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This story is dedicated to the brave men and women who make up the Pro99 campaign to save intimate theatre in Los Angeles.

Hover your cursor over underlined textYeah, like that. for an explanation of its meaning.

Once upon a time, there was a teeming metropolis called Los Angeles. It was a magical place where sun-drenched beaches and snow-covered mountaintops were warmed by a perfectly placed sun dancing in a perpetually cloudless sky. People from all over the world dreamt of making a pilgrimage to the paradise and calling it home.

Everyone who lived there hated the dump. Because of the 3,862,839 people who actually made up its population, 3,645,857 were actors who came to LA to become superstars in movies and TV. But show business being the cruel bitch that it is, precisely .0000000000001% of those actors had the careers that they fantasized about before falling off the turnip truck and landing on Harvey Weinstein's foot. A slightly larger percentage earned their incomes making commercials, doing cameo roles in TV shows, and appearing as dead bodies in sequels to The Fast and Furious. The rest waited tables, served as part-time accountants, and Photoshopped idiotic images that put themselves and their dog in outrageous predicaments and posted them on Facebook as they toiled and sacrificed to try and make their acting dreams come true.

The one thing that the wide-eyed artists who made up Los Angeles' overpopulated acting community had going for them was a special dispensation that Actors Equity Association (the labor union to which professional theatre actors in the United States belonged) which allowed its members within the city walls to volunteer for theatrical productions in theatres with less than 99-seats in exchange for a small stipend, instead of the budget-expanding contracts in which they worked under in larger theatres. It was a happy compromise, allowing actors to practice their craft while still pursuing commercial work in the movie and TV capitol, and giving the small but passionate theatre-going audience in the city a vast array of productions to choose from.

Only two groups didn't like the setup. One one a mysterious collection of people who ran a Twitter feed called The Boo Hoo 10This is a reference to an adamantly anti-99 seat theatre Twitter group. Any of you who aren't intimately familiar with the whole hot mess this story is based on won't get the joke, but anyone who is will be laughing their asses off at this. . They would post angry tweets about how the 99-seat plan took advantage of professional actors, using inaccurate information and made-up statistics to support their claims. The Boo Hoo 10 worked in anonymity because they said that if their true identities were made known, they would be blackballed from the 99-seat theatre scene. No one could quite figure out why they were so worried about being blackballed from an institution they were trying to destroy, but it scarcely mattered because anyone who challenged their claims would immediately be blocked from the Boo Hoo 10 Twitter feed.

The other group which hated the 99-seat theatre plan was the union itself. AEA had done wonderful things for actors over its long history, improving working conditions and ensuring better salaries and benefits for professional actors in big budget shows that allowed its members to make a living working on the stage. But the union had little interest in intimate productions that its membership could develop themselves (sometimes with such success that they could move the shows – which otherwise could never have materialized – into larger theatres with more lucrative Equity contracts) without the aid of massive amounts of cash that only giant producing organizations funded by large audiences and hefty grants could mount. And on the subject of the 99-seat theatre plan, the union hierarchy had an absolute bug up their asses.

"Something must be done about Los Angeles' 99-seat theatre plan," screeched Alastair SimThe real Alastair Sim died in 1976 but since he was best known for playing Scrooge in the 1951 film of A Christmas Carol, I thought he'd make an hilarious antagonist for this idiotic story.
 
For anyone who is wondering, Sim apeared on Broadway in 1931 in a play called The Venetian so I guess he was a member of Equity, but he was never really its president.
, the miserly actor who served as AEA President. "Their amateur theatrics put no money in my pocket!"


"Something must be done about Los Angeles' 99-seat theatre plan," screeched the Equity president

"But Mr. Sim," said Walter Plinge, an AEA representative from Los Angeles who supported the 99-seat theatre plan but felt compelled to keep his feelings within the walls of the Equity offices in the interest of union solidarity, "Los Angeles has a thriving theatre community because of the plan. Without it, all L.A. would be left with are touring companies of Wicked, and most of those roles are cast out of New York."

"No matter," replied Sim. "I'm tired of fat cat producers getting rich on 99-seat productions while I don't get so much as a taste. Can I raise members' annual dues from the money they make acting in them? No! They're just dilettante hobbyists! We need commercial Broadway shows to fill our coffers, like ... like the current Broadway revival of Spring Awakening!"

"Which was first produced at L.A.'s 99-seat Deaf West Theatre," countered Mr. Plinge.

"Or the delightful Woody Allen musical Bullets Over Broadway."

"Whose national tour was non-union."

"Or elephantine musical adaptations of popular movies with audience name recognition like Legally Blonde, Rocky, and Footloose, cynically created for the sole purpose of improving the corporate bottom line of the multinational partnerships that hold their copyrights."

Plinge had no reponse since he was busy throwing up in his mouth a little at the mention of those shows, so Sim continued.

"We cannot waste union resources monitoring amateur crap when there's serious kwan to be made here in New York!" cried the miser, pounding his fist upon his oak desk. "We need to destroy 99-seat theatre in Los Angeles."

"But how?" smirked Mr. Plinge. "The best theatre in the region is produced at 99-seat houses. With such good work going on there, there's no chance that its small but devoted audience would stand for you demolishing it."

"That's it!" cried Sim as a devilish glare twisted his malicious face. "The best actors, writers, directors and technicians in Los Angeles ply their trade in 99-seat theatres. We need to stage a production of a play with an impossibly demanding leading role and then cast an actor so terrible that audiences will be appalled by the crap that they're witnessing onstage; to the point where they'll rise up and demand that we pull the plug on the 99-seat theatre plan. And to keep the Yuletide flavor of this idiotic story, we'll open the show on Christmas Day, when audiences will be exposed to world-class entertainment like The Star Wars Holiday Special, A Very Brady Christmas, and Donald Trump's Yuletide Beauty Pageant and Racist Sing-along so that their expectations will be that much higher!. It's brilliant! The only problem is, where can we find an actor who's that untalented?"

At about this time, a young muse named Jonny M. was perusing the casting website actorsaccess.com for a potential gig. Jonny's binge drinking allowed him to have sentient conversations with his beloved pug Winston when he was hammered out of his mind, and during one of those vodka-drenched hallucinations Winston had convinced the muse that computers had other uses besides masturbating to Internet porn. Jonny had been a member of Equity ever since he appeared on Broadway in That Darned Cat! The MusicalSee the 2009 Jonny Christmas story Jonny's Broadway Christmas for details.
 
and thought that a return to the stage might be a way to shift the momentum of his train wreck of a life. He logged onto the casting site and found a listing for an upcoming production of the Shakespearean masterpiece Richard III. Jonny had long been fascinated by Shakespeare's tale of a ruthless, physically deformed sociopath because his slovenly posture was often compared to the titular character's humped back. And since Jonny looked at the listing during the brief window of the day when he was still sober, he wasn't able to hallucinate Winston telling him that he lacked the talent for the part. So, grabbing a bottle of vodka that he had received as a present on his birthday the past December 15th (vodka rarely lasted so long around the foul government-assisted cubicle in which Jonny dwelled but it had rolled under one of Winston's chew toys next to the sofa, where it remained undetected for months), he made a bee-line to the AEA audition center in North Hollywood.

What the muse – nor anyone else applying for the production – didn't know was that the listing had been supplied by Sim himself, and that it would be directed by R. Thaddeus TaylorFounder of the 99-seat Globe Playhouse in West Hollywood, where I played many of my earliest roles. Mr. Taylor passed away in 2006. Rest in peace., a prestigious director in the LA theatre scene who the AEA president had dirt on. Taylor would do anything to keep the world from finding out about the scandalous skeleton in his closet, he had no choice but to go along with Sim's plan to stage such a horrendous production that it would kill 99-seat theatre.


The other actors surrounding him were appalled at Jonny's slurred and stiff recitation,
but Taylor knew that he had found his man

But there was a problem. When the director held preliminary auditions for Richard III, every actor that he saw was brilliant. Each performer managed to make whatever role they were reading for unique to their own personalities while remaining true to the Shakespearean text. Taylor was distraught, certain that Sim would leak his reputation-shattering secret to the world for not living up to his part of the slimy scheme, when the drunken figure of Jonny M. staggered into the audition room and demanded to be handed a script. The other actors surrounding him were appalled at Jonny's slurred and stiff recitation, especially when he finally collapsed on a pool of his own vomit just as he offered to trade his kingdom for a horse. But Taylor paid no attention to the wide-eyed horror on the faces around him and rose from his place at the table from where he had been observing the readers and happily exclaimed "I have found my Richard!!!"

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Even the normally unshakably supportive Winston was dubious about Jonny's ability to memorize a role with over 1,100 lines when he considered that the muse had his own name and address tattooed on his ass to anticipate the many times that he got so drunk that he forgot who he was. So when the director became so enamored of Winston's good looks and indefinable charisma as the pug stood and watched Jonny's audition that Taylor offered Winston the small role of Dorset in the production, the fat little dog readily agreed just to make sure that Jonny wouldn't make too much of a fool of himself. Which was bound to happen since, confronted by the finest crop of thespians Los Angeles had to offer at the auditions, the director felt free to indulge himself by casting the best actors in Tinsel Town in the other roles. But with the appalling figure of Jonny M. in the part of Richard III, there was no question that the show would be a disaster of such historic proportions that 99-seat theatre would be dead forever.


The actors began warming up in preparation for the first reading

But no one detected such forbidding gloom as the cast assembled and began warming up in preparation for the first reading. A solitary tear ran down Taylor's cheek as he realized that he could mount a truly astounding production of the play with anyone but Jonny in the title role. But when the muse staggered into the rehearsal room twenty minutes late and covered with his own vodka-laced vomit, it was obvious that the show had no chance.

The cast refused to stand for Jonny's unprofessionalism. Taylor's great casting coup was to get Jesse Merlin, star of a series of schlocky horror movies featuring a character named Professor MorlockIn 2014, I became obsessed with creating a history for a fictional series of horror movies about Professor Morlock which starred Merlin as the titular character. You can find out more in the "Professor Morlock" section of this website. in the major role of the Duke of Buckingham. While Merlin did the Morlocks for the fat paycheck they brought in, he pursued 99-seat theatre as a means of letting loose his artistic soul which was the reason he became an actor in the first place. And when he saw Jonny, he knew there was no way he was going to allow this undisciplined hack to compromise a show in which he was volunteering his valuable talents. Merlin marched up to the drunken muse and looked him square in the eye. There was a brief flicker of recognition as both had been featured in last year's story Jonny's Hollywood Christmas, but the combination of Jonny's binge drinking and the cocktail of appetite suppressants his army of doctors, trainers and nutritionists kept Merlin on to maintain his slim figure in Tinsel Town's weight-obsessed society made the two unable to remember that they had ever laid eyes on each other before.

"What do you mean, staggering into the theatre in which professionals are trying to work?" demanded Merlin, his famous Dracula-like gaze cutting a glare so deeply into Jonny that it might have sawed him in half if the muse wasn't too intoxicated to notice. "What is your business here?"

"I'm playing Richard III," slurred Jonny as Winston arranged a tarp around the muse to capture the intestinal projections which were inevitably about to be spewed out.

"What? An outrage!" thundered Merlin. "Where is the director?"

Taylor nervously tip-toed into the confrontation, his mind squarely focused on his deep, dark secret that Sim would reveal to the world if the plan wasn't carried out. "Ah, Jonny!" the director cried. "I'm so happy you're here! Let's get started."

"Great Scott!" gasped Merlin at the realization that Jonny was in fact playing the hunchback king. "Aren't you going to castigate this aromatically pungent troglodyte for his unprofessionalism in arriving late?"

"Professional?" replied a confused Jonny as he struggled to keep a vomitous burp from evolving into a full-fledged post-hangover heave. "I don't understand. I thought we were just doing this for laughs and gas money. Aren't we all just hobbyists?"

The word stopped Merlin in his tracks and caused the rest of the cast to bristle.

"Let me explain something to you, my friend," sputtered Merlin as the other actors condescendingly pointed down their noses in Jonny's direction. "Before they came to Los Angeles to ply their trade for the fat paychecks that commercials for feminine hygiene products and "Under Five" roles in episodes of Two Broke Girls provide, these people worked in some of the most demanding roles in the best theatres in the country for a sliver of a salary. Just because Los Angeles doesn't have a theatre-going audience that allows them to make a living wage from practicing their craft doesn't cheapen their process or diminish the amount of work they do to inhabit a role. Do you really think that when I played Re-Animator: The MusicalThe real-life Jesse Merlin had a huge personal triumph in Re-Animator: The Musical, a show which began as a 99-seat theatre production and he later went on to play in New York, Las Vegas and the Edingburgh Festival. Merlin was nominated for an Ovation Award for his performance but wasn't the ultimate winner, which is the only reason that I haven't killed myself whenever I think about the success he had in it. in New York or Las Vegas that my work was somehow more "professional" because I was paid a greater wage than I was in Los Angeles, where I chose to volunteer my talents for a fraction of what they are worth because otherwise the production wouldn't have been financially possible? Your reasoning is spurious sir, and I'll hold no truck with it!"

Both Winston and Jonny were impressed. The muse did his best to ignore a violent alcohol-induced intestinal cramp to avoid disgorging his stomach lining all over the eloquent thespian. "Golly," said Jonny. "If you're so dedicated to theatre, why don't you just make that your main focus and go for fat Equity contract jobs all the time?"

The cast erupted into hysterical laughter.

"In Los Angeles?" smirked Merlin. "There are few large theatres here compared to the number of union actors looking for work, and almost all the decent roles go to people with movie and TV names, like the woman who plays the hot sales chick in those AT&T commercials or the delightful French Stewart from Third Rock from the Sun."

"If it wasn't for 99-seat theatre," piped in the actor playing the Lord Mayor, "I could never have mounted my award-winning one-man show about Penthouse Magazine founder Bob Guccione."

"And I could never produce my dream project, a musical about my grandmother's life-long struggle with embarrassing feminine odor," said the actress playing Lady Anne. "I didn't go into acting just so I could be an employee on somone else's vision."

The actors' intense expressions made Jonny realize that there was more to this intimate theatre thing than he realized. He reluctantly put away his half-empty bottle of vodka so that they could get to work.


Each of Jonny's colleagues took turns trying to coach him into giving a creditable depiction
of the hunchbacked Duke of Gloucester as Merlin looked on disdainfully from the shadows

As the rehearsals progressed, the cast was gradually won over by the muse's sweet disposition and lack of pretense; and when they saw how devoted Winston was to him, they finally concluded that he couldn't possibly be as bad as he looked and smelled. But they were also aghast at his lack of any acting talent and his complete inability to inhabit a role as complex as Richard III. Fortunately, the cast was populated by caring and kindly people who are typically found doing 99-seat theatre. Noticing that Taylor wasn't even pretending to help him try and improve his performance, each of Jonny's colleagues took turns doing their best to coach him into giving a creditable depiction of the hunchbacked Duke of Gloucester – as Merlin looked on disdainfully from the shadows, not even trying to hide his contempt for the muse. But no matter how they advised him, flattered him, bullied him or gave him lines readings, there was no escaping it: Jonny was going to be terrible.

But the muse was fascinated by his fellow actors and their tales of 99-seat theatre productions past. Even the sullen and condescending Merlin would join in during breaks in the rehearsals as they shared anecdotes about trying to create theatrical gold despite miniscule budgets and less than ideal working conditions. And while each story was different – some funny, some touching – they all shared the common theme of the love and passion for performing plays in front of a live audience.

Jonny drank in all these stories with fascination and asked his fellow actors if they minded this strange opening night taking place on Christmas Day. The yuletide was Jonny's favorite time of year and he wondered if the thespians around him celebrated it in the same fashion that he did, by drinking themselves into a catatonic state and waking up around New Year's Day on a ship bound for Shanghai. To his surprise, the actors were "normal" people like everyone else; with friends, families and their own cherished Yuletide traditions. But to them, a chance to act in a great play was more important than any other ritual. Puzzled, Jonny took Winston to a bar near their tenement housing project and downed an entire bottle of Jack Daniels in one sitting so that he'd be able to talk about it with his pug after a rehearsal one night.


Jonny took Winston to a bar

"It doesn't seem to bother them to have to work on Christmas," Jonny pondered. "And for almost no money. I mean, isn't that the point of becoming an actor?"

"The point of being an actor is to act," replied the pug in a sagely tone. "Anyone who does it, does it because there's a spirit in their soul that forces them to. I've spent a lot of time hanging out in the wings with these people while you're jerking off onstage with those self-indulgent soliloquies – none of which, incidentally, you are even close to saying as they were written – and each and every person considers it a privilege to lend their gifts to a production of a great play like this even though a no-talent like you is in the lead role.

Jonny whipped out his iPad and navigated from the disgusting fetish porn website which served as his home page to Twitter, where he showed Winston a huge string of tweets by the Boo Hoo 10 demeaning 99-seat theatre. "These guys say that our work doesn't matter because we don't get paid anything," said the muse.

"There are more ways to calculate something's worth than in dollars and cents," Winston replied. "I'm not a religious pug by any means; but I think a lot of people go to church on Christmas because they feel closer to an almighty deity on that day than any other. For these actors, the theatre is their church. And when they're acting a great role, they're staring into the face of God.We open on Christmas Day; Jesus' birthday. By the logic you describe, His work wan't worth anything because He didn't make minimum wage doing it."

Jonny stuck his tongue inside the whiskey bottle to try and ingest the last remnants of demon-killing Bourbon, and let Winston's words sink in.

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In all theatre companies there are cliques and social hierarchies, and it was no different in this production of Richard III. David Pinion, the actor who played George, Duke of Clarence, was at the apex of the Richard III social pyramid. Tall, dashing and devilishly handsome, the other performers laughed just a little louder at his jokes and were less likely to butt in with their own lame stories when Pinion was at the center of attention. The more Jonny thought about Winston's words about the true rewards of being an actor, the more he wanted to be one of them. But when he saw Pinion breeze into the theatre with his winning smile and the noticeably oversized bulge in his tight rehearsal jeans, the more the muse realized how far he had to go to achieve that goal. Jonny did his best to hide his jealousy at Pinion's superior social stature, and was successful with everyone in the cast but one: Jesse Merlin. The square-jawed baritone examined the situation and saw an opening to screw with Jonny's head so that the muse could begin to bond with the character of Richard III.

"You'll never be the most popular person in the show as long as Pinion is around," hissed Merlin from the shadows as the muse enviously watched the handsome actor chat flirtaciously with the young hottie cast as Queen Margaret.

"But what can be done?" asked Jonny, relieved to finally admit to his jealousy towards the actor.

"Pinion can do many things," sneered Merlin. "But he can't hold his liquor. Invite him for a drink after the show and I'll see to it that his reign as the most popular person in the cast is over."

The muse felt his stomach churn at the idea of betraying his friend, but then he watched across the theatre as the smokin' hot actress collapsed into hysterical laughter at one of Pinion's perfectly timed jokes, and steadied herself by leaning her supple body just a little too closely to his lanky frame.

"Let's take the bastard out," said Jonny.

At the end of the night, Jonny innocently sidled up to Pinion as Merlin watched on from a darkened corner across the room. The muse asked his colleague if he could join him for a "quick drink" so that Pinion might help him with their scene at the beginning of the play. After some cajoling, the pair traipsed to the Shakey's pizza parlor across the street to have a glass of wine.

What Pinion didn't realize was that to the inebriate Jonny, a "quick drink" was an entire barrel of malmsey wine. When the waiter rolled the massive wooden hogshead up to them at the bar and hooked an IV tube from the barrel to Jonny's vein, Pinion realized that he was in for a longer night than he expected. As he tried to explain the intricacies of Act I, Scene 1 of Richard III to Jonny, he sipped on a goblet of malmsey wine. And another. By 10:15, he was dancing on a table and trying to take his pants off over his head.


Pinion came to rehearsal with a massive scrotum tattooed on his forehead

Jonny left the sloshed Pinion unconscious on top of the dumpster behind Shakey's near the entrance to an all-night tattoo parlor. It was pretty much a typical night for the muse as he staggered home at 3:00 in the morning, so much so that he had completely forgotten about it when he awoke at 2:00 the following afternoon. Until he came to that night's rehearsal and saw Pinion shyly sneak in afterwards wearing the same clothes he had on the night before, a wool cap crammed tightly over his perfectly-shaped head. All seemed normal until the actor shyly pulled off the beanie and revealed a massive scrotum that he had tattooed on his forehead after Jonny had left him on the drunken spree the night before. The cast recoiled in disgust, each actor making a mental note to keep his distance from the tattooed freak from now on. Merlin quietly sidled up to the muse.

"That's one less rival in your quest to be the most popular person in the cast."

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November turned into December. The joyous music and colorful lights that marked the holiday season put everyone in the company into a celebratory spirit. The actors hung out together at Christmas parties and Hanukkah Seders, with each one inevitably finding themselves going drink for drink against Jonny and his iron liver while the Machiavellian Merlin lurked nearby. One by one, mishaps befell each and every actor after taking part in a drinking binge with Jonny which turned them into an even bigger social pariah than the muse. One actor e-mailed his Web Chat Roulette dick pix to everyone in a cast. An actress started cornering people in the show to extol the virtues of Scientology. The guy playing the Earl of Richmond dragged everyone to San Pedro to watch his monthly improv show. Thanks to Merlin's coaching, by the time Jonny's birthday on December 15th (in which gifts of alcohol are the traditional tribute) rolled around, he was among the most popular people in the cast.

And it was beginning to show in his performance. Despite Taylor's attempts to sabotage the show so that Sim would keep his dark secret safe (most of the rehearsals were improvisational theatre games in which the actors took turns examining suspicious-looking moles on Taylor's back), Jonny's Richard III-like machinations were gradually improving his performance as the hunchbacked Gloucester. By the time the show was having its final dress rehearsal on Christmas Eve, Taylor was concerned and called the AEA president in New York.

"We have a problem," said the director. "Not only is Jonny not going to be a terrible Richard III, he might turn out to be a pretty good one. Every mover and shaker in Los Angeles is going to be at our opening night tomorrow, because there really is no better way to celebrate Christmas than by watching a three-and-a-half production of a Shakespearean history play. If the show isn't a disaster, your plan to ruin 99-seat theatre will be foiled."

"Can't you just replace Jonny with an equally bad actor?" asked Sim.

"Of course not," replied Taylor. "He's the main character in this idiotic story. He's got to stay a part of the narrative until we reach the awkwardly contrived happy ending."

"You're right," answered the AEA president. "I'll take the red eye to L.A. tonight."

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Merlin was delighted. His mind fucks of Jonny had put the muse in such a Daniel Day Lewis-like headlock with the character of Richard III that the show was shaping up into the reason that he volunteered his talents for 99-seat theatre in the first place. He happily plopped himself down beside the muse in their cardboard box of a dressing room.

"Merry Christmas, Jonny," smiled Merlin as the muse slathered dung-colored makeup on his hand to give an approximation of Richard's withered arm. "It's been quite a journey but you've managed to take everyone down a notch to become the most popular actor in the company. That's something you can use in your performance."

"Not the most popular," sneered the muse as his eyes twitched with a touch of madness. "There's still one actor in the cast who is more beloved than me. Once I take him out, I will have achieved my goal."

Merlin responded with a puzzled look until his attention was caught by a small group of the best-looking (and therefore the coolest) actors and actresses in the cast petting and fawning over Winston in the adjacent corridor. A horrified chill shot down the deep voiced bastard's spine.

"You don't mean..."

"Yes," replied the muse with a disconcerting steely edge in his voice. "I need to take down Winston. Once that adorable little pug is no longer my rival for the affections of the cast, my path to power will be complete. Are you in or out?"

Merlin stared at Jonny with distressed concern, horrified at the monster he created. He desperately tried to find a different tactic.

"You're overestimating Winston's popularity," answered Merlin with a forced smile. "You're far more beloved than he. And when you drop by the Red Cross blood donation van today to contribute a few pints, you'll be more admired than ever."

Jonny's eyes grew into crazed, demonic saucers. "I am not in the giving vein today," hissed the muse.

Merlin's stomach churned in distress, both at the horror of Jonny's plan and at the tortured connection that last joke tried to make between blood donation and one of the most famous lines in the play. Startled by the murderous look in Jonny's face, he quickly scampered out of the room. But the muse was alone for less than a minute when Glenn "Piece of Shit" Simon, the slimy guy who the theatre used for non-speaking roles and who spent most of his offstage time hanging around the women's dressing room clutching his iPhone camera, slithered beside Jonny. The muse had always regarded Simon with distaste and his present appearance, clad in an ancient tee-shirt bearing the likeness of 1970s pin-up girl Joey Heatherton, projected a vomit burp up Jonny's esophagus that he managed to choke back down before adding any new stains to the dressing room's already moist and pungent carpet. But Simon's manic expression caught Jonny's interest.


Simon slithered into the dressing room as the other actors petted and fawned over Winston in the adjacent corridor

"I heard what you were talking about," said Simon, who despised Winston because the actresses in the cast would giddily rub his belly without a moment's hesitation, but whenever Simon asked them to do it to him they would threaten to call the cops. "I'm in. What's the plan?"

"The one thing that any dog can do to piss everyone off is drop a deuce inside," said Jonny as he seemed to lapse into a Satanic trance. "At curtain call on opening night, I need you to plant some dog poop in the women's dressing room so that it looks like Winston pinched a loaf in there."

Simon's oddly-shaped face twisted into a Grinch-like smile. One of his favorite fetishes was collecting mounds of dog poop at neighboring dog parks and carefully packaging and labeling them for later use. To combine that with his dream of actually spending up to 45 seconds in a room where human women spent time wearing only their underwear was an erotic opportunity that the perv couldn't pass up.

"I'll do it."

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Sim's plane touched down on the runway at LAX at 7:30 on Christmas morning. He was met by Taylor and by Walter Plinge, who had been keeping a close eye on the scheme and was secretly delighted that it wasn't working out as the AEA president had hoped. Sim listened wordlessly as the director described Jonny's unexpected progress in the role.


Plinge and Taylor picked up Sim at the airport

"If the show opens tonight and it's anywhere near as good as last night's dress rehearsal, 99-seat theatre will be more popular with Los Angeles AEA members and audiences than ever! Then what will you do?"

"My dear fellow," smirked Sim. "If my plan doesn't worked out as well as I'd hoped, I'll simply shut down 99-seat theatre in Los Angeles anyway. Remember, it's called 'show business,' not 'show art!' After all, if you're not making any money from something, that means it's not worth anything!"

"Actually," replied Plinge, "Van Gogh never made a dime from his painting and now his art routinely sells for forty million dollars or more. And Charles Laughton said 'Never call me a professional. I am an amateur. An amateur does something for the sheer love of doing it. A professional is a whore.'"

Sim's infuriated glare cut through Plinge, but the councilor continued. "And doctors, teachers, and countless other professions are free to donate their work to causes they believe in while still pursuing financially rewarding employment. Only the acting profession seems opposed to that."

"SILENCE!" thundered Sim. "I've made up my mind. I'm shutting the fucker down."

"But that will simply leave thousands of Equity members in L.A. who desperately want 99-seat theatre to continue," cried Mr. Plinge, "unenfranchised and without an outlet for their life's greatest passion!"

"If they want to work for free," said Sim with an unimpressed scowl, "they can leave the union."

"All those actors are also members of the Screen Actors' Guild," countered Mr. Plinge. "Even if they left Equity because they didn't like our decisions, they would still be forced to live by them because SAG is our sister union and requires its members to follow our guidelines."

"Don't bother me with your trivial problems," replied Sim, irritated that Plinge felt compelled to spell out the details of the situation for the benefit of the vast majority of people reading this idiotic story who don't know or care anything about it. "I intend to put the final nail in the coffin of 99-seat theatre in Los Angeles as soon as I return to New York tomorrow. And don't think I've forgotten about you, Taylor."

The director shuddered.

"You failed me," sneered the AEA president. "The second thing I'll do tomorrow is announce your shameful secret to the world. But tonight, I shall celebrate Christmas by seeing a 99-seat theatre production for the first time. And the last."

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The audience was a Who's Who of theatre artists in Los Angeles

The audience for the opening night of Richard III was a Who's Who of theatre artists in Los Angeles. They all broke into affectionate smiles as they saw the beloved Mr. Plinge enter the cramped lobby, but their faces dropped into astonished shock at the sight of Mr. Sim coldly following him. The noted director Guillermo Cienfuegos remembered what day it was and, absentmindedly stroking the Ovation Award which dangled from his pierced nipple, warmly approached the union head.

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Sim."

"Humbug," replied the AEA president as he shuffled past Cienfuegos into the tiny auditorium. "If you truly had the Christmas spirit, you'd be earning money to buy more presents for your phony show-biz friends instead of wasting your life performing in a shoebox for an audience comprised of your roommates and your maiden aunt who drove up from Carlsbad. You understand nothing of the Yuletide spirit, sir. Or of the point of being an actor!"

Sim settled into his seat as the lights went down to begin the show. Merlin's macho head games with Jonny had worked wonders, so instead of seeing a quasi-alcoholic social deviant with peculiar sexual fetishes and iffy personal hygiene stumbling around the stage, the audience was confronted by the living embodiment of Shakespeare's twisted and ruthless power-hungry monarch.

All except for Sim. Instead of watching the bloody story of Richard III, his eyes saw his own cruel rise to power both in the acting profession and as head of the union. When Richard hired assassins to drown his brother Clarence in a barrel of wine, he beheld the Christmas party when he got old Fezziwig's daughter Belle drunk so he could tell her that he was dumping her at the altar in order to further his career by becoming a rent boy for David Geffen. When Richard ordered the beheading of Lord Hastings, Sim relived the moment he talked Michael Crawford into committing career suicide by starring in the theatrical disaster Dance of the Vampires. When Richard sent his two young nephews to the Tower of London to await their certain death, Sim felt that he was witnessing the time he talked Julie Taymer into thinking that a good Broadway follow-up to The Lion King would be Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark. By the time the lights came up for intermission, there were tears running down his cheeks. Everyone in the audience was aware of his strange emotional state, but Sim said nothing.

There was plenty of talk in the dressing room during the break, though. Merlin looked on with sadness as Jonny stared bitterly at the other actors petting and fussing over Winston. When he saw Simon creep by stealthily, holding in a plastic baggy a massive bowel movement squeezed out by an oversized Great Dane, he crept back into the shadows. Oblivious to Merlin's disapproval, Jonny began spinning his web of betrayal.

"Don't hug Winston too closely," warned the muse as one actress enveloped the pug in an affectionate bear hug. "He celebrated Christmas this morning by having a huge breakfast of Mexican food, and then ate a Metamucil sandwich for lunch. I begged him not to, but he said it was Jesus' birthday and he was going to observe it by eating four times his body weight in fatty foods."

Winston looked at his life-long chum in befuddlement, since the pug was going through a power cleanse and had nothing but a few leaves of kale and a bottle of spinach juice all day. But before Jonny could respond to Winston's puzzled gaze, the stage manager announced that it was time for the cast to take their places for the second half of the show.

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Sim had not moved a muscle during the fifteen minute intermission, which stretched to three-quarters of an hour as the audience members each waited their turn to use the one tiny restroom in the underequipped theatre. Mr. Plinge studied him intently during the break and watched his hardened features slowly unfurl into a vulnerable mask of humanity as he reflected on what had taken place on the stage. The second act held no less power for him but instead of seeing his misspent past reflected in Richard's merciless rise to power, he watched the king's descent into madness and defeat serve as a warning of what awaited him if he didn't change his wicked ways. And when Richard was brutally slain by opposing forces in payment of his heartless deeds, Sim could read the writing on the wall. The lights dimmed to signal the end of the performance and when the cast came out for their curtain call, the audience rose to their feet in a rapturous standing ovation. All but Sim, who rushed to the foot of the stage and collapsed at Jonny's feet.

"Oh, spirit," said the Equity president. "Are these shadows that I have seen the promise of what will be, or what might be only?"

"Oh, Christ," responded Jonny. "I told the producers that homeless guys would come in here if they didn't keep the door to the back alley locked."

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year," continued Sim, who took a whiff of Jonny's overwhelming stench and was convinced that he was talking to his own corpse. "I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. And 99-seat theatre will continue, for I understand now how it serves a vital function to both the acting community and to society at large. Oh tell me, I may sponge away the writing on this stone!"

"Uh...okay," replied Jonny.

A relieved glow suddenly came over Sim's face. But before he could speak, a blood-curdling scream could be heard from the women's dressing room.

"What the hell is this?"


Both the cast and audience crammed into the backstage area to see what had happened

Both the cast and audience crammed into the backstage area to see what had happened. They found one of the actresses pinned against the wall of the women's dressing room to try and avoid a massive pile of fecal matter which laid in the middle of the floor.

"Who's responsible for this?" demanded the stage manager.

"Only one thing could have done this," replied the actress. "It was Winston!"

The crowd parted to leave the fat little pug standing alone in a spotlight of accusation. He wanted to respond but since Jonny wasn't drunk enough to converse with him, he lacked the power of speech and could only stare up helplessly at the hardened glares of those around him.

"I can't believe that I used to think that animal was cute," said the actress. "Can't someone chain it up in the alley so it doesn't make any more messes?"

Winston scanned the faces of his friends in the cast for support, but saw only grimaces of disdain. The mob began to swarm on the little pug as the stage manager produced a forbidding choke chain to wrap around Winston's chubby neck. Just as the shackles were being placed over the gentle pug's princely head, a piercing voice at the back of the hall rang out that caused everyone to freeze.

"Winston didn't take a dump on the dressing room floor. I did!"

The horde turned slowly around to see Jonny standing defiantly before them.

"Hey," continued the muse. "This theatre has only one bathroom for the audience and the cast. If you think I'm going to wait in line to drop a deuce, you don't understand the intricacies of my colon."

The mob backed away from Jonny in disgust as the actress slowly advanced on him.

"I was actually beginning to like you," she said as Jonny looked back at her without emotion. "Even to the point where I could be nice enough to you that you could convince yourself that I was being flirtacious; so that by closing night and you were about to proclaim your undying love for me, I could smash your heart into pieces by introducing you to my fiancee, a junior partner at Creative Artists AgencyThis joke was inspired by unfortunate misunderstandings I have had with every actress I have ever worked with. Let's move on.. But now, you sicken me."

She then turned to the mob, who were watching the spectacle with rapt attention.

"Everyone's invited back to my place for beer and to tell stories about how they were one callback away from getting a role in a TV show that made someone else a star," she announced. "Everyone except Jonny. He can rot!"

"Wait!" exclaimed the director Taylor. "I can't take it anymore! I only agreed to take part in this because Mr. Sim threatened to expose my deep dark secret if I didn't! I can't live with the shame anymore! I must finally admit it...I am the Boo Hoo 10!!!"

The crowd looked on in horror.

"I started the Twitter group because every time I told my mom I was doing a 99-seat theatre production, the first thing she would ask me was how much I was getting paid. When I said I was just making a stipend, she would turn away in disgust. Don't you understand? A bigger paycheck is the only way I'll ever get my mommy to respect what I do! I...I suppose you'll all want to blackball me now."

The actress studied Taylor with steely eyes, and then warmly took his hand.

"Theatre is the art of exploring what unites us," she said. "You must come to the party and we can discuss as rational adults ways to find common ground for what we want. This pointless business of making childish attacks on each other through the safety of cyberspace must stop forever! Everyone come with me!"

She led Taylor out of the dressing room as the throng enthusiastically followed. Just before they exited through the lobby, the actress stopped and shot Jonny one final contemptuous glare.

"You stay away," she snapped. "I just had the carpets cleaned!"

The collective slowly filed out of the theatre, leaving only Jonny and Winston behind. The pair stared at each other blankly for a moment and then shrugged the predicament off and meandered into the green room where they found Jesse Merlin lurking in the shadows, still wearing his costume as the Duke of Buckingham.

"I saw what you did," Merlin said with a macabre smile. "You could have been the most popular person in the cast, but you couldn't do it if it meant betraying your best friend. That kind of devotion to the ones who loved and supported you on your road to success means that you'll never make it in this town."

"Maybe not," said Jonny as he pulled a bottle of vodka from his makeup kit and shot-gunned half the contents in a single gulp. "But when I saw that fecal matter on the floor, it made me think of the story of Christmas. Sure, it's just a pile of shit now, but it started out as something sweet and nourishing that we need to keep us alive. Just because our viscera have churned it into something unrecognizable from its origins, that doesn't mean that we can't think back to what it is at its heart. But we'll always have situations where one person sees a pile of crap and another sees the essence of life itself. You could look at 99-seat theatre like that, I guess. Whether you see it as one way or the other, life can't exist without it."

Merlin stared at the floor, praying for the moment to come when Jonny would be finished with his disgusting metaphor.

"Christmas is a time when we look past the shit that things have become," said the muse. "A time when we most cherish our family and closest friends as we gather together in celebration of being members of the human family. Winston may not be human, but he has the most humane soul that I've ever encountered, and that to me is what the Christmas season is about. Sure, I could enjoy the adulation of everyone in the cast, but we both know they would forget they had ever met me after closing night. Winston will live in my heart for decades after he is in Doggy Heaven and whenever it rains I tell myself that it's him peeing on me, which is an experience I can have right now if I pick him up too quickly."

The little dog looked up with adoration at Jonny while Merlin did his best to choke back the bile rising to his throat. The muse gazed lovingly at his chubby pug and said "I couldn't look myself in the mirror if I let Winston take the blame for Glenn Simon putting a plastic baggy of dog poop in the middle of the dressing room."

"But I didn't."

The trio turned around to see Simon canoodling with an elderly but still-hot blonde.


Simon was canoodling with an elderly but still-hot blonde

"Gentlemen, meet Joey HeathertonSimon has been crawling up my ass to put him in an illustration with 1970's pin-up girl Joey Heatherton for years. I'm hoping that now I've heard the end of it.
," said Simon with an ape-like grin stamped on his face. "She was in the audience tonight, and we've spent the last 45 minutes making out in the parking lot. My Christmas wish from 1973 finally came true, and it was worth the wait! But it meant that I was never able to carry out the plan."

A vacant look of confusion crossed Jonny's face as the alcohol he had pounded was overwhelming his cerebral cortex to the point where he could now hear Winston speak.

"But that means..."

"That it really was me who took the dump in the dressing room," said the pug. "I am a dog, for fuck's sake. Are you telling me that if you knew that, you would have let them take me away in chains?"

"They would have had to kill me first," Jonny quietly replied.

Winston and Jonny stared at each other for a long time. The muse's buzz was wearing off to the point where he was just hammered enough to be unable to formulate articulate speech but not quite drunk enough to hear Winston talk, but the gaze they shared spoke volumes. Eventually, Simon and Joey Heatherton left to go find a motel that charged by the hour and Merlin was picked up by a pack of pale, slender college frat boys driving a windowless van. But Jonny and Winston remained in the cramped theatre because they couldn't think of anywhere else that they would rather be. The tiny stipend they received for Richard III meant that they couldn't afford Christmas presents for each other, but they didn't care. There would be another performance tomorrow and one more the day after that, and they had each other. Those were the only gifts either one wanted. They looked at the clock on the green room wall and saw that in just a few short minutes, another Christmas Night would disappear into the calendar. Jonny guzzled down the rest of his vodka so he could once again hear his little pug speak, and Winston happily scampered onto Jonny's lap. Just before the clock struck midnight, the pair simultaneously murmured the words that were the only ones that mattered on this night of nights:

"I love you."

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So all was happiness in Los Angeles. Alastair Sim spent many years as the beloved president of Actors Equity Association, making the protection and flourishing of 99-seat theatre one of the cornerstones of his administration. Glenn Simon married Joey Heatherton and they spent the rest of their lives having mind-blowing sex on a Serta Perfect Sleeper mattressJoey Heatherton was famous for appearing in ultra-sexy commercials for Serta Perfect Sleeper mattresses. Look them up on YouTube; they're awesome.. R. Thad Taylor found that he could say more speaking from the heart than he could by typing a 140 character limit into a keyboard. Jesse Merlin won an Ovation Award for his performance in a 99-seat theatre production he devised about a man in his mid-30's having an orgy with a bunch of pale, slender frat boys in a windowless van. And everyone in Los Angeles – young and old, rich and poor – had the best Christmas ever, secure in the knowledge that their beloved institution of 99-seat theatre would carry on for decades to come.

But happiest of all were Winston and Jonny M. As they cuddled up together in the battered easy chair situated in the green room of the theatre where they were doing Richard III, they felt a warm glow embrace them as they thought of their friends and the happiness that filled their lives. So with the excitement of a new year looming enticingly before them, Jonny gave Winston one final hug and then got up to hunt for some paper towels to pick up the dog poop in the dressing room, because to leave it there would just be disgusting.

And joy to you, dear friend. Whether youre spending the holiday season earning a few bucks to make your Yuletide celebration that much more joyous, volunteering your valuable services to projects you believe in that can't afford to pay you the wage you're worth, or sucking the bottomless teat of a family trust fund which makes you unable to comprehend this issue at all, I hope that your holidays are filled with joy, fulfillment and the love of your fellow human beings.

And know that you always have a loving friend in Jonny M.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Conceived by
Jonny M.

Written by
Jonny M.
(and a team of ghostwriters)

Illustrated by
Jonny M.

Costume Design
HalloweenCostumes.com

Best Boy
Winston

Caterer
Anything in Jonny's refrigerator with an expiration date of 2005 or later

FEATURING

Walter Plinge
Alastair Sim
Actor
Actor
Winston Mullich
Actress
Jonny M.
Actress
Jesse Merlin
Actor
R. Thaddeus Taylor
Actress
Gorgeous Brunette Actress
Gorgeous Redhead Actress
Actor
The Dashing David Pinion
Drunk on poster
Guy sipping tiki drink
Smokin' hot bartender
Interviewer
Interviewee
Hot Chick at bar
Scene Study Teacher
Hot Chick in Headshot
Hot chick on tee-shirt
Acting Teacher
Acting Teacher
Acting Teacher
Picture on dartboard
Glenn Simon
Flasher
Woman being flashed
Cab driver
Pro99 protestor
Pro99 protestor
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Mover & Shaker
Stage Manager
Woman in dressing room
Man in dressing room
Man in dressing room
Woman in dressing room
Joey Heatherton
Hot Chick in Headshot
Hot Chick in Headshot
Hot Chick in Headshot
Hot Chick in AADA ad
Handsome Man in costume ad
Man in Toupee Ad

Tony Potter
Himself
Gary Tremble
Christian Chan
Himself
Rachel Kanouse
Himself
Donna Susskind
Jesse Merlin
Marlon Brando
Himself
Randi Tahara
Amy Ball
Melody Doyle
Micah Watterson
Himself
Joe Mullich
David Eck
Megan Reynolds
Jason Fogelson
Eddie Frierson
Penelope Psaltiras
Steve B. Green
Mary Kay Dean
Carissa Gipprich
Maxine Stanoff Lewis
Adam Lindsey
Monique Johnson
Nate Werner
Himself
Dakin Matthews
Robin Greenspan
James Cleveland
Natasha Troop
Marni Troop
Peter Finayson
Guillermo Cienfuegos
Margaret McCarley
Frances Fisher
Vanessa Stewart
French Stewart
Roslyn Cohn
Daniel Henning
William Lewis Salyers
Kevin Delin
Rebecca Metz
Colin Campbell
Lisa Glass
Mel England
MZ Runyan
Martha Barber
Alfred E. Neuman
Richard Fancy
Ginna Carter
Herself
Paige Simon
Adrienne Pearson
Kelie McIver
Donna Susskind
Jeffrey Schoenberg
Braddon Mendelson


         
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