MICHAEL CHICK IS A MAN with curiously horizontal, wiry blond hair. Each part of his body -- eyes, hands, jutting chin -- seems to be resting on a slightly different plane, and the visual effect is not unlike that rendered in two-dimensional cartoons to depict continuous motion. In fact, Chick is in continuous motion. When I catch him on the phone he is on his way to elsewhere. When I have seen him act -- as the sleep scientist in Money Buys Happiness, as the pope in Local Union 608 -- he vibrates, his knees jitter, he peers through lowered eyebrows at characters who confuse him. He is like Woody Allen on speed.

I do not expect him to be like this in real life, and it is disconcerting. I've proposed to follow him around, to conduct a scientific observation, as it were, of the phenomenon known as Michael Chick, but the truth is he confounds me. To keep up with him would require an effort of locomotion to which I, in my lug-nut Fluevogs, am not equal. Instead, like a lab technician trying to counteract the Schrödinger's cat principle, I decide to go at him sideways, through passive channels. I decide to document every bit of gossip I can about him, and about his co-actors, and about the intricate inner workings of Local Union 608. What follows is my dossier.

* * *

Local Union 608 is the umbrella name of a serial play that occurs every six weeks throughout the summer, conducted under the auspices of WigglyWorld's Little Theatre. Like old-fashioned live radio, the plays are subject to last-minute panicky alterations, amazing and entertaining fuck-ups, and luminous moments of on-the-spot brilliance. They are ambitiously multi-media, bringing in movies to depict back-story, or abstracted, stop-action animation. History and historical figures like Marx and the female pirate Anne Bonny are recruited into absurdist dialectical scenes. The storyline has variously incorporated time travel, musical interludes, political philosophy, an in-place bicycle exerciser, and, most famously, a toilet.

The toilet, in fact, had everything to do with the genesis of Local Union 608. "Or maybe it was the windows," says Michael Chick. "Either way, the space was there, the toilet was there, and Jamie [Hook, WigglyWorld's executive director] and I kept gazing at it, wondering, 'What can we do?'" The back hall in the Little Theatre, when the film screen is up, resembles, as Chick says, a Weimar Republic union hall: dusty, intimate, rather ramshackle. The first episode, born of these simple illuminations, was, as many people have told me, "one of the most incredibly disastrous experiences of theater of all time."

In this first installment, at which I was unfortunately not present, a blood-bag went awry. While retelling this story, the actors of Local Union 608 employ palm-embraced head lolls, grinning between their fists in gleefully embarrassed replay. "Blood was spraying everywhere!" yells Erik Maahs, who plays Johnny, a small-time bookie and unionizer. "It was attached to the side of Rick Farr's neck, and he couldn't see what had happened, so while the rest of us were ducking blood he just went ahead with his lines....

"Things were so bad that first episode that the actors were really into it. It was like war. At some point everything becomes so surreal you can't tell what's staged."

"I was just sitting there planning on how I was going to leave town," Michael Chick interjects. "I thought everyone would hate me."

This is Chick's style of direction for the serial plays, according to the actors: "Just think about it and it'll be there." "We talked about what would happen that first night, but we never actually had a technical rehearsal," Chick says. "I told people, 'If you have to stop, just stop. If you forget your lines, just stop.' The ending was supposed to be a montage... well, you know what chaos that implies."

"Three minutes into the play somebody had to stop," Maahs says. "Three minutes! There was dead silence for like 30 seconds.

"It was very freeing," Maahs concludes.

* * *

What Jamie Hook was thinking, as he gazed at the windows and the toilet, was that he had become an administrator. Perhaps the word "budget" meandered through his mind, perhaps the word "Russian government," but what he finally settled on was "community." "Theater sets up the idea of community in a way that film doesn't," Hook says. As cinematographer for Money Buys Happiness, Hook had worked with local actors, and he wondered what these people did when they weren't in a movie.

"They were fun people to be around," Hook says. "Lots of production companies that film locally cast out of L.A. I wanted those kinds of connections to be established here. And, it was a good excuse for people to keep busy."

Cynthia Whalen, one of the co-founders of 608, says, "As an actor, it's been a great skill builder, just to know you can pull theater out of your butt. Every intermission I'm high with adrenaline -- it's like a freewheelin' circus, a cabaret. I was excited when Michael Chick called me with the idea, but the clincher was when I heard that they were going to sell alcohol. For me, alcohol means underground theater."

To fund the productions, WigglyWorld trades $100 sponsorships for a commercial, which they film with 608 actors. These are frequently the most entertaining films of the evening. Promotion for the episodes themselves is done through word of mouth.

* * *

Not surprisingly, my effort to collect gossip about 608 reveals the underpinnings of the communal spirit: decadent politics. Politics that lead to subversive artistic ideas, like the black time-traveler in a leisure suit, Joan of Arc's sexy intercessions with God, filming a party in which a real-life Seattle police bust is documented as art. Chick and co-writer Darick Chamberlin go off to their little garrets to compose the plays, and then bring their material to a rehearsal or two in which that material is transformed, in a flamingly revolutionary spirit, into narrative.

What kind of documentation, I ask, can I make of such chaos? What can one say of comments such as, "Cynthia Whalen pees standing up at parties," or, "Michael Chick throws hissy fits"? In the microbe-populated petri dish known as Local Union 608, creativity is forced to rise like the scum from brown rice, and propaganda, stripped into postmodern cartoonland sound bits, disposes the audience toward laughing until they cry confusedly. This is the lowdown, my fellow citizens, on Local Union 608. Do with it what you will, and God help us all.

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