Last night, Karen O's psycho opera Stop the Virgens started its run at Sydney's Opera House as part of Vivid Live, and it was INCREDIBLE. It was the show's first performance since its week-long debut in Brooklyn, and it was so well-received that members of the audience were heard complaining after the show that their hands hurt from clapping so hard.
Karen not only brought the wild attitude of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs onto the stage, but also her fellow bandmates Nick Zinner and Brian Chase, who headed up the 13-piece musical accompaniment along with Sam Spiegel (aka Squeak E. Clean). Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark shredded on the keyboard, playing alongside Jack Lawrence, Patrick Keeler (The Greenhornes, The Raconteurs), and Jason Grisell (Bubbles). The set design and costumes (designed by long-time Karen O collaborator Christian Joy) were freakin' amazing, too!
Another highlight was the hair and make-up (sponsored by M.A.C Cosmetics), which we were well and truly in awe of. After the show, we went backstage to talk to Mike Potter, who was in charge of the beauty direction, to try to find out what the heck was going on during this amazing confusing performance we had just witnessed. Mike is an award-winning make-up artist for Broadway musicals, film, and music videos, and he also has a killer range of matte nailpolishes.
Ariane Halls: How are you feeling now that the first show’s over?
Mike Potter: I'm really relieved, 'cause I felt like I was really stressed out about coming to Sydney because it's a really big deal — I mean, in New York it was like, "Oh, we're going to do this thing and see what happens," and what happened was that people loved it and now we're here at the Sydney Opera House. So, it's an honour, but I was terrified. A couple of times during the quick changes I was like, "I need a drink or pill or something!" I was really stressed. But I'm happy now. Karen's happy!
Were there many make-up changes during the show, or just hair?
It's wig changes. We do a couple of quick make-up — you know, just the blue [eyeshadow], and we glue a lash on for when she becomes the monster. But it is more hair and costume — I mean, it's hard when you've got 90 seconds to do more significant make-up changes backstage. But I think with the hair and the little tweaks that we did make it powerful — she goes from being a monster, into a 50s prom-queen, to the Virgin Mary. [Production designer] K. K. Barrett said in that last scene she's a dashboard Virgin Mary who's been on the dashboard too long cause she's all white, bleached-out. I like that line, that's K. K.
So when the show started, what did Karen give to you? Did she give you complete creative licence or did she–
With [costume designer] Christian Joy
and I, she's always like, "You guys do whatever you want and let me know." It's weird, Christian and I kind of don't even come together until the end, and then when we do, it just all of a sudden magically works out. That 50s prom-queen look, we were like, "What's gonna happen? We don't know what it's gonna look like," and it just… I was like, "Oh my God, it looks amazing!" We just didn't know.
Karen kind of… we have this weird thing where we've always worked that way with Karen for years. Y'know, within certain bounds, I knew what I wanted her to look like. I knew I wanted her hair to turn from black to white in the show and I knew that her character would be travelling through time or whatever. We wouldn't throw her out looking like anything too out of what she would want to do, but Karen's pretty open about letting us do — she's always been like that with us.
I was excited when I found out that I was interviewing you after the show because I thought I'd have a better idea of what it was about, but I'm still kind of in the dark.
No one knows?
You know, it's funny: Karen did an interview in New York on NPR and they asked her what it was about and she was like, "What is it about?" She asked one of the other band members. I mean, I think it's about growing up and learning your lessons and, you know, having the universe teach you those lessons, and maybe she represents that. I think it's just a visual orgy. I think it's kind of a little bit of everything. I think a lot of people that came in New York — especially really high-theatre people — that didn't know what to expect, they loved it, but they didn't know what it was that they had just seen. They were like, "What was that? We don't know, but we loved it." I think it slightly defies genres and I like that about it. Karen's hard to define herself; she's a sweet thing but she's a wild animal on stage. So, there's a lot of — it’s bipolar. Maybe one day she'll tell us what the story is, I don't know. I think the thing is it's a great piece 'cause you can gather your own conclusions. But yeah, you tell me, what did you think it was about?
I have no idea. But now that you've said 50s prom queen I can totally see it.
Yeah. I feel like it's almost like life … Growing up and not necessarily dying, but dying inside and becoming something else. Think about when you were a teenager and how things were such a big deal and they're really not, you know what I mean? So she's kind of like the mother of all, I guess — which she is: our mother, Karen. She sends us on these crazy journeys. I'm like, "Where are we going next?"
Where are you going next?
No idea. I don't want to know. I'm back to New York to shoot some commercials so I can make some money. How 'bout that? Fashion. I don't do theatre very much. There's very few people I would do something like this for, and Karen is one of them … It's a lot of work and it's a little heart-wrenching and gut-wrenching for me — at the end, it's really sad. It's like when you make a movie or something; everyone's a family. And in New York we're like, "We'll never do it again," and of course three months later they're like, "We're going to do it in Sydney," and I was like, "Uh-oh — but they won't possibly bring me, how are they going to afford to have everyone come?” But Karen's — I think they like me touching her face before she walks out, and she does, too. I've been working with her for a long time, so… I'm a good luck charm.
We also took some Instagram photos of the wigs Mike mentioned:
Introduction: Ingrid Kesa
Interview: Ariane Halls
Photography: Prudence Upton courtesy of the Opera House