Interview with author TONY SOKOL (Vampyre Theater)
What intrigued you about the vampire mystique so much that it inspired your career as a writer?
I grew up on gangster movies and vampire movies. When I was a kid, the first poster I got was a lobby card to the movie Bonnie and Clyde that my old man lifted from the theater. I had some music posters, mainly Beatles, a still from Dracula and a huge poster of Vlad the Impaler. My great grandparents had a copy of the book Dracula that was published in 1911 or something. I liked the powers and the titillation of fear. But even as a kid it turned me on. In my house, we weren’t allowed to watch The Brady Bunch because it created false hopes. We watched The Addams Family and Morticia was special to me. Also, Kali was a very early part of my consciousness because of the Beatles movie Help! It resonated with me, the black mother, drinker of blood. The vampire mystique seemed spiritual to me, the same as any religion I wasn’t familiar with, and I wanted to study it like I had Hindu or Zen, whatever. There weren’t any books, of course, so I had my own ideas. Of course, when I started to read about Santa Sangre and Kali it solidified.
What did you see in The Addams Family when you watched it and why did it stay with you all this time?
Okay, first it taught me to commit to a joke. The whole thing about not being allowed to watch the Brady Bunch, I knew that my mom was joking, but I committed to that joke for life. To this day, I have never seen an episode of The Brady Bunch. I mean, there are a lot of shows I’ve never seen episodes of, but I can’t change the channel fast enough on that one.
The Addams Family is a different story. It wasn’t the same as The Munsters, where the family was made up of classic prototypes. The Addams Family had an alternative moral center. My grandfather collected the comics from the New Yorker and wherever else they appeared, and their anti-philosophy had a long tradition. It was similar to the Blue Meanie philosophy in Yellow Submarine: We Meanies only take no for an answer. Is that understood? No. And when you answer no, you open the mind to a nihilistic absurdism that leads to Ionesco, who was the first playwright I actually got. Absurdism and nihilism formed Vampyr Theatre, but there is always the “yes” of improvisational comedy to balance it, hopefully off-kilter. When the First Amendment Theater taught me that the first rule of improv is to always say yes, it was more than a way to keep a scene going to me, it was my religion. That and rock and roll.
So The Addams Family, even as a kid, made more immediate sense than the rest of TV, which resided somewhere near a whitewashed version of logic. There was mystical mesmerism in Morticia’s eyes and merry mayhem in Gomez’s eyes. Sometimes you just knew that John Astin wasn’t acting, he was living it. He really did those head stands, practiced yoga before anyone else. Fifteen minutes before. He set his clock. The Addams Family didn’t make up their own rules, have their own real family values, they were open to what came, especially if it came from somewhere below, where all the fun is.
How did you develop your view of nihilistic absurdism before you got involved with Vampyr Theatre?
Well, religion seemed absurd to me even as a kid. I believe in certain things the spirit can do. Things that the mind can do, but they don’t prove anything larger than what it actually is. Just because someone can bend a spoon with their mind, or bend a mind with a spoon, doesn’t prove there’s a god and it doesn’t prove there’s a heaven or an afterlife. We have to find the comfort in the worms because sooner or later, worms are god. We live until we die and then we spend most our time decomposing. I can believe in that.
I’m no evangelist, but I wrote a nihilist spiritual called “Leave a little me behind” in the gospel style that opens “I saved my soul in a ziplog bag” that may one day give hopeless to the hopeful. I was almost raised Roman Catholic, that’s what everyone in my family was, and I did the CCD and got baptized and made communion, but somewhere between my first confession and confirmation it just seemed very absurd. Marx Brothers movie absurd. I wrote about it in junior high essays and learned not to turn that stuff in. My mom’s mom didn’t believe Jesus ever existed. That there was no historical documents, because he was always out of town and on the run when the census takers came calling. There is no official arrest record, I’m pretty sure that the closest thing to a mug shot is the Shroud of Turin, which really could be anyone’s. Marie Bargas told me that the image most people associate with Jesus is actually Cesare Borgia in what was the best publicity stunt in history. That’s pretty funny.
Describe the beginnings of Vampyr Theatre and your involvement with them as a writer and composer.
Vampyr Theatre actually started in NYC poetry readings in the mid-80s, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d been part of an experimental, anti-commercial music scene and doing poetry readings and rock shows on the side. I’d been performing at the Centerfield Coffee House, a long-running Friday-night event in a church on the Upper West Side. They published some of my works in their limited edition magazines and offered me a night. It was set to be an hour long performance, so I decided to write something completely new for it.
I wrote a poetic vampire ritual that offered nihilism as its spiritual base. I put together a sonic collage using multiple tape decks, amplifier feedback and backward vocal loops to replace a full band and so I would have voices on the hymnal responses, though I’d printed out hymnals for the audience. I did a much smaller version of it at the much-smaller Anarchist’s Switchboard, in a tiny club on Avenue A, either the basement of The Pyramid or a few doors down. The ritual was a riff of something I’d written for a radio play called The Excommunication Of God, which SUNY radio’s Rochester station broadcast the year before.
A few years later, a band of mine broke up and I went to see the Hammer movie Vampire Circus at a revival house. The next night I went to see a performance of the Grand Guignol plays on the Upper East Side. In the middle of watching the cheesy gore, which was fantastic live, I thought of putting the two together in a live setting. Originally it was going to be a rock opera in B minor, like B-negative without saying it blatantly. I’m B-positive, but a major scale opera didn’t seem very vampiric.
How did you get into doing poetry readings? Had you been writing poems for long beforehand? What do you mean by anti-commercial music and where were you holding rock shows?
I had been doing poetry readings since I was a late-teen. I discovered them while doing acoustic open mics at the Speakeasy in the West Village. Sometimes I would also play music behind other poets. I did all of the poetry reading places back then. The anti-commercial scene centered on indie labels like Sound Of Pig, who actually considered me a little too commercial. I like melody. I was doing a lot of rock shows with my bands at the time, Busted Chops and The Others, and I was playing a regular gig at a biker bar that paid more than rock clubs. But we played Kenny’s Castaways, CBGB, we were the house band at the Hangar. I was also doing improvisational comedy and a bit of standup. Later on, with Death of the Party, we played all the same clubs when I was running the rock opera I wrote AssassiNation: We Killed Kennedy.
Describe the atmosphere and clientele at the Centerfield Coffee House. How long had you been reading there before you were given your own night?
The poetry crowd was pretty small and we all knew each other. We went from place to place and we usually filled whatever seats were available. Everyone was friendly. I usually brought a bottle of wine if it wasn’t being held in a bar already. I’d gotten a few nights of my own at different poetry reading houses. It just happened that I did the first vampire rituals at Centerfield, but I did them again at Anarchist’s Switchboard and a few other places. I think I did excerpts at Folk City, The Bitter End and The Village Gate. There was also a Manhattan Public Access show that I can’t remember the name of that I performed poetry and I believe did a few acoustic songs on.
What was the plot and storyline of AssassiNation: We Killed Kennedy? How much work was channeled into its making?
AssassiNation: We Killed Kennedy was a 28 song cycle, augmented by nine song parodies, that blamed everybody for killing Kennedy. That actually came out of a Vampyr Theatre script, one line, where Orlock, the vampire that Troy Acree played for all those years, admitted he killed the Kennedys, after all. But the Stones sang it was you and me. I had a bunch of books, taped The History Channel’s The Men Who Killed Kennedy, re-watched the Zapruder film over and over, poured through all the photos, put words to pictures like the one where LBJ is winking at someone off-camera hours after Kennedy was shot.
So, of course it began with the Illuminati and the men behind the curtain, but the FBI, the CIA, George Bush, specifically because he ran some offshore oil company called Zapata during the Kennedy years; the Majestic Twelve, which was the group that studied the Roswell UFO crash that Kennedy was somehow involved with and the aliens themselves. The MJ12 did it because here they were, the smartest men in the world and this fucking rich senator kid sleeps with Marilyn Monroe. That’s also the reason Joe Dimaggio killed Kennedy. Yeah, he bashed Kennedy’s head in with a baseball bat, but nobody said anything because, well, that’s dunkin’ Joe. Kitty from Drama with Kitty played Marilyn. Ladybird Johnson paid to have Kennedy killed cos she knew her big lug of a husband would make a great president. Brian Epstein had Kennedy killed so the Beatles would make it big by cheering up America after a national mourning. There were songs about different hired assassins, from the guy who shot over Oswald’s shoulder to the guy in the sewer, to the limo driver and Howard Hunt. Basically everybody did it, but it wasn’t a conspiracy. It was just a coincidence that they all happened to choose that spot and time. The second to last song is me admitting it was me, at the age of eight months.
It also got into the cover-ups, which continue to then-president George W. who was only selected so he could pull any incriminating evidence his old man might have left in the White House. I wrote it before the Towers fell and wrote the last song three days after.
It seemed easy because I was jamming with a regular group. Ted Daily and Tom Maroney on guitar, Steve Pawlak on drums and me on bass and I would bring the songs in. I wrote and recorded demos to 24 songs in two months and taught the band the other songs straight during rehearsals with charts. The live band evolved through Raffi Kadian, a multi-instrumentalist who went between keys and bass so I could go between bass, guitar and keys but he lived in Philly which was too far and dropped out right before we started playing out, but was irreplaceable during the rehearsal process and Rafael Bachrach, who did all the shows up to when we actually started doing the opera proper. The live band was Joe Bohmer, a great keyboardist and artist who made the images of the UFO blasting Kennedy with a death ray in the limo, he brought in Rob DeGeorge, a terrific guitarist and we got Richard Haviland through an ad I placed after me and Joe had to sneak past Steve’s arsenal with our lives and gear. Gotta love drummers. We still talk and he’s a great friend, but drummers got a crazy gene. I have a kit in my studio and I know I go nuts after laying down a rhythm track for a demo.
We also rehearsed a lot of singers, because we had all these characters. Singers from different bands, like Grace Sessino from Sister Sez and Cathy G from Public Animal. Jamie Scandal, who is also a great standup comedian, sang for us and stayed through the band the Abstract 5 until she left and it was Ab4.
I put together two different video pieces that would be projected simultaneously during the performance that would better explain the story with clips and pictures, a lot of them absurd, but still. Troy ran the projectors for the first performance. My friend Kathleen Monic got me a vintage Chanel suit, complete with pillbox hat to wear. I sometimes wore a Nixon mask for the song about him, “Checkers Gets Spayed.” We had different dancers on different nights for the Jack Ruby song. We even had an almost-Ruby lookalike shake his moneymaker.
When AssassiNation began its theater run, how well was it received by the local community?
We were set to open in two different theaters that were able to accommodate a rock band, but both theaters broke their contracts and kicked us out. I don’t know if they were offended or if they thought we were too loud, all I know is it drove us back to clubs.
Opening night was great. The band was tight because we’d been playing individual songs from the show at clubs. Our first gig was a psychic request band, I’d kind of wink at people in the audience and say we’re doing the song you’re thinking of and then did jazzy versions of the songs as instrumentals. But we did a run of all the clubs in the area before we were the support act for a big rock opera about UFOs at the Bowery Poetry Club. They pulled in a lot of people and we kept them there. It worked for us and we got a nice pay day.
We then went back to clubs and did it at Don Hill and Arlene’s Grocery, but also did sets of it at Kenny’s Castaways, Siberia, the Pyramid and I forget, we played more than one show a week for a while. We went back to the Bowery Poetry Club on the 40th anniversary of the assassination itself. I’d hired a publicist who told me no press would run it because it was in bad taste, but T. Casey Brennan, a Vampirella writer and one of the men Bugliosi names as an actual Dealey Plaza shooter, believes that they were working for the CIA. I thought he was just incompetent. Brennan and I had planned to do a press conference about the whole thing, I’d met Brennan at a Fangoria convention years before, but he wound up getting clobbered by a conspiracy that put him on the streets and, well, he’s convinced it’s all related. I do know that a state cop friend of mine told me that he’d heard that there was file on me, but things get paranoid when you mention any of it, so who knows? All I know is more people should have heard those songs.
Jenice Malecki, who starred in a few Vampyr Theatre plays and is a kind of celebrity attorney in real life, gave testimony during the November 22 performance.
How soon after Vampyr Theater started did you meet Goddess Rosemary? Who else from the troupe did you contact?
I didn’t want my story to be like any other vampire story. I had read excerpts of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire in Twilight Zone Magazine and got the idea for interviewing vampires for a different take. I put ads asking “Are you a vampire?” in The New York Press, The Village Voice and West Side Spirit starting in late 1990. Goddess Rosemary was one of first vampires to respond, I believe. Most of the people who contacted me were from underground occult groups that subscribed to some kind of vampire spirituality, like the Sang Real, some former members of The Process Church and an offshoot of the OTO. I dropped the idea of a rock opera, took out the music and turned the lyrics into three short comedies, running between twenty minutes and a half hour with the idea of getting it into standup clubs. The plays would have a female vampire guru, acting as an emcee, collecting victims for her cult to feed on.
I had been commissioned to write a play about the summer of love by actress/producer Rosalie Triana and instead delivered a play called The Summer After, which dealt with 1968. I asked Rosalie to play the lead and she offered to direct. She didn’t want to direct a play with herself as a lead so she recast the emcee as a tall, sexy male vampire and had all the actors read Ann Rice’s Interview books. I didn’t actually make the connection with the vampires in the book’s play with what I was doing until then. I mean, I knew it existed, but I was an idiot.
We did our first La Commedia del Sangue: Vampyr Theatre performances at Le Bar Bat in 58th Street. Bob Sushko wrote the first Vampyr Theatre theme music. The actors wanted do continue in a theatrical setting but no theaters would take us because of our blood effects. Rick Crane and Chris Davis blew Troy Acree’s brains out in the middle of a crowded bar, for Christ’s sake.
Once you were working with Vampyr Theater, how many local clubs did you search to host performances?
I was living on 20th Street and there was a club called The Vault on 21st that used to have metal nights on Fridays. They were like five bucks and I saw Gwar there. I went on one Friday night and it was 20 bucks to get in. I asked who’s playing tonight. And the woman at the door said “everyone” and let me in for five bucks. It was my first experience at an S&M club. I’d been to Screw magazine nights at The Limelight, but S&M was always a “beat me hurt me make me write bad checks” thing to me. But that club had an energy that was just screaming for vampire performance. I pitched the idea that very night to the owners. I wrote two plays for The Vault, which they renamed Club DK just for the occasion and promoted the performances, even got us warmup performers. They were wonderful to us, but the actors were squeamish about the setting.
The next few plays were done in small houses on Theatre Row with the caveat that we scrub the shit out of the stage when we were done and pay for anything we damaged. I couldn’t afford the rent at peak hours so took after-hours slots at a discount. Kurt Anthony directed some and I directed one. We played Don’t Tell Mama for about eight months, with Mario Giacalone directing, before I found another theater that would house us.
Describe the first vampire rituals at Centerfield and the other clubs where you held it.
The ones in the clubs were pretty ad hoc, to be honest. All I had was the words, a dusty book, some broken crosses, not upside down ones, broken with the Jesuses taken off the wood, or in an electric chair like Lenny Bruce taught, but it was more about the atmosphere with the sound. We couldn’t burn bitter herbs in clubs. When we did it in Vampyr Theatre it was much more elaborate, we had accoutrements, a baby in a beaker, severed heads, several damaged crosses, ceremonial daggers, oh yeah, when I did it in the clubs I had a ceremonial switchblade. I kept it in my boot. But it was the words, the subversive psalms and the heretic poetry that I wanted to get across. I didn’t think vampires were stopped by crosses and believed that those images held no power to the undead, so I created a language of blasphemy and celebrated endless death, decay, and deterioration, but made every line a punch line so people would be laughing against their own interests.
For Let Us Prey, I did rituals to represent North, East, South and West using magical texts from different parts of the globe. I left an element out of the final ritual like I was taught by HP Lovecraft, that way I wouldn’t be blamed if I resurrected the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man in the middle of Manhattan.
How much support for your work was Goddess Rosemary offering you when you met her?
I’d met Rosemary Delain at the Empire Diner, and when I told her that I was getting the money for special effects and theater rentals from loan sharks she hooked me up with Corporal magazine and a few other outlets that paid pretty well for erotic fiction. She also hired me to write performances and rituals for her Z/n Society. Some of those rituals became the basis for House Sahjaza. When I appeared on the Joan Rivers TV show during the run of More Than You Can Chew, I was allowed guests. The show sent a limo to pick up Goddess Rosemary at her place on 14th Street and dropped her back off when the show was over. I think she sat between Shaunte Shayde, one of our actors who is the last face you see in Type O Negative’s “Black Number One” music video, and my parents. I don’t remember if Pete Steele was in the audience at the Joan Rivers Show, but he’d been to quite a few of our performances, We had Peter Gilmore and Peggy Nadramia of the Church of Satan and a whole host of local goth band performers including Denny Daniel of Sofia Run and Jerico DeAngelo, who became one of our actors for a while.
When Rosemary was on the Ricki Lake Show, we had a prank planned. I had one of those party poppers that you pull the string and they explode. And I put blood effects and meat in it and made it into a little thing I could stick behind my ears. When Rosemary stared at me on the show I was supposed to pull the string and send my brains splattering behind me - but I was caught at the door with - what they considered an explosive - and said I’d have to leave it at the door until after the show.
We also played Planet Rock Pub, a huge club in Newark’s Iron Bound section that held hundreds of people and left hundreds on the street waiting to get in.
How many of your shows was Pete Steele able to attend? Did he ever consider getting involved as an actor?
I actually don’t know how many. I didn’t know he’d been coming until Shaunte pointed him out, but I think three or four and one of my comedy skit nights, as did Myke Hideous of Empire Hideous, who brought Jonathan Frid Dark Shadows shirts as gifts. We spoke a few times, but never about acting. Probably mainly about his centerfold shot, he did have a sense of humor. There was a point when Vampyr Theatre was supposed to open for Type O Negative on tours. We had meetings with Bay Ridge Talent, but it never came through. He kicked in the door while we were having a meeting, pissed off and asking who was making him wait. I said “us vampires.”
What role would Jerico DeAngelo play in your shows, and did he contribute any music while working with you?
Jerico played Andre, a vampire I based very loosely on Andre Scheluchin, who was the Editor-in-Chief and publisher of Wicked Mystic, which I was writing for. Jerico got the first bite in that led to the ritual in Let Us Prey. He didn’t bring any music with him but he brought an entourage that included a photographer named Carrie Mai who was the most gifted psychic I’ve ever met. Not professionally, she just had a talent.
Were there other talents who lent their work to your productions? How much press were you getting at this time?
Only a few times for Vampyr Theatre, though I was open to it and would happily write in characters to accommodate anything like that. I was more able to do that with other shows, like my rock opera and an evening of all the bad taste standups in New York, which we put up at the New York Comedy Club on 24th Street. Goddess Rosemary danced at that. But we had only a few guest performers at Vampyr Theatre. We experimented with it, but a lot of the cast kind of balked at it.
We moved into Creative Place Theater for two plays with Troy Acree as director and lead actor, Count Grau Orlock. Troy was in it from the very beginning and was a fucking trouper when it came to makeup. Hours he spent with shit stuffed up his nose while the dyes were cast. Hundreds of noses were soldered onto his schnozz. Troy went along with almost every idea for special effects until I wanted to do an enema disemboweling.
We’d also moved on to special effects guy Tony Scarpa, or Knighthawk as he is known now. He was a stage magician and photographer who just walked over to me after we performed at The Bat Cave at Downtime and said he wanted to do special effects. We got drunk and decided that special effects were kind of like magic tricks gone wrong, like if you saw someone in half and then don’t put them back together. He was hired and stayed until the end.
Susan Walsh, the reporter from the Village Voice whose disappearance is still a mystery, started coming to shows when we were doing Dances from a Shallow Grave which ran at Nada Theatre during 1995. I was one of the few people to read the article she first submitted and our theater was heavily featured. She’d also come to see my own non-vampire plays How to Skip Alimony Through Voluntary Manslaughter, Everybody ODs and Dinner with Socrates, some of which were shown on the public-access television and Death Takes a Valium, which Tanya Klein directed at Trilogy Theatre. The cable TV show, Drama with Miss Kitty declared me "king of underground theater" three years running.
The last La Commedia del Sangue play was Just Us Served at The Interlude Theater during 1997. I think it was the best written, but the location made it the least well attended, though I did get to plug the last weekend on a BBC-Radio Broadcast on Halloween 1997 that made the last two weeks sell out.
How did you contact Troy Acree for makeup effects? What were his thoughts on your enema disemboweling idea?
Troy began as an actor that Rosalie brought in. He was always game for sitting for the castings for the face and the teeth, I think they cast me too, but for far more nefarious reasons, Chris Davis did, before he brought in Rick Crane, who designed Troy’s face and teeth for the Count Orlock character. Chris called me on my Vampyr Theatre line while I was still doing the interviews and just said if no one else was doing special effects he wanted it and that was good enough for me. He came over with a bunch of drawings and photos and gloop, you just have to call it gloop, and he’d do cool shit with it. He also used the backing of one of my tracks to rap over, which was also fun and we played pool, I remember. Rick was his teacher and came in and took over after he got another gig and he took it to another level. He had a traveling supply of corpses, heads, guts and other things he was working on that he kept at my place. He taught us all how to make blood and blood bags, it’s not just karo syrup and food coloring, no, not with Rick. That shit you could swallow, but it had to have some dish soap in it so it slid down the body right like real blood.
My old man made a retractable stake to put through vampires’ hearts and I pulled apart some kind of lawn tool and put it back together so it would spurt blood by the gallon. Rich then turned that into an elaborate laboratory setup for complete two gallon exsanguination and storage. Troy, as director, was very interested in every idea they came up with, after a while. There was always a bit of a struggle, with all the directors, between effects and staging. Effects made acting a little more difficult. Marks were more precise.
He tossed the idea out after his first read of the first draft of whatever script I wrote that for. I figured we would go beyond realism, but he said there was no actor who would do that live. Maybe dead, but not live. I remember that the show we did it for, on one night all the dead actors hung themselves nude like meat on a hook and wrote EAT ME on their bodies in blood.
How many new ideas for special effect did Tony Scarpa invent while you were at Creative Place Theater?
Tony Scarpa was amazing and his ideas were a lot of fun. I remember the small things; we’d use a magic wine glass he had that only people he wanted to be able to remove from the platter in order to pick the audience members we wanted on stage. We had some shills in the audience, but we always used real, unsuspecting people to tease things before we would get really bloody with the shills. Although some people in the audience were a little upset they didn’t get eviscerated. Others, of course, came with holy water thinking we were real and called the NYPD Cult Awareness Task Force on us. But there was always enough garlic to go around.
Scarpa was used to both photographic and magic tricks so a lot of what he brought was illusion. If we wanted someone to actually disappear in a puff of smoke, he could do that. But it also took misdirection; the effect itself relied on a shocking distraction on the other end of the stage. We didn’t cut down on the blood but it was less cumbersome and made it easier for the show to get a little sexier. We didn’t have to hide gore apparatus with spirit gum and makeup quite so much.
How much has your writing improved from your first play to your most recent play? How were your collaborations helpful?
I tried to vary style and content as much as I could from play to play. I was so scared of repeating myself in anything, but I think I learned most in how to streamline things. To lose good jokes for the benefit of a scene. I come from a band background and see all of these works from that vantage point. I love hearing an idea and spinning it into something new. I like assignments as much as pitches in my magazine writing. It gets you out of your usual head.
How did you manage to get the BBC plug for Just Us Served in its final two weeks? Were you surprised to see how attendance grew afterward?
The BBC thing came because I’d done Atlantic Radio and was shot for the Girlie Show in England, not in England, of course, they came to NYC. They’d heard about us because I did an interview for a German news outlet and I bit the interviewer. In my defense, he had just asked how a vampire could get someone to give in like that. I told him, you don’t have to be a vampire to lure someone in and as I talked he leaned in, so I nipped. It wasn’t like I broke skin or anything, but he told the press back home I was insane, even though they ran the footage and British press came calling.
I was never surprised at how press filled seats. I was surprised when we got it so fast. When I appeared on Joan Rivers, we sold out the entire end of the run of More Than You Can Chew. After The Village Voice’s Michael Musto reviewed us for The Daily News, we had to extend Let Us Prey. But we saw it after a New York Times profile, The New York Post articles and the radio appearances, especially WNEW-FM’s Paraquat Kelley appearance. Every media mention was followed by a spike in attendance. Even the public access appearances, Joe Franklin Radio and Screw magazine put asses in seats. I hadn’t done any real appearances for “Just Us Served,” because all anyone wanted to talk about was the Susan Walsh disappearance and I didn’t want to be seen as capitalizing on it. It hurt personally. Marie Bargas, who was the vampire expert on Entertainment Tonight as Marie King back then, recently told me she tried to get me to say a few words and I was apparently very rude, so the radio appearances helped a lot, they were comedy and I could do comedy easier than deal with tragedy.
What collaborations did you undertake with Goddess Rosemary following Vampyr Theatre?
We did quite a few during and after Vampyr Theatre. She’d wanted me to host an evening at some club that I passed off to Troy, who I think did it as Orlock if I remember. But I wrote a few performance pieces and short stories for Z/n. They were usually like erotic Twilight Zone stories with a left hand twist and subversive intent. The performance pieces all dealt with femdom but weren’t S&M, they praised the goddess. Goddess Rosemary asked me to write pretty music for her black and white art film The Elegant Spanking, and I came up with some nice acoustic guitar, chime and harpsichord things that I thought went well. I had to pull out of that one though, and it went to John Zorn. Since then, though, I supplied music for about a dozen of her YouTube videos and still occasionally jot things down for her or represent Sahjaza at events.
But the most interesting collaborations I did for Goddess Rosemary were the rituals. I wasn’t there when a lot of them were actually performed, but she tells me that, without exception, they triggered freaky shit when they were performed. Whether it was altered perception or astral projection, every single person who participated or witnessed the rituals made comments to her about it. I don’t know if all of them were good. Some of that was because I used stage hypnosis language on top of a layer of absurdism. Goddess Rosemary gave me specific books she wanted me to use for the rituals, like This Tree Grows Out of Hell, which is about all kinds of South American magic, and others. I had a pretty good esoteric library at the time, for a nonbelieving infidel, and I mixed and matched and did most of them using automatic writing and I made a specific altar that I wrote those on. I write creatively with pen on paper and a lot of it was impossible to read, but it formatted pretty well and fucked peoples’ minds up, so I was happy.
Tell the readers of current collaborations between you and Goddess Rosemary, or other new projects you’re involved in?
Well, I still help with experimental work at Sahjaza's Academy of Gray Mystics and consistently throw new music to her for your YouTube videos and soundtracks for Sahjaza's channels, But we work together all the time. Goddess Rosemary says I’m her personal sounding board, battery and co-conspirator. The next thing for me is a revival of my play Everybody ODs, which will be part of The Collective NB’s 10-minute play festival that runs March 10th and 11th at Gallery X in New Bedford, Mass. I also am about to start an occult expertise show on Docler called Live and Undead, which is also the name of my news zine.
What was it like choreographing Zeena Schreck’s pieces? Can these likewise be found online?
I met Zeena Schreck online after I did a piece on her for Daily Offbeat. I’d been senior writer at KpopStarz, interviewing musicians and artists and they gave me the magazine as a startup. It was supposed to be about aliens, ghosts, spooks, and conspiracies. I’d been doing serial stories, like tracking down the origins and maker of a haunted doll that was apparently terrorizing Singapore, or trying to get Bigfoot on the Endangered Species List. I was profiling anything and anyone off the usual beat, a lot like I was doing at Alt Variety. I got in a little bit of trouble with the managing editor because, after the Eric Garner killing, I expanded the meaning of Daily Offbeat to run a series on getting a violent cop off the beat every day, speaking with family members of victims who didn’t get reported. I did a piece on the White Witch of Rose Hall, where I interviewed Jinx Dawson of the Satanic Metal band Coven, who also gave me quotes for pieces I wrote for Den of Geek and the obituary of Jethro Tull’s bassist Glenn Cornick and was back into full occult mode when I saw a Facebook posting on a Zeena Schreck calendar and decided to write it up as a story, I sent a link to her web administrators.
Troy Acree was a Zeena fan during the run of Vampy Theatre and his own sell-your-soul-to-the-devil play Faust, the Devil and Rock and Roll, which ran at the Gene Frankel Theater on Bond Street. I played a dead John Lennon as a tour guide through hell in that, learned to dance a backwards waltz and everything. I was experimenting with automatic writing for the Vampyr Theatre play Dark Night of the Soul, which was a very fast rewrite of a script called Jihad of the Infidel that tapped too far into whatever Quentin Tarantino was channeling to write Natural Born Killers. Because I was into mixing and meshing mystical mayhem, I created an altar and one of the objects on it was a photograph of Zeena Schreck that was given to me by a ritual abuse survivor. Odd things sometimes emanated from that shot, which was an alternative of one that was in the calendar, so the night I ran the calendar piece I talked with Madame X of The House of Dreaming and told her about it and joked that I was about to summon the devil’s daughter who’d connected with my artistic subconscious all those years ago. I was goofing around but just in case something happened, I wanted a witness.
The next morning I woke up to an email from Zeena, thanking me for the article and asking for my address so she could send me a signed copy. We started an email conversation, which quickly grew fairly extensive. She googled me and had some things to say about my online writings, sent me some of her writings. I wound up writing about her or quoting her for several articles, including one on Christopher Lee for The Chiseler and two other pieces at Daily Offbeat. She also offered her expertise to articles I was doing on Penny Dreadful and Salem at Den of Geek. We actually bonded more over a mutual love for The Moody Blues and the Four Tops but we talked about all sorts of topics, through email and on skype video chat. Now I know I didn’t actually summon her, but Zeena knows how to commit to a joke too and when I told her about that she got sinisterly evasive, playing into her image and playing with it, She’s funny, you don’t expect that from Anton LaVey’s daughter, but you got to give the devil her due, right? She mentioned darsana and the concept of doing works as a spiritual offering. So I made a quick darsana video for her, using one of the blood chants I wrote and recorded for Vampyr Theatre, which she thought was goofy enough to warrant more work.
Zeena sent me mp3s of the Radio Werewolf songs she was uploading to YouTube, along with a dropbox file of about 100 images and I put the images to the music. But, because of our conversations on her brand of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, I created the videos in a meditative state. I reread a lot her writings to find out how to get there. That more than anything probably led me to the work I’m doing with Marie Bargas right now at Magick Lab Academy, though Zeena personally hates putting a K at the end of magic and I’d always followed that dictum, both the radio show and the webinars Marie’s putting together.
What was the concept of Everybody ODs and when was its first run? Why did you decide to revive it for The Collective NB?
In Everybody ODs, a couple goes out for drinks with one half of a couple, they are old friends. After drinking for a while and waiting for Fran’s husband Bill to show up after work, it comes out that Fran wasn't joking when she said she killed her computer programming husband because she was bored.
I don’t remember the first time it was performed. I wrote it for inclusion in the ten-minute play festival at the Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky. It won honorable mention. I believe the first time it was performed was when I produced it at a restaurant on 14th Street that had been converted into a theatre for midnight shows. I wrote two other short plays for that, How to Skip Alimony Through Voluntary Manslaughter and Dinner With Socrates. I also turned the screenplay for Hung Up, a short film I wrote and shot but which never got to post-production, into a play. I directed one and the others were directed by Troy Acree, Jenice Malecki and Jennifer van Bergen. It was revived for the first time at Theatre Studio Inc. on 750 Eighth Ave., by the late A.M. Raychel, who also produced three other of my plays. Everybody ODs was performed by the Rapid Deployment Theater Company as well and I believe we shot it for a Manhattan Cable Show with another cast.
Creative Artists Laboratory revived it after they saw it performed in a space in their same building that was done while I was in rehearsals for one of the Vampyr Theatre plays. They revived the three murder comedies and also produced Frankenstein Walks the Wolfman, which Time Out New York favorably compared to the horror movie Scream. Tanya Klein directed You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby for them and they did a staged reading of Baby Jane on Training Wheels. They were supposed to do a full production, but the lead actress started having nightmares. It happened again to the second actress who took the part and once again when The Irish Arts Center/Company of Impossible Dreams, NYC, tried to put it on in 1999. They wound up doing a staged reading of The Intervention instead. I wrote How You Slice It specifically for Creative Artists Lab and one of the rehearsals was run on Earthbird Presents, Emilio Murillo’s long-running alt-left Manhattan Cable performance and poetry show. That one was also revived by producer Laura Ludwig and performed at Eco Books and was recorded and broadcast by the Museum of Sound.
I also wrote a bunch of comedy skit nights for Creative Artists Lab, including Death Takes a Valium, Cosmic Inertia, The Wack, Factually Incorrect and Weight Loss by Vivisection. The audiences scared the performers. I was pretty fresh off doing Vampyr Theatre and the actors had to face this wall of goth and satanically dressed people that included Myke Hideous, New York’s upper echelon of the Satanic Church, whose magazine gave us a good review, and some magick metal band whose name I can’t remember.
A friend of mine forwarded their information to me in an email. I submitted two plays, Everybody ODs and How You Slice It, and they chose to overdose.
What can you say about your inspiration for How You Slice It and what the play’s key plot developments are?
Oh that was pure 19th Street living. We lived next to the projects and no one delivered to the projects. Also the Pizza connection thing was a little personal and that’s always good for a goof. But basically, it’s about two roommates who get high and order a lot of food but lose their appetite when the paranoia kicks in and they realize their only option is to move.
Do you see vampire theater in general becoming more accepted aboveground or remaining a cult phenomenon?
Vampires are above ground. They hit their peak probably when Twilight and True Blood and Vampire Diaries were all over the place and vampire gatherings became blood free and fashion friendly. Vampyr Theatre was nasty, it was funny, but I went for the jugular in such a vicious and disrespectful way that I don’t think my version of it would ever be go beyond the cult. I mean, who knows? We got more press than any other theater of our size and standing straight out of the box, but by the time the vampire scene started to pay off we’d already been staked. Someone told me it would be a big hit on the internet, but how? Without the actual threat of someone being able to grab you and put the bite on you, it’s not the same thing. I personally, patted people down or threw them up against the wall during two of the runs. That has no place on the internet and most people are scared shitless of guerilla theater. Hell, half the audience at Lion King are probably prostate with fear that one of the lions might make eye contact and forget about Cirque du Soleil. Eye contact at Vampyr Theatre could get you, not killed, but worse, brought up on stage and exposed. Even Est never really rose above a cult.
What sort of occult subjects will you be covering on Live and Undead and Magick Lab Academy? Is this to be a regularly scheduled program? Will you be producing it on your own or will anyone be working on it with you?
I’ll be doing two shows, Live and Undead will focus on certain gifts people can tap into themselves to get the answers they usually go to psychics for, and I’m not sure about the scheduling. But I will also be doing a radio program with Marie Bargas called Magick Lab Academy on Spiritualists Online Radio programming, which will run weekly on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. Eastern Time. Magick Lab Academy will take the mystery out of Mystery Schools. We make it ok to believe in nothing and still do magic.