Written by Lindsay Hargrave
Photos by Josh Zegans
We know Philly’s not boring, especially when it comes to the arts. Philadelphia’s art scene prides itself on a diverse mix of styles and media, creating a vibrant atmosphere of local and underground creative people. However, other than on First Fridays, how often is it that all of these diverse media outlets and artists come together to share their creative ideas amongst each other and an audience? Crystal Dreams, a new art collective, is starting with performance art and keeping Philly weird.
This start came about on Thursday, March 10, 2016, in the Aux Gallery space at Vox Populi in Spring Garden, with a “Sci-Fi Spectacle.” This spectacle consisted of mostly drag and burlesque acts. However, there were also more abstract performance artists, sideshow performers and some musical acts.
Crystal Dreams was created by three Philadelphia artists: Christopher Stokes, Jenny Cooney, and Sean Clark. Stokes and Cooney, both Tyler School of Art alumni, also performed at the event; Stokes first in drag and Cooney doing burlesque. Then there was a collaborative act of pure performance art in which they portrayed aliens abducting a human woman and tearing off the head of her newborn baby.
“Crystal Dreams is all about giving a space to all different sorts of art communities to come together—say its music, bands, or say it’s the drag community, the LGBT community, as well as the sideshow community—whatever sort of scene that’s in Philly,” Stokes said. “We want to bring everybody together to create synergy, so we can bring community, which I feel is really lacking in the whole city of Philadelphia when it comes to the arts. I also feel like with community comes conversation, and with conversation comes innovation, and I want to give a space for people to innovate. That’s what Crystal Dreams is all about.”
That conversation begins within the scenes themselves, where there is community, but not much overlap. To bring them together, Crystal Dreams had to start close to home by reaching out to their friends in order to make this show a reality. ““I’m a big fan of all these people, I’ve gone to their shows before, seen them a lot. I just wanted to reach out to people I believed in,” Cooney said.
And those people delivered, every one of them a unique act with plenty of personal flavor and a defiance of the status quo.
For example, the show started off with Sloopygoop, a one-man eight-bit Radiohead cover act, making music with nothing but a Gameboy Color, an accordion and his own voice (talk about creative instrumentation). He was followed by Mr. E, a creepy clown sideshow performer who could run a tube through his nose and out his mouth, and had a girl drink “alien semen” (I’m pretty sure it was Mountain Dew) through it. Later in the show he would have volunteers from the audience clip clothespins and staple paper money anywhere on his body. From there, a misfit gang of alien-themed burlesque and drag acts took the stage, each one unique and innovative in its own way.
One of these drag acts was Icon Ebony Fierce, who took on a creepier aesthetic in constructing her act, using mask-like makeup, unsettling deadpan stares and silly string as components to her performance. ““My inspiration for it was a crazy joker clown, demented—I wanted to creep people the fuck out,” she said.
All the weirdness, all the innovation, and all the alien motifs happened in a small room with a stage. Where to next? Crystal Dreams is creating something big, something that’s going to last.