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A Performance Art Group Gets Buggy

Toronto artist collaborative, Life of a Craphead, dishes on their new feature-length film, 'Bugs.'

Sean J Patrick Carney

Images courtesy of the artists. Lead image: Gwen Bieniara and Lisa Smolkin in Bugs 2015.

“These situations never have any people paying attention to you and you kind of do whatever you want somewhere and nobody notices and there's an open bar and people in suits are getting wasted.” -Life of a Craphead's Jon McCurley, on doing performance art at fundraising galas in Toronto

Toronto artists Amy Lam and Jon McCurley have been performing collaboratively for a decade under a ridiculously unfortunate moniker. At a comedy club 2006, they sent a dog on stage to Beethoven’s 5th and titled it “Life of a Craphead.” The name, for better or worse, stuck.

As Life of a Craphead, they’re the hosts of and minds behind Doored, a very popular monthly performance night at Double Double Land in Toronto that presents curated performance art through the format of a standup comedy show. They document every performance like crazy and broadcast it online via live stream. And they’ve just completed their first feature-length film, Bugs, a hilariously bizarre comedy that follows two ambitious Bugs sisters, Dan and Gaston, fresh off the plane from Bug Vancouver, as they try to leave their past failures behind and start fresh in a new city, the Bug Garden. I got the chance to preview the film and it is legitimately wild—like, out there in the best of ways. Over email, I asked where the movie might fall on the genre spectrum, to which Lam replied, “Our film is a comedy, but when you watch it, it’s like, ‘Clearly, performance artists made this.’”

Jon McCurley and Amy Lam performing at Doored

Lucky for you, they’re on tour this summer with screenings in Baltimore, Portland, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and more. Bugs makes its U.S. premiere on June 16th at Night Gallery in Los Angeles, and they’re also treating the city to a west coast edition of Doored on the 21st at the Lodge at LACA. If you’re in the City of Angels this week, I highly suggest that you make it a point to catch both dates. Getting to see Bugs with an audience is going to be a trip—I was in tears watching it on a laptop, and I’m eager to take it in again at a more cinematic setting when they visit Brooklyn next month.

Bridget Moser performing at Doored

As for their live performance series, one can’t say enough about Doored. So many wildly talented artists, musicians, and comedians have shared its stage. Shows are deeply smart and hilariously obtuse. Lam and McCurley are themselves brilliant satirists with a decade of sophisticated collaboration under their belts. Comedian and musician Reggie Watts was in the audience during a performance of theirs that I saw, and he could not stop gushing about them afterward. Audiences leave with sore ribs and the real affirmation that comedy is infinitely more than dime-a-dozen white men who hate their ex-girlfriends and assume that you’d like to hear about it.

Jessica Karuhanga performing at Doored

“We performed a lot at comedy shows between 2006-10,” Lam told me. "It seemed like a more exciting place to do performance art, because of its constraints and its main purpose of trying to make the audience laugh. It’s a goal that’s more clear and direct to most people than the goals of art.”

She’s right, as the structural design for Doored makes it feel welcoming and accessible, something that’s often missing at traditional performance art venues. An inclusive comedy club atmosphere makes for an enjoyable audience experience. Lam continued, "Doored comes out of that: pushing performance art into that format to make it more fun to watch. Parallel to that is our desire to see women, queer, people of color performers.”

Lisa Smolkin performing at Doored

Life of a Craphead’s commitment to their ideas and goals is sound: They’ve produced two dozen Doored events for which the performers have been paid. And while it’s arguably a bankrupt term at this point, Bugs is a DIY film in the truest sense. There’s a magic to its simple aesthetic that inspires you to think that you, too, could make a movie. Bugs is pretty arty, but it’s no art house film. Like Doored, it’s welcoming and fun, which is something both art and film could use a lot more of right now.

Treat yourself and catch the tour. Lam and McCurley will be at every stop. If they’re not coming to your town, you can get a Craphead fix while binging previous Doored installments on their website.

Bugs, by Life of a Craphead, makes its U.S. premiere on Thursday, June 16th, 8:30pm at Night Gallery, 2276 E 16th Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90021.

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