The Adventures of Michael Jackson and the Animals of Neverland Ranch was a table-top, short-form puppetry piece that focused on the reclusive pop-star’s whimsical abuse of animals in his private zoo amidst uncomfortable relationships with children. In the proscenium of an over-sized storybook, I animated photographic cut outs extracted from the paparazzi and tabloids.
I adapted Neverland Ranch from a section of Michael Jackson Was My Lover, a questionably sourced, pulp, tell-all about the King of Pop’s relationship with a teenager written by former Hard Copy reporter, Victor M. Guitierrez. Guitierrez was successfully sued by Jackson for slander after his book’s publication.
In making Neverland Ranch, I examined the construction of and incongruities between the private and public lives of celebrities, the sensationalization of crime to sell news stories, slash fiction, and the role of gossip manipulation in public relations, especially when it backfires.
The excerpt I adapted chronicled Jackson’s alleged substandard care of his zoo animals, including an incident where he threw stones at his pet lion – Kimba. In another incident, he ordered security guards to burry a giraffe that died from overexposure. The book also alleged sexual transgressions with chimpanzees. The excerpt concluded with a trip to Disneyland with Jackson’s child-friend.
In creating this puppet show I was not agreeing with or refuting the allegations made against Jackson, but instead meditated on the cosmology of celebrities’ private and public lives, and America’s blood lust for knocking down public figures they once elevated onto pedestals through collective myth-making.
I created Neverland Ranch in the fall of 2004 for Lymphomania at the Gamm Theatre, a variety evening of vaudeville, and live music to benefit artist, Jen Swain who at the time was battling lymphatic cancer. I went on to present Neverland Ranch at Perishable Theater as part of Blood From A Turnip, Rhode Island’s only late night puppetry salon, and then again at the McCormick Family Theater for Performance Studies International: Becoming Uncomfortable (PSI), a conference hosted by Brown University. Assisting with puppetry were Abby Saunders (at the Gamm and Perishable) and Vanessa Gilbert (at PSI).
I also exhibited puppets, props and the set from Neverland Ranch in Great Small Works’ Temporary Toy Theatre Museum at St. Ann’s Warehouse in the D.U.M.B.O. neighborhood of Brooklyn.
Michael Jackson is a topic I have come back to many times – starting with The King of Pop’s New Clothes (1998), a live performance and video art piece, Jacksons Private Zoo (2005), a puppet video, and RIPster – Michael Jackson (2009), a photographic series of obituary text messages.
April 1st, 2005 – Performance Studies International: Becoming Uncomfortable
McCormack Theatre, (Providence, RI)
September 20th, 2004 – Lymphomania,
Gamm Theater (Pawtucket, RI)
June 10th-19th, 2005 – Great Small Works Temporary Toy Theater Museum
St. Ann’s Warehouse (Brooklyn)