Cultural Commentator

Filthy Good Fun: Playwright Joshua Conkel Discusses ‘The House of Von Macramé’

Cultural Commentator

Filthy Good Fun: Playwright Joshua Conkel Discusses ‘The House of Von Macramé’


There are no new Broadway shows opening this month, and the off Broadway scene is uncharacteristically quiet. But in Bushwick, one play is making quite a lot of noise: The House of Von Macramé, a glammed-out, synth-heavy musical about a serial killer stalking fashion week. The play will run at the Bushwick Starr through February 16th, and though the entire run is sold out, it’s fairly easy to get in off the waitlist, which forms each night at 7:30.

Von Macramé is lewd, loud, stylish and fun, in a way that theater too often is not. It is a big show, with fourteen actors, and it was done relatively cheaply, relying on stylized effects, Broadway-grade prop blood, and of course, an insane array of costumes. The stage is dominated by runway lines, and across them strut actors wearing everything from vagina jeggings to what the stage directions call “garments inspired by ‘secretions’: blood, semen, feces, urine. It is ghastly and beautiful all at once.”

To find out where all this madness came from, Bullett spoke to playwright Joshua Conkel.

What made you want to write this crazy play?

I’d been wanting to write a play with built-in runway lines for a long time. When you’re producing theater, costumes are one of the first thing to go, because of budget. But I really love clothes, and I really love fashion, and I wanted to write something that celebrated that. I wanted to combine horror movies and fashion and synth music, and over a couple of years I came up with this idea. It was done as a serial at the Flea, so we produced it in ten minute episodes over a couple of months in 2011. It’s like a collage of weird things I love.

How did those ten-minute installments compare to the finished play?

They’re much campier and stupider, and the plot never really got anywhere, because in order to come back everyw eek you had to have the audience vote for you, so every week became about doing something really over the top to get votes. There were also a lot of storylines that I couldn’t fit into the play, like a secret pregnancy and a demonic spirit possession. There’s just not time in a two act musical. And we still want to shave at least a half hour off the show.

Did you like writing for the serials, or did the need to get crazier and crazier wear you out?

I got very tired. I kept getting voted back, and I finally killed all the characters in a ritual suicide because I didn’t want to write it any more. You would find out on Monday that you got voted back, and rehearsals would start on Wednesday, which meant I’d have to get up at four or five in the morning to write this ten minute play before I went to my day job. It got too exhausting.

Got any advice for someone who’s trying to make it into the serials competition?

It’s totally fun. Go big or go home.

What makes fashion such a juicy subject for a musical?

I’ve always loved fashion. I love clothes. I think of clothes as art, and I love the way that people can express themselves through what they wear. What I don’t love is materialism and label whoring and that sort of stuff. I find that really unappealing. That comes into conflict a lot in my life.

You like fashion, but not the fashion industry.

Yeah. It’s fun to make fun of. In terms of theater, theater is pretty geeky, and I for one would like theater to be cooler and hipper and more wild. So the play was an attempt at that.

The music was certainly a lot cooler than most of what you’ll hear in a musical, even a contemporary one. The synth has a lot of sex in it.

A lot of these rock musicals ar enot rock musicals. Rent is the nerdiest thing that ever existed, and nothing like the Bohemian 90’s sound that it’s pretending to be.

How much better would Rent be if it was all shoegaze or something those characters would have actually been listening to?

It would have been great.

Where does Von Macramé go next?

We don’t know. We want to keep working on it, and fine-tuning it, and trimming the fat. We’ve gotten some interest from some spaces out of town, so that might be an option. If it moves somewhere other than New York, it might have to be someplace a little bit odd, like a club.

Does that appeal to you—doing the show someplace other than a theater?

The further I can get away from dusty old pearl clutchers, the happier I’ll be.

That’s the best description I’ve ever heard of a typical theater audience.

They’re skeletons.