Interview: Andrew Ousley Is Planning an 'Immersive, Subversive' 1920s Cabaret

Death of Classical's inventive offering is part of Carnegie Hall's Weimar Festival from April 17 to 19th

By: Apr. 05, 2024
Interview: Andrew Ousley Is Planning an 'Immersive, Subversive' 1920s Cabaret
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Andrew Ousley is a director, producer, and founder of Death of Classical, a unique performance group offering intimate experiences centered mostly around instrumental music with a modern twist. If I’m not describing the group very well, maybe that’s because they’re hard to describe, with eclectic, extremely different experiences: crypt concerts, which they regularly do in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn and Church of the Intercession in Harlem; vast circus-type performances sprawled over an entire cemetery; and more. Ousley recently discovered a new space, the Great Hall under the Church Of St. Mary's in the Lower East Side. They will be mounting a special show there from April 17th to 19th as part of Carnegie Hall’s Weimar Festival. I spoke to Ousley about the upcoming show, the process of transforming the space, and more.

How would you describe your upcoming Tiergarten show?

Tiergarten is an immersive, subversive, underground cabaret event takes its name from the Tiergarten—"The Garden of Beasts"—a sprawling central park around which the Third Reich rose to power. The program traces a path backwards in time, exploring historic moments of societal madness through music ranging from Verdi to Kylie Minogue, Dean Martin to Max Richter, William Byrd to Brecht & Weill, with a panoply of performers that includes singers, dancers, actors, shadow puppets, and more. The magnificent Great Hall beneath a church on the Lower East Side will be transformed into an immersive 1920s Berlin Speakeasy, with period-themed food and drinks, vintage dress, and more. 

It’s going to be wild...

How did you find this space?

I got married there! We wanted to do a large, 1920s-themed wedding and my wife’s friend, a milliner who makes gorgeous hats (Cha Cha’s House) lives in the parish house of the church, and told her about their Great Hall space which they mostly use for Sunday School and Coffee Hour. We went there and immediately fell in love with it, and even as we were planning our wedding, I was thinking how amazing it would be to do a cabaret event here - especially with Carnegie Hall’s Weimar festival coming together.

What was the process like of transforming the space ready for this show? Did you do any renovations/make any decoration changes?

It’s going to be intense! We won’t do any renovations or permanent changes to the space, of course, but we’ll bring in tables, chairs, benches, curtains, lighting and audio equipment, food and drink for a thousand people across three nights, additional bathrooms, and more… plus, we need to create a gigantic tree at the center of the stage, which is a recurring motif throughout the show, with small mirror shards dangling from the branches. So it’s going to be quite an adventure pulling it all ready!

What are you most looking forward to about Tiergarten?

I’m looking forward to making my directorial debut, and to working with the magnificent swath of talented artists we have participating in this show: the incredible MC Kim David Smith, our company of amazing singers Aaron Reeder, Ariadne Greif, Amara Granderson, Luke Elmer and Melina Jaharis, the transcendent burlesque artist Pearls Daily, the brilliant Foreshadow Puppetry, the heartbreakingly beautiful dancers Liana Zhen-ai and Dylan Contreras, and absolutely fantastic nine-piece swing ensemble The Grand Street Stompers, led by trumpeter extraordinaire Gordon Au.

What do you hope audiences take away from the show?

I hope, first and foremost, that people are entertained and moved by the performances, and that they leave the show reflecting on both our precarious present moment, and all of the moments – and decisions - that have led us here. 

The piece explores how the past is reflected in the present, and the periods in human history when the collective weight of our individual decisions either tipped humanity into darkness, or turned us toward something greater – the gathering clouds that enshrouded the crumbling Weimar Republic, the fierce sense of independence that simultaneously gave birth to the United States and American slavery, the zealous piety of the mob that both murdered and immortalized Jesus. I believe that in these moments of fragile balance, our fate as a society is decided by the way that each of us responds to the situation that surrounds us – what we will and will not stand for, what we do and do not allow. 

That's what I want to explore with Tiergarten.

Do you have anything else coming up for yourself or DoC?

We’ll be back in our spectacular Crypt venue in May, with four incredible concerts, and we’ll soon be announcing our next season of The Angel’s Share, the series we do with Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery in their Catacombs and Cemetery grounds. And we’ve got big plans to expand this fall - new venues in New York, new cities (DC and Los Angeles), and more! Definitely sign up for our newsletter, as that’s often the only way to get tickets to our more intimate shows.

Tickets to Tiergarten are available here


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