Pagan Matchmaking Takes East Bay by Storm in Happy Forever
Spy Emerson: performance artist, salacious sex goddess and owner/purveyor of the infamous Hook-Up Truck, adorned the stage of Albany’s historic Ivy Room Monday, for an iterative performance of Happy Forever, her vaudevillian, burlesque-esque variety-and-game show of sin, surrealism and surprise.
Happy Forever has taken numerous shapes and forms over its 20-year history. The Ivy Room show, titled Happy Forever: Pagan Matchmaker, tells the story of a witty witch (Emerson) who uses sex magick to heal the world.
In a mystical urban glen, there is an ancient tree that sits underneath the highway overpass. The Witch, with the help of Mandalf Dingledong, a semi-erect spiritual satyr, and Mole, a musical muse, guides the audience through an orchard of orgies, a coppice of coitus, a wood of wood and bush of bush toward world peace; panacea through pansexuality.
The performance is done in two parts: the first half of the show is comprised of skits written by Emerson and the second part is improvisational, with performances by Emerson and a slough of other guests, including the one and only Dr. Hal “Howland Owll” Robins from legendary counter-cultural troupe, The Church of the Subgenius.
Skits in Happy Forever: Pagan Matchmaker included the “Kegel Beagle,” a canine character played by Emerson that encourages vagina-owners to squeeze and strengthen their intramuscular pelvic walls, a DIY-sex doll workshop, Confessions of a Pervert (where people reveal their deepest desires), spin the bottle (with whipped cream kisses), a how-to workshop on tying up your partner with various bondage knots and a short-duration group wedding presided over by Dr. Hal– an unholy matrimony of six, including Emerson, meant to last exactly 20 minutes.
“The goal is to unify people—to make people laugh, to get them to let their guard down,” Emerson said in a post-show interview. “There’s not enough space for artists that want to push the envelope, though I hate to use that term. I get in trouble because I do things that are real. They get a reaction.”
A maven of the avant-garde, Emerson is locally and internationally known for her performance art, including projects like Dystopic Horizons Reality, that deals with the ongoing housing crisis, Gutterbunny in Chinatown, about a bunny that escapes a Chinatown butcher shop, and Happy Forever, with its anthropomorphic cast of woodland critters and all their concomitant philosophical foibles.
Emerson is also an accomplished 2D and 3D artist who creates handmade costumes and props out of salvaged material. She takes pictures, writes songs and poetry and shoots 8mm Polaroid films.
Her most popular venture is the Hook-Up Truck, which was parked outside the Ivy Room last Monday, emblazoned with the words “Make Love.”
The Truck, a rolling social experiment, performance art piece, and available mobile space for a quickie outside the bar, caused a national media frenzy when it hit the streets in 2014. It operated for a little over a year before Emerson took a hiatus to travel. As of November 2017, the Truck has returned to the streets of the Bay Area for more wheelin’ and squealin’, honkin’ and bonkin’, and, yes, truckin’ and fuckin’.
Even in the most liberal oases, Emerson’s shows and her Hook-Up Truck have been shut down, bad-mouthed and protested—a barometric response that lets you know how good these projects are at what they intend to do.
Nothing can prepare you for a Happy Forever show, except maybe a stiff one (drink or other) and an open mind. The participatory performance takes its audience to comfortably uncomfortable places—areas and thoughts we seldom explore, however badly we might want to. You will laugh, you will wince but you will not look away.
In the underground, sex-positive, culture-jamming performance circuit that has its home here in the Bay Area, Emerson is a unique talent whose hallucinogenic visions must be experienced up close, under the stage lights, where the boundary between audience and performer, art and obscenity, reality and fiction, are tantalizingly blurred.
Catch Happy Forever select Monday nights, 6-8 p.m. at the Ivy Room, 860 San Pablo Ave., Albany. Admission: $5.
Photography by James Gage.