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In Character with Tom Sessa

A conversation with an interesting Portlander
by: Christopher Onstott

Tom Sessa manages the Aladdin Theater on Southeast Milwaukie Avenue. He's seen entertainers come and entertainers go. And one band that really did go.

Portland Tribune: How long have you been at the Aladdin?

Tom Sessa: Seventeen years. I started tearing tickets at the door and cleaning the place. Someone got sick working behind the concession stand. They didn't actually get sick working back there. They got sick and couldn't work.

Tribune: We'll be the judge of that. What was he selling back there?

Sessa: Pizza, popcorn, pretzels, beer, sodas.

Tribune: And you don't think he became sick on the job?

Sessa: A new owner took over (in 2001), and I took over as theater manager.

Tribune: Ah, so you weren't running the theater all those years when Portlanders would drive by and see the marquee advertising 'Deep Throat.'

Sessa: Every day for 14 years. It's actually in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest continuous run of a pornographic movie. We still have the film reels in the back for the movie. We're keeping them as a souvenir.

Tribune: What are you going to do with them?

Sessa: Me, personally? I'm not going to do anything with them.

Tribune: You're married, aren't you? What's the worst rock star behavior from an act you booked?

Sessa: We had a band that all defecated in the bathtub in their dressing room. The story was they were from a foreign country where there weren't a lot of toilets, just places you dig a hole and poop in the ground. It was someplace in Africa.

We had one gentleman put the top of his guitar through the proscenium wall on stage. It was part of the show. We had another who showed up an hour and a half late for her performance.

Tribune: Who was in charge of placating the crowd?

Sessa: That would have been me.

Tribune: Would have been or was?

Sessa: It was. We made a lot of announcements, gave away some free drinks for a while. We had to make some refunds. Most people stayed.

Tribune: Some performers have clauses in their contracts for specific requests.

Sessa: Oh, they all do. They have a rider.

Tribune: Give us the most unusual you've seen.

Sessa: Edible underwear. Handcuffs.

Tribune: Hold on. Edible underwear? I didn't know there was such a thing.

Sessa: You've obviously never been to Spartacus. It is just what it sounds like.

Tribune: What's it made of?

Sessa: Hopefully something good for you. Fiber. Lots of fiber.

One performer hates lasagna and had 'you cannot mention lasagna' language. 'You cannot cook lasagna, you cannot have pictures of lasagna, there can be no scent of lasagna in the backstage area or the auditorium.' This is written in his contract in several places. There's actually a box to highlight, 'There is no lasagna.'

Tribune: Does the Aladdin have a lasagna problem?

Sessa: No. Never. They don't even serve it next door in the restaurant. We were told by the manager that in other arenas lasagna is a very popular item backstage.

Tribune: Wildest crowd ever?

Sessa: The first time we did the Puppetry of the Penis show. It was a sold-out show, and it was all women. Puppetry of the Penis goes into the fine art of genital origami.

Tribune: Again, I don't know what you're talking about.

Sessa: The show consists of two men unclothed on stage and they twist and distort their genitals to make different shapes. It's comedy. The women were yelling and screaming and hooting and hollering.

Tribune: Are comics funny backstage?

Sessa: For the most part, no. The funniest person backstage has been Paula Poundstone.

Tribune: What did she say?

Sessa: I don't remember. After 17 years and 200 shows a year, it all just blends together.

Tribune: So in your mind, there's one big show where Paula Poundstone is nude, twisting body parts and rejecting lasagna?

Sessa: And a bunch of drunk guys are yelling and screaming.