automedia

by Gareth Branwyn

No matter which cable access channel you punch up—anywhere, any hour—you're likely to see some sweaty host surrounded by cheap Scandinavian furniture and fake plants stumbling through a tired TV talk-show fantasy. "Booknook," "Young Republicans Tonight," "The Greenpeace Show," or "Hilda's Sewing Circle." It almost doesn't matter what the subject is, the scene is painfully universal, screaming out, "Change the channel, change the channel!"

Cable TV in Arlington, Virginia (home of the Pentagon, several army bases, and more defense contractors than you can shake a Star Wars program at), is about as dull as "community" TV gets...with one exception. Several times a month, local artists, musicians, authors, actors, and garden variety eccentrics get into their PJs and lingerie and climb into bed together to create Channel 33's "Slumber Party." No, it's not a televised orgy...it's not that interesting. "Slumber Party" is just a late-night-in-the-group-house chat and jam session taped at the Arlington Community TV studios at the George Mason University Law School. (The college just loves having weird people padding around the hallways in their nighties and bedroom slippers). And, just like an impromptu gathering on your housemate's bed at two in the morning, some of the shows are fun, wild, and erudite whereas others will quickly cure you of insomnia. No rehearsing. No second takes. No intro or outro. When everyone's suitably jammied and propped up in bed, the cameras start rollin' and folks start talkin'.

"Slumber Party" was dreamt up by Hap Heubusch, a musician and fan of the arts who got tired of seeing local artists and musicians not getting the respect and exposure they deserve. He talked friend and fellow musician Miles Anderson into being one of the show's hosts. Current co-host Lucy Symons, a local actress, came on board in 1992.

"Slumber Party" has grown from Hap's one-man after-hours hobby into a small TV-production collective. "It's become a big, wonderful family," enthuses Lucy. "We've had the same crew now for two years. We even hang out together, going to see music, performances, or whatever." Having a larger pool of people involved has relieved Hap of the burden of having to do all the shows. Now there's a team of alternating producers.

The sleepy-time trappings of Slumber Party create a playful, sometimes erotically charged, atmosphere. A few guests have been taken aback when they've realized that the show really does take place in a bed, with guests in their sleepwear. "I have more lingerie than any women in the Western world!" proclaims Symons. The hosts and producers have found that putting everybody in their PJs levels the playing field. "It's a good way of selecting out people for the show." says Miles. "If you're too uptight to get in your pajamas and climb into bed with strangers, you probably take yourself too seriously to be on our show."

Even when the conversations on "Slumber Party" get too goofy or dull, the unpredictable dynamics of the weekly bed-in are fascinating to watch. And, true to Heubusch's original vision, the show has become an important watering hole for D.C.-area artists and musicians. Future plans for the show include trying to get it bicycled to more cable access channels and getting it funded. Right now, Hap and the other producers pay for the production out of their own pockets, with two episodes (taped back-to-back) costing about $160.

And what sort of boho spectacular can the federal work force of Arlington witness on "Slumber Party?" Recent shows have featured an awful Elvis impersonator, a Marxist rock band, winner of the Thelonious Monk Jazz contest, members of D.C.'s building deconstruction collective, Art Attack! some tearfully bad beat poets, and an in-studio camp-out with an anonymous band playing inside a glowing dome tent. Hey, it's not high art, but it sure beats watching "The Bridal Call of Christ" or "LaRouche Connection."   </end>

Up Talk!