Labapalooza! Includes Punk Rock, Drag Queens
By Jerry Portwood
Photo by Jeff Silverman
The idea of avante-garde or experimental puppetry theater just confuses most people. But it remains one of those creative outlets where anything is possible. With the return of Labapalooza!, a puppetry festival that takes place at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn May 31-June 3, we discussed one of the more peculiar presentations, Pardon My Tale (A Punk Rock Fable), created and performed by Christopher Skinner, Erik Booze, and Scott D. Jackson.
Set in 1983 in a filthy East Village rock-n-roll dive, according to the creators, it combines "equal parts Canterbury Tales and Never Mind The Bollocks." Drag queens and punk rock? We're so there! It turns out that the trio, known as the Shredding Wench Factory (we'll explain later) is actually a creative incubator for many projects, including a Kate Bush Burlesque (pictured above) and they each go by pseudonyms: Zazoo, Satori, and Poison Eve.
Out: So, I know you have these creative alter-egos. What is the Shredding Wench Factory?
Erik Booze (Satori): The Shredding Wench Factory, it’s just the three of us. We have very similar aesthetics. We like a lot of the same things. It was kind of difficult to figure out: How do we do this? And we deicded to brand ourselves and make it something more simple and memorable. It’s an inside joke, we had this friend who was helping with an installation, and she was helping us shred fabric. The lint from the velvet was everywhere. It was a thankless job, and she had stopped. And Christopher came in and said: "What are you doing, shredding wench? Get back to work!"
Tell me how the group got started originally.
Erik: Christopher and I have been together for 22 years. We went to high school together in Loveland, Ohio, and we grew up in Cincinnati in the mid '90s after we had gotten out of college. We were kinda of tired of what was going on.
Christopher Skinner (Zazoo): We were just bored, and we wanted to make club life in Cincinnati more fun. We started shopping at places like AutoZone—not your typical places. So Erik (Satori) started a website for us long, long ago, and we started hooking up with bunches of people, in NY and also in Chicago. We started doing a lot of traveling.
Erik: The first time we met Scott (Poison Eve) was at the club Mother. We were on vacation in 1997, maybe. Then we participated in an art event in 2003 at CBGB, and we did costumes for the movie Party Monster.
So how did you go from doing all this crazy performance and dress up and party scene stuff to doing experimental puppetry?
Christopher: I’ve always been very intersted in puppetry. Jim Henson was one of my big inspirations. And long before Lady Gaga came around, I was wearing muppets. And we would go see a lot of puppetry, like Basil Twist. He’s a mentor. Jonny ClockWorks was part of the Downtown scene. They have been cheering us on. Puppetry combines a bunch of our interests and our talents.
Erik: Christopher’s stregth being writing. I’m more mechanical. Scott has all the perormance experience.
Is it weird, Scott, being the third, in a way, in this "creative" relationship?
Scott: No it’s not weird at all. I mean, I came to New York to be an actor originally, as so many do. At NYU I was kind of a little, like, the goth punk kid. Experimenal theater just sounded cool. It was the end of the '80s, and I was influenced by video art and that sort of thing: David Lynch and the arthouse movie circuit.
When I saw the boys were moving here from Cincinnati, I thought it would be fun to hang out and once we got to know each other, it turns out we have a sort of different aesthetic styles, but they sort of mesh together.
So how did this particular puppetry piece come together?
Scott: The puppetry grew out of a Kate Bush burlesque night. So we had singers, and we thought, Let’s do something with puppets. We had all these crazy puppets; it seemed approppriate. I think that’s when the applications were due for the Puppet LAB. We ended up missing the deadline, but it was extended, and we got in.
Erik: The show incorporates both rod puppetry and shadow puppetry. I built three rod puppets, a bartender, and 2 customers, who are at a bar next to a real live punk rock band—Strange Things Done in the Midnight Sun. They are performing the songs in our show. Then there's a screen built into the bar that serves as a shadow puppet stage for the tale. Scott designed most of our shadow puppets.
The tale is loosely based on "The Pardoner's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales. That story also begins in a bar with three drunk guys who set out to kill death and meet an old wise man on their way. In our version, the drunk guys are drag queens, the old wise man is Quentin Crisp and the setting is the East Village."
Tickets are $20 for one program or $30 for both and are available via the St. Ann’s Warehouse Box Office online at www.stannswarehouse.org, by phone at 718-254-8779, or in person at 38 Water Street (Tuesday through Saturday, 1 PM-7 P.M.).