Talking with Radiohole
Radiohole is kooky and wild. They make eating fried chicken and guzzling beer the most compelling theater you’ve ever seen. Called “the next Wooster Group” by Time Out and voted “The drunkest, highest theater company” by the Village Voice, they never cease to amaze. I met them for brunch at Teddy’s in Williamsburg and they told me the secrets to their success. Well, some of them…
Lisa: How did you guys meet?
Eric: Joe and I met in a sex club.
Erin: Don’t tell her that story.
Eric: Joe and I went to undergrad at Bard together. Then Joe went to grad school at the Art Institute and met Maggie there who was an undergrad. She came to New York and Joe put us in touch and I wrote a play and asked Maggie to be in it. Then it was Scott, Maggie and myself. Then Scott had a kid and moved to Vermont. He’s not really active anymore. We had a good time doing Bender together so we decided to make more work. That was 1998.
Eric: We were doing a show at the Performing Garage as emerging artists. We were emerging artists then and we decided we wanted an intern and they gave us Erin who basically ended up directing the show.
Lisa: Can you tell me a little about the process of creating Radiohole is Still My Name and maybe a little about your process in general?
Joe: The first rehearsal was a pile of beans, cigars, two jugs of cheap wine and a bucket of fried chicken. (To Maggie) You were flashing people.
Maggie: I was?
Eric: The whole dinner thing started then. We pigged out and read Guy Debord and quaffed chicken.
Joe: And Erin puked all over your bed.
Eric: You work on a show for so long you feel like you’ve been doing that show forever so it’s hard to think about the other shows. But basically each piece has its own process.
Joe: They think it’s totally different, but it’s not. The originating source changes but the general approach doesn’t.
Eric: Joe’s more of an outsider, he could probably tell you better. Rodan and Heen were authored by one person but when we did Bender, it turned into a big free for all.
Erin: I wish.
Eric: It changed at that point.
Joe: But in the end they fight and fight.
Erin: You have to fight to get good work.
Maggie: But we love each other.
Erin: It’s better than nagging.
Eric: There’s a lot of volatility in the process. There are times it’s really peaceful, but then it erupts.
Erin: Because there’s no writer or director, it’s hard.
Joe: Sometimes there’ll be an idea to focus around. Source material will be found, videos, movies, someone will write a scene and often someone will rewrite it.
Eric: We do write our own stuff and we steal a lot. If one of us comes in with an idea…
Erin: We’ll shoot it down.
Eric: …someone will riff on it.
Erin: “I think that sucks, but I was thinking…”
Eric: I don’t necessarily see patterns in our process.
Erin: We do what naturally comes. It feels like we never know what we’re doing.
Eric: But we start to see patterns in the work we’re creating.
Erin: It’s often like, we don’t want it like this.
Joe: I think they’re always trying to fall into the crevice between what you expect and what you don’t expect.
Eric: There’s a certain amount of chaos that whether we know it or not, we want.
Joe: They love tassels, but they hate tassels, but they’re everywhere.
Maggie: You don’t want the tassels to be gratuitous. Everything has to feel like it’s been there for years.
Joe: I wanted to put tassels on the bike, but they said no. But then there were tassels everywhere else. I have no sense of when to put tassels and when not to put tassels.
Lisa: How does designing and making all your own stuff affect the work?
Eric: It helps unify the overall aesthetic. Doing our own tech and sets contributes to making it distinct.
Maggie: There’s something it gives you in your performance, controlling everything.
Erin: You can definitely identify that as a special Radiohole thing.
Eric: When we started, Scott and I were both technicians and I do set design and I view that as integral as words and text, so farming it out just doesn’t make sense.
Lisa: How did you get into doing this kind of work?
Erin: I was always a “theater person.” I was in L.A. and I was like, “this sucks”. So some of my friends were moving to New York so I moved to New York too and I interned with the Wooster Group because I didn’t know anyone.
Maggie: I went to the only school that had a performance art department.
Joe : (to Maggie) But you also did stuff in high school.
Maggie: I was doing lame angry performances.
Eric: (to Maggie) Didn’t you really want to be Elizabeth Taylor? I started doing theater because I was a juvenile delinquent. I was 17 and this lady asked me if I wanted to be in a play and so I was in a play with all these older, left wing artists. But I had a lot of fun hanging out with them. Then I was doing plays in college and I got sort of sick of doing plays and I read Richard Foreman’s Reverberation Machines and it really clicked inside me. And I realized I didn’t have to do plays.
Joe: So he started doing these big visual events in the woods.
Eric: They were pretty horrible.
Joe: No, I was on mushrooms once and I enjoyed it.
Joe: I was in the art department and he was in the theater department but we were really on the same wavelength.
Eric: No one in the drama department was doing performance art.
Lisa: Do you think working in Williamsburg affects your work?
Eric: There’s definitely a connection to the physical space we use, but not really Williamsburg. It could be in Long Island City. Probably the demographic brings us an audience.
Erin: If our home was in Manhattan, don’t you think we’d get more of an audience?
Lisa: What do you guys do for day jobs?
Eric: I work as a stage rigger. I mostly work in theatrical construction. I used to freelance all over town and work with a lot of downtown companies, but there’s no money in that.
Maggie: I do graphic design and work as a stage hand.
Eric: We’re also full-time retards.
Erin: I work as a waitress at a restaurant called Red Cat.
Lisa: What’s been the most difficult thing you’ve faced?
Erin: We overtax ourselves so much. The hardest moment was None of It at P.S. 122.We were close to splitting up.
Eric: We were opening a new show and we kind of psyched ourselves out. We were like, this our big chance in Manhattan. We put this unecessary pressure on ourselves. Also this Fall. We were doing two shows and then Erin had to have emergency surgery and Joe cut off two of his fingers.
Erin: You’re working as a four person group and everyone has a million jobs [in the production] and no one is replaceable.
Maggie: It was such a great lesson.
Eric: We had to cancel a whole bunch of shows which we had never done before. I started getting paranoid, cosmically speaking. We would go on hung over, sick, we never cancelled a show. It’s hard. We took on so much work, sets, costumes, day jobs, rehearsals, grant applications, it adds up.
Erin: Taking out the trash. That was stressful.
Maggie: And the rats.
Lisa: What have been some of the high points?
Erin: All that work always pays off. I’ve never been disappointed. It’s always satisfying.
Joe: The last show was incredible.
Eric: When the show’s crystallized into this kind of environment where you never know what’s going to happen, it’s so much fun.
Erin: There are so many elements. We set up a potential for disaster. Everything is so precarious.
Eric: Somehow we had generated this field of chaos and I was worried that we brought these disasters onto ourselves.
Joe: Early on in this show, we did an extra eating scene and we all hated it.
Erin: We did this thing that was so bad. I couldn’t even look at them. There was nothing to do to change the horridness of it. Then we watched the video and they started talking about how much they hated it and how we could change it and I started to cry. It was a real release cry. We were going to fix it. That felt good.
Eric: Sometimes you have to completely ruin something to make it better and it can be really freaky and panicky.
Lisa: Have you had any mentors?
Erin: I think we really find that in each other.
Eric: Also the Collapsable Giraffe. We wouldn’t have the space without them. I guess we’ve depended on companionship more than mentorship. We’re in the same tiny place trying to do this retarded thing.
Erin: They also helped when were trying to get more established as a company.
Eric: Also the Performing Garage. We did three shows there. They were really supportive when we didn’t have a space.
Lisa: Do you have any goals for the future?
Erin: To pay ourselves full time.
Maggie: I just want to keep doing what we’re doing. It’d be nice to do what we do without having to work at other jobs.
Eric: I get tired. I’m old. There are wolves chasing me. I just want to keep making the work.
Lisa: Do you have any advice for people interested in doing what you’re doing?
Eric: There’s a lot of luck involved.
Erin: You just do what you love.
Eric: It’s hard to get the right group of people.
Erin: You don’t stay in those situations that are terrible and fucked.
Eric: There’s no rhyme or reason to why we met and founded this group. That makes this work. I’d been doing theater with other people and the people weren’t bad but the work was mediocre. There wasn’t this kind of chemistry. You just make the work and try to have a good time doing it. That sense of play is fundamentally what it’s about. We get to go out and play. That’s why plays are called “plays.” At least that’s what I think.