Interview: John Michael Performs the One-Man ‘Order of the Penix’

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CHICAGO – Occasionally we can be surprised through true wonder and serendipity. In August of 2015, John Michael – a Texas native and one-man-show artist – crushed out the funny at the Abbie Hoffman Died for Our Sins theater festival, by making his Chicago debut with “John Michael & the Order of the Penix.” For two consecutive upcoming Saturdays – Dec. 5th and 12th – he returns to the scene of his debut, the Mary-Arrchie Theater at Angel Island in Chicago, to perform the show once again.

The “Order of the Penix” was formulated in Michael’s hometown of Dallas, Texas, in 2013. The show came from the author’s own experience in the dating world, using the elements of Harry Potter – in a side-splitting mix of physical and emotional comedy – to explore both the shame and the stigma of testing for STDs. Michael’s worldview is a hysterical whirlwind, but he also portrays true conflict and feelings in his journey.

John Michael
Scene From ‘John Michael & the Order of the Penix’
Photo credit: Chuck Marcelo spoke to John Michael in anticipation of the show, with some insight to both the Harry Potter generation and their approach to connecting. How did Harry Potter merge with genitalia in the development of your one man show?

John Michael: It was about how I was afraid to be tested for STDs, and how that fear is not uncommon in that situation, a lot of people are in denial or don’t get tested. The problem with HIV right now is that it needs to be caught early, and can be treated successfully, before the viral load converts to AIDS. It’s all about being tested, and I thought the fear of that test was analogous to the major scenes in the Harry Potter books, in being afraid of Lord Voldemort, the villain that people dare-not-speak-his-name. Since you are part of the Harry Potter generation, what does that generation owe to J.K. Rowling in how she influenced that age group?

Michael: I was in fourth grade when the first book came along, and that’s how I learned to read more comprehensive fiction. She’s a great storyteller, and she gave us a common language to reference. Much of this is about modern dating and hooking up. In your experience, when is the anonymous hook up the most convenient for people emotionally?

Michael: It’s all about how you use it. Hooking up can be a substitute for being alone, and what is interesting about today’s technology is that it allows a customizable element. We get to pick which ‘dish’ we want. [laughs] We can specify what we want, which isn’t like life, but in the interim it can be fun. You use improvisation techniques during rehearsal to develop your shows. What is an example of that technique giving you magic during an actual performance?

Michael: First, the technique is borrowed from monologists Spaulding Gray and Mike Daisey. They would sit at a desk with an outline in front of them. I don’t sit at a desk, so I keep the outline in my head. At rehearsal, I keep the outline on a board, and keep refining it. The way this all works is that the outline becomes eight bullet points, and within each of those points are more bullet points, that contain the stories that has happened to me.

Depending on the audience, depending on the moment, I can let go and rely on my subconscious to be present. So much of the great material comes from the work I could never just write at a desk. It comes from getting it on its feet for an invited audience or the director.

John Michael
Audience Interaction in ‘John Michael & the Order of the Penix’
Photo credit: Chuck Marcelo Since you’re a newcomer to Chicago, is there any contrast to your hometown of Dallas with Chicago in regards to tolerance and the gay communities in each town?

Michael: Dallas has the First Baptist Church, which says some awful anti-gay things, but honestly it’s not really that bad. I grew up in a pretty good time, I came out in 2010, but I observe now that kids don’t have to ‘come out,’ in general people just accept who they are. Chicago has a fantastic gay community. There are so many resources and options for people. If you had to pitch your show to J.K. Rowling herself, what would you emphasize to her regarding the passion of her work combined with the passion of your one man show?

Michael: I wouldn’t pitch it to her necessarily, I would thank her for giving me the language to express this fear and stigma – making your problems worse by not facing them. Dumbledore said ‘Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.’ Fear is such a powerful emotion, and lessens clarity. The ridiculous things I do with the characters in the show brings light to darkness. I just want to thank J.K. for allowing me – even though I never asked for permission [laughs] – to tackle some stigmas through her filter.

”John Michael & the Order of the Penix” runs on consecutive Saturdays, December 5th and 12th, 2015, at 10:30pm at the Mary-Arrchie Theatre at Angel Island – 735 W. Sheridan Road in Chicago. Admission is $7 at the door. Written and performed by John Michael. Directed by Grace Keller Scotch. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2015 Patrick McDonald,

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