After 17 years, Capitol Hill’s Spin the Bottle monthly variety show will continue with new chief spinner

Spin the Bottle founder and long-time curator Bret Fetzer reading at one of the monthly variety shows at Annex Theatre (Image: Ian Johnson)

After 17 years of bringing eclectic lineups to late-night Seattle stages every month without fail — *usually* on first Fridays — Spin the Bottle founder Bret Fetzer is getting ready to turn over the city’s longest running cabaret to a new producer and primary curator. And to someone “younger and hungrier,” he wrote in an email to CHS.

Citing above all a need for more time to spend with his family, along with a few thoughts on the show’s vitality, Fetzer told CHS he will be fully ‘handing over control of the steering wheel’ of Annex Theatre‘s variety show to Catherine Blake Smith in January of next year. Fetzer and Smith have already started working on the show together, he wrote, and Fetzer says he may still be somewhat involved after Smith takes over the lead role.

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Catherine Blake Smith, who will take over as producer and primary curator of Spin the Bottle in January of 2015.

Smith is a production director at Annex, and says she’s been a fan of Spin the Bottle since she saw the show for the first time in January of 2011. “I have attended nearly every single night since then, and stage managed a few, and curated one,” she wrote to CHS in an email. “I am overjoyed with the opportunity to take over Spin the Bottle come January 2015,” she wrote. “I will be stepping into very big and stylish shoes, care of Bret Fetzer.”

In addition to being the founder and longtime producer behind Spin the Bottle, Fetzer is currently Annex’s marketing director.

Spin the Bottle has been presenting artists and audiences alike a chance to take some risks since 1997. That’s when Fetzer started the show in Annex’s original space on 4th Ave in Belltown. The shows almost always include theater, film, music, spoken word and dance, and have also involved performance pieces, puppetry, fairy tales, and no shortage of other mediums over the years.

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A group of students from Tacoma perform “The Tater Tot Play” at Spin the Bottle. (Image: Ian Johnston)

“I encourage writers and songwriters that I like to try out new things, things they aren’t sure are going to work,” Fetzer wrote about his production process. “Then, to balance the evening, I get stuff I’ve seen and know is good, so that there’s some dependably enjoyable art happening,” he wrote. He also noted that each show traditionally ends with material that’s a bit more, well, bawdy.

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“Paul Gude and Ben Laurance are regular performers at Spin the Bottle, sometimes doing music, sometimes doing film, sometimes doing strange inexplicable performance pieces,” Fetzer wrote. (Image: Ian Johnston)

Despite the freewheeling reputation Spin the Bottle has already gained with Fetzer at the wheel these past 17 years — Lonely Planet for one calls it “a riot of comedy, music and variety” — the show’s founder says he expects Smith to come in and shake things up a bit.

“I’m excited to see what Catherine does with it — new blood, new perspectives, new experiments,” Fetzer wrote.

“I’ve been a little on cruise control for a while now, and the shows have been consistent, flush with strong performers of all stripes — but if anything, too consistent,” Fetzer wrote. “Spin the Bottle thrives on taking chances, and I’ve pretty much been resting on a steady formula. So it’s really time for a new person, and Catherine is smart, engaged, and has a whole world of connections that are different from mine.”

Jenna Bean Veatch, in the middle of a performance piece at Spin the Bottle. (Image: Ian Johnston)

Since the beginning of this year, Fetzer has been bringing in guest curators including local actors and other theater folks, seemingly already beginning to step out of his role with the cabaret he founded. Fetzer got married just over a year ago and has step-kids in his life now as well, making the time he has to devote to Spin the Bottle more scarce, he said.

The August show is being guest-curated by Brett Love, who last December The Stranger called “Seattle’s most ardent theater goer” in their interview with the self-professed “IT guy from the Eastside.” The August show will be hosted by Hattie Hellcat and Woody Schticks of the burlesque troupe The Libertinis. The lineup features solo storytelling by Sara Porkalob, “high-end hula-hooping” by Annie Boitano and a dance film by Molly Sides. A written work by Scot Augustson, performed by Lisa Viertel, will close the evening.

While Spin the Bottle traditionally takes place the first Friday of every month, this upcoming edition was shifted to Saturday, August 2, to give more space for the Friday-night opening of “Balconies,” written and directed by Scotto Moore, at Annex. Nudged back a night or not, however, and despite its many moves to different venues around the city over its lifespan, Spin the Bottle has remarkably not missed a single month since it was first produced in 1997, Fetzer said.

Marissa Rae Niederhauser preparing to start a dance piece at Spin the Bottle. (Image: Ian Johnston)

Artists who have benefited from Spin the Bottle’s call for experimentation include the members of band/performance art project “Awesome” such as guitarist John Osebold. The show acted as the “crucible” for the formation of the group, Fetzer wrote.

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John Osebold of the band “Awesome” and sketch comedy group The Habit. (Image: Truman Buffet)

“Spin the Bottle has been the best testing ground for me since 1999,” Osebold wrote in an email to CHS. “My sketch comedy group The Habit did first drafts of sketches there. “Awesome” had its first gig there. I’ve met some really great lovely people there. Bret, Bruce Hall, and co. were so generous as to invite me back a number of times. Having a late-night crowd to bounce ideas off is invaluable.”

Annex has been on Capitol Hill since 2001, when the theater did its first production after leaving Belltown at Richard Hugo House next to Cal Anderson Park. Through the early 2000’s, the Spin the Bottle show was hosted at various venues including spaces in E Pine’s Odd Fellows Hall, and a nomadic range of spaces around the city as far flung Fremont, before landing in what was then Capitol Hill Arts Center — now Velocity Dance Center — in 2005. When Annex moved in the the space at 11th and Pike in 2007, Spin the Bottle moved with it, and has been hosted at Annex’s in-house theater since then.

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Bruce Hall has been a host of Spin the Bottle since the show started in 1997 — he now alternates hosting duties every other month. (Image: Ian Johnston)

The Hill has definitely changed since Annex and Spin the Bottle moved to the neighborhood, and Fetzer says he thinks it is now less welcoming to the brand of “rough, raw, trying-out-new-things theater” that Annex does, as exemplified by Spin the Bottle. However, he is not concerned about the show’s future.

The show typically brings in audiences ranging from sell-out crowds to half-full houses to Annex’s 99-seat theater, interest strong enough to keep Spin the Bottle going with no end in sight, Fetzer says. “There have always been talented performers eager for a place to present their work, and there’s always been an audience that gets excited by that new and untested work,” he wrote. “Enough people keep coming back that there’s always a reason to do it.”

You can learn more about Spin the Bottle and buy tickets in advance on Annex Theatre’s website here, and can check out the show’s Facebook page here.

7 thoughts on “After 17 years, Capitol Hill’s Spin the Bottle monthly variety show will continue with new chief spinner

  1. Terrific write-up, but just a couple of picayune spelling quibbles:

    1. Annex TheatRE
    2. Lisa VierteL – (if you saw her in Mr.Augustson’s profanely hilarious late-night series “Penguins” from a few years back, you’ll know what to expect – at least somewhat!)

    Seriously, if you’re looking for some late evening entertainment on your weekend, or just need a brief respite from the Pike-Pine Street Carnival, come on up! Full bar available & we take credit cards!

  2. It is important to note the inception of Spin the Bottle at Annex which was an actual game of spin the bottle in which the early members all needed an excuse to passionately make out with one another.
    No regrets,
    Jillian

  3. Pingback: Its summertime, but the livin’ ain’t easy | catherine blake smith

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