Rocking the Cradle

Photo by Manuel Vason

In his first comprehensive L.A. performance in 11 years, performance-artist extraordinaire Ron Athey provokes new audiences with The Judas Cradle. This sophisticated, multilayered theatrical piece, centering on the barbaric torture device of the same name, challenges traditional opera formulas using elaborate costumes, video and intricate sound design and . . . a Judas cradle. Ron and collaborator Juliana Snapper teach us something new about the Spanish Inquisition, Jean Genet and both subtle and explicit forms of coercion. L.A. WEEKLY: What made The Judas Cradle the show you wanted to bring to L.A. after so many years? RON ATHEY: It’s funny because I have a whole body of work I haven’t shown here. I guess it took a co-production; both Outfest and REDCAT split up the blame and minimal cost for the likes of me. Fierce Festival in Birmingham, England, actually grant-wrote for two years for this piece, so we actually went over and rehearsed it. That enabled me to develop it and tour 15 performances. Is this a continuation of past work, or conceptually something completely different for you? Visually, my work’s always been operatic, but actually studying opera is the biggest, weirdest departure I ever would’ve guessed. I was seduced into it. I always wanted to do an opera, but I never, ever thought I’d be the one to sing it. I wanted to collaborate with Juliana, so I started meeting with her, and she had me humming — gently led me. She had me singing in a lady-voice, which annoyed me. It makes your throat really tight. When we started singing together it became a really interesting trip. Your collaborator, Juliana Snapper, is an expert musicologist and Spanish Inquisition scholar. How did this influence the piece? We studied a lot together doing research, but our main reference point is the way these subjects are interpreted in opera. The look, the artificiality — the bad acting with one hand. Just the general bloat of opera. Even in the realm of body art, where my work was placed for a long time, I’ve never been a minimalist. But I’ve never used this much sound. Sound is an interesting way to penetrate the head. In torture manuals, there’s a line that the interrogator wants to straddle you on, which is kind of a sanity-line. They want to keep you on the agony side of it, because as soon as you go too far, you’re not there anymore. We play a lot with that in the show — the last scene is glossolalia [speaking in tongues]. So it’s interactive [laughs]. [Laughs] It’s all song-driven, though. REDCAT premieres The Judas Cradle July 13-16, 8:30 p.m., in conjunction with Outfest. Opening night on-site party hosted by Vaginal Creme Davis. Tickets $25, Outfest members $22. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 631 W. Second St., downtown. For ticket purchasing info, click here.

For more information on Ron Athey, visit


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