the trademark Infernal cast of myriad, sundry, out-of-the-ordinary characters. Jake Steak and Photochick search the ends of the earth, at both its dawn and its demise, for truth, justice and the Woodman (not to be confused with Mr. Woodman of Welcome Back Kotter, though Nodler's age makes the reference a curiosity). Nor should the fact that Photochick takes Polaroids because she has no short-term memory be confused with the movie Memento. "I beat that thing by about ten fucking years," Nodler says. "I ripped off a lot of stuff in this play, but not that."
Cary Winscott and Richard Lyders will reprise their roles as The Pro-Tester and The Milkman. IBP veteran Tamarie Cooper, who spoke her first onstage line in the original Thunderloo, has graduated to a larger role.
Nodler's formula still appears to be working -- opening weekend has already sold out. Think of it this way: How often does a punk band do a raucous reunion? How often does a top-notch bistro offer a dodo-egg frittata?