Interview: Classic 'Downtown' Theater Revived at REDCAT

A conversation with Dennis Cooper, one of the original creators of "Them," first staged in New York City at the height of the AIDS crisis.

This weekend, REDCAT is reviving a seminal and controversial early performance collaboration from Dennis Cooper, Ishmael Houston-Jones and Chris Cochrane.

I was able to catch the opening performance and left thinking I had just seen a masterpiece of gay performance art.

I was able to reach Dennis Cooper and ask him a few questions.

Cesar Padilla: How did this performance piece, "Them," first come about?

Dennis Cooper: I had moved to New York City in the early 1980s and I knew Ishmael's work. He came to a reading of my work and approached me and Chris Cochrane to try and come up with something we all would relate to. To find a middle ground.  We did a short sketch in 1984 and we were then asked to expand it.  We performed the final version in 1986 at P.S. 122.

Cesar Padilla: Do you remember the inspiration?

Dennis Cooper: All I remember is working with themes Ishmael tried to convey with his dance work. Themes of   disconnection/connection, violence, passion and vulnerability both sexual and political which became our common ground and tone of the work.

Cesar Padilla: One of the things we spoke about in the lobby is the innocence that comes out not only in your body of work but of the subject matter itself: meaning the young guys. Are you fascinated with the innocence of youth?

Dennis Cooper: Innocence is underrated. I always feel that younger people are smarter than I am. i am very interested in the hope and the romanticism of innocence - the things that get lost with time. Innocence is an uncompromised attitude about life. i am interested in how complex young people are and not reduced to how young people are portrayed. Youth are often the reflection of the youth of the adult or youth are often portrayed in a dumb way or seen as sex objects. They are deserving of much more respect than that.

Cesar Padilla: How did this revival come about?

Dennis Cooper: P.S. 122 was going to do a series where they revived classic works from the 80's productions at P.S. 122. This work was always notorious. They approached Ishmael and we just decided it was time.

Cesar Padilla: How do you feel it stands up to time?

Dennis Cooper: I think it is much better now. There were so many ideas about AIDS going on at the time and people were looking at this piece of work for the first time from the perspective of fear.  If you are looking at things out of fear if you're afraid you are interested in being comfortable and this pc was an uncompromising portrayal of fear around sex, love and desire at that time. 

Cesar Padilla: Why is this the right time for "Them"? 

Dennis Cooper: It is hard for me to answer that. I don't know, I am so much a part of the performance.

REDCAT at the Walt Disney Concert Hall is located at 631 West 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012.

Click through for ticket information for "Them."


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