DIARY OF AN ART STAR
Somewhere between my fear of death and my fear of being stuck on the A Train, lies my fear of listening to bad poetry. For this reason, I tend to avoid any events described as "readings." And when the weather dips below 30 degrees, I avoid events that involve leaving home. Like a dormouse, I curl up and rest until spring.
The problem is that dormice generally aren’t pursuing writing careers. They can afford this luxury whereas reporters sometimes have to get out of bed. For the most part, I’ve avoided this unpleasantry by writing reviews of television shows, notably for the Nikita fan site. If you’ve never watched the show, it’s a CW program based on the French film of the same name. I analyze each episode the way a microbiologist analyzes microorganisms, covering everything from show recaps to fashion hits and misses to "WTF Moments" and "OMG Moments."
If you had told me when I was seven years old that someday I’d get paid to watch TV, I would have been ecstatic. Now that I am 38, I realize there is only so much TV a person can endure. So, when my Artnet Magazine editor sent me the upcoming schedule of events at the Kitchen performance center over on West 19th Street in Chelsea, I was happy to oblige. Despite my fears, it was time to leave the house.
Monday night, I attended an evening celebrating the launch of CoonBidness, a Harlem-based publication edited by LaTasha Nevada Diggs and Greg Tate, which "hangs out dirty laundry and celebrates a renegade African cosmopolite spirit in a well-woven series of surreal short stories." The place was packed, even though the magazine itself was still at the printer. By the way, Mr. Lower East Side 2002, Neal Medlyn, was working the Kitchen’s front desk.
First up was a former poet laureate named Quincy Troupe who read a poem about a guy taking his pants down on the C Train. (I think I was on that train!) Next, a musical trio led by traditional Maori performer, Attaahua Papa, played songs that reminded me of Santana. I expected the audience to cut a rug. Instead they all sat perfectly still like it was the Perry Como show. Then bass sax player Paula Thompson Henderson did a musical mashup with punk professor Vivien Goldman, which is already posted on YouTube. This duet was followed by a dancer named Paloma McGregor, who wore a kind of toga accessorized with a fisherman’s net filled with plastic bottles, which she dragged about the stage in an interpretive dance.
I gave myself an intermission. When I returned, two women from Polynesian Dance Productions were standing in the wings. They wore headdresses, feather skirts and bandeau bikini tops. With the freezing temperatures outside, I was shocked that anyone, anywhere, was willing to wear less than 15 layers of clothing, even indoors. Onstage, they shook their hips in a manner that made Shakira look like Black Swan. There were a few more acts to go, but I had several groundbreaking Nikita articles to write, due the next morning.
The following night I returned with my BFF, Faceboy, for "An Evening with Esopus," performances and screenings scheduled to celebrate the semiannual arts publication. First up was Instant Soap (Just Add Audience) by two Emmy-Award winning soap opera writers, Jean Passanante (One Life to Live) and Addie Walsh (All My Children). They began by asking for audience suggestions. When prompted for two "fantasy names" the audience came up with "Brick" and "Natasha." Two personality traits? "Slutty" and "Spicy." Something men excel at? "Lying!" An unusual object? "A butter keeper." It was like playing Mad Libs.
Finally, they asked for volunteers. Faceboy and I raised our hands and were chosen to come on stage!
So, Faceboy was the strong, silent Brick and I was the ballsy but vulnerable Natasha. According to the script the two writers had developed from audience suggestions, Brick and Natasha are sworn enemies who get trapped in an elevator together. Natasha has a meltdown and Brick comforts her, whereupon they realize they are in love.
Brick then begins to pound on the elevator doors, but is jostled backwards and hits his head. Instant amnesia! Digging through his pockets for anything that might remind him of his past, he finds a butter keeper that his father gave him after his mother died in childbirth. Natasha also has a butter keeper, given to her after her mother died in childbirth. That’s when they realize -- they are brother and sister! They kiss anyway.
Our interpretation was greeted with wild applause.
The next presentation was a segment of a television show that had actually been directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Call me a philistine, but I’ve never been a fan. Unless a movie is a trilogy titled Lord of the Rings, I want it to have an ending.
Faceboy agreed. "I'd rather watch nine hours of Jean-Luc Picard talking to Number One than sit through nine minutes of Jean-Luc Godard's Number Two."
The video was basically Godard asking a child (who looked like Damian from The Omen) questions about TV while the kid is trying to watch TV. That poor child! As Godard tries to prove that TV is horrible, the kid just looks irritated, a sentiment that I certainly shared. Then the whole thing inexplicably cuts to shots of farm animals.
The evening ended with an excellent band called One Ring Zero who played a song they’d written about Mythbusters -- another TV show -- along with the Charlies’ Angels theme and The Mork and Mindy theme.
When the evening ended, several people asked Faceboy and me if we’d been audience plants. We explained that we’re just two people who really love attention. Then Faceboy, who is actually a "SAG" actor, exchanged contact info with the soap writers, instilling in us the hope that maybe "Brick" will turn up on TV someday.
REVEREND JEN is the author of Live Nude Elf: The Sexperiments of Reverend Jen (Soft Skull Press, 2009), and the forthcoming Elf Girl (Simon & Schuster).