You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Used with permission of the production

Brooklyn Loft Part, Littlefield, GrumpyFILMS (Next show August 3rd)

In New York City you can find whatever you want, whenever you want: gluten free pizza, half vegan sausage, single-origin matcha—delivered on demand. There’s a store dedicated to hot sauce in my neighborhood, another one to mayonnaise, and whether or not we can always afford to access it, we tend to value the highly specialized marketplace that is the city.

Except when a throwback, live variety show (think: contortionist, comedian, cocktail break) gleefully jars you out of the crushing constancy that accompanies that very possibility of finding exactly what you want, anytime. The relative ease with which you can find your thing, your people, your playlist is great, no doubt. But, there’s also a loss in the joy of the unexpected discovery, or, in virtual space, the narrowing algorithmic encounters with ever more predictably pleasing and ideologically alike things. All too easily life becomes tightly curated.

Landing the performance artbest of the buskers equivalent to foodie’s Smorgasburg, Brooklyn Loft Party, produced by GrumpyFILMS, Inc. (duo Daniel Sears & Jason Jude Hill) and hosted this month by musician-comedian Shonali Bhowmik, delivers a welcome, much-needed antidote to niche NYC. I rarely if ever seek out a full-on burlesque show nor the classic ‘don’t-sit-in-the-front-row’ comedy act, and yet I appreciated 6-minutes of Mandarine Moon-Fly artfully spinning butt and boob tassels alongside wry, self-deprecating comedian Janelle James. The first obvious and easy pleasure: not having to choose, commit— or sit still.

In Littlefield’s open performance and art space, featuring multiple floor-level performance areas and one central stage, Mermaid Parade meets Indie band at your local dive bar. Plus, that amazing crew of dancers from the A train that you tend to ignore/admire (WAFFLE NYC). All the while roller derby girls swirl around with go-go dancers and two audience members compete in a slow, reverse (who can eat half, but leave the most) hot dog eating contest.

Beyond the novelty of the variety aspect of the show, there’s something inherently destabilizing (and super fun) when particular performance genres are encountered out of their habitual, safe havens. Before her stand-up piece, James seemed particularly off-balance because of the different interface of the party-performance; a loose, three-ring circus style standing crowd is much different than performing to mini-bunches of seated folks, primed by having met a minimum drink order.

Perhaps BLP’s surprising appeal is also somewhat generational—geared to those who remember the Carol Burnette show or call hash tags ‘pound signs’ (as Coney Island style magician The Great Dubini admitted as he swallowed and sewed multiple needles and lengths of thread), or, to quote 35-year old James in a hilarious bit on inhabiting slightly older bodies, compliment younger lovers with things like, “your skin shirt is tight on your skeleton.” And, during one of several contests peppered throughout the evening, while fewer audience members revealed specific called-for tattoos, I may have won a free coffee by speedily locating (and racing others) wielding our Brooklyn Public library cards.

BLP is not simply resuscitating an old school variety format— from the start, the show subtly announced an interest in seams showing over slick production, and audience immersion over spectacle. Opening act, Miss Ekaterina, a skilled contortionist (aka, she’s really good at holding advanced yoga poses) awkwardly grunts and chokes in pain as she pretzels into challenging shapes. And in one of The Great Dubini’s meta-moments, he preps us for his big finale by bragging: “You’ll tell your grandkids about this.”

Rather than striking the direct note of grandiose boast or total sarcasm, in the moment, I truly wondered what might happen if Grumpy’s queer and inclusive vision for a live, immersive, multi-platform variety show really took off? Apart from a small series of local evenings, they have nebulous plans for an online, curated, and interactive variety experience. Until then, there’s one more chance to catch the live show.

Momentarily stopping as he buzzed around pre-show, Hill, the producing mind behind BLP, promised: “The next one will be totally different.” Can’t wait.

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