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.

Banzai: Muffinhead and Eric Schmalenberger at Red Lotus Room

There is soooo much to do these days and only seven days and nights in a week. For starters, there are still tickets available for an event that cannot be missed. The event in question: Eric Schmalenberger and Muffinhead Present Banzai!!!!! an Art & Performance Melange, next Saturday, November 16th from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m. Oh my god, November 16th already! Where has the time gone?

Banzai!!!!! will take place at the Red Lotus Room, a rather marvelous space at 893 Bergen Street in beloved Brooklyn. Scott Ewalt will DJ and the list of performers include Amanda Lepore, Dee Dee Luxe, Johanna Constantine, The Rachel Klein Dance Ensemble, Soigné Deluxe and Shane Shane. Visual artists include Greg Accopian, Dan Baker, Tracy Von Becker-Legge, Michael Blase, Kirsten Bode, Ryan Brennan, Wren Britton, Ryan Burke, Adrian Buckmaster, Soigné Deluxe, Anaïs Delsol, Dolly Dharma, Scott Ewalt, Ms. Fitz, Erik Foss, Heather Garland, Veritée Hill, Sam Hill, Antoinette Johnson, Matt Jones, Stacey Mark, Joshua David McKinney, Ted Mineo, Brian Montuori, Sarah Alice Moran, Muffinhead, Kembra Pfahler, Jeffrey Ralston, Kenny Scharf, Max Steiner, Andrew Strasser, Gerry Visco, Cindy Waters, Wonderpuss Octopus, Jaimie Warren and Sergio Zuniga. If Eric Schmalenberger says come I dial Metro Car service snap!

There will be a late show by Teen Pussy and the world premiere of a swirling, psychedelic video called “CAKE SHOW” by Adam Dugas and Casey Spooner. I mean whew. This is an incredible night planned by incredibly talented people—if you don’t know what I’m talking about how did you get this far in this post? Risks will be taken, norms exposed, and most importantly boredom will be banished. Although it may be true for some, most of these creative types you see out at night aren’t just dressed up with no place fabulous to go. They are performers, brands, and essentially living art. They spend the time between cocktails and parties thinking of new ways to push the envelope. This event at Red Lotus will shock and awe you. Your hands will hurt from applause.

One of the organizers/presenters is Muffinhead. I have never met him but I’ve heard so much—all wonderful. He burst onto the scene in the mid-2000’s and his talent and charm made an impression on the fashion and nightlife crowd. He was at all of the important parties and his name, actually his brand, became a staple on important invites. I caught up with Muffinhead and asked him all about it.

So, let’s talk about the event. It says you and Eric Schmalenberger “present”—what does “present” mean?
We wrap it up in a box, slap a ribbon on it and pull the pin! Present meaning we’re the guys who give birth to the art monster. We’re the ones who start it off with sticky notes, some wacky maximalist ideas and a good solid sense of mischief all the way to the end. The end as in even when we’re trudging home through the snow with paintings and bags of hammers.

The talent involved is wonderful. What will the public see and hear at Banzai?
Thank you so much! At first glance Banzai can come off like a madcap crazy-pants art party, and it is, but overall we worked hard to curate a selection of artists who present work that is both imaginative and visually spectacular. The idea is to bring in both emerging and veteran artists and let them tear up the scenery. We never have a theme; the theme is Banzai, which is basically just a schizophrenic art octopus. This time we have Amanda Lepore headlining the performances along with Johanna Constantine who we’ve been trying to get for years now. We’re also very happy to be showing some pieces from veteran artists like Kenny Scharf and Kembra Pfahler side by side with fantastic emerging talent like photographer Ryan Burke and gothic designer Wren Britton.

Years ago this would have to take place in Manhattan, but now it feels natural in Brooklyn at the fabulous Red Lotus. What is the difference in “feel” between Manhattan and Brooklyn?
The difference is huge. I don’t know if it’s even possible at this point for anything even slightly underground to happen in Manhattan. Nowadays there’s this gloss about the city that can’t be avoided while Brooklyn is still gritty as fuck, but also a bit cozy and familiar which makes it ideal for what Banzai is. It’s not about big money and bottle service. At its core it’s about the inspiration of the artists we involve.

You came to New York in the mid-2000’s well aware of the club kid movement of the 80’s and 90’s. There was a great deal of boredom for a minute after that scene self-destructed; what do you think is different in this creative era? Have we gone beyond that scene to a new plateau or is what we see at Banzai and in the current party circuit for the fashion/artistic set just a redux of that moment?
Well yes and no. Personally, when I came to New York I was fairly ignorant of what the “club kid” movement had been. When I was in L.A. I had no idea who Leigh Bowery was—I thought I had invented the whole thing. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that there was a similar movement that had already come and gone.

What we have now is a natural creative evolution. “Walking art” or whatever you want to call it, underground fashion, DIY fashion, to me it’s still in the infant stages as a medium. There are endless variations on what one can do with their own personal style in public. I think we’ve turned up the volume a bit and thrown some modern technology into the mix. We have artists like Nick Cave pulling off amazing thoroughly enchanting work in museums, but I feel that the job won’t be complete until it reaches the mainstream. The point of all this is to alter the concept of individual style and to open it up in a way that allows the public to enjoy the freedom of their own vision outside of going to a nightclub or celebrating Halloween.

I think society has taken great strides socially. What do you see when you look at the world? Is there a renaissance going on or we still very backward?
Oh yeah, there’s always a battle to be fought. Whether it’s for acceptance or understanding, or just to explain oneself as an artist to the outside world. I think that’s ok though, it’s important to not be asleep at the wheel. That being said, I think we’ve come a long way.

Where will your art take you?
Japan! I see myself in Japan for some reason. I would love to take part in more design work, whether for others or myself. At first this was all about grabbing attention in many ways, but the longer I make art the more I simply want to make things that can be enjoyed by the public. I have an aesthetic to tend to but I can do that anywhere from Africa to outer space…both preferably!


Sandy Relief at Pacha & The Bottoms Up Controversy

You can’t throw a rock without hitting a benefit for Sandy relief efforts and so it should be. The other night, a singer in a sleazy place proclaimed her performance was to help with Sandy relief. A friend who wasn’t born yesterday quipped in my ear that "she just renamed her cat Sandy.” "Hmmm," I replied more brilliantly than it reads. I’m sure there is some of that, but these days I am believing in people. One person I can always believe in is the brilliant producer of The Love Show and an inspired performer in his own right: David F. Slone, Esquire. Last night, his Love Show, which happens every Thursday at Hotel Chantelle, before Sam Valentine’s Generation Wild party where I DJ along with him and Luc Carl, ran way over, as performer after performer had the crowd in shock and awe… and stitches. They passed the hat and raised some loot and the spirit was wonderful. Every cloud has a silver lining and without trivializing the pain and suffering still afflicting our neighbors. Sandy has gotten people working together again for a greater good. The Obama election has helped turn the mindset from the fears and loathing a Romney win would have meant. The Love Show benefit gave 100 percent of the money collected at the door  to The Brooklyn Recovery Fund to benefit Sandy’s victims.

Angela Harriell & The Love Show Dancers!
Harrison Greenbaum: Award-Winning Comedian/Magician – Comedy Central’s ‘Comics to Watch’ and winner of the Andy Kaufman Award!
Kissing booth with everyone’s favorite late night lover, Manchego!
Award-winning quirky songstress, Jessica Delfino!
Performance genius, Eric Schmalenberger!
Tight harmony singers, The Shirtwaist Sisters!
Vocal powerhouse, Corn Mo!
Sweetheart of the Sideshow, Lady Aye! 

Eric Schmalenberger slayed us as Miriam, his alter ego whom I personally like way more than Eric. In a drunken drawl, Eric…er, Miriam proclaimed "Hella fun night. My only fear is tomorrow I’ll give the NY Blood Bank blood/vodka.”

The highlight of the show was when my editor Bonnie Gleicher, out on her blind date with the debonair Craig Clemens who donated $500 to MS for the privilege, pulled a large sword out of the throat of Lady Aye. Do not try this at home.

Next Wednesday, Nov.14, I will be a guest bartender at Pacha for their gianormous HELP HEAL NEW YORK Sandy relief benefit. The DJs I can mention include DANNY TENAGLIA, FRANCOIS K ,SUNNERY JAMES & RYAN MARCIANO, SHERMANOLOGY, DANNY AVILA ,D BERRIE ,AUDIEN, HARRY CHOO CHOO ROMERO, SHAWNEE TAYLOR (live) ,CARL KENNEDY, HECTOR ROMERO, DAVID WAXMAN, CEVIN FISHER,, THEO, HEX HECTOR ,PAUL RAFFAELE, CODES, ROXY COTTONTAIL ,SAZON BOOYA ,DALTON ,SIK DUO, CARL LOUIS & MARTINDANIELLE ,PAIGE, BAMBI, THAT KID CHRIS. There are many more , but I’m sworn to secrecy. Eddie Dean and Rob Fernandez (RPM) are always spot-on in their bookings, as evidenced by them asking me to bartend.

The Greater New York Red Cross will receive 100 percent of the proceeds from door, bar, and coat check. Doors will open at 5pm and stay open till 5am. If you do come to my bar, order beers and simple drinks or else you’re going to have your own private little benefit. For the record, I entered the business as a bartender . How long ago??? Well, back in that day when you ordered vodka on the rocks and it came in a stone mug  poured over pebbles. And it wasn’t Grey Goose.; it was Grey Pterodactyl.

Oh and on another note. I’m going to a "sneak peek" preview of BOW, that much anticipated EMM Group entry at 199 Bowery, shared with FINALE. Travis Bass, ex-Madame Wong’s and Red Egg and recently Bottoms Up is doing the inviting. They say the place isn’t quite done and neither is Travis nor me for that matter so it might be fab. I’ve told you that I think this place might be a game changer and I’m anxious to see how right I am. Even if I’m only 10% right,  tonight, I anticipate much more as BOW is only part of a 20,000 square foot hospitality entry being unleashed by EMM at 199.  Travis always delivers. I heard that his off-again on-again incarnation Bottoms Up at the Tribeca Grand was often off-again because the hotel people didn’t much like the wear and tear Travis’ crowd inflicted on the furniture and decor. Now that sounds like my kind of party.

The ‘Dead Dream Machine’ Brings Theatrical Horror to Brooklyn

Sometimes you just have to listen to me. I’ve got all this experience, you see, and people lean on me to tell them what’s hot and not and all that. And after all, I ran joints for decades. I’ve been threatened by wise guys, shot at, stabbed, divorced (twice), jailed. I mean, I got some real experience. So listen to me when I tell you that you must check out the world premiere of The Dead Dream Machine, a theatrical horror anthology by Jake Thomas that previews tonight at La Luz (135 Thames Street, Brooklyn) and runs through October. The show is produced by Eric Schmalenberger and Thomas’ Raging Squid Ink. And if Schmalenberger says it’s all that, then it surely is.

From the website:

"In an abandoned theater on the outskirts of town, an experiment is being conducted–one which extracts dreams. But if this insane enterprise works, what dreams may come? Mad scientists, monstrous killers, tyrannical royalty, government witches and hipster occultists (and not one damn vampire or zombie) explode forth in this crazed horror anthology that incorporates song, dance, puppetry, aerial, magic and more to build an out of body theatrical experience."

The show stars various luminaries from the alternative stages of New York City, including Darlinda Just Darlina ("Mastermind of Bizarre Extravaganza"); Arden Leigh (author of the book The New Rules Of Attraction; performance artist Michael Cavadias; Malia Scharf (daughter of artist Kenny Scharf); Ashley Springer from the cult movie Teeth; Eric Schmalenberger from Blunderland and Banzi; and the Great Dubini, a Ripley’s Believe It or Not magician.

The whole shebang is directed and choreographed by the amazing Rachel Klein. It runs Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm from now until October 13. Each night, the role of Shaman will be played by a guest. Here’s what they have so far:

September 18: Heather Christian (Heather Christian & the Arbornauts, Witness Relocation, The T.E.A.M.)
September 19: Ashley Morgan Monroe (Silky Sirens Burlesque)
September 20: Rob Roth (Screen Test, Click And Drag, The Mystery of Claywoman)
September 21: Randy Jones (original cowboy from the Village People)
September 26: Mx Justin Vivian Bond (TANGO: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels, Bdwy: Kiki and Herb Alive on Broadway, Tony nomination)
September 27: Lady Rizo (“Cabaret Superstar” – New York Magazine, Grammy winner)
September 28: Michael Musto (journalist and columnist for Gawker and Out)

And more TBD. OK, this is amazing. You must go.

Tonight, I will visit my old friend Brian Butera, who is DJing a biweekly party called Savage at Beloved (674 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint). I hear it’s all the rage. It’s soul and roots early and rock-n-roll late.

image: Michael Blase