Culture consumers: Clip and collect this column. In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday that staggers to its overstuffed conclusion as I type, I’m stripped of my usual sarcasm, scrubbed of snark and 99.44 percent sanitized of snide. I’ve been inspired to quit kvetching for a day and instead give thanks for a few of the things that make me thankful to be a Central Floridian.
2010 hasn’t been the best year for inspiring appreciation: I was laid off from my day job, experienced the agony of finding private health insurance and (worst of all) wasted my birthday in a movie theater with Scott Pilgrim. But as I slumped into my tryptophan coma last Thursday, I reflected on all I do have to be thankful for. For starters, my home value is so far underwater I need scuba gear to go inside; but for now at least I have a roof over my head that isn’t made of cardboard. And while I didn’t get Mom’s home-cooked meal – my family was scattered from Phuket to Panama this Thanksgiving – I’m thankful to live where takeout deep-fried Cajun turkeys are not just a redneck-joke punchline. I’ll even offer thanks to Food Network’s Alton Brown for his orgasmic garlic mashed potatoes recipe, if he’d only eat a bowl or two of them (as grandma would say, “too skinny!”). But mostly I’m grateful I didn’t have to inhale Thanksgiving dinner in seven silent minutes – as did my friend, Voci dancer Rokaya Mikhailenko, who just began Army boot camp.
The next morning, I was reminded of the most important person I have to be thankful for: a wife who not only tolerates my obsessions, but encourages me. On Black Friday, while patriotic Americans were all out to kill each other over cut-rate flatscreens, my sympathetic spouse let me attend the IMAX for 146 minutes of darkness, despair and watching old friends die (better known as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1). Watching the film inspired me to pay a pilgrimage to the place in Orlando I’m most grateful for this year, Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I don’t say that just as a hopeless dark-ride fanatic whose fantasies were fulfilled by the Forbidden Journey ride, or an admittedly addicted Butterbeer-aholic. I say it because the columns, articles and book I wrote about Potter’s park accounted for almost one-quarter of my annual net income. If only Universal would build four of these every year, I could almost make a living at this gig.
My final turkey-weekend trip reminded me of what I’m most thankful to Orlando for: the friends I’ve made here, and the art we’ve made together. The impetus for this introspection was a farewell show by an institution that’s been in this town almost exactly as long as I have: AntiBabe Inc., the infamous goth-fetish fashion and erotic performance art troupe founded by costumer/choreographer Jodi Thomas. Since their first show on Oct. 4, 1996, at Club V (a long-gone Orlando goth club), Jodi and her AntiBabe models (both women and men) brought bondage, burlesque and barrier-bending clothes to a broad range of local venues, both extant (Theatre Downtown) and extinct (AKA Lounge).
An AntiBabe performance included elaborate handmade outfits, erotically charged dance, sideshow stunts and a “fetish menu” of S&M experiences on offer (for an appropriate tip). Today, undead-hooker-wear is sold in every Hot Topic, and Orlando has a handful of fetish and striptease performers, but the AntiBabes were doing it back when it was still shocking to see on Orange Avenue. And despite the debauchery, every show featured an underlying empowerment ethos, a dose of playful humor and decency-preserving black nipple tape.
I first met Jodi through theater director John DiDonna, who collaborated on her early performances, and she choreographed a production of Rocky Horror that I directed in 2004 (featuring OW writer Steve Schneider in a feather boa). While we didn’t always agree artistically, Thomas’ influence infused my cast with an attitude of uninhibited omnisexuality that was essential to that show’s success. After that production, I worked with AntiBabe to help direct scenes and design video projections for shows like “Shockers Revealed” (2006) and “An AntiBabe Life” (2007). I’ll always be a little too “milk and cookies” to really fit in with her crowd, but working with Jodi broadened my artistic pallet; she was even among the first to encourage me to write this column.
Fast forward to last Friday, when a crowd of AntiBabe’s followers filled Club 57 West. Mowhawked punks, ginormous metalheads and a grandmother or two were there to bid goodbye to the troupe. Jodi arrived an hour late in a black bustier and argyle knee-socks; within five minutes she was dancing on the bar. I was reunited for the night with long-lost friends who have pseudonyms like “Crispy” and “Drinking,” and watched a guy get hot wax poured on his bellybutton.
I must be getting old because I left before the party really got going. Likewise, Thomas is no longer the 21-year-old she was when she founded the group, which is part of why she’s hanging up the AntiBabe banner. But Thomas isn’t going away; you can read Jodi’s wry and riotous writing on her blog ConfessionsofaPartyGirl.com. And from now on, if I get the urge to see a drunk guy get beaten with a wooden paddle, I’ll just have to go join a fraternity.