12/3: Fear of an Animal Planet


Performance artist, playwright and self-described “Queermamasapien” Pandora Scooter makes a long awaited return to Asbury Park this weekend (December 7-9), when she brings her terror-ifically timely solo work FEAR JUNKIE 2012 to the Shore Institute of Contemporary Arts for a three-night engagement that gets in just under the wire of the post-Mayan Calendar Meltdown! 

Call it Guerrilla Theater — although that can sound a bit strident and humorless for a body of work that’s often possessed of a playfully satiric edge. “Gorilla” Theater isn’t actually too far off the mark, when you consider that Animal Rights just as often enters into the mix. We actually prefer Hermit Crab Theater — the kind of living, breathing, creative entity that invades and adapts to any available non-traditional space; be it a Bingo hall, bowling alley, bar, restaurant, art gallery, retail store, gazebo, Afghanistan banana-stand, warehouse, whorehouse, outhouse, or even our house.

Long before we ever had the notion of actually staking out living quarters inside Asbury Park’s venerable Stephen Crane House, we were a fairly frequent guest at many of the oddball and outré performance events hosted by owner Frank D’Alessandro at the history-dripping house of ideas and letters. It’s a gamut of intimately scaled, one-of-a-kind entertainments that ranged from a one-woman adaptation of Jane Eyre, to an early version of Rock Wilk’s sensational solo opus Broke Wide Open (currently enjoying an Off Broadway run at NYC’s 45th Street Theater).

Also caught lighting up the postage-stamp stage of the Crane’s 40-seat Lecture Room was one Pandora Scooter — a dynamic being of verbal elbow jabs and chameleonic character morphs; a “homo…sapien who happens to be a citizen, a woman, a mother, a woman who loves women, a poet, etc.”; a savvy standup and a serious/seriously funny supercharger of words. The Highland Park resident, whose many works for the stage include OUTworldlyFabulous (a traveling solo show designed to confront issues of homophobia and bullying in schools and adolescent peer groups), has maintained a fervent following in and around Asbury Park (she debuted her show Samuraization here in 2005, and has performed at several different hermit-crab venues around town) — and beginning this Friday, December 7, she returns to the storm-slapped but undaunted city for three nights, with a timely little thing entitled Fear Junkie 2012.

A single-Scooter, multiple-personality vaudeville about the way we’re dealing (or not) with the imminent end of the world — as prophesied more or less by the rather abrupt end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012 — this continuation of the themes explored in her earlier Fear Junkie finds snug harbor inside The Shore Institute of the Contemporary Arts (SICA), Doug Ferrari’s recently relo’d gallery and cafe space that’s fast become one of the most stimulating storefronts in town. Produced by Black Box of Asbury Park (the arts collective behind many of Pandora’s past local excursions), the intriguing olio of “hilarity and sobriety” goes up at 8pm on December 7 and 8, and at 7pm on Sunday, December 9.

Meanwhile, back at Crane’s Crib, the old house comes alive once more with the latest in a long line of bracingly original works created and performed by our friend Marjorie Conn — performance player, playwright, and proud founder of the original Provincetown Fringe Festival. Since leaving P’town in favor of greater AP, the self-described “Conn Artist” has made herself at home numerous times at the house, for projects that have included a sensational monologue on the life and legacy of Lizzie Borden, to a chamber piece about the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok — a history about which she observes, “I fell in love with the Crane House the first time I saw it…I love doing my thing at odd spaces that resonate with me.”

Each of the past few winters, she’s also gathered a group of friends and creative partners together for a yearly Playwriting Festival — the fourth edition of which commandeers the Crane this Saturday evening, December 8, for a program of playlets assembled under the title Animal Crackers (no relation to the 1929 Broadway hit starring the Marx Brothers).

Sharing a common theme of, you guessed it, Animals, the five pieces (written and performed by Conn, Lisa Banwell, Christine Emmert, Richard Emmert, Laura Porter and Rosemary Wright, with music interludes performed by Christine Leahy) include a skit by Marj and Christine that was originally submitted to the New York-based FACT (Friends Always Creating Theater) group; a relationship that came to an abrupt end when, as Conn explains, “I was supposed to write two lesbian comedies but they censored one of them, so I pulled out.”

The short play, concerning two snails attempting to mate (“a very funny play about hermaphrodites, and I don’t often write comedies”) will be seen for the first time here, and will go on to a featured spot in a New York festival this January. It’s joined on the 7pm program by a skit about polar bears (“it’s a funny thing about global warming; they’re losing their ice floes and keep falling into the water”), a one-minute bit about mosquitoes; a script (“Hiss Hiss Kiss Kiss”) inspired by Cain, a rescue cat adopted by Conn earlier this year — and a piece inspired by Big Shot, a deceased frog whose burial-at-sea “coffin” was discovered by veteran beachcomber Conn. A $5 admission (taken at the door) will benefit “the grassroots effort to feed, spay, neuter and find homes for the Asbury Park/Ocean Grove beach cats.”

“Some of them died during Sandy, but slowly they’re coming back,” explains Marj. “They found two week old kittens in the Casino, both of whom now have wonderful homes…one of them was adopted by a woman in the cast who has 20 cats.”

Proceeds from the sale of homemade soaps will be dedicated to an area greyhound rescue effort, and refreshments will be provided for all attendees. Take it to (732)807-4052 to reserve seating — and take it just around the paperless page for our Q&A with Pandora Scooter.

CainBigShotCain the rescue cat, and Big Shot the frog (whose burial-at-sea “coffin” is pictured here) are two real-life critters who inspired segments of ANIMAL CRACKERS, Marj Conn’s program of short plays that goes up at the Stephen Crane House on Saturday, December 8.

upperWETside: We welcome Pandora Scooter back to town, in this all-clear moment between the colossally un-fun aftermath of Sandy and the potentially very dull end of the world as we know it. It’s healthy to have fun with the paranoia and the panic that set in whenever another apocalyptic deadline comes and goes…still, don’t we all tend to get a little bit ‘yeah, but what if?’ as the date draws near? 

PANDORA SCOOTER: I took the end of the world very seriously when I was younger. It wasn’t so much a ‘young’ thing; it’s just that I wasn’t able to discern the difference between science and mythology…I didn’t realize that all sorts of myths were being propagated through the media.

I never got into the survivalist mindset. I didn’t stockpile bottled water before Y2K, but I do admit that I was nervous…

As a parent of a teen; someone who’s worked with adolescents in recent years, how do you read the way that kids are dealing with any of this apocalyptic talk? Do they just laugh it all off, or is it a potential bonding moment between them and the forever fucked-up adults in their lives?

My daughter is apathetic about the whole end of the world fear…it just doesn’t fit into the scheme for her. The kids at her school would think that if a planet runs into the earth, it’d be really cool!

You perform as several different characters in FEAR JUNKIE 2012, and I wonder if any of them may have been overtly based upon some particular public person, or slowly unraveling next door neighbor?

I was mostly inspired by blogs and commentators out there in the media, the ones who foster fear…and what we can do to alleviate that fear. Comedy is one of the ways that we can confront it; just being more positive.

If we should fear anything at this point, it’s the fear of the people who are taking it all so seriously. We start getting into talk of magnetic fields, solar flares, polar ice caps…all kinds of things get thrown into the mix and get churned up. There’s always a few people out there who don’t handle this sort of thing very well…I’d like to be able to reach out to that person if I could.

Unfortunately that person is least likely to be outside the bunker, enjoying an evening of satirical theater in downtown Asbury Park! Well, we…and when I say ‘we’ I mean the usual media outlets that ostensibly speak for us…we like to play up storylines like this; things like those end-of-the-world billboards from that radio preacher whose name nobody can even remember one year later. And then when we have a very real catastrophe to deal with, like the storm-related stuff we’ve just been through, we’re very quickly told to move on and get our ass back to the malls…

A lot of what you’re getting from the mass media is just capitalist. So much of everything surrounding the whole end of the world business is capitalist…you know, buy this video about the 37 items you need to have on hand to survive. But lately, as the date draws closer, I’m seeing a move away from the fearmonger approach, to just selling merchandise.

Well, nobody wants to be the one who’s stuck with a warehouse full of instantly remaindered Y2K items.

In Fear Junkie 2012 I do a piece about a game show, about whether or not you’ve got the skills to survive. It’s all about cash rather than the knowledge…about the value that we assign to cash at the end of the world. I have people bidding on a ten dollar bill — one time the ten dollar bill sold for five bucks, and another time someone bid $11.50 for the ten!

What are some of the other bits you’ve incorporated into the show?

I play a NASA specialist (Dr. Take No Shite), and I portray a survivalist named Eben Eyelicker…a person who’s nothing but doom and gloom. You can make fun of it, but the place where that fear comes from, the obsession with surviving, is really just about denying mortality.

So as opposed to most of the other performance pieces that you’ve got in circulation, this one has a very definite dairy-product expiration date stamped on it. What happens after that?

I’m moving on to a new project; writing a new show about the evangelical church versus the gays; and how each side energizes the other in its own way…there’s definitely a codependency there.

Well, the Westboro people are absolutely out of business without having the other side to work off of. But there’s also the gentler, more folksy demeanor of a Mike Huckabee; TV’s Kirk Cameron and his smiling, sitcom face on what’s essentially the same thing. How hard or easy is it to get energized against those sort of characters? And what do you say to that Log Cabin Republican you’re so awkwardly seated across from at the luncheon? 

As far as the Log Cabin Republicans, they’re people who have taken some time to arrive at their position…they’ve come to their beliefs in a very considered way. I would love to sit down and have some hot chocolate with them anytime…it’s only through compassion that we’re gonna get anything accomplished.

What needs to happen, and this is one of the things that I like about Obama, is that we all need to be open to all points of view; to validate the fact that another point of view can exist. If we were to all engage in more trust-building acts, maybe we’d make some progress.

Showtimes for Fear Junkie 2012 are December 7 and 8 at 8 p.m., and December 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and can be purchased by credit card here; reserved by calling (732)737-7671 or emailing blackboxnj@gmail.com. Admission is also available for $18 at the door of SICA, located at 610 Cookman Avenue (accessible via the courtyard next to Words! Bookstore).