dick zigun essay
With the clang of a bells, the sideshow barker converts a few heads his approach, his masked companion, dressed in black coming from head to tattooed shins, transforms a few more. Ahead of those glances have an opportunity to stray, the barker roll-outs into a convivial if not-yet-up-to-speed litany of marvels waiting for the interested, the intrepid, even the really jaded, only beyond the archway: your Blockhead, capable to drive a regular household icepick into his skull, the Glass Eater, who not only chews nevertheless swallows a complete lightbulb, the Snake Enchantress, boon partner to an hvidf?dning python preserved from the New York City sewer system, the Feminist Fat Female (oops, simply no Fat Woman today), the Illustrated Person, whose intricately patterned lower legs have already hinted at the miracles in store. All of this and more, Of course, if you buy your ticket over the following three minutes, you join for fifty percent price. The diffident knot of passersby whove lingered this very long breaks up, however the crowds not only a total loss: a dozen approximately onlookers decide to be parted from their dollars and shock in a second of vacation indulgence. That is the point, in fact, of a Coney Island outing, and Dick Zigun, who has produced Sideshows by the Seaside for 8 summers jogging, thinks theres more than hucksterism at work.
Zigun grew up, as he likes to speak about, in L. T. Barnums hometown of Bridgeport, Conn., a chance entirely fitted to Ziguns function as Coney Island titolare and preserver of Americas popular overall performance traditions. In 1980, armed with an M. F. A. in playwriting from Yale School of Drama, Zigun founded New Yorks Coney Island, USA, a museum and theatre company dedicated to reviving and in some cases, reinterpreting the parades, sideshows, live activities and exhibits that characterized the enjoyment park in the heyday. In addition to the sideshow, home repair center benefactors an annual mermaid parade, a Friday-night music series, an off-season cinema production and exhibits simply by local artist all Coney Island-inspired.
Everybody in the world has heard about Coney Island, Zigun notes. And this sense of Coney Islands history is usually an introduction to our work. When people come here, theyre not arriving at see an avant-garde movie theater company, theyre coming to an amusement recreation area.
Of course , the Coney Isle people have learned about may not be one which greets these people at the nether reaches with the B, G, F and N subway lines, in which the Atlantic Marine stops Brooklyn in its monitors. Little remains to be of the glorious turn-of-the-century recreation space whose 3 grandly called pleasure castles Luna Recreation area, Dreamland and Steeplechase Park offered every single manner of curve, from reenactments of the Boer War to the worlds 1st roller coaster. Decades of decline and outstanding demographic alterations in New york city Citys city makeup have erased that Coney Isle, replacing that with a sprawling and derelict outpost of auto body system shops and woebegone souvenir shacks. Ivy-covered skeletons of long-defunct voyages rise above the clutter just like ruins of your ancient civilization. Only the marine retains it is former fame, its beautiful expanse the unruly communities reward for having endured.
Zigun has passed a number of endurance testing himself. He launched his Coney Island enterprise if the areas status was at it is lowest ebb, and tiny cultural wins were considered less newsworthy than arson and gang warfare.
A quick post-graduate stint in Cal, where Ziguns plays caught the attention of a couple of regional theatres in the late 70s, gave the playwright the idea of beginning his own company. I had been standing on the amusement boat dock at Father christmas Monica and searching at some of the archaic properties for rent, convinced that would be a good way to try to do the type of movie theater I want. Eventually, he had applied for a rental on a clapboard building on Coney Islands Surf Opportunity. Two months in renovation, house burned down. But by then, Zigun happiness, his showmans instinct steering the rest of his sentence, I had crushed stone in my shoes and deep sea in my veins, I was totally hooked on Coney Isle.
A new residence was created out of any 1939 cent arcade on the boardwalk. The area is humble: half has over to a permanent display of Coney Isle memorabilia, as well as the other half serves as a dark box theatre with a tiny platform stage and stadium-style wooden bleachers. Though much better situated to catch the fancy of passing tourists and beachcombers than the earlier site, the theatre didnt have much eyesight appeal right up until Valerie Haller came on side in 1988 while design movie director. This accustomed to be a seary place for a lot of people, the girl acknowledges. Haller worked to make a welcoming facade, one that is old-fashioned while still expressing something in the companys quirkiness. We wished a funhouse, an Alice-in-Wonderland kind of place. I call it |Amusement Park Deco. Its helped us get our crowds. We all dont look like one of the tours that has flashing lights and disco music and video effects. Had been more hand made.
And though certainly on the funky side of quaint Hallers hand-painted sideshow banners transmit their oddities in luscious fruity colors like a spin of tropical Life Investors the impression left by Coney Island, USA is of bizarreness over a human, rather than technological, size. The sideshow, billed because the last of its kind in America, is usually finally significantly less dependent on their grotesqueries than on its ability to kindle fire, however briefly, the creativity of it is pick-up target audience.
Zigun him self seems the unlikeliest of promoters. The hard to assume this soft-spoken, self-effacing gentleman parading about (as he has done) in an antique bathing suit and straw cap and contacting himself the Mayor of Coney Isle. But his reticence vanishes when it comes to defending Americas vaudeville heritage.
Jones Edison innocently did an extremely evil point. By the time for the hundred years, America was on its way to having its own edition of commedia dellarte. There were a very superior American well-liked theatre in vaudeville, in burlesque, in minstrel shows and medicine shows. It absolutely was flourishing and probably would have created great American playwrights, American Molieres. Although Edison created the movies. And overnight, the favorite American movie theater died.
Blaming it all on Edison is like singling out Columbus for centuries of European imperialism. There were undoubtedly other adding to factors about what was a steady decline in American popular theatrical practices, including the control wielded by powerful creating cartels. In addition, the increasing American cravings for realistic spectacle (pace Belasco) was better served by film than by the theatre, in whose magic is metaphor, not really verisimilitude. But Zigun is right in realizing that the instant and frustrating allure from the cinema, actually in its newborn baby days, bumped the wind away of a recently established indigenous cinema. (Yet film also conserved, lets not forget, the titanic ship gifts of theatre designers like Chaplin and Keaton, and we owe much of the knowledge of the vaudeville level to the film art which has immortalized it. )
Zigun, who cites Charles Ludlam and Rich Foreman (Foreman is spookhouse, were funhouse) as impact on, is an apostle of cheap theatrics at their purest. He desires to reclaim these elements of Unites states theatrical past that are often dismissed while naive, unsophisticated or chocarrero: the unmediated terrors and pleasures of circus and sideshow, carnival midway and music lounge stage. His own takes on combine aspects of carnival exhibitionism and avant-garde adventuring in unique vogue, frequently incorporating toys, discovered objects, club turns and musical interludes in ritualizing American trends and fetishes. His Experts Voice, a tribute to vaudeville, takes a first-rate ventriloquist, Three Unnatural Acts, subtitled A Theatrical Response to people Lives of Karen Ann Quinlan, Charles Lindbergh and David (Son of Sam) Berkowitz, goodies its famous and infamous subjects with sideshow abandon, Red Notice Days can be described as musical special event of holidays part college pageant, component sociological vivisection.
Ziguns nostalgia for the 19th-century American stage is definitely not with no reservation, he acknowledges the racism as well as the ethnic stereotyping ingrained in vaudevilles record, but is convinced that perceptions would have developed as the theatre evolved. (The Feminist Excess fat Lady is a case in point. ) Hes not sure that attitudes toward the kind of tradition he represents and toward the website where hes chosen to restore it possess changed.
The turn-of-the-century American critic and novelist Adam Huneker jibed, Unlike Sodom, Coney Tropical isle can boast at least 10 great inhabitants nevertheless they only in order to set off the repulsive characteristics of their friends and neighbors. Maxim Gorky visited Coney Island in 1906, and promptly denounced the slimy marsh of boredom in a withering mag article Zigun plans to adapt because this winter seasons theatre giving. Many significant theatregoers today, Zigun concerns, dismiss Coney Island, UNITED STATES without disturbing to investigate it.
Getting them there in the first place is far more than 1 / 2 the battle. Coney Tropical isle gives us so much, he enthuses. A staging region full of theatre, with the marine, the sun, the horizon, the rides. A mass multicultural New York market: blue collar, hipsters, travelers, immigrants. Coney Island provides us a residential area hungry intended for the arts, and because of their history, it provides us the license to become bizarre, to redefine what theatre artwork is. A various spur-of-the-moment viewers is built-in, whats recently been agonizingly slower to develop is recognition in the critical community and among some sectors of the money world. Admiration, in other words. Particular number of people who are not really coming right here because theyre not going to collection foot on a third-world seashore. Its wrong, he laments, a decade of buried anger momentarily erupting, its merely morally wrong. Not for my personal sake, but also for our audiences.
Ziguns long term commitment to Coney Isle may be based upon his landlord: the companys lease expires in 2 yrs. If we were required to start once more, he muses, I think we might try Ohio Beach. Its still the beach, its nonetheless funky, yet theres money there. Finding himself appearing (deservedly) world-weary at 39, he cuts short his catechism of complaints. I am a playwright with my theatre, he admits that, still appearing surprised by it all, and a hell of a front yard.
Janice Paran is a critic, a dramaturg at Fresh Jerseys McCarter Theatre and a regular contributor to this magazine.