Psychomike Battles The Name Callers
There has been a turn of late of moderators attacking my posts by simply declaring them to be lies and other defamations aimed at my character. While my anecdotes may seem impossible to believe, I decided to post this article about me that appeared in the Chicago Tribune. So when my veracity is called into question you can read this over and decide if its possible- I have the life experience and could be telling the truth.
Mike Flores puts improv technique to the acid test
By Robert K. Elder
Tribune staff reporter
May 19, 2004
If Mike Flores had a resume, which he doesn't, the "experience" portion would look something like this:
Movie director, scriptwriter, disc jockey, playwright, actor, improv comedy troupe leader, Vietnam War protester, underground journalist, hippie and founder and president of Chicago's Psychotronic Film Society.
This week, he's adding "improv dramatist" to the list with "The Acid Test 1966," a psychedelic ensemble theater piece performed by The Wrecking Crew, Flores' improv comedy troupe.
Film composer Mark Mothersbaugh, the former frontman of post-punk icons Devo, provides recorded music for Flores' loony vision, which takes its name from Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters' 1966 trip across the U.S. exposing the populace to psychedelic culture and LSD.
"I was fortunate enough to make friends years ago with an older, more mature [acid guru] Tim Leary," Mothersbaugh says. "Although my days of dropping acid had long been over, I associated the era with a lot of positive change and spontaneity. It always fit into my life in a positive way, and to create music for [Flores'] project -- it's a chance to work muscles that were already there."
From 1966 to 1967, Flores says, the whole country went through a major cultural shift. Students were protesting the war in Vietnam, "the pill" ushered in the era of free love, and politics became a powder keg sitting in the middle of many family dinner tables.
Flores, who turned his 43-week run of "Bettie Page Uncensored: The Unauthorized Story" at Lakeview's Playground Theater into an independent movie last year, says he wants to explore the significance of those few mid-'60s months.
"I'm interested in that moment when things began to change, and the versions I've seen of that moment so far [have been lacking]," he says.
"The stuff that's left over from the era really doesn't capture what happened to the people, what was on our minds and what started the ripple that would change society."
Flores' "The Acid Test 1966" revolves around a party and a sextet of youths from different walks of life. One character has run away from the home of her Navy officer father, which reflects Flores' own biography.
"All of the characters probably represent some part of me," concedes Flores, a frenetic, motor-lipped raconteur. "Many of the experiences the characters have, I had at some point."
Friction on home front
A former military brat, Flores was born in San Diego, then raised in Osaka, Japan, and Atlanta. He says he left home because of friction with his parents over Vietnam.
"I was being groomed for military school, then a second lieutenant [position] in Vietnam," he recalls.
The turning point came, he says, in 1966 when his father, a lifetime Navy man, was visited by a friend, just back from a tour of Vietnam. The visitor brought along a slideshow, Flores remembers.
"The first slide was of him on top of a pile of bodies and the second was guys with enemy ears strung around their necks," Flores says. "I think it was those slides that shook me up."
So, he left home, hitchhiked through 36 states looking like "a stalk of broccoli," rail-thin with a large Afro. He survived by writing for underground newspapers, and in 1971 got an offer from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in Chicago to write and organize demonstrations against the war. After the SDS gig ended, Flores hung around Chicago floating from job to job, watching bootlegged Japanese animation. In 1979, friend Del Close, legendary Second City personality and founder of the ImprovOlympic, turned him on to improv.
"I also got excited by what Del was trying to do with it," Flores says. "Del's vision was the long-form improv method could be used to create shows, movies, TV shows -- and then when you have something you feel comfortable with, you keep it."
From 1979 to 1985, the pair performed as "Pope Michael Flores and Rev. Del Close" on television, radio and nightclubs, Flores says.
Close died five years ago of complications from emphysema. People still misunderstand his long-form improv methods, Flores says, which is basically using improv to create characters and plots spontaneously, then honing the end result into a cohesive narrative structure.
"Unfortunately, it got labeled as an improv exercise and no one tried to carry it to the next step," Flores says. "The Acid Test 1966" is his attempt to demonstrate Close's vision.
"I liked the idea of characters creating themselves," Flores says. "I have a skeleton of where we're going, where the dance numbers come in, but everything else is created by the actors themselves."
George Dickson, 28, plays Wild Bill in the play, host of the "acid test." He says he joined The Wrecking Crew after answering Flores' ad in the theater magazine Performink.
"He's either crazy or a genius, or maybe both," Dickson says of Flores. "He has big plans and ideas and unorthodox methods. I like the freedom that he gives you. He's the only director I've had who shows up with a 12-pack of beer."
Championing cult movies
Flores hasn't had a day job in 10 years and spends most of his time working on plays, movies and projects with the Psychotronic Film Society, which champions cult movies. An Internet enthusiast, Flores showers his cast, friends and colleagues with multiple daily e-mails about new music, politics and conspiracy theories.
Starlet photos and autographs, including signed glossies of Sean Connery, Johnny Carson and Kate Moss, decorate an entire wall of the Rogers Park apartment he shares with wife Kat Southerland, "Acid Test's" executive producer.
In a gravelly voice with a vague Southern accent, Flores recounts the time he dropped acid with rocker Duane Allman, the time he dated actress Kim Cattrall (a signed cast photo of "Sex and the City" hangs on the wall), the time his wife proposed to him "over hot wings at Hooters" and the tale of turning 16 in a New Mexico jail -- all stories his cast has heard, some more than once.
"He has a story for everything; he's done just about everything," says Kai Collins, 27, an Uma Thurman lookalike who plays free spirit Eve in the show.
During their first, hour-long, phone conversation, Collins remembers, "I doodle when I talk on the phone, so when we were done talking, I had about 10 pages and at the bottom, I wrote, `This guy is totally nuts.'" Collins has since, affectionately, upgraded her assessment of Flores to "functionally insane."
Ever the non-conformist, Flores isn't moving his production into traditional venues.
"I'm moving it into nightclubs, movie houses, art galleries -- places where people don't expect to see improv anything," Flores says. "We do shows like a rock group."Part of the reason is the form of the show. There's no stage, and audiences are encouraged to mingle and interact with the characters at "the party." Non-traditional venues also have economic benefits.
"Theater people wait for the critic to show up," Flores says. "Then they hope it's a good review and they hope they can sell enough tickets to at least cover the rent. This is unacceptable for me. If I did that, I'd have to take a job."
He is convinced Chicagoans want to see something new.
"There's about 200 theaters and about 700 theater groups in Chicago and they all pretty much battle for the same 2,500 people. So they end up running for four weeks, six weeks. They spend a year developing a show, they don't have a chance of getting back any of what they've invested," Flores says. "My shows tend to run so long -- they've gone 33 weeks to a year and a half. They appeal to people who are experience-oriented. They want to experience something new, want to feel like they are involved in something exciting."
Connection to the fringe
Mothersbaugh says this passionate point of view helped draw him to the project.
"I've always been connected, through Devo, to the more interesting fringe artists, so I meet a lot of madmen and really talented visionaries," Mothersbaugh says. "I think of [Flores] as somebody who is very enthusiastic about . . . all the little bits of shrapnel that influence and make up culture."
The pair had tried to team up before, but something always got in the way, Flores says. "But when I told him I was going to basically re-create an acid trip [in the performance], his reaction was immediate. He volunteered to do the music."
Flores wants to take the experience from "The Acid Test 1966" and create an unrelated improv indie movie. There are also plans in June to do a comedy concept CD with The Wrecking Crew, produced by Joe Cassidy of local band Assassins.
"I call myself an entertainer, as opposed to being a theater person. I don't hang out at actor bars, I don't talk about the family of theater," Flores says. "I'm easy to miss in the theater community until you look in the paper and say, `Damn, that show is still running?'"