By James Maher
Name: Christopher Tanner
Occupation: Artist, Playwright, Actor
Location: La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, 4th between 2nd and Bowery
Time: 3:30 on Monday, Sept 16
I’ve lived here for 33 or so years. I came here in ‘79. I’m from California, from a little horrible place called Duarte. A hideous place. You know, I didn’t fit in. I’m just like every other New Yorker who moved to get away.
I moved to 30 East 3rd Street, right next to the men’s shelter and lived there for 20 years. And then I’ve been on 11th between A and B for 13 years. Since my place on 3rd Street was next to the men’s shelter, you’d hear things like, ‘Oh Jesus Christ, you just stomped on my face!’ Or you’d walk over dead bodies. One time I was going to my apartment and in between the doors were two naked black lesbians having sex and both were pregnant, and smoking crack.
I moved to the neighborhood because I worked at a couple theaters in the neighborhood and I was also being shown in a gallery here. I’m an artist, a painter and a sculptor, and an actor.
A lot of my work is all big huge sequin paintings, 10 feet tall. They’re 3 dimensional and they have human hair embroideries, glitter, found objects, crystal encrusted stuff, and beautiful things. I’m sort of a magpie. But what I’m doing at my studio are these Japanese silver leaf paintings. The silver is all made with pigments of color, so it’s bright pink silver or bright orange. It’s just beautiful. You can’t imagine that it’s silver, but it has that luminous quality that silver has.
I lost my art studio on 10th Street between B and C in Hurricane Sandy. It all turned out okay because I got grants, but it was a huge cleanout of my art supplies and my life. I’m a collage artist so I collected a lot of stuff. It was pretty heavy to be lost. The worst part was throwing away all the art and all my dead lover's books and his poetry. That was hard. But then I got a better studio, an incredible studio at La MaMa. It all worked out.
I did my first play here at La MaMa in ’79. I was doing other people’s plays at first and I started creating my own around ’85. I’ve done so many plays here. La MaMa is my home for theater. Cyndi Lauper once came over to one of my musicals, "Under the Kerosene Moon," based on The Honeymoon Killers, and she asked me to get all of my friends together and do a drag version of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun." And we all met at my house in drag and had a big fabulous party, right next to the men’s shelter, and all the bums were waving at us.
I just did my last show, which was stories from my life with songs called "Football Head: Tales of Shame and Humiliation." That’s going to be shown in June at La MaMa, but my last play was huge. It was called "The Etiquette of Death." That was also in the Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa, last season. It was a big collage of 20 actors, 10 writers, five composers, and a 10-piece band.
I asked all these different writers to write a scene on their take on etiquette of death, whatever it may be. I made this whole collage out of that, but it was also based upon my aunt who was a big Avon lady. Her name was Joan Gurtler. She was a huge boss and used to fire Avon ladies on the phone. She was fabulous. And so it’s her sort of giving death a makeover. Death was played by Everett Quinton, who’s a great star. It’s all about my aunt the makeup lady, played by me, giving death a makeover, so he’ll be easy on her son, because her son is dying of AIDS, but also Joan’s dying of brain tumors. It’s a comedy.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.