On Friday night after a visit to Luna Park’s Nights of Horror, we made our way to Coney Island USA for the first Creepshow at the Freakshow of the season. Started by CIUSA artistic director Dick Zigun in 1998, the annual Halloween event takes the audience on a haunted tour of the 1917 Childs Restaurant Building which is the art organization’s home. “To be honest, this show, ‘The Ride Inspector’s Nightmare,’ is the best of them all!,” Zigun tells ATZ. “Other notables were ‘Phantom of the Presidential Wax Museum’ two years ago. Also Scott Baker playing a frozen Walt Disney… not to mention the first Creepshow about Childs Restaurant cooking the bodies of children.”
After purchasing tickets and drinks at the Freak Bar, guests are ushered into the sideshow theater for the chief ride inspector’s retirement party. Coked up and drunk, the zombie-like chief and his garrulous assistant reminisce about gory ride accidents and share the blame around. “No more reports!,” the chief barks repeatedly before sleepwalking us down a back stairway to the basement and then up another back stairway to the museum, where he is put on trial for negligence. Since this is an interactive show, the jury is the audience. Along the way, we’re treated to a series of macabre tableaux by Creepshow designer Kate Dale and spooky murals by artist-in-residence Marie Roberts. Photography is not permitted, but we did a Q & A with both artists, who give us a behind the scenes peek at the show…
We’ve been a fan of Kate Dale’s work ever since her homage to Fragonard’s Girl on a Swing in the 1999 Mermaid Parade. The Juilliard prop shop supervisor has won “Best Mermaid” and “Best Float” more times than anyone else in the history of the parade. For the past five years, Dale has been the Creepshow’s designer.
ATZ: Kate, how many sets or tableaux did you create this year?
Kate: Some of them bleed into each other, but I’d say there are 7. They vary in terms of complexity.
ATZ: Which one (or ones) is your favorite?
Kate: I have some favorites… I think I’ve been dreaming of the one I call the doll room the longest. It’s inspired by Disney’s “It’s a small world after all” and also Barbarella with a nod to Chucky. The dolls of the world have gone berserk and murdered a hapless family. The happy dolls always seem menacing. And the basement room’s water feature is one of the most inspiring parts of the building for me in for sheer weirdness. My other favorite was an afterthought, we built it in 20 minutes opening night. I won’t spoil the surprise.
ATZ: Wherever did you find all those mannequins that were in the museum’s ride cars? They look like antiques!
Kate: They come for various sources, some were hanging around the museum already, some are loaners from friends. I’m always on the lookout for dummies and body parts. I got the little boys from Build it Green. Thanks Build it Green!
ATZ: Which one of Marie’s paintings is your favorite this year?
Kate: Well the stairway is pretty epic in scale, and repeated viewings really pay off. You discover different details each time.
ATZ: Which Creepshow was your favorite and why?
Kate: I loved the Phantom of the Presidential Wax Museum because I think it told a great story and the Presidential shooting gallery where patrons shot a cutout Kennedy with ping pong balls was probably the sickest most wrong thing I’ve ever been personally responsible for.
For more than a decade, Coney Island USA’s artist-in-residence Marie Roberts has painted the banners for the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. Her canvas advertisements, including one for Creepshow at the Freakshow, adorn the CIUSA building 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
ATZ: Marie, tell us about some of the murals that you painted for this year’s Creepshow.
Marie: My task was to turn the back staircase into a surreal nightmare roller coaster disaster, none of which I would choose to paint on my own. I studied paintings at the MET and MOMA for ideas and made drawings. I consciously put in homages to a couple of favorites. St. Sebastian pierced by arrows became the head of the stairs person impaled on rails. My two uncles who were at Dreamland the night of the fire are painted as little kids with zippered mouths, a nod to Magritte. I didn’t realize till I was laying the mural out there that there are elements of Picasso’s “Guernica” as well.
Conversely or weirdly, I saw the abstract expressionist show at MOMA before I painted the welcome to Dreamland sign at the head of the stairs in the basement, and the Hellgate devil burning the Creation angel are probably the most expressionist thing I have ever painted.
I love how the three dimensional ticket booth works with the staircase murals.
It is all too fresh for me to have any perspective all I can think of is how to make them better.
ATZ: Which one is your favorite of Kate’s sets or tableaux?
Marie: I love the way Kate transforms the building. This year I am amazed at how she transformed the basement. Every viewpoint in the first room hangs together, and there are surprises in every cut out and nook. The second room is also together visually, not an easy task. I am amazed at how she can think so three dimensionally. I can only think in terms of flat planes.
Coney Island USA, 1208 Surf Ave. Corner of Surf Avenue and West 12th Street, Coney Island. Creepshow at the Freakshow runs nightly from Friday, October 22, through Halloween. Check website for hours. Tickets are $10 at the door. On Saturday, October 23, CIUSA will host a party and the first-ever Sleepover at the Freakshow after the last Creepshow Tour. Tickets for the fund raiser are $40-$75.
Related posts on ATZ…
October 10, 2013: Art of the Day: Creepshow at the Freakshow Is Back
September 13, 2013: Coney Island Always: Visiting the Big CI Year-Round
October 18, 2010: Halloween in Coney Island: Snapshots of Luna Park’s Nights of Horror