Telling Tales Out of School

Commemorating P.S. 122's 25-year history of stretching the bounds of contemporary performance


Steve Sapp/The Universes

Our first show at P.S.122 was called The Ride. The opening poem said, "If we're in Brooklyn, it's Broadway; if we're in Sing Sing, it's Broadway; if we're at the Nuyorican Poets, it's Broadway; if we're at P.S.122, it's Broadway. . . . " We knew who had been on that stage—Danny Hoch, John Leguizamo, Eric Bogosian, Spalding Gray, Carmelita Tropicana. We found it weird that Mark was bringing us in, but he'd just say, "Come in and play, come in and play."

Karen Finley: The joy of cooking
photo: Dona Ann McAdams
Karen Finley: The joy of cooking

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    Lori E. Seid

    I curated a group show called Salon de la Mer, emceed by Karen Crumley, who did this dominatrix character and had a leopard, who was really Peggy Healey nude except for body-paint spots. I asked friends, all gorgeous women, to come and wear cigarette-girl trays and sell snacks and tequila slushies. It was a very hot summer. I put in three kiddie pools. Until recently when they redid the floors, I had utter guilt, because you could see where the floor buckled because of the kiddie pools. We had so much fun swimming and splashing.


    Tom Murrin

    The Full Moon Crew—Dancenoise, Mimi Goese, Jo Andres, and me, Alien Comic—performed on full-moon nights at P.S.122 during the '80s. I'd ask the moon goddess, Luna Macaroona, for her blessing on everyone. It would end with a shower of lunar essence, some sort of white material, like those pellets you use for packaging or yogurt, something white and messy.


    Lucy Sexton

    Dancenoise was Anne Iobst and me. Our motto was that we would never do the same show twice and never say no to a gig. We were going to see a lot of punk bands at the time and we took that ethos—make it short, fast, loud. More often than not there would be a big dose of fake blood. We were very political, and we used to have these big dummies onstage and in the first full-length show, Half a Brain, we said, "We're not talking half a brain in this country, we're talking no head." We took the heads off the dummies and they had bottles of blood stuck inside them, so blood spurted out of their necks and we doused ourselves in it and went on.


    Jeff Weiss

    The idea for Hot Keys was that every week of the run you would add characters and people until there were as many people onstage—singing, dancing, acting, living, dying, fornicating—as there were in the audience. Sometimes the shows would go on for five or six hours. I had eight or nine different plotlines from week to week. Our glee club had grown to 35 members and would do dozens of musical numbers. There was no intermission. Once the evening started it didn't end.


    John Fleck

    My piece I Got the He-Be-She-Be's was all about male/female confusion and these different entities in me fighting for control within the one body. I would wear men's underwear, but I also had my requisite high heels, and there was a moment where I tried to rape myself, so to speak. It was a big old sweatfest.


    Ishmael Houston Jones

    I did a dance piece that had this AIDS coda so I wanted a nightmarish image of my fear of plague. I bought a dead goat on 14th Street, and in the climax I was blindfolded on a mattress in a hospital gown dancing with it. There was this big outcry, mostly from animal rights activists. They called the Board of Health and I had to explain to this bureaucrat the symbolism of a man wrestling with a dead goat. Actually the second weekend it was replaced by a dead sheep. We were keeping it in the beer cooler of a local sushi restaurant.


    Lori E. Seid

    We held the Ethyl Eichelberger Film Festival after Ethyl killed himself—stuff that he showed during his shows and other stuff that he was in. I rented a cotton candy maker and we made cotton candy wigs. We were all instrumental in making the downstairs dressing room his dressing room. We got his piano and it just seemed right.


    Juliana Francis

    Changing in that Ethyl Eichelberger dressing room felt like such a privilege. It's really tiny and it's painted bright pink and there's that picture of Ethyl propped up above the mirror and everybody knows it's his room and that it really is haunted.


    Survival at High Altitudes

    Sarah East Johnson

    My most recent piece, Timberline, was about survival at high altitudes, so we put a tightrope in between two columns. We also put a little platform on the top of one of them and got eight people up there, perched, stranded. We hung trapezes. That space is so intimate, we could do a piece inside a tent with people telling survival narratives.

    David Leslie

    For my swan song as the "Impact Addict," Mark let me build a six-story mountain in the courtyard. Lucy Sexton came out dressed as Maria Von Trapp. "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" played and Lucy started to climb and at one point she went behind a rocky outcropping and I took over, dressed exactly like her. I hauled myself up and at the very top there's a tree. I started climbing. Then three nuns come out of the sixth-story window; two of them have axes. They start chopping. The tree falls and flings me straight down to the stage. How I survived that I will never know.

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