West Michigan entertainers Philip and Sarah Jean Anderson love the stage so much that they scripted their April 2009 wedding to resemble a theatrical comedy.
"Dan was in character the entire time," Phil said. "Even after the ceremony, he pretended he was dead."
After the swordfight, and right as the two were about to tie the knot, noted cross-dresser Jasinya Sanchez objected to the marriage. She tried to seduce Phil, but Sarah attempted to convince her otherwise.
"I traded her a piece of pizza for Phil," Sarah said.
The theatrics didn't end there. Cassie Truskowski — aka Miss Pussykatt — did an aerial performance, and entertainment entrepreneur Corey Ruffin did a roast of the Anderson's wedding party.
The wedding is an example of the perpetually happy couple's need to entertain each other and everyone around them. Every word, sentence, question or statement that comes out of Sarah's mouth is an exclamation. And Phil is more than willing to perform magic tricks when prompted, especially when Sarah says things like, "Put a cigarette through your face!"
Interviewing them was an act of audience participation. I was shown three magic tricks, learned the secret to a certain "street" magician's levitation trick, discovered we all have a fascination with Lady GaGa, and felt similarities to Paul Rudd and Jason Segel's characters in I Love You, Man. That's the way the couple makes someone feel: happy, welcome, and like they've discovered their new best friends.
"Everything [they do] is entertaining. I can't keep my eyes off of them," said Jonathan Payne, who works at Diversions, the night club where the Andersons host an amateur cabaret night.
Entertaining is the couple's primary source of income. On top of their weekly gig at Diversions, they are actors for The Murder Mystery Company and performers in the Super Happy Funtime Burlesque (SHFT) show, which provides them with their "fun money." They also work the door at Dr. Sketchy's Anti Art School and are in the band The Chinese People.
One of the first things I noticed was that instead of wedding rings, Philip and Sarah Jean have matching tattoos on their ring fingers, which they had done after the wedding. The tattoos depict a Claddagh — a bright red heart, with a yellow crown floating above it — in honor of Phil's Irish heritage.
The reason for the "rings" didn't come strictly from originality, it came from necessity. They're poor. They chose the tattoos because they cost $60 each, and they could never lose them.
Sarah has a plan for additional marital tattoos.
"I want Phil to get ‘Sarah' tattooed on his hand in case [it] ever gets too close to another woman's breast," she said. Plus, she adds, "my name backwards is ‘haras'!"
Like the tattoos, Phil took the nontraditional route and took Sarah's last name. He says he has never met his Japanese father and has no connection to his Irish mother. Plus, he says, "my name is ‘Baba.' I wouldn't subject her to that. Sarah Jean Baba?"
The Andersons are just like any other newlyweds: they can't stay away from — or off of — each other ("We're not co-dependent, we just prefer to be together," says Sarah). Unlike most newlyweds, they are an entertainment tour de force.
Phil got into entertainment in college because he found out he could amuse people at parties. From that revelation, Phil took his childhood interest of magic and built on it more seriously. He learned all the secrets of brand-name magicians such as David Blaine and Criss Angel, and that the magic community has a distaste for magicians-turned-celebrities. When he's learning a new magic routine, it's Sarah who helps him perfect it. Phil calls her his "magic guinea pig."
"We'll be together forever, so I'm sure magic will be ruined for me," Sarah said.
Sarah got accustomed to the stage when she started doing poetry open mic nights five years ago.
"All the poetry was stupid and I hated it," she said.
As a result, she created her own style of poetry that she called "Faux-etry," which Sarah describes as "acting really serious while performing poems that mean nothing."
From there, Sarah played bass in a band. Being onstage that helped her to get comfortable performing in front of people. She then started crafting stage characters and soon became an original cast member of the Super Happy Funtime Burlesque show in 2005, where her role was to strip and tell jokes onstage.
The two performers met three years ago when Phil joined the SHFT cast as its magician. His skits showcased him swallowing razor blades and improvising with Sarah.
"I knew about [Sarah] before I met her," Phil recalls. "I saw her on YouTube dressed as a dude and thought she was hilarious."
At the time, Phil was in a nine-year relationship and Sarah was in a nine-month relationship, but the two soon found out they had serious chemistry on and off stage. Phil started writing make-out scenes into his skit so he could get touchy-feely with Sarah.
"All I knew was that I wanted to swallow razor blades, and I wanted to make out with Sarah," he said of his magic act.
A few make-out skits later, Phil broke up with his girlfriend, Sarah broke up with her boyfriend, and the two performers were making out offstage as well as onstage.
The pair continued to perform together as their relationship grew. They played the title characters in Falicki's indie film Rita and Velvet Dan Save the World, continued to perform in the burlesque show, as well as improv shows at Dog Story Theatre and one-woman shows by Sarah — where Phil proposed. Kind of.
"I actually had two false proposals," Phil said. "The first was at our improv show. It looked like I was going to ... [and instead of proposing], I started playing with her boobs and making noises."
The second one was at Sarah's first one-woman show. Phil brought a bottle of champagne and gave a speech, to which he says, "people started welling up." Then he ended the speech with a pop of the champagne, and no proposal. Sarah did the same show two weeks later and Phil did the same thing.
"She cut me off because she wanted a drink, and I said, ‘Wait...'" Phil said.
That time the proposal was the real deal.
Not only did Phil and Sarah get hitched last year, but the couple had their biggest year to date, with 183 shows. They are looking to break that record in 2010.
"We had the highest year ever, [because of] them," said Scott Cramton, who hired the Andersons for his multi-state Murder Mystery Company. "I don't let a show go by where they're not in it. They have the fastest turnaround for [customer] reviews."
Cramton met the couple in March 2009 when they came in for auditions. Sarah and Phil have done 40 shows with the company since then.
"They don't take themselves seriously," Cramton said. "They're incredibly confident."
Sarah also holds a part-time job at T.J. Maxx, so she has something to fall back on in case the gigs stop coming in. Her hours away from home — about four per week — are difficult for Phil, as that is the most time the couple spends away from each other each week.
"I sit and pine while Sarah's working," Phil said in a manner that was cheesy, but sincere.
That's how the Andersons operate. Their actions are over-the-top and bit cheesy, but underneath the theatrics, they are just your average lovey-dovey married couple.
When talking about their life as husband and wife, the two agree their relationship hasn't changed since they got hitched.
"Nothing should change except a name and legality," Phil said.
Their marriage works because "we're totally enthralled with each other, we're very happy people, we have the same sense of humor, we laugh at the same stupid jokes," Phil said. "And I'm hopelessly devoted to her."
And that time, he was completely sincere.
Sarah Jean and Philip Anderson's Guide to Eternal Marital Bliss
Limit drunk-dialing your ex-boyfriends and former professors to nights and weekends, when it's free and you can't afford not to do it.
Savor the moments immediately following your Big Day, when everything is fresh and exciting. For instance, when opening your piles of wedding gifts together, remember that you will never be that excited about a new toilet brush ever again (hopefully).
Once a week, choose a new drug and do it together! Variety is the... I forgot where I was going with that.
Include your spouse in everything you do so that he/she/it feels important in your life. Also, offer lots of encouragement, even if it is fake (i.e. Great job with this one, Philly-Bear! You are just so smart!).
Weekly showering can really spice up your sex life!
Making a good impression on your in-laws is important. Try not reminding your father-in-law that you are "so gonna hit that" after dinner (unless he asks).
Laugh together all of the time, no matter what. If nothing's funny, try tripping old people outside the library. A classic never dies!
Doing the dishes is never not sexy.
Go see The Andersons
Feb. 3, 10, 17, 24
Diversions, Grand Rapids
Photo by Terry Johnston