Talking About Drag, Blunderland, and Banzai with Eric Schmalenberger

Last month, I gushed to everyone I met about the Blunderland party, held in an underground space in the netherlands of Brooklyn. It was, for lack of a better word, FIERCE. The crowd was amazing. One of the DJs was moi. I asked event producer Eric Schmalenberger what I should play and was told, "It’s Brooklyn; play what you want". I did and had so much fun. The talent on stage was brilliant. Anytime I hear the laments over the loss of the "good ol’ days" I want to shake them and stir them. Clubland is vibrant and creative and all that but it is rarely found in the high-rent districts of Manhattan where creativity is rarely rewarded. That was the thing about The Box: although at times it seems forced – shock and awe for the sake of it – at least they don’t offer up the same ol’, same ol’. They make loot by charging the swells, and to this day are crowded with a great crowd… if you pick your time slot. Age takes its toll on creative people and creative clubs, but they still can give it a go, as can I. Last Saturday, when many clubs were slow for Mother’s Day, they were packed.

Eric Schmalenberger is my hero. He produces and MCs the Blunderland soirée and I can’t wait for his next shindig. I caught up with the maniac maestro and asked him a few questions.

WTF are you?
I ask myself that every day. The simple answer would be that I am primarily a performer, and I am a curator and producer when I feel that I have a really good idea. I sometimes feel like a professional collaborator. I’m really into sitting down with folks whose ideas turn me on and figuring out how we can make something new and exciting happen. I have been doing large-scale art and performance events for the past four years, and that has become a big part of what I do and who I collaborate with.

These parties are thematic. Tell me about party theory. How do you throw a good event?
I think something that is important to me when trying to throw a good event is giving the crowd something they haven’t seen before. There is so much of the same out there and I like a challenge. I really like the idea that nightlife can get an emotional response from its audience, on many levels. Anyone with a sound system and access to booze can throw an event. To go the extra step and keep the audience always wanting more – now that is a good trick. Giving a crowd a full evening is always important to what I do. I like having several sets of performance involving burlesque, circus arts, performance art, comedy, and live music with damn good DJs to keep the energy up between the sets over the course of the evening. I also have recently started serving food at some of my events, which is an extra bonus. The way that all these different parts of the evening come together is what really makes the night. Also, never resting on your laurels: keep surprising people and they will keep coming back, wondering what you will show them next.

I DJd at your last event and had a blast. Tell me about that one and the next one.
The event that you DJd at was Blunderland, which is a very performance-heavy celebration with a certain amount of elegant chaos. Some of the first parties that I went to as a very small Eric were Jackie 60 and Squeezebox. They were these incredible nights that blew my brain in just the right way. For this Blunderland, I was incredibly blessed and honored to have Chi Chi Valenti open the performances with a reading of her poem, “Take Back The Night,” which truly celebrates the New York that I want to be a part of.  Over the course of the evening, the crowd got to enjoy dadaist burlesque, comedic drag, two incredible dance companies, a couple with a thing for bullwhips, a live set from an incredible funk band, and a singing wolfman who never fails to break the audiences hearts.

Curatorially, I am sort of all over the map, but I really like putting together the sort of show that I personally would most like to see and, more importantly, most like to share with others. Next up on the docket is Banzai!!!! which is a project with my collaborator, Muffinhead, that has been going on for just over three years. Banzai is a chance for Muffin and I to present the work of over 50 artists of all different media. This time up we will have a live show with Joey Arias, The Pixie Harlots, Soigne Deluxe, Stormy Leather, Vangaline, The Rachel Klein Ensemble, and Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey. We will also be presenting the work of over 30 visual and multimedia artists. That show is gonna be on May 26th at 9PM at the Red Lotus Room (893 Bergen Street). It is a fun one.

The Red Lotus space is insane and often used for a bunch of different events and purposes. Tell me about it.
The Red Lotus Room is one of my favorite spaces to work in New York. For Blunderland, I keep it very much in its natural state; dark, candlelit, filled with mirrors and antiques. t is the kind of space that New Yorkers dream about – unexpected, incredibly special, and one of a kind. For Banzai though, Muffinhead and I transform portions of the space into a beautiful gallery filled with art, while having other areas of the space be very different and like they usually are. It is nice to be able to work in a space that is so versatile.

What will you be when you grow up? … okay,  if they make you.
HA! Planning too far ahead usually ends up being a disappointment. For right now, I just would like to keep on being busy working on projects that inspire me. Who knows what will inspire me next? I like a lot of different things.

What else are you working on?
Oh boy… I am in the middle of shooting a pilot for a new sitcom called Black Box – that has been a pretty incredible adventure. I’m also in a show called Symphony of Shadows with Rachel Klein Productions that will be opening at Dixon Place on June 7th.

Can you talk about your bad drag?… Talk about Miriam.
Miriam is my awful female alter ego that myself and my friend Michael Newman created back when we were in college. She MCs, does spoken word, and sometimes insults people at the door at The House Of Yes (but in a very charming way of course). She wears the most garish clothes possible, and doesn’t shave her face, and is incredibly crude. She is a parody of drag but in a very fun-loving drunk older chick you would like to hang out with but very well might shiv you with a blunt object- kind of way. I adore her.

A City of Artists: Blown Away by Rachel Klein & Brian Ermanski

Every so often these "I’ve seen it all” eyes see something that flabbergasts me. This weekend, it was Rachel Klein‘s work. Her choreography for a performance at Eric Schmalenberger’s Blunderland event left me speechless and that’s, as you well know, is impossible. So mark this on your calendar, get a babysitter, empty the cookie jar, and if necessary kick the reluctant lover to the curb and attend the world premiere of Rachel Klein’s Symphony of Shadows: A Tale From the Land Beyond the Veil. It will be at Dixon Place starting this Thursday, June 7th. In case you’re planning on hearing me DJ at Hotel Chantelle this Thursday and can’t make the show, there are additional 7:30pm performances for the whole month, on June 8, 9, 14, 15, 16, 22, and 23. It’s $15 for an evening of enlightenment and fun. It will take your breath away. I asked Rachel about it:

"This piece is the biggest, craziest production I have ever put together! There are so many elements involved, between the dancers, the aerialists, the live musicians, and the larger-than-life costume design elements. Symphony of Shadows is going to be a gigantic spectacle. It started out smaller in its original concept – it was just a movement-based show depicting night terrors and sleep paralysis. Upon doing research, I found so many fantastic images of sleep paralysis depicted as demons haunting a sleeper, and nightmares portrayed as a person being attacked by a slew of terrible creatures, such as rats, insects, and snakes. As the structure of the show grew to showcase this sort of imagery, the cast and concept grew as well.

I am thrilled to be at Dixon Place, not only because it’s a big beautiful space, but because they have been so welcoming to my ensemble and I. This show has been an enormous artistic journey for the ensemble and I in terms of collaborating with such a large cast of talented creatures from other collectives and backgrounds. I am thrilled to have my own RKP superstars Eric Schmalenberger, Scooter Pie, Megan O’Connor, Brian Rubiano, Freddy Mancilla, Kristen Lee, and Elizabeth Stewart and Michael Porsche doing their silent-film acting amazingness. My principle soloist, Danielle Marie Fusco, brought with her Danny Mendoza and Abdiel Jacobsen from the Martha Graham Company, and collaborators from fellow extraordinary companies including The Love Show, Desert Sin Dance, The House of Yes, the Muse Art Space, Circus Warehouse, and the Skybox.”

There was a time not too long ago when Nolita was cool. You didn’t have to blow by rude congregating French or Italian tourists, and I knew everybody in the hood. It was an afternoon stop-and-chat with Vinny Vela, the mayor of Little Italy, and you could get a seat and a slice at Ray’s, the actual original one. Now it’s boutiques and bores and neighbors who don’t know their neighbors. A fixture of Prince Street was young stud artist Brian Ermanski in his painted jeans and with his beat box. A hundred "ICE" paintings scooped up by gents and fools alike. An occasional pause to kick a soccer ball around (he’s good) or to chat up a neighborhood hottie, Brian has the kind of charisma that even a dictionary definition falls short in describing. Like most everyone else of substance in Nolita, we were driven away by gentrification. Sure, you can still chat with the always-gentlemanly Gabriel Byrne, and Ruby and Squirrely are still holding down the fort at Ina, but Brian and the rest have moved away. This Wednesday at the Tribeca Grand from 6pm till 1am, Brian will show his exhibit “Lipstick & Looselips” and I will be there to catch up with the old crowd.