Enter The Wheel

Tom Tom Crew is, from the looks of their website, a hip-hop flavored circus troupe originating from Australia, that den of murderers, rapists, and thieves that lies adjacent to the place where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed, where everything is upside down and roaming gangs of wallabies rule the streets. Tom Tom Crew’s website bills them as the future of Australian circus, a claim I can neither confirm nor deny, knowing as I do, absolutely nothing about Australian circus [Editor’s Note: or Australia for that matter]. What I can say is that they possess something called The Wheel, an ominous contraption consisting of a metal frame which holds a number of plastic vessels.

Into this insidious device, it seems that the Tom Tom Crew places a single percussionist. Where they come from, I can only guess. Perhaps they are merely street performers, shanghaied from the city squares and subway stations they usually occupy. Regardless of their origins, these poor individuals are forced to drum, seemingly for their very lives within the confines of The Wheel. Who can say how many of these performers perished in their attempts to conquer The Wheel before Ben Walsh. Possessing a skill that could only have been born from sheer terror, Walsh attacks the walls of his prison with astounding gusto and an effortlessness that belies the horrific reality.

It’s thrilling to watch, this battle for survival, hearkening back to the days of the Colosseum, when men lived and died for the entertainment of the masses. I pray the gods have mercy on Ben Walsh should he ever stop drumming. Certainly, The Wheel shall show none.

Better Than Coffee: Reggie Watts

photo by Daniel Boud

“Reggie Watts is a most unusual talent: a huge vocal range, a natural musicality, and a sidesplitting wit. Is he a comedian? A singer? A performance artist? I’ve seen him a few times since then and I still can’t decide. Whatever, he ain’t like nobody else.” – Brian Eno

“There’s no one out there like Reggie Watts. Reggie covers everything from ancient history and racism to pop-culture, in a heady mix of improvised music, comedy and social insight. This guy has to be seen to be believed.” –Time Out London

“Sharp, wry and elusive … Reggie moves seamlessly from skits to songs to off-kilter stand-up, while talking in a subway train full of accents.” – New York Times


NYC, East Village, 2004: a sharp-tongued, bright-eyed comedic musical improv Situationist ninja named Reggie Watts began performing at Eugene Mirman‘s standup night at club Rififi. Beyond the close knit downtown outre NYC standup scene, or the Seattle music scene (where Watts lived in the 90s, performing in all manner of bands), few seemed to know too much about Watts at the time. Thank FUCK that’s changed. These days, the beatboxing Line 6 DL4 wizard is going viral online, opening for Coco, turning up on late night talk shows, winning awards, arranging avant-garde museum gigs, and touring his thoughtful, practiced, fully-actualized, genre-obliterating oddness all over the world. His latest album, Why Shit So Crazy?! drops on May 18th. Many more clips after the jump. Also see:

Selene Luna: Born to Be Alive

Photo by Tim Palen. (Patti LaBelle, eat yer heart out!)

Selene Luna, our lovely and amazing Issue 02 cover girl, just announced her new one-woman show, Born to Be Alive, which will be running at the Davidson/Valentini Theatre from May 28-June 27. Written by John T. Stapleton and Selene Luna, and directed by Derick Lasalla, Born to Be Alive sounds like Luna’s most ambitious solo project yet. From the press release:

Selene Luna’s story is unlike anything being presented on stage today. The diminutive actress/writer/burlesque artist/stand-up comic/fashion model/activist has faced more obstacles than most as a woman born a little person who emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. with her family when she was just three years old. Confronting and overcoming multiple levels of discrimination, the Logo Award nominee has become one of the hottest members of Hollywood’s “eccentric artist community” and has crossed over into mainstream film, television, theatre and the print fashion world.

Aspects of Luna’s improbable odyssey have been explored in her previous plays, but Born to Be Alive is different. “I’ve evolved so much as a writer and performer,” Luna explains, “and I’ve also become much more willing to be open and vulnerable. This will be my most honest show ever, as well as my happiest and funniest.” It’s also the first time she’s had the support of a director (Derick LaSalla) and production team. The luxury of focusing exclusively on the creative elements of the show gives Luna the ability to go places she’s never touched before.

photo by Matthew Cope

Tickets available here, and more info here. Net proceeds from the production will benefit the Center’s broad array of services for the LGBT community.

Saturday Night Fan Dancer Zen with Nasty Canasta

Via Jo Weldon‘s fascinating Formspring page comes this lo-fi snippet of Dada neo-burlesque, courtesy of the cheekily brilliant “reigning Cheese Queen of Coney Island” a.k.a. “The Girl With The 44DD Brain”, Miz Nasty Canasta:

(NSFW, and if hysterical cackling and/or car alarms set your teeth on edge, better skip it.)

The Brooklyn-based Canasta, who’s an inveterate pop culture geek, first came to my attention when io9 covered one of her gigs as a co-producer and performer in the whip-smart Pinchbottom Burlesque, which regularly features theatrical nudie shows based on sci fi to Biblical to classical literary references from Doctor Who to Dickens to Star Trek. Whenever she takes the stage, Canasta strives to “create a dazzling spectacle of perplexing proportions.”

Perplexing to say the least! And irreverent, and sexy, and hilarious. If you think the car alarm steez is outre, wait until you get a load of her signature Groucho routine! (For the sake of our darling worker bee readers, it’s after the jump.)

Harry Crosby’s Black Sun

Harry Crosby and unidentified woman, Four Arts Ball, Paris

“Yet it was precisely in his character … to invest all his loyalty and energy in magic: at first the approved magic of established religion; later the witchwork of poetry and sun worship; finally the black mass of violence” -Geoffrey Wolf, Author of Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby

Harry Crosby – self indulgent socialite, tortured poet, wealthy mystic …. a playboy who lived his life with reckless abandon – was a man both adored and reviled. He has been described by some as “a representative figure of the so-called Lost Generation”, the bohemian 1920s.

A godson of J.P. Morgan Jr., Harry was a Harvard graduate and a decorated war veteran, who had left school to become an ambulance driver in France with his upper-crust chums during World War I. He ended up with the Croix de Guerre for valor and, after a few frustrating years back in Boston, fled to Paris for the rest of his short life. Married in 1922 to Mary Phelps Jacob, known as “Caresse”, they lived the “ultimate Bohemian lives as poets, artists, and patrons in Paris in the 1920’s. To every adventure their answer was always ‘yes’.” Harry once sent a telegram from Paris to his father, the quintessential sober, patriarch, which read, “Please sell $10,000 worth in stock. We intend to live a mad and extravagant life.”

While living and writing in Paris Harry Crosby founded The Black Sun Press, one of the “finest small presses of the twentieth century”.   In 1924, the Crosbys went public with their first book. The following year, they each published their first collections of verse. Harry commissioned Alastair – a “spectacularly camp” German creator of beautifully decadent and Gothic fantasies – to illustrate his second collection, Red Skeletons.  Soon they were issuing works by other writers, including Poe, James, Wilde, Joyce and D. H. Lawrence.

Color plate from Red Skeletons, by artist Alastair

On December 10, 1929, Harry was found in bed with a .25 caliber bullet hole in his right temple next to his mistress, the newly married Josephine Bigelow who had a matching hole in her left temple, in an apparent suicide pact. Harry’s toenails were painted red and strange symbols were tattooed between his shoulder blades and on the soles of his feet. A lover of dark mysteries to the last, he left no suicide note. London’s Daily Mirror speculated on psychological motives, while New York’s Daily News blamed poetry and passion: “Death itself had been the motive, others speculated, just as aspiring poet Harry’s life had been his greatest artwork.”

Coilhouse recently caught up with Erik Rodgers, founder of String and a Can Productions, and director of The Black Sun: The Life and Death of Harry Crosby, who provides his own insight into Harry Crosby’s strange, short life and speaks to what makes the man such a fascinating study.

Coilhouse: How did you come to decide Harry Crosby might make good material for a play – what it was about him or his life that inspired you, or what aspect of him you were hoping to shed more light on? How did you come across him to begin with?

Erik Rodgers: I actually came upon Caresse first, while developing a project on Salvador Dalí.  [My business partner] was intrigued by the idea of such an accomplished and independent female from that era, and started researching her life.   Of course as soon as she began reading about Caresse, she discovered Harry as well.  Their story captured her imagination, and she began relating to me some of the details as she read them. We both felt there was something vital and overlooked in their story, something that had been obscured by all the scandal and negative criticism.

Getting Out of Bed with Richard Foreman

Film courtesy of Syndicate of Human Image Traffickers

Storytelling is, among other things, the art of regulating the flow of information shared with an audience. Playwright Richard Foreman is a foremost master of this art, withholding much that makes our world familiar and meaningful.  In his plays, we are thrust into a room – perhaps suggestive of the human psyche – where information circulates without context, and language often appears to lose its capacity to bear information or even conjure words.  Characters inhabit situations and events transpire, but usually without the problem resolution endemic to most fiction.  Ultimately, we never know whether what we have witnessed is satirical, psychological, resolutely absurdist, or somehow all three concurrently.  Enduring such a bewildering circumstance, the audience is challenged to find or impose order and meaning – never knowing which they are doing.  As you may well imagine, this is not easy art.  It may leave the theatergoer uneasy – even queasy – amid buzzers, flashing lights, warped music, and the voice of un-reason.  One may even wonder whether it’s akin to what Jeremy Bentham said of natural rights: “nonsense upon stilts.”  If, however, the official tastemakers are to be believed, this is theatre operating at a high degree of abstraction, offering sly humor and curious insight into our social and inner worlds.

Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theater made its debut in 1968 – a year redolent with meaning for alternative culture – and his plays have been a mainstay of the weird and wonderful (and wise?) ever since.  He has written, directed, and designed more than fifty plays, received five “OBIE” (Off-Broadway) Awards for Best Play of the Year, the Literature Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, a Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN Club Master American Dramatist Award, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, was elected officer of the Order of Arts and Letters of France, and his direction of the 50th anniversary production of The Threepenny Opera was nominated for both T.O.N.Y. and Grammy Awards.

Foreman directs at Tanglewood, 1968.

For nearly 20 years Foreman has launched his plays from a little theater on the grounds of the historic St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in New York City’s East Village.  For those of us for whom an annual trek to Foreman’s demented dimension provides regular respite from worlds we are otherwise doomed to inhabit, I bear bad news: this year’s play is slated to be his last.  And for those new to Foreman, or without the ability to see one of his plays in New York or when they tour Paris or Los Angeles or Berlin, there is good news: he will now be turning his prodigious talents exclusively to film making.

A blinkered guest in Foreman’s book, art, and technology engorged SOHO loft – one of the original lofts designed by George Maciunas – I feebly tossed feeble questions before the “Genius” himself.  Despite his telling me that he “didn’t like people,” Foreman was a good sport, ruminating on whether alternative- and counter-cultures have futures, the keys to a vital art scene and to becoming an artist, the meta-politics of theatre, and his mystical yearnings.  Alas, I still don’t understand why existentialists get out of bed in the morning.  The Syndicate of Human Image Traffickers maintained surveillance (see above) and the remainder was captured by my electro-ear (see below).

COILHOUSE: What first brought you to lower Manhattan?
RICHARD FOREMAN: I moved to lower Manhattan because, in the middle 1960s, I got friendly with Jonas Mekas, who was head of the underground film movement, and a close friend of his was George Maciunas, who was the head of Fluxus.  At a certain point, George made his art setting up artists’ coops.  It was totally illegal.  I was coming down all the time to look at underground films.  At one point, I told George that I was ready to take the risk and move downtown, and he got ten people to buy a building together.  Starving artists did all the work of converting the manufacturing lofts into living lofts.  I was going to films Jonas was showing all the time and, at one point, I dared to tell him that I was writing plays. I showed him a play. He allowed me to show it at his theater when the fire department closed it after they said that he didn’t have a proper license to show films, since it was a play.

Photo via Real Time Arts.

Redmoon’s Curious Cabinet

Photo by Sean Williams, 2005 production.

Why don’t ALL puppeteers wear monocles and do acrobatics while performing? That was my first thought while watching Redmoon Theater’s latest marvel, The Cabinet. As the show begins, the audience is faced with a wall sized wooden cabinet, its face riddled with oddly shaped drawers and compartments. Suddenly, a door slams open and gloved hands slide a gramophone out from behind a curtain. More doors open to reveal a darkened stage. Then, as if through the hissing and static of an ancient recording, the voice of the protagonist begins to tell his tale, the story of an unwittingly murderous somnambulist.

Photo by Ryan Bourque, 2010 production.

Coilhouse being what it is, I have the feeling that at least a few of you are already familiar with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the 1919 silent film that inspired Redmoon’s production. It is a story with as many layers as a matryoshka doll, but on the surface, it tells the tale of a hapless somnambulist (Cesare) who falls into the clutches of a nefarious doctor (Dr. Caligari) who uses the young man as a pawn in his murderous schemes. Ultimately, we discover that the story we have just been told was the delusion of a man in an asylum, trapped within his own mind– a dream within a dream.

Photo by Sean Williams, 2005 production.

Jack Terricloth is Alive and at Large in Gotham

Film courtesy of Syndicate of Human Image Traffickers.

Many of us across the Coilhouse nation dream of becoming full-time artists, and some of us actually become so, but few follow our vision as fearlessly as Jack Terricloth.  Jack never learned any marketable skill like speed typing or graphic design or computer programming.  He’s never had a “Plan B” of any kind whatsoever.  He just jumped out his window and – wooosh! – he started flying.  While most of us were in college, Jack was a full-time punk rocker. In fact, he never even bothered to graduate from high school. What would cause an abundantly gifted, middle class kid from a stable family to behave so recklessly? Why wasn’t he disciplined by a fear of falling through the social safety net?

While our current global economic bust forecloses conventional career options for many of us, it’s also an opportunity to change consumption patterns and general complicity with an economic order that is clearly unsustainable in the long run. Will the economic downturn lead more people to unconventional lives or will it make us ever more desperate to fit into the economic system? Will global recession be good news for the planet and for making art? Is this the best time to follow Timothy Leary’s advice: “Turn on, tune in, drop out”?  Likewise, as file sharing rings the death knell of the music industry, will we see less mass-orchestrated pop sensations? Will musicians be more inclined to self-expression and artistic exploration once they no longer have the temptation to sell out?

jack terricloth on the beach in spain
Jack on the beach in Spain. Photo courtesy of the World/Inferno.

I first met our man o’ cloth way back in 1991, while I was working at Reconstruction Records, an all-volunteer punk record store in New York’s East Village. Back then, Jack was a snot-nosed teenager living under an assumed name with more than assumed parents in suburban New Jersey and fronted the band, Sticks and Stones. With Jack at the helm, Sticks and Stones restlessly explored new musical terrain – hardcore, punk, goth, techno, pop – until 1995, when his bandmates told him that they would go no further.  Undeterred, Jack started the current cabaret revival by assembling the World/Inferno Friendship Society.  The World/Inferno has since also explored a smattering of Northern Soul, pop, klezmer, and African-American spirituals. Now, several albums and scores of tours later, the World/Inferno has embarked in a more ambitious direction. They have integrated theater into their live performance in a production titled: Addicted to Bad Ideas: Peter Lorre’s Twentieth Century. Doubtless, their tour will inspire some imitators, but there ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.

Dramatic Reading of a Real Break-Up Letter

Is it just me, or is today full of uncertainty and hormonal angst? It’s probably just me. I hope it’s just me. But surely, we could all still use a good laugh. Here’s an OBG (Oldie But Goodie) that never fails to bring on schadenfreude-laced tears of hysterical laughter:

Via Kevin, thanks. Click here to see the letter itself embiggened.

See also:

Lost Marvels of Revolution-Era Russian Theater

Some excellent detective work by Ghoul Next Door has uncovered the origins of this 101-year-old photo. The stunning image was brought to our attention by guest blogger Angeliska, who writes, “I’ve become totally obsessed with this carte de visite depicting Maria Germanova of the Moscow Arts Theatre, costumed for her role [as the fairy] in Blue Bird. She is my perfect style icon, now and forever.”

Unfortunately, the photographs of the actors are all that remain of this 1908 premiere of Maeterlinck’s Blue Bird, produced by Stanislavsky. A descriptive play-by-play of the performance can be found in the 1920 book The Russian Theater Under the Revolution by Oliver Sayler (thanks, Google book search!), but all other images of this art noveau-inspired production have been lost to time, despite Sayler’s valiant attempts to preserve more for posterity, recounted in the book:

I asked Stanislavsky eagerly for photographs of scenes from “The Blue Bird” or else for the original designs of the scenic artist so that I might have them copied… the photographs, I was told, were not available – except those of the players themselves – for the originals had been made by Fischer, a German, and had been destroyed in the pogrom at the beginning of the war in 1914. And in the difficult times Russia has undergone since then, no others have been made. When I pressed my point and asked about the orignal designs, the firm, square but kindly face of my host carried a passing glance of embarassed modesty and then admitted that there were no designs. He had conceived them himself and had personally directed the artist, V. E. Yevgenoff, in the execution of the settings.

Yep, 1908 is definitely going to the top of my “If I Had a Time Machine” list. Craving more images after discovering Germanova’s fairy, I did a bit of searching on the Russian web and uncovered the images below (from an Ogonyok article about Blue Bird). After the jump, a full-body shot of Germanova looking like a pre-Raphaelite sorceress.