Whoop Dee Doo is a kid's show, run by about 20-30 volunteers in Kansas City. The show is filmed in the style of public access television shows of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, drawing heavy inspiration from the likes of The Carol Burnett Show, The Gong Show, Pee Wee's Playhouse, You Can't Do That on Television, Mr. Wizard, Soul Train, Double Dare, public access horror show hosts like Svengoolie, and the Chicago public access program Chica-go-go. The group has put together shows around the country and internationally, from the Smart Museum in Chicago, to a holiday party at Deitch Projects, and a collaboration with Loyal Gallery in Malmo, Sweden. In each new venue they draw on local communities of performers and artists to collaborate and contribute. Performers range from musical acts and performance artists to Civil War Re-enactors, Celtic Bagpipers, Christian Mimes, drag queens, drill teams and science teachers. Kids help build the sets and make props along with artists and volunteers, and they are a huge part of the show itself. Whoop Dee Doo is intended to showcase the diversity of artistic talent within the community, and to create an opportunity for these groups to work, and party, together. Unlike many kid's shows, Whoop Dee Doo is in no way dumbed down or infantilizing, and it forms an important part of the vibrant and creative Kansas City arts community.
The show is hosted by artists Matt Roche and Jaimie Warren. Matt plays a quiet, awkward werewolf, and Jaimie is generally wearing red spandex and covered in empty food packaging. I spoke with Jaimie about the art scene in Kansas City, about working with kids and technology, and about the philosophy of Whoop Dee Doo.
Jaimie Warren: We try to make the show a project that is truly inclusive. I have always wanted to create something that really involves the community in a way that is actually effective and meaningful, and that is something we are totally striving to do. We work with a lot of under-served youth groups like the Boys and Girls Club, so [we try to make it] a pretty memorable and unique experience for them. The kids are also a huge part in making the show - they help make props, costumes and sets, so you have 20- and 30-something artists making the look of the show alongside kids and community members, and it ends up looking pretty rad. Plus our workshops and shows are always free, so the kids who don’t have money are always able to attend.
Matt Roche acts as sort of the Art Director of the show, but it is a super collaborative process, and artists like Chris Beer, Roger Link, Erica Peterson, Rochelle Brickner, and our remarkable new gem named Lee Heinemann, who is a 17-year old genius, help set the stage for the way everything looks. And it looks AMAZING!!
I feel like all of the examples I have seen in the past of the art world infiltrating the community have always had this unavoidable cheese-y factor, like having the homeless make art and invite them into the gallery or something. We hope that Whoop Dee Doo can occupy a position that is highly respected as both community art and contemporary art, which is something I've always felt was very difficult to achieve. It sort of strips away the divisions between high art and low art, and it all blends together in a really successful way.-->
Jacob Gaboury: You recently acquired your own permanent space in Kansas City and had a grand opening this past July. What are your plans for the new space, and what changes will this mean for Whoop Dee Doo?
JW: Now that we have our own space, a huge goal for us is to not only highlight local talent, but to really collaborate with them and create unique and amazing work amongst the acts themselves. What if you got a punk band and an African dance troupe to practice and make a dance to one of the punk band’s songs? What does a set designed to be a supermarket look like when the Midwest Cloggers, drag queens, and a bunch of 8-year olds make it together? It is those sorts of combinations that can really make Whoop Dee Doo extraordinary and kind of crazy - but in the best way.
Before, when we were traveling, we would make these huge sets and have to tear them down right after the shows. Also when the show traveled, it didn’t feel as though the connections we made with the community were nearly as impactful as they could have been. With our own space, once we have our set complete, and once we have a history of shows where people continue to come and be a part of making it happen, we feel like a lot of changes can happen. Just having a storefront with regular hours where people can really come in and get to know us is great. They can start to trust us. The show is so wild that there is always a fear of people feeling exploited, which is not our intention at all. We want the community acts to feel engaged and a part of the show and open their minds up to some amazing things.
Another goal for the show is to sort of fill this gap between what parents are afraid of and what kids need to experience, and it also forms a sort of cross-generational dialogue, where anyone and everyone can be entertained and engaged in their own way. Plus, kid’s television is so weird and censored and dorky these days, it’s like they can’t take any risks because everything needs to be so insanely politically correct. Our only real “rules” for performers are no swearing and no nudity. But there is a lot of gray area there, which causes some definite controversy, but that’s sort of what makes the show so good. There are always these crazy moments during a show where the wildest combinations of people are having an absolute blast - like suburban moms and their cheerleader daughters screaming with cheer for a professional bodybuilder flexing his ten million muscles to the beat of Ricky Martin’s “Livin La Vida Loca” or a “death metal hugging contest” lead by a Swedish band named Pagan Rites, whom we had to refrain from pouring pints of pigs blood onto an audience filled with 12-year olds when we were in Malmo. We depend on our crew to create amazing performances that collaborate with the community and kids in unique ways, and artists like Leone Anne Reeves, who was a faculty member at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Stuart Smith, who started as an intern, are a totally vital part of our show have held us together in the most stressful and insane moments with their ingenious performances. (They also make rad stuff as well.)
JG: That sounds amazing. With all these different places that you've put on Whoop Dee Doo, it still seems sort of indigenous to Kansas City. I first learned about the show through music videos for the Kansas City group SSION, which have a similar sort of aesthetic and attitude. How does Whoop Dee Doo fit in the arts scene in Kansas City? What do you see as the benefits of working in Kansas City, and how would you characterize the arts scene there?
JW: I think Whoop Dee Doo came to be because of Kansas City. It’s a really unique place to be, because I feel that it has a really strong arts scene for such a small city, and everyone is really looking for Kansas City to make a name for itself, so everyone is always helping each other with their projects, making it a super collaborative environment. I feel like everyone sees each other's successes as aiding in the growth of the arts scene here, so it is such a supportive place to be. It’s really the perfect place for a project like Whoop Dee Doo, because it not only allows people who are more shy about their work and getting themselves out there to really have a voice and find their niche in the project, but it also continues to push the way people are collaborating here and emphasizes that in a really unique way.
Whoop Dee Doo has also continued to utilize the artistic talents of some incredible artists that started out in Kansas City and have helped with shows when we have traveled, including artists Jon Peck and Sean Ward.
JG: Your own photography work is going to be displayed in the second show at the new Kathy Grayson gallery, the Hole, in New York City. Other artists include Cody Critcheloe - the lead singer of SSION - and fashion designer Peggy Noland, both of whom are from Kansas City. The show seems like a good example of the kind of collaborative Kansas City arts scene you're describing.
JW: The show at the Hole in NYC is a great example of this. The main exhibition is Cody’s movie BOY, which utilized the talents of a ton of Kansas City artists. I also have a photo show in one of the galleries, and Peggy Noland is doing a pop-up store in the third space. Just to give you an idea of the collaborative aspects of the show at the Hole - Both Peggy and I are actors in Cody’s film, several people from Whoop Dee Doo helped make the props and sets for the movie, Peggy makes the costumes for the SSION, the SSION is often on Whoop Dee Doo, Peggy’s character on Whoop Dee Doo is called “Fashion Witch,” I take photos of Peggy’s clothes, etc., etc. So in the show, you will see aspects of this - the SSION on Whoop Dee Doo will play along with the movie, Peggy and I have a presence in the movie, the clothes Peggy made for the movie will be in her pop-up store along with a new body of work, there are self portraits of me from the movie alongside newer work, etc.
JG: Are there any other groups or artists you collaborate with in the Kansas City area?
There are a lot of other great artists and collectives in Kansas City we collaborate with, such as Carnal Torpor and Ari Fish to give a couple of examples. And so much of what we do in Kansas City wouldn't be possible without the support of organizations like the Urban Culture Project and Charlotte Street Foundation in Kansas City. Everyone is really able to fit their skills in the right way to be involved in a lot of different projects, and really its almost like a bartering system in KC - where everyone works for free but either learns something, is a part of something, or gains something in some way. It’s such a great way to work! It’s a super DIY style of working, where not only do we always sort of “make our own fun” because there is not much entertainment here and because it’s sort of in the middle of nowhere. But also we are DIY in the sense that all of our projects always have little to no budget, so we are really used to making things work no matter what.
I think Whoop Dee Doo was also inspired by the weirdness of Kansas City - how the arts scene is so small that it sort of forces you to branch out and collaborate with a lot of other subcultures. For example, you will go to a party in a loft in the East Bottoms - this weird and deserted part of town that is only active during Halloween because the warehouses are made into a ton of giant 6-story haunted houses - and you get at the top of the stairs and there are punks, art kids, moms, bikers, drag queens, someone dressed like a banana, etc. It’s really weird and awesome and totally inspired the show.
JG: How do you see technology at work in the Whoop Dee Doo shows? A lot of the set pieces and costumes are clearly handmade, but it is also produced as a sort of live television show and your Internet presence is very polished. How do you engage technology and is it important to the work?
JW: Technology is totally important. Whoop Dee Doo would take 5 times longer to get where it is today without it. First off, we are hardcore Craigslist-ers. We always have pretty much zero budget, so beyond dumpster diving, we rely on the Craigslist free section for almost everything. Second, our acts! The Internet and Myspace and Facebook have made it so much easier to find talent here in Kansas City, but also especially when we travel to other cities. We booked 17 acts for free in Malmo, ranging from Bolivian and Palestinian dancers to nickelharpa players and an eight-year old Michael Jackson impersonator, without ever meeting them until the day of the show! Crazy! Plus, it’s so amazing when you dig and dig on the Internet - like go from link to link to link and you are in super-deep, you can sometimes find the absolute most amazing things. It’s how I found the Christian Mimes - they were African-American ladies wearing floor-length silver sparkle robes with white gloves and white-painted faces. After finding them in Kansas City, I started finding them in every city we went to, so apparently this is a popular thing - Mimes for Jesus - but I would have never known about this or so many other incredible things going on without the Internet.
Natalie Myers is our phenomenal editor and Director of Photography (and an incredible artist) and Megan Mantia helps manage the show and incessantly documents every move we make. She does this for the SSION as well and she is unbelievable. Whoop Dee Doo would not survive without either of them.
JG: Yes! I think our readers will be very familiar with the pleasures of surfing, but I love that you find these groups and communities online not to point them out ironically or as a joke, but make them a part of Whoop Dee Doo and incorporate them into a collaborative community performance made up of all kinds of people and aesthetics. It feels local and inclusive, but has been sort of turned back around and been made into something much larger.
JW: Well, having our episodes edited and put online makes for an international audience able to see them all for free (and an international audience that was able to get us our first international show). And editing and creating our animations and visual identity, website, DVDs, etc, is something that several amazingly talented people have been able to help us create. It’s a truly collaborative show in every aspect. I think the look of our project is a mix between DIY, community theater, public access horror shows, a disgusting nightclub, and (hopefully) amazing contemporary art.
One day we hope to reach a huge audience and really have the funding and backing to have shows that are truly our wildest dreams. Another huge goal is to one day really take away the pedestal from people - like, have there be no hierarchy between amateur and professional, you know? Like, I feel if people get into this show enough, we can have Marilyn Manson be followed up by a 5-year old baton twirler, or Bill Murray will collaborate with a local science teacher and perform weird experiments on kids, or Roseanne Barr will co-host a dating show with me, or John Waters casts local kids for a mini-movie on our show, or Flavor Flav makes a rap video about Kansas City bar-b-que and all the kids are dressed in 7-foot spare ribs costumes, etc.
JG: What made you want to work with kids? A lot of artists that use the aesthetics of children's programming do so in a way that's intended to make fun of it or produce content that would not be appropriate for kids, but Whoop Dee Doo seems to involve a lot of children's programming for actual children without being silly or infantilizing. Is there a reason you chose to work with kids?
JW: I actually feel like working with kids is what makes the show better. The challenges that we face with a kids show actually seem to make the show weirder and more awkward, and I think that is the amazing part about it. You don’t know how many times things happen that totally push the limits of what a kids show can be, where all of the Whoop Dee Doo crew is cringing and covering their faces in fear because of the conservative-looking audience members we are standing with, and then we realize that it happens, and it’s totally okay! Or at least, acceptable! Which is often pretty shocking.
It makes you really look at the “gray area” on what is okay and focus on really pushing your limits without being outwardly offensive. I think it’s actually a lot easier to go crazy conservative or crazy controversial, so with the in-between that we are working with, there is a lot of uncovered territory (at least that we are aware of) that we are experimenting with constantly. There are definitely a lot of adult references that go over the kids’ heads, and we also deal with issues like race and gender and LGBT culture and violence and politics, and try to always figure out a way to do it that both adults AND kids can appreciate. A funny example is a Whoop Dee Doo member, Josh Gately, dressed in a hand-made cartoon-y-ish costume of “Buffalo Bill” from Silence of the Lambs. You know the famous scene where he is dancing in the basement to Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses”, and he is starting to put on the “skin suit”? Josh re-enacted this scene while all the kids danced with him to the song. The kids loved it, and the adults were shocked, but still totally into it. And they danced, too! Or a 60 year old librarian having a “gross food-eating contest” where she makes food like “Bat droppings” out of banana pudding and tuna, and her actual goal is to get these 12-year old girls to vomit! Not joking! It was her idea - and she’s been doing it for years! Or the civil war re-enactors who sawed off fake limbs made out of summer sausage and an old man vomited! So weird...yet so perfect. I mean, can your 4-year old dance on stage with a 7-foot drag queen in lingerie? It just depends on what type of parent you are. It’s also rad to expose kids to lots of different types of people, and sort of view the parents struggle to decide as to whether or not it’s okay. They almost always go with it, which is pretty amazing.
JG: It seems like a great example of the way that making something for children allows you to experiment in ways you wouldn't otherwise be able, and to do things that may seem "silly" and out of place in a museum, but which can be some of the most engaging and enjoyable contemporary art out there. Thank you so much for this discussion Jaimie!
Images by Megan Mantia