Are you a woman’s studies teacher, stuck in the basement with the other majors that no one cares about? What about a ball-busting butch lesbian only interested in taking down ‘the man’? Think these are tropes relegated to mocking or exploration? Then you’ll be right at home in KillJoy’s Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House.
Created by Toronto-based artists Deirdre Logue and Allyson Mitchell, the installation is an homage/parody of those Christian “Hell Houses” that pop up during Halloween. But instead of warning the attendees of the horrors of sex before marriage or the dangers of drugs, the piece is promoted as being a “sex positive, trans inclusive, queer lesbian-feminist-fear-fighting celebration.”
Geared as a group-guided tour through various exhibits, the performance aims to both educate and explore the various stereotypes and herstory of feminism and (primarily) lesbian culture. The piece seems to have been tweaked from its Toronto origins and geared more towards its LA (and more specifically, West Hollywood) temporary home, as there was much in the exhibit specific to the city.
If you’re not in a big enough group yourself, the first point is getting enough people to get into the house – they seemed to be aiming to have around 10 people in each group. You’re put into a circle before entering, and told a little bit about what you’re about to see – with warnings about nudity and potential triggering language. The group is then expected to come up with a name to be referred to (the group I was in ended up with ‘F**k Us!’), and then after checking in, are led to a waiting area to be entertained by I think were local musicians, doing part stand up, part musical act.
Next, the group is introduced to their ‘demented women’s studies tour guide’ (we got a ‘lowly’ TA), who then proceeded to take the group through the house. Around ten areas total, depending on what is considered a separate area, there’s a hall of emasculation, a recreation of the LA daddy tank used in the 1970s where they separated out trans and masculine-looking women in the county jail, and a portrait gallery of faux feminists, just to name a few. It ends with a ‘debriefing’ area, which is actually a place to ask questions about the exhibit itself or any of the pieces that may have been confusing. The whole tour takes around a half hour, depending on how long you wait to get in your group and then in the waiting area.
For the most part, the house was good edutainment: not being an LA native only having lived here two years, I’m fairly ignorant of the LGBT history of the city (the ‘daddy tank’, for instance). In fact, what I found to be the piece with the most punch was a graveyard filled with feminist and lesbian organizations. While I didn’t recognize any of the names, it was very obvious these were mostly gathering places that had been shut down, most likely for no other reason than it was geared toward the LGBT audience. Unfortunately, with it being in the middle, I felt the impact of the room got a little lost as a result.
There were places I felt the piece could have been better. Not being from LA but instead the Midwest where Hell Houses are much more prevalent (although I’ve never been to one), I was expecting this to be much more edgy than it was because it was in LA. Being warned there was nudity, I was almost disappointed that it was only one little piece (well, technically two, if you count the dolls in another area), and it being more about fearing ‘the power of pussy’ and less about the oversexualization the female form still is subject to.
The performance seemed a bit rough around the edges: there were times I got the impression our tour guide lost her place or forgot her lines, the improv falling a bit short at times. The music groups in the waiting room could’ve used a bit more material as well, as they repeated the same two bits. While repeating was their schtick because they were in Hell forced to relive the show over and over, it would’ve been nice to have more than two, giving incentive to stick around after the tour to hear what you missed.
Finally, considering the setup that it was a ‘reaction’ to Hell Houses, I was expecting much more ‘scaring you gay’ type humor, with commentary on the ‘evils’ of a cis straight lifestyle, tongue firmly in cheek but still acknowledging how heteronormative our society still is. And while the ‘debriefing’ was a good idea in concept, in practice I felt it ended a little weak, with the emphasis on us asking questions rather than the ‘counselor’ trying to generate conversation. (It didn’t help that most of the questions asked in our group about the installation itself were ones our counselor didn’t know the answer to.)
The installation was geared to get you to think about feminism and LGBT. Did it manage it? I believe so, although as the portrait gallery of faux feminists points out, everything has a potential to be problematic if you look hard enough. It’s definitely got some bite to it, and for a free event, it’s definitely fun and worth the time.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, the installation continues October 28 through the 30. For more information, visit the ONE Archives website.