It's a party, it's theater, it's a “happening“…or wait, is it fancy art talk? According to Sneaky Nietzsche's creator, Sheila Vand, it's a little bit of all of those, and the runaround is part of the fun.
Billed with the tagline “a theatrical music experiment for the fictionally inclined,” Vand speaks of the show as a “multimedia visceral experience,” engaging all of the senses. Nietzsche said “There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy,” and the bodily senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste are innate components of the experience. You might leave not knowing in your brain exactly what hit you, but you're not really supposed to “get it” in that way.
Sneaky Nietzsche began last year, presenting itself on Saturday nights at a warehouse downtown from August through October. The experience, a party with entertainment provided by a fictional band of underworld characters performing a soundtrack created by composer Johann Carbajal, was conceived of as a one-time run. But when LACMA extended an invitation to perform at this year's Dead Man's Ball, the underworld was reconceived and the fictional band embarked on an above-ground tour leading up to their appearance at the behemoth institution.
Secret pre-party shows last Friday and Saturday night at Sneaky Nietzsche's “secret headquarters” downtown were ultra-exclusive. To anyone who asked to get in. I asked. Vand headlines the show as singer in the fictional band, the evening's main event. The party leading up to the performance (but wait… maybe the whole thing's a performance!?) began at 9 p.m. Underworld characters — performers simultaneously glammed out and dirtied up, with either dirt or dirt-like makeup applied to their faces and extremities — mingled with masked audience members/partygoers/participants, sipping on mixed drinks and Tecates from a cash bar. A DJ rolled out some awesome classic funk, soul and generally good-for-twistin' tunes.
One partygoer wore a “metaphorical mask,” and remarked of his experience, “I kinda like it.” Just chillin' in an easy chair taking it all in, his understatement hit the nail on the head — we're all in it, so we have to be cool about it. You know what else I kinda like? Conga lines. With the DJ spinning “Day O,” the conga line was inevitable. Taking up a large part of the crowd and disrupting the booty bumping on the dance floor, the conga line snaked its way through several times, gathering a critical mass of booty bumpers, mad scientists, masked partygoers and performers along the way.
As I wove my way through the underworld among a thicket of branches, bushes, frosted glass silhouette panels, games of Ouija and velveteen couches, a mad scientist remarked to me, “Good luck on your performance tonight.” Oh, I get it, I'm part of the performance too! Clever, clever.
And then, the show. Underworld creatures got us all on our knees, tugging at our clothing, our calves, applying gentle pressure to our shoulders. (Who's touching me?!??!) We got down. Vand appeared on stage in a champagne gown, big-ass faux diamond necklace, a revolver belt and a mask wound around one eye like a hurricane.
Though the music was sometimes difficult to hear above the party noise all around, the constant pushing, pulling, weaving through on hands and knees of those glammed-out underworld denizens kept the main event plugging along on the audience floor.
The performance moved down from the stage and back up on several occasions. The feeling was overwhelming — too much to see, all-encompassing, sensory overload. In a good way.
The guns came out when Sheila sang a love song. “You know what a love song is?” she said. “It's a six-shot revolver pointed straight at your heart.” Holding her revolver to her mouth, she waved a microphone like a lasso at the chump on stage (her spurned lover?) while he's mandhandled before having a clown's nose placed on his face and rainbow wig on his head. Several songs later, and after a response to Sheila's “I hope you're feeling sneaky but I also hope you're feeling sexy” resulted in a chant of “more sex!” erupting through the crowd, the musical experiment was over. The DJ segued into Lil Weezy's “6 foot 7 foot,” recalling the conga-line-inducing “Day O” from earlier in the evening, and I departed before another could break out.
So the party was fun. The foresty underworld decor was cool. The musical performers, underworld audience plants and mad scientists were entertaining. But that's not really why Sneaky Nietzsche rocks my socks. It's because, according to their website, they also performed at Chuck E Cheese in Sioux Falls, SD. The mythology surrounding the theatrical music experiment, multimedia visceral experience or whateveryouwanttocallit, the party, the press, the gigs in children's play pens, is all part of the gesamtkunstwerk (yeah, I'm fancy like that), the whole body of the work. The fictional space created in which partygoer and performer come together in one concentrated moment… well, if that's not awesomeness I don't know what is.
Sneaky Nietzsche will perform at LACMA's Dead Man's Ball on Saturday, October 29 at LACMA, (323) 857-6010, www.lacma.org/muse-costume-ball.
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