Archive for the Summer Solstice/ Mermaid Parade Category

For Talk Like a Pirate Day: Trav S.D.’s “Sea of Love”

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Burlesk, Coney Island, Contemporary Variety, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Indie Theatre, LEGIT, EXPERIMENTAL & MUSICAL THEATRE, ME, My Shows, Summer Solstice/ Mermaid Parade with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2016 by travsd


All things considered we give our plays short shrift here (and elsewhere,I think) and one of our New Year’s resolutions is to make amends by plugging them aggressively. The best way to make your New Year’s resolution come true is to get to work on it several months early.

Fortunately, we have a handy “way in” to talk about one of my plays today, it being INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY and all. Trav S.D.’s Sea of Love is basically an extended “talk like a pirate” nautical riff, structured as a series of crashing ocean waves. It has had many lives.

It began as a two-hander about a couple on a date, which I began developing as a student at Trinity Rep Conservatory in 1987. It begins with the galling premise of a prudish young man rebuffing the scary advances of a highly open and sexual female co-worker whose trippy monologue provided its original title, Love Embrace at 50 Fathoms. It was a Gilligan and Ginger scenario, if you will.


A couple of years later (1989) I attended the Coney Island Mermaid Parade for the first time, and that inspired me to take the play where it eventually went, an over the top fantasy scenario, where the date is first invaded by the young man’s equally sexual and forward mother “Mrs. Paul”, and then the ghost of his pirate father “Long John”. This version was produced at the now defunct Vortex Theatre, and featured my good friend Sarah McCord Williams as “Gidget” and her then-boyfriend Brian Price as the hero “Bildad”. Coney Island performer Sailorman Jack opened the show with a set of sea chanteys.

In the early ’90s I directed yet another version at the old Village Gate, which is now Le Poisson Rouge. I think at this stage I had the effrontery to call it Wet Dreams, which is gross, but actually fits the theme.


Tony Millionaire designed the postcard for the 2002 edition

Then in 2002 came what I consider the definitive version of Sea of Love, at the Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory Festival. For this one, I pulled out all the stops. I introduced a dance chorus number, choreographed by the one and only Julie Atlas Muz, and featuring several key burlesque dancers as the “Naughty Nereids”, including the legendary Bambi the Mermaid (THE Coney Island Mermaid Parade Mermaid), Kate Valentine (a.k.a Mistress Astrid), Lin Gathright (a.k.a. Miss Bunny Love) and others. The lovely Moira Stone sang my song “Love of the Ocean” for a curtain raiser.

Stone (right), with Sarah Jane Bunker, who played Gidget, backstage at the Ohio

Stone (right), with Sarah Jane Bunker, who played Gidget, backstage at the Ohio

And I added another wave of craziness in the person of the Great God Poseidon, played by Robert Pinnock wearing nothing but a thong and a green afro wig. Jeff Lewonczyk played Bildad’s mother Mrs. Paul (in drag, natch), and Bildad was to be played by the multi-talented writer-comedian (and former Fox commentator) John Devore. 

I was extremely jazzed to play the part of the pirate — in fact, that was kind of the whole point (see the publicity photo at top). But just before opening night Devore suffered a tragic death in the family, and (as I have had to do so often in the past), I had to understudy for him, re-envisioning the pirate by having Adam Swiderski and Dan Maccarone play the body (at different shows), with Pinnock supplying the voice offstage through a microphone. Then we closed out the show by having the entire cast sing the Donovan song “Atlantis”.

As too often happens when I write/direct/produce/ and star in something, little (sometimes major) things fall through the cracks. All too often it has happened that I forgot to arrange for photographs of the production! Thus there is no photographic record of this  show. I have video of it, but it’s kind of rough (at least my copy is), and so I really only have memories.

And then there was additional life. In 2007 we did a commemorative reading of the play at Coney Island USA, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the parade.

And then that terrific resource Indie Theater Now made it available to purchase! It’s yours to peruse and (hopefully) produce at this link:

Coney Island Dreams, Coney Island Schemes

Posted in Amusement Parks, AMUSEMENTS, BROOKLYN, Coney Island, CULTURE & POLITICS, Summer Solstice/ Mermaid Parade with tags , , , , on June 18, 2016 by travsd


We’re skipping the annual Mermaid Parade this year. We’re disinclined to be Judges at present, and as Judges is the only way we go.

I’ve grown disenchanted. While Coney Island is always on the move and (for the last couple of decades) on the mend, I’ve never been able to fully embrace the thing standing in front of me — what I am really seeking is the Coney of the past or future, for it is both a sliver of what it was, and a mere shadow of its own potential.

From its peak attendance during World War Two, the world’s premiere fun zone got slammed by a succession of developments in the post-war era that eroded its fabled status as America’s Playground: air conditioning made local folks less desperate to get to the beach; trains, plains and automobiles made other beaches and amusement parks much easier to get to; suburbanization saw people moving out of NYC (a trend that began to reverse a couple of decades ago). The scale and number of attractions at Coney dwindled. Crime went up; quality of life in the area went down. Like I say, it’s been improving as a destination for years, thanks to the advent of a number of fun-centers: Coney Island USA (1980), the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team (2001), the light installation on the Parachute Jump (2006), Luna Park (2010), the return of B & B Carousell (2013), and the opening of the Coney Island Amphitheatre (2016). And one of the area’s last remaining eyesores, the long-shuttered Shore Hotel has finally been purchased, with plans to turn its beautiful theatre into a new entertainment venue.

All things remaining the same, I predict that this trend will continue. Not only have there long been (admittedly controversial) plans by real estate developers to build new residential towers in the area, but the population of Brooklyn overall continues to increase. The frontier of that growth is still several neighborhoods away, but one can imagine that process continuing to the point that the outward edge gets closer and closer to South Brooklyn, potentially bringing thousands of new regular visitors. Me, if I had dough to invest, public or private, I would bet on the long term future of Coney Island.

I’ve been day-dreaming about what that long term future might look like for decades. Here are some of my fool notions:


Coney Island lies at the far edge of New York City, the end of several subway lines in fact. When I lived in Greenpoint, it took me an hour to get there. If you live in another borough, it takes even longer. Once upon a time, that distance was an attraction. People wanted to “get out of the city”. In its earliest phase as  destination (early to mid 1800s) the area was actually full of beachside hotels. In the heyday of the amusement parks (roughly 1904-1944), the “benefit” vs. “the cost” (in time) of making the excursion was much more clear-cut and obvious. As the attraction of the area diminished, the journey became less worth making. (Now that I live in Park Slope, I go there many times a summer. When I lived in Greenpoint, it was once or twice a year at most). We’ll get to the attractions in a minute, but I also think it needs to be far easier to get to Coney Island. The two go hand in hand.Here are some thoughts about other possibilities:


Speedboat Water Taxi

Pictured above is the Shark, which tools around New York harbor, departing from South Street Seaport. I’ve taken this ride with my kids. It’s great fun. Express speedboat service to Coney Island, if not shorter than a train ride, would at least have the benefit of being exhilarating — a ride unto itself.


Scenic Trolley

Years ago Brooklyn treasure Bob Diamond lobbied hard to revive a trolley line in Brooklyn, with the specific goal of increasing transportation options to Red Hook, an area which remains preposterously cut off from the rest of the city, despite being quite close as the crow flies. He couldn’t muster the support and his trolley collection now lies rusting. I took the picture above at the Red Hook waterfront a few weeks ago. San Francisco and New Orleans still operate such lines because they didn’t make the foolish, short-sighted decision to junk them in the mid twentieth century like most other cities. And tourists love them. New York has trashed all its track however. Like I say: “dreams”.


Express Tour Bus

I took this photo a few days ago with this very blog post in mind. These tour bus thingies are all over the city. The idea would be express service, with only a couple of key stops, and perhaps a tour guide prepping the passengers with a little historical background on the route. It’s better than NOT doin’ it!



By all accounts, Coney Island’s attractiveness as a destination was greatest between the years 1904 and 1911, when its three main amusement parks, Steeplechase, Dreamland and the original Luna Park combined to make Coney Island a veritable fairyland on the scale we nowadays associate only with the Disney theme parks, and were every bit as magical. Their fabulousness was too great to describe here, and is well covered in myriad other sources. The point is that now they are gone. Dreamland burnt in 1911, Luna in 1944, and Steeplechase was demolished by the villainous Fred Trump in 1964 (at a moment when the World’s Fair up in Queens probably made it seem more okay than it was). The area the parks occupied stretched past where the New York Aquarium is now, and across the street past where the housing projects are. After Steeplechase closed, some smaller parks remained: Astroland (which closed a few years ago), Denos’ Wonder Wheel Amusement Park (which remains), and several independent ride and booth operators.

Now admittedly for years, I’ve been too easy an audience for Coney Island’s amusement parks. I’ve never been to a large, modern amusement park on the scale of Six Flags. Prior to Coney Island, I’m pretty sure I’d only ever been to two amusement parks, both of them tiny: Rhode Island’s now defunct Rocky Point, and Connecticut’s equally miniscule Quassy. So I’ve always been an easy date when it comes to contemporary Coney: “What do you mean? This place is great!”  But I understand that modern visitors expect a lot more.

Believe it or not, on more than one occasion, the folks from Disney crunched the numbers on opening a park out there, but they couldn’t make it work to their satisfaction. Among other things, they felt potential for parking facilities were inadequate and for something on the scale they envisioned they imagined people driving in from far-flung regions. And the infrastructure on Coney Island (things like sewer and water) is quite bad and would need city investment. But since we’re dreaming, a HUGE amusement park out there would be just Jim Dandy wouldn’t it? You’d need to rezone, and you’d need to either move, or build around the housing projects, but nothing is impossible. And think of the local people it would employ

Some specific things I personally would like to see out there in an expanded amusement district:

  • At least one amazing dark ride. There are 2 or 3 truly pathetic ones out there right now. They’re enjoyable, but they’re over in 1 or 2 minutes. Ten minutes — that’s more like it!
  • More sideshows and performing arts! Coney Island USA is cool, but back in the day (say the 1920s and 30s), Coney was a place with NUMEROUS sideshows and similar places operating simultaneously. Each competing with the others for business and thus keeping the level of quality high. And a Ripley’s Odditorium would be nice.
  • Tented circus! At various times over the years, Ringling Bros., Cole Brothers, Big Apple Circus, and other organizations have pitched a tent out at Coney. I want a circus out there every summer!
  • Wax Museum! They used to have them out there back in the day. At least one would be amazing, especially with a Hall of Horrors! At the very least, a Madame Tussaud’s franchise.
  • A “Bowery” or “Bourbon Street”. There are a couple of little places on Surf Avenue and a couple on the boardwalk, and this is what suggested this to me. What it would be is a strip of live music venues, saloons, burlesque houses and the like, either on Surf Ave, or better yet, one block back on Mermaid Ave. (so that it can be as naughty as it needs to be, but away from the family audiences.)
  • Cinemas. This seems a modest thing and yet I don’t think there are any for miles around there. A first run multi-plex with a “movie palace” architectural vibe would be nice. But also an old time revival house that shows silent and old time movies — Joe Franklin used to operate one of those nostalgia theatres out there years ago.
  • Racetrack! This is one of the crazier dreams, but it’s not random. Before it had amusement parks, Coney Island was the site of several horse racing tracks. That is why Steeplechase amusement park had that as its theme. One of the late Horace Bullard’s plans for Coney included casinos etc on the model of Atlantic City. What I’m envisioning is something like Belmont or Aqueduct, set back aways from Coney, perhaps in neighboring Gravesend or Sheepshead Bay.
  • Brooklyn Dodgers! Yeah, that’s right! Trade the minor league Cyclones franchise in and replace it with a major league team. Brooklyn has never been the same since the Dodgers left! Put it in South Brooklyn!

Oh, I got more ideas — way more ideas than that about how to improve Coney Island, if I only had a billion dollars. No point in dreaming small! If you wanna hear more, ask me! Even better — back me! I ain’t shy!




The 2015 Mermaid Parade

Posted in BROOKLYN, Burlesk, Coney Island, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Summer Solstice/ Mermaid Parade with tags , , , on June 21, 2015 by travsd


Today is the first day of summer!

Yesterday the Mad Marchioness and I launched the season in the best way possible: by being judges in the 33rd annual Coney Island Mermaid Parade, produced by Coney Island USA. I attended my first Mermaid Parade in 1989; the experience, which was fairly life changing, inspired my play Sea of Love and made me a lifelong fan of Coney Island. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve attended the parade over the years. I don’t go every year, more like every four or five. But yesterday, despite the rain (and resulting diminished attendance) was without a doubt the most enjoyable since the very first. It’s like a convention of all New York’s freaks, artists and weirdos, burlesque performers, drag queens, musicians, designers…and by this late date I’ve come to know so many of them! It is a Bacchanal in the literal sense: ceremony, celebration and real-time hallucination.



When we first arrived, the weather boded ill.


Fans of Dick Zigun, founder of the Mermaid Parade and Coney Island USA and the unofficial mayor of Coney Island. I directed Dick’s play Dead End Dummy at CIUSA last fall. 


We are oriented by Chief Justice Mark Alhadeff. 


The one and only Reverend Billy, performance activist and a fellow judge.


Dick Zigun leads off the parade.


King and Queen of the parade, Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser!


Bambi the Mermaid (in the blue hair) and friends.


The Hungry March Band!


Mermaid Parade judges survive on an elaborate system of bribes (normally in the form of liquor, candy and baked goods. The Marchioness scores some from friend Rich Lovejoy).


Three Time Best Mermaid Kate Dale, whom we had the privilege of working with on Dead End Dummy. 


The Sexcamaids, featuring our friend Gyda Arber (not pictured)


Mexican folk dancers representing Dona Zita tacos.


International sideshow star Heather Holliday, spotted by the Marchioness’s eagle eye.


The always beautiful Kat Mon Dieu.


Post-parade speechifying.



The ceremony of opening the sea for the summer season.



Afterwards we stopped by Coney Island USA and the Freak Bar. There wasn’t a prayer of getting inside due to the crowds but we did see our friends The Great Fredini and Lefty Lucy. 

Naturally….there was about 5,000 times the spectacle on view at this wonderful event — these are mostly snaps of friends, colleagues and acquaintances. For the rest, just Google it!

Catch Me at the Mermaid Parade Tomorrow

Posted in AMERICANA, Amusement Parks, BROOKLYN, Burlesk, Coney Island, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, Summer Solstice/ Mermaid Parade with tags , on June 17, 2011 by travsd

Come launch the summer season at New York’s water-themed Bacchanalia! Better yet, I’m a judge on the reviewing stand this year, subject to all manner of bribery. I expect to be carted away from Coney Island on a stretcher…but smiling, folks, always smiling. Assembly is at 10am…and the parade steps off at 2pm. More info is gettable rightchere.

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