The 57 members of avant-garde performance troupe Itchy-O have managed to pull off more than most musical acts through COVID-19. They've performed a backyard ritual and two sets of drive-in rituals, one in the summer called Sypherlot: A Drive-In Radio Bath and the other a Hallowmass performance around Halloween.
Now the act is putting its music to work to keep one of Denver's best independent venues, the Oriental Theater, afloat. The Oriental, which usually hosts an eclectic mix of bands, comedians, burlesque troupes and more, has managed to throw some safe concerts through the pandemic, but like many venues, is on the brink of closing if Denver's Level Red guidelines continue to prohibit indoor events and federal aid does not come. So Itchy-O is selling advanced tickets to an upcoming, unannounced show at the Oriental, and proceeds will go to the theater.
The band is also going to be banging in the new year, but not with the three-night stand Denver usually enjoys. Instead, Itchy-O will present an online screening of Sypherlot: Drive-in Radio Bath — an HD video that captures the troupe's summer concert series — for Patreon supporters on New Year's Eve
Westword caught up with Itchy-O to talk about the fundraiser for the Oriental, the new year and lessons learned through the pandemic.
Westword: Talk about the Oriental Theater and what it means to Itchy-O.
Itchy-O: It’s a special place; there’s a particular blend of DIY and professionalism there that tugs at our cybernetic heartstrings. We’ve shared so many great performances and made countless memories with folks over the years; it’s actually the very first venue we ever played, when we crashed the lobby at an Odam Fei Mud show in 2009. With help from our ever-growing Hive, we'll ensure there’ll be many more to come.
How did you pick the Oriental out of all the desperate venues?
Simply put, it’s pretty much the last wholly independent mid-sized theater standing here in Denver. It makes the storm harder to weather without the infrastructure and scale to absorb the impact of closing down your single source of revenue. That’s not to say other venues aren’t just as integral to the city’s incredible creative ecosystem — but when they approached us with the idea, it was a total no-brainer to put our cosmic powers to use for good.
How does the fundraiser work? Will tickets work for all future Itchy-O shows?
Proceeds from the service-free ticket sales support the venue as part of the Friends of the O fundraiser; a portion will also support Itchy-O’s operating expenses. As soon as it’s clear when we’ll be able to do it safely, we’ll announce the specific date of our previously canceled show due to the pandemic — Intergalactic Masquerade — to be held there. The tickets will be good for that one forthcoming date.
We're headed into a new year, and without Itchy-O playing live, this is going to be a different one. What are you all doing on New Year's Eve with no venues likely to be open?
It definitely won’t be the same kind of New Year’s celebration — more of an admonishment, really — but we're beyond stoked to announce an exclusive New Year's Eve screening of Sypherlot: Drive-In Radio Bath, an HD capture of our electrifying summer concert series.
Patreon supporters at the $6-a-month-and-up level will receive a pre-show email with secret instructions on how to participate. “Doors” to the interactive event open at 10 p.m.; two back-to-back screenings will take place, followed by a countdown to midnight.
This virtual watch party continues our longstanding tradition of ushering in the next year. And though our usual, in-person, sweat-drenched dance-a-thon will have to wait for now, the sonic connection during this last leg of brumation is more important than ever.
Any thoughts on the transition from 2020 to 2021?
The passage of Gregorian time modules offers you Earthlings the opportunity for reflection… but we wouldn’t recommend spending too much time looking backwards. As we’re not bound by fourth-dimensional limitations, we can share with you the unbridled celebration and boundless ecstasy that awaits in the not-too-distant future beyond this current liminal space you occupy. Take it as gospel from us, your dark motherfucking ambassadors of hope.
What lessons have you learned through 2020?
We had to cancel several shows — Sleeping Giant Film Fest in Florida, our scheduled trek up to the Stanley Hotel and the previously slated Intergalactic Masquerade, not to mention several opportunities abroad that didn’t come to fruition. That may have forced our hand, but we were able to respond with our From the Vault live-performance streams, a commissioned performance by the Greek Onassis Foundation, and not one, but two socially distanced concert series: August’s Sypherlot Drive-in Radio Bath and our annual Hallowmass Performance and Offertory.
Historically, our shows have leaned hard and have been largely dependent on the chaos co-created with our audiences in thick, dense crowds in sweaty, beer-drenched venues. Stripping the crowd away from this production was a scary undertaking. We would not know if we could convey our spiritual experience until we tried — not to mention doing this while other drive-in experiences were falling flat all over the country. We learned that “naked,” Itchy-O is actually beautiful, and it forced us to develop roles and narratives in directions we had never explored before. We actually think these immersive drive-in shows are something people will continue to want long after we are over this pandemic.
Whether human or extra-human, we’re all more resilient and adaptive than we give ourselves credit for. That’s not to downplay the very real sadness, loss and sacrifice borne by so many this year — but the darkest matter makes for the most fertile dirt.
What have the shutdowns meant for live music and your operation, and how do you see us getting out of COVID-19?
It will certainly be interesting to look back on this crisis and examine the “who and how.” Community, connection and adaptation have always been paramount in the Before Times, and they’ve only grown over the past year. They’re what have carried us this far, and will no doubt be the current we ride to exaltation.
Our holiday merch offerings (including a brand-new, blood-moon-red long-sleeved shirt) make for otherworldly stocking stuffers; Patreon members also can snag an additional 15 percent off.
It’s weird to think of this unlikely project as a small business, but that’s exactly what we are — and whether it’s picking up an Itchy-O hoodie or becoming a Friend of the O by securing your spot for the Grand Return in 2021, every little bit of support makes a world (or star system) of difference to keep the beat going.
For more about Itchy-O's fundraiser for the Oriental Theater and to learn about the band's Patreon, go to the Itchy-O website.
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