woman being held up by three men
Performance Review

All of Life Itself Is Annie Hamilton's Stage

Kat Herriman: What is your preferred pre-performance ritual? 

Annie Hamilton: I try to acknowledge how I’m feeling that day, speak my thoughts out loud, be direct with myself about what’s bothering me—and then I try to pump myself up with confidence. I like pretending I’m Lou Reed. “How can I be brave like him? What does being fearless look like on stage?” Mostly I end up fist pumping and screaming, “PUNK ROCK!” But really, I like imagining that I’m a rock star. Sometimes the pretending injects me with so much false gratitude I want to call up everyone I know. That never works out. I end up making a lot of apologies if I pick up my phone.

KH: What's the relationship between you and your stage self?

AH: I’m figuring that out! Since my work is largely autobiographical, I find myself performing in my personal life for the sake of getting material for my work. I’ve always done things so that I can later tell the tale. I like living as if I don’t know where I’ll sleep at night (sometimes I don’t—though I stole this sentiment from Titanic). But I hope I eventually grow out of behaving impulsively and erratically “for the story.” It can be painful. In my own shows at the Jane, I want my presence to reflect how I am in real life: it would be really sweet if each audience member leaves feeling like they just sat down with me in private.

KH: How would you describe the role and responsibility of an audience?

AH: I can actually see the audience at the Jane, so I appreciate when they look like they’re into me. I do a better job if I feel like I’m loved. The less demanding answer would be to laugh with and at me, dammit.

woman sitting in bleachers
Annie Hamilton at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York.

KH: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve gotten for being on stage?

AH: I was making a podcast a year or so ago and I ended up completely abandoning it. I don’t listen to podcasts and I had no business making one. I basically used itas an excuse to contact my hero, Ethan Hawke. When I got word he’d come on, I screamed my head off on the roof of my friend’s mom’s apartment until the cops showed up. When it came time to record Mr. [Ethan] Hawke’s episode, I was scared shitless. Afterward I cried for days because he was everything I had hoped he would be. It would be a disservice to the world to not release the interview, because Ethan couldn’t have been more honest or insightful. He’s a truly singular thinker. Anyway, Ethan told me that bad reviews are a real come-to-Jesus moment: they remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. Especially reviews for stage performances, as the actor is forced to do it again the next night.

I tanked my first show at the Jane. And it sucked. I felt like a real schmuck and avoided everyone I know. I contemplated peeing in a leftover water bottle so that I wouldn’t have to face my roommates. All of these cool people came to the first show, and as soon as I looked into their eyes I assumed they were all against me. I didn’t want to do the next performance. I couldn’t bear failing again. But I remembered Ethan’s advice and used the bomb as an opportunity to figure out why the hell I want to perform and what the fuck it is that I want to say. I made myself face the questions I push away when I’m alone with myself. I ended up proud of the second show.

KH: What themes are you currently exploring and how can we expect to see them manifest in new work?

AH: Lately I’ve been interested in making something happen that’s real, that needs resolving. I’m trying to figure out different actions that can happen in real time on stage, so that both the audience and I can go through an experience together. I’m five months sober, and I thought that I’d take a year to kiss anyone again as my sponsor suggested might be best for my recovery. That didn’t work out, but I had thought it would be nice for my twelth show at the Jane to get kissed for the first time in a year in front of an audience.

I opened for the wonderful Lola Kirke at Brooklyn Made a few weeks ago. I’m not a stand-up and I’ve never opened for anybody, and I was petrified. I figured I’d make a bit of it: “I’m an awful guest, I always need to be the center of attention. Nobody should invite me to their parties cus I’ll ruin everything.” As I’d be talking about being a horrendous and selfish guest, I’d be kinda swaying back and forth. Crossing my legs and shit. Towards the end of the set, I thought I’d… piss myself. The gag was that I’m so desperate to stand out, I’d literally pee my pants to do it. I chickened out a day before because my mom said she wouldn’t pay my bail if I got arrested. So instead I talked about how I just learned how to have sex. That’s true: I’m 29 and I didn’t know it was possible to move my pelvis until a month ago. For 13 years I just put on makeup and then lay there, moaning.

I can’t say what I’m going to do next as I like part of the performance to be an unveiling of sorts, but also because I don’t quite figure out the show until a week out. I usually end up with three possible shows, and through writing three, a new one emerges. I like the saying that “the making of the movie is the movie.” Setting out to write a new show ends up becoming the show.