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Coney Island Fireworks Posters. Photo © Tricia Vita via flickr

Coney Island is still the People’s Playground. You can come here with a couple of bucks in your pocket and have a great time people watching on the boardwalk. Here’s our guide to more than a dozen free events this summer, including fireworks, music, dancing and movies on the beach. Stay tuned for the 2012 schedule of the Seaside Summer Concert Series, which will once again be held at Surf Avenue and 21st Street in Coney Island beginning in mid-July. Update July 7: The free concerts begin on July 12 with Gloria Gaynor and the Village People. Among the six summer concerts are Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on August 9 and Gladys Knight and the Commodores on August 16. Check the Seaside Concert website for full schedule and details.

Friday Night Fireworks, June 15 through August 31. Coney Island Boardwalk. The first Friday night fireworks of Coney’s 2012 season begin today at 9:30 pm. The free summer-long show is once again sponsored by Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park, Luna Park including the Scream Zone and the Cyclone, and the Brooklyn Cyclones. In addition, the Cyclones have scheduled fireworks on their Opening Day– Monday, June 18th—as well as on Wednesday, July 4th, and four Saturdays when they have home games: July 7, August 4, August 11 and August 25. Friday night “Karaoke on the Boardwalk” in front of the Wonder Wheel also starts today from 7pm.

Coney Island Dancers

Coney Island Dancers. Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug

Coney Island Dancers Outdoor Dance Parties, Boardwalk at W 10th Street and W 15th Street. Dance and party at two locations on the Boardwalk this summer with the Coney Island Dancers. CID’s Commander-in-chief Rican Vargas–he’s the guy in military whites– says the group has been performing on the boardwalk for almost 15 years: “Just follow your ears to the beat and your eyes to the gathering.” The weekend parties are 12 noon till 8pm, with a street festival set for Saturday, August 18th on West 10th Street. Check the schedule on CID’s website.

Pet Costume Contest. Photo © Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

Pet Day and Pet Costume Contest, Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park. Saturday, June 16. Last Year’s 1st Annual Pet Day was an occasion for costumed dogs and one lucky parrot to parade on the Boardwalk and ride in miniature floats. The pooches wore a sailor hat, an opera hat, sunglasses and even a Hawaiian skirt. We’re hoping to see a Noah’s Ark of exotic pets this year–how about a hermit crab or an iguana? The costume contest begins at 2pm, with preregistration recommended for the 25 slots. Pets are also invited to ride the Wonder Wheel with their owners. Sonny, a Rottweiler owned by Wonder Wheel Park’s Vourderis family, used to ride all day in his very own car. He loved the Wonder Wheel. RIP Sonny.

Abe Feinstein at the Coney Island History Project. Photo © Coney Island History Project.

“Abe Feinstein: 50 Years of Coney Island Photography,” Coney Island History Project, through July 1. In the History Project’s free exhibit center on 12th Street, you’ll see photos of a vanished Coney Island that you won’t find anywhere else. Abe Feinstein, 83, has been photographing his neighborhood since he moved to Luna Park Houses in 1962. Selected and printed by History Project director Charles Denson, the images include icons like Steeplechase Park’s Pavilion of Fun, the Parachute Jump in action, and Shatzkin’s Knishes, where signs advertised huckleberry and cherry knishes. The show runs through July 1 at the exhibit center, which is open Saturdays and Sundays from 12 noon till 6pm.

Mermaid Parade

Mermaid Parade founder Dick Zigun of Coney Island USA beating his drum. Photo © Tricia Vita

Mermaid Parade, June 23.We’ve met New Yorkers who passionately proclaim their love for Coney Island though they come here only once a year for the Mermaid Parade. It’s worth the trip from anywhere. If you plan to join the parade as a mermaid or other sea creature, we recommend registering in advance. Our fave free spot to watch (and photograph) the parade is near the reviewing stand on Surf Avenue at West 12th Street, where marching groups strut their stuff and bribe the judges. Other good spots to watch the parade for free are on Surf Avenue at the corner of Stillwell facing Nathan’s or West 10th near the Cyclone. The Boardwalk has great ambiance, but you’ll miss seeing the hippie buses and vintage cars. This year the parade is celebrating its 30th anniversary and is bound to be jam-packed. It starts at 2pm. Don’t be late–or you may find yourself unable to swim across Surf Avenue!

Hot Dog Eating Contest

Sound Check for Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. Photo © Tricia Vita

Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, July 4. The Road to Coney for 15 regional qualifiers leads to the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues for “The Big Dance.” If you can’t make it, the event will be televised live on ESPN at 3 pm. Yes, that’s right, the traditional starting time of “high noon” has been changed due to ESPN’s live coverage of the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Quarterfinals. On the plus side, the one-hour telecast will also include coverage of the Women’s Championship. Go, Sonya! UPDATE June 26: According to a press release from Major League Eating, the contest was changed back to its original starting time of 12 noon, with the women’s championship at 11:30 am. Traffic jam averted: “An expected crowd of some 40,000 for the contest followed by an early evening Cyclones game required the contest to be moved back to 12 Noon.”

Coney Island Film Series

Coney Island Flicks on the Beach Summer Film Series. Photo Courtesy of EPIX

Flicks on the Beach, Schedule TBA. Last summer, Flicks on the Beach was a welcome new addition to Coney’s roster of free summer-long events and will be returning this season though the schedule has yet to be announced. The Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC), NYC & Company and EpixHD partnered with Rooftop Films to launch the free Monday night film series on the beach. The event drew over 3,000 attendees to its eight movie screenings featuring such popular films as Saturday Night Fever, Annie Hall and Moonstruck along with pre-show entertainment and contests. Which flicks would you like to see this summer? UPDATE July 9: The 2012 season of Flicks on the Beach began on July 2 and continues on Monday nights through August 6 August 13. The schedule includes Bound for Glory featuring David Carradine as Woody Guthrie, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and Jim Henson’s The Muppets. Full schedule here. The show begins at dusk on the beach near West 10th Street.

Sand Sculpting Contest

Sand Sculpting Contest, Coney Island. Photo © Bruce Handy/Coney Island Photo Diary via flickr

22nd Annual Sand Sculpting Contest & Unity Day, July 21. According to the contest sponsor Astella Development, amateur sculptors will compete in five categories for cash prizes of $400, $200 and $100. The contest takes place on the beach from West 10th to West 12th Streets, where fifty mounds of sand are prepared by the Parks Department for the sand sculptors to transform into works of art. Pre-register online at Astella’s website.

Coney Island Talent Show

Coney Island Talent Show. Photo © Bruce Handy/Coney Island Photo Diary via flickr

3rd Annual Coney Island Talent Show, July 28. The first Coney Island Talent Show – “A spectacle of sunshine and lollipops on the Boardwalk!”–was the most successful new Coney event of the season. It featured singers, dancers, magicians and jugglers, as well as a contortionist, a sword swallower, and Justin Bieber and Jackie Gleason impersonators. The 3rd annual talent show might feature — you! Producer Jen Gapay of Thirsty Girl Productions has posted an open call for contestants for this year’s contest. The talent show’s four categories are Creative Kids 9-12 years old, Creative Kids 13-17 years old, Circus Freaks and Sideshow Geeks, Song and Dance, and Best Drag Performance or Celebrity Impersonator. For an application visit coneyislandtalentshow.com.

Witches in Bikinis

Wonder Wheel Music Marathon. Photo © Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park

7th Annual Deno’s Wonder Wheel Music Marathon, August 4 and 18. A dozen rock and surf bands including The Clams, Strange But Surf, and Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion! will play on the Boardwalk in front of the Wonder Wheel for two Saturdays in August from 2pm. Brooklyn babes Witches in Bikinis are perennial faves. According to their bio, the group formed in 2005 for a performance of ‘Witches In Bikinis’ with one singer and two witch back-ups at The Slipper Room in Manhattan’s Lower East Side for a fundraiser. Current witches Ali, Dreamie, Kaitlin, Kendra and Ruthie will cast their spell on August 18.

History Day

Spook-A-Rama’s Cyclops on History Day. Photo © Jim McDonnell

2nd Annual History Day at Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and The Coney Island History Project, August 11 August 12. For the second year in a row, the 92-year-old landmark Wonder Wheel teams up with the non-profit Coney Island History Project to bring live music, entertainment and history to the heart of Coney Island. Last year, Spook-A-Rama’s legendary Cyclops came out of retirement to join in the fun. At this season’s event, the Hungry March Band, Banjo Rascals, Benjamin Ickies & the Coney Island Screamers, and Lady Circus will perform on the Boardwalk, West 12th Street and throughout Wonder Wheel Park. A Coney trivia contest with historian Charles Denson and a Wonder Wheel Draw-a-thon are some of this year’s activities. Prizes include ride passes and souvenirs of good ol’ Coney Island.

Luna Park Dancers

Dancers at Luna Park. Photo © Jim McDonnell via smugmug

New York City’s Got Talent and End of Summer Concert, Luna Park. August. Luna Park is launching two brand-new free events in August. On three consecutive Fridays–August 3, 10 and 17–performers will compete in “New York City’s Got Talent” for the chance to perform in Z100’s End of Summer Concert at Luna Park. The concert promises “today’s hottest performers, as well as known & loved Brooklyn talent” and will be held on West 10th Street on August 24. (Update…August 10 show rescheduled for Sunday, August 12, 4-7pm)

Many thanks to Coney Island photographers Bruce Handy and Jim McDonnell for their photos.

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April 22, 2011: Coney Island Has 64 Rides and 30 Weekends of Summer!

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Time travel back to Coney Island at Night in 1905 and see a panoramic view of the magical lights of Luna Park, Dreamland and Steeplechase. This early time exposure was made by pioneering filmmaker Edwin S. Porter, whose use of panning and the first after-dark photography can be seen in films of the 1901 Pan-Am Exposition in Buffalo. The long, sweeping view of Coney Island’s three great amusement parks ends with the camera panning up and down the Dreamland Tower.

According to Charles Musser’s Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company, Edison acquired “the exclusive privilege” for the 1905 season at Dreamland. Other subjects made by Porter under this contract are Hippodrome Races, Dreamland, Coney Island (June 1905), Mystic Shriners’ Day, Dreamland, Coney Island (July 1905), June’s Birthday Party (July 1905), and Boarding School Girls. In this version of the film, the young ladies of Miss Knapp’s Select School go on an outing to Coney Island where they pass through Dreamland’s Creation gate, frolic in the surf and ride Steeplechase’s camels and mechanical Horse Race.

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Here’s a trip you won’t want to miss! On Friday, October 16, Coney Island USA’s Burlesque at the Beach presents “A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy” by East Village performance artist and virtuoso “vocal acrobat” Zero Boy. As a longtime fan, we’re confident Zero Boy is the man to make the glorious hurly burly of Coney’s history come alive onstage.

“The audience is the nephew,” says the ad for the show. “Visit Dreamland, Luna and Steeplechase Parks! Ride the Colossus! Soar on the Parachute Jump! Explore the wonders of Coney Island’s previous centuries. Hot dog eating contests, amusement rides and games of chance. Ride the roller coasters and swim in the clean and pristine aural waters of Zero Boy’s latest vocally animated cartoon.” Here’s a snippet of the play performed this spring at the Ask Dr Hal Show in San Francisco…

In a recent phone conversation with ATZ, Zero Boy talks about developing the play from a three-minute bit to a 45-minute work-in-progress, the inspiration for the set design, fave things to do in Coney, and oh yeah, how he got the name Zero Boy. For the record, his answers were punctuated with lots of laughter and little onomatopoeic flourishes. Photos of Zero Boy used with permission of the photographer Scott A Ettin.

Q: When I first saw the notice for your show on the CIUSA website I was excited because of course I know your work and I love Coney Island. I thought, I have to see this! What will the show be like in relation to the history of Coney Island?

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A: Well, I do a comic romp through the past, present, and future of Coney Island. It’s sort of like a cartoon of certain big historical elements starting with the beginning of Coney Island all the way up to the 80s, 90s, to now. I did a thing called Stump Zero Boy where people would write in a two word scenario on the radio. I do a similar thing toward the end of the show. People say the Future of Coney Island is dot dot dot. Then I present the future of Coney Island via the audience’s suggestions.

Q: How did you get the idea to do a show about Coney Island?

A: It started as a routine last year I did in a show called “Astroland” at the Kitchen. They asked me to do a bit for it, three minutes of Coney Island Zero Boy style. That routine went from three minutes and developed into a 25, 30 minute routine. I knew I wanted to do a full blown play because the response to it in traveling around the country. When I was doing the routine in Seattle, Eugene, San Francisco, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and in New York, it was sort of like a sail boat. I didn’t have to put up the sail very hard before the thing was flying across the lake.

Every show, there’s a guarantee someone will come up and tell me, I went to Coney Island when I was bla bla years old. I saw Steeplechase. Or, oh I was too young to see it but… Or I went with da da da da. People come up and tell their stories. As I found out the history of Coney Island, I was really blown away. I developed the show and brought in a director from Seattle who really helped format the show for September 11 at Ars Nova.

Q: How did you research it?

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A: I read Charlie Denson’s book Coney Island Lost & Found, which I loved. It was a major inspiration for me and for the set design, along with the other materials we had. I did a lot of Internet surfing. This summer was the summer that I’ve gone to Coney Island the most. And I jumped on my bike and I rode around the whole island, which was a real interesting eye opener because most people just get off at Brighton Beach or the amusement district and that’s it. Seriously, people get off the train they just head for the beach. They never really go in the opposite direction.

On Labor Day Weekend we were wandering around Coney Island. When you get there at 11 o’clock on a Sunday no one is there, you get there at 12 the place is hopping. Then we came around the corner— and I’d read that article about the Bell in the newspaper how the divers pulled the Bell out of the water— and here we are and they’re pulling the Bell out of the Coney Island History Project and I was the second person to ring the Bell that day!

For me it was a special moment, I felt like it was Coney Island saying go, Zero Boy go, tell our story. I tell everyone this story. One, I tell people you should check out the Bell, and two, it really meant something to me, like history is coming back around. Because people really don’t know anything about Coney Island unless they really research it. I didn’t know anything. You realize the whole island was a giant resort that slowly melted away.

I hope folks from Coney show up and say, oh you’re wrong about this, you need to add that, because the show really needs about 20 minutes more worth of material in my estimation.

Q: How long is it now?

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A: it runs about 40 to 45. It is a Zero Boy style show in that it’s like Bugs Bunny going through history

Q: I saw that YouTube clip from San Francisco and I realized that it was probably a shorter, earlier version because it didn’t say anything about Luna Park or Dreamland. I love the intro Dr Hal gives you, he’s hilarious!

A: At that Dr Hal show this guy David Capurro the Yo-Yo King was on the fly. No matter what performer is going on he throws up images off the Internet. He was on the fly doing that and I started interacting with it. It inspired me.

The rest of the show, whole sections of it, I had gone out and done solo bits. So there were elements that had been tried and true with the audience. Now it’s a play rather than just a routine.

I’m going to start adding interactive stuff where I’ll be using old film footage and literally as people turn and look maybe speaking to them sort of Zelig style.

Q: Do you use props too?

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A: No, I do not. A la Zero Boy, the props you see are whatever I create via sound and simple pantomime and I have a beautiful set. As a Coney Island person you will love it. What was so funny was when we did the show at Ars Nova, there’s a reveal where I say “Welcome to Coney Island” and the curtains open, and there was the set. And the set got applause

Q: Wow

A: I thought so, too. I was like, wow. The visual artist who spent two weeks making it was crying he was so happy. But the other thing is the Elephant. It’s the centerpiece on the set actually. In the sideshow I don’t think there will be a reveal cause there’s no place to hide the set. But people who know the history will appreciate it. Aficionados are gonna go, yeah

Q: Personally what are some of your favorite things to do in Coney Island?

A: I’d say first thing you do is take the Q train to Brighton Beach and pick up your food. You’ve got that great neighborhood filed with all Russian food, Georgian food, great deals on fruit, then walk down the Boardwalk to the amusement zone. That’s what I tell people

Q: What’s your favorite ride or game?

A: My favorite would be the Cyclone, It scares me every time but I love it every time. The Cyclone is such a great old thing.

Q: The Cyclone is in the show, right?

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A: Oh, of course, it’s the height of the show. It’s funny, if I had my druthers, my favorite ride would be the Steeplechase. If I could go back in time and ride that thing, that would be one of my wishes of life. Part of the show is based on my friend, a Lower East Sider who grew up on 13th Street between 2nd and 3rd. He told me about going to Coney Island as a kid in the 1940s and riding the Steeplechase horse and thinking he was gonna fall off. Part of my show is Uncle Zero Boy talks about when your grandfather grew up on the Lower East Side and he loved to go to Coney Island and I tell his story of Steeplechase and Luna Park.

I talk about Dreamland, Luna Park and Steeplechase Park in one element of the show. You’ll get the reference to the Bell.

Q: Oh, the Bell is in the show?

A: Very briefly. I talk about the fire. I talk about everything went up in flames, and you hear bong bong splosh. I talk about the historical recreations they did. I talk about the Wonder Wheel… the Wonder Wheel, the largest ferris wheel in the world. It’s 600 meters in diameter.

I bring out Frankie Yale. I bring out Al Capone. I talk about the Fearless Frogman himself. I basically cover a lot of bases in a small show. It’s such a huge, huge thing, but there are a few more bases I need to cover. That’s why I’m taking a long process and developing the show.

I have this really great feeling about this Coney Island show. I’ve hit some universal vein. It’s the right time and the place is really wonderful. Coney Island was the template for so many things.

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

Id like to ultimately do the Fringe Festivals this coming spring and summer and fall. What would be cool is doing it in Times Square in a small theatre so people who are coming to visit New York get a little taste of this and go running out to Coney Island.

Q: How did you become Zero Boy? I thought, gee I wonder if he did this as a boy at school?

A: No this is what happened… when people interview me on the radio, how did you get the name Zero Boy, I say when I was a young kid I was hit by a radioactive mathematician and it gave me the superhero powers to make sound into reality, cartoon sounds. And then we moved to France and while we were in France, I was walking along the Champs d’Elysee and I heard non non non, which in English means no. And I look up and the Eiffel Tower is shaking and bolts are popping out. So I fly over and I turn on my welding finger. I hear “the hero boy the hero boy he saved us he saved the Eiffel Tower, the hero boy!” and I get the medal from the President. But the newspapers in America messed up and got it as Zero Boy. So I kept it.

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy. Photo © Scott A Ettin/www.tankboy.com

“A Trip to Coney Island with Uncle Zero Boy”

Written by Zero Boy
Director… Armitage Shanks
Dramaturge… Jodi Glucksman
Set Design…Adrianno
Audio and Media Design… Richard Reta
Set Construction…Terry McHugh
Booking… Gorgeous Management
Michael Wolk, Maureen Sebastian
Photography… Scott Ettin

Burlesque at the Beach at Sideshows by the Seashore, Coney Island USA
Friday, October 16, 2009, 9 pm, $15
1208 Surf Avenue at West 12th St, Coney Island

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