By Maria Gotay
A fellow Bushwick resident, Nadia Hulett, was lucky and talented enough to be selected as one of the Virgens in Karen O’s Stop the Virgens. This music/art/theater performance piece, or a “Psycho Opera” if you want, took place at The Creator’s Project this past fall. An ethereal and dramatic tribute to love, loss, the future and memory, the opera unfolded like a dream, floating from one scene to the next among sweeping musical numbers and dynamic stage visuals- oh, and terrific costume changes.
The project was a monumental accumulation of almost 10 years of work on Karen’s part. Karen, who’s best known for The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ cult status as a art punk band, actually studied film in college. When she first wrote the songs for the musical about 7 years ago, she originally saw what came to be Stop the Virgens as a series of short films or vignettes. In that time of period, she wrote the songs in a stream-of-conciousness process that amounted to the soundtrack of the show. Through her work with co-creator of the show, KK Barrett, who’s done set production on Spike Jonze and Sophia Coppola films, and collaborations with other visual producers, the psycho opera came about. The production was raved about, by audience members, press, and everyone in the show itself, including Nadia Hulett. So I sat down with Nadia, who gave me insights into the performance piece and Karen O’s legendary status as a creator…
[quote]Karen came out and said basically, “The only way I know how to thank you is by singing to you.” Then the YYYs started performing for us, starting with Maps and going through some of their singles. It was amazing.[/quote]
As a small cast member of Stop The Virgins, what exactly did you do, and how did you feel you helped materialized Karen’s vision, as a member of the chorus of 30 girls?
We were called Virgin acolytes- We were a body of girls, we created the world that the audience entered into. We were like a maze of bodies, helping people find their way into the theater. We also created a soundscape throughout the show, being a chorus. Everything from the show came from Karen’s head, her experiences- as a group, we were important to the show by being extensions of her vision.
So you acted as portals, as another voice for her to communicate through. Did you have individual choices in performing?
We were dressed like young choir girls…in white costumes and wigs. We were instructed to portray ourselves as ferel girls, otherwordly, not quite human. We were all told to all embody the same character, and we we all performed in the same way, but, Karen was humbled by the diversity in skills we all brought, from musical theater girls and all the experience we brought.
So, what’s Karen like?
She’s really nice, she’s kooky, she’s brilliant. She’s internalizes a lot, but when she performs she’s wild. There’s a switch in her that she just turns on when she performs, it’s amazing.
Did you ever think that you’d be working with someone as legendary and at the same time relevant to today’s music and arts scene?
I always hoped I would, but i didn’t expect this to happen so quickly. It was so fast- heard about it a few days before, auditioned, found out a few days later. We rehearsed for a few weeks, put it up for a few weeks and then… it was done. I hoped and knew that something like this would happen.
You mentioned to me before that one of the best things you took away from this experience was being surrounded by a huge group of talented musicians at al times. How did this affect you?
Not only musicians, but artists, directors, etc that are so talented and passionate, and I guess I looked at all of them and thought “Why not me?” . There was this focus that came about to keep shooting for such cool things. To keep working hard and find these kinds of people near me to collaborate in the future.
The full band you performed with included…
The other members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs- Nick Zinner, Brian Chase- plus up to 10 other people were performing at all times. The drummer and the bassist were both members of The Racounteurs and The Greenhornes . The cellist is one of the co-founders of (venue in the west village) Le Poisson Rouge, too.
Any secrets we should know?
Nick [Zinner] had his camera all the time with him taking photos of the entire experience. They’re not for public display. I think he’s not sure what to do with them. But they’re out there.
Tell us a special story from the show.
One night before the show closed, they wanted to thank everyone in the production in a special way and they called us as if we were gonna have a meeting and gave us some Bud Lights and Coronas and Karen came out and said basically, “The only way I know how to thank you is by singing to you.” Then the YYYs started performing for us, starting with Maps and going through some of their singles. It was amazing. It went back to me being a small part of the chorus, and it wasn’t just me that was moved, everyone was so moved. There was this excitement and fear and vulnerability that we were really united by.