Interview: Chelsea Sutton's No Fool With Creating CAROUSEL OF FOOLS

Rogue Artists Ensemble starts up their 2024 season with a one-night fundraiser Carousel of Fools @ the Santa Monica Pier January 25th

By: Jan. 22, 2024
Interview: Chelsea Sutton's No Fool With Creating CAROUSEL OF FOOLS

Interview: Chelsea Sutton's No Fool With Creating CAROUSEL OF FOOLS

Rogue Artists Ensemble starts up their 2024 season with a one-night fundraiser Carousel of Fools at the Santa Monica Pier January 25, 2024. Known for its interactive, immersive, site-specific shows with puppetry, Rogue Artists Ensemble will be an interactive, immersive carnival experience utilizing the historical carousel with midway games, puppet shows, sword-swallowing and an actual treasure hunting play.  Rogue Artists Ensemble’s associate artistic director Chelsea Sutton came in out of the rain to answer a few of my queries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Chelsea!

What sparked this idea involving the renown Santa Monica Pier merry-go-round?

Everyone at Rogue is absolutely in love with L.A. history and the Pier and the Carousel fit perfectly into that. (I personally ADORE carousels and seek them out when I travel to weird new towns.) Mostly though, we have been working for many years on a new project, Schlitzie: Alive and Inside the Decaying Sideshow, an immersive theatre piece written by Ensemble member Eric Fagundes and directed by our Artistic Director Sean Cawelti. The story sheds a light on the intersection of the sideshow and disability inclusivity through the story of Schlitzie, an iconic and often misunderstood performer. Schlitzie is one of the most famous sideshow performers, his story is inextricably tied to Los Angeles, where he was eventually admitted to an institution when his sideshow was shut down and came to perform his act in McArthur Park where he was lovingly known as ‘ratoncito.’ An event at the Carousel was a perfect way to begin gearing up for this show, which we are hoping to premiere next year.

What factored into the decision to make Carousel a one-night fundraiser instead of a regular Rogue Artists Ensemble show?

Logistically, Looff Hippodrome and the Carousel are historic landmarks that operate year-round for families and visitors, so the space does not lend itself to a multi-week residency like Rogue might need to launch a real show, as much as that would be dreamy. We want to protect the space as much as the caretakers do, and a one-night only event showcases the space in an exciting way, at NIGHT when it usually doesn’t operate.

Also, this should come to no surprise, but theatres need to fundraise! The last pop-up event or performance we did in person on a larger scale (not workshops or readings) happened in 2021 when we did This Alley Is Haunted at the East West Players building. We’ve been working hard to push some new projects into production, but it’s been a slow emergence out of the height of the pandemic and so many theatres are still finding their feet and exploring what creating theatre means now, especially itinerant companies like Rogue. We used to do big immersive parties like this, and we want to start bringing this back – moments for folks to share space, to find joy together in our weird little universe, and to introduce people to Rogue who maybe aren’t familiar with our work.

What cosmic forces brought the sword swallowers into the Rogue Artists Ensemble’s universe?

Our Ensemble member Amy Judd Lieberman is a sword swallower!! Amy has been a part of Rogue for much longer than me. I believe she first joined up as part of the cast of our education show Frog Belly Rat Bone back in the day. But Amy had a whole other life in the sideshow as Amy Amnesia, and she’s actually been a real champion and amazing collaborator as we have worked on the Schlitzie project. Amy is bringing her friend Brianna Belladonna to do a double act (female sword swallowers are really rare, and seeing two of them together will be DOUBLE rare). Amy is also a newly minted playwright and we’ll be workshopping a play of hers later this year so keep an eye out for that!

What path of activities would you recommend to one who wants to follow the main show Apothecary and see the sword swallowers and the games?

There’s no wrong way to do this night. If you want to chill in a cool atmosphere and hang with friends, the first level of interaction is riding the carousel, grabbing a drink, and playing some of the (only slightly rigged) midway games we’ve set up that are all Rogue-ified (we have the fish bowl game and ring toss and balloon popping, just… not how you remember it). The sword swallowing will happen three times over the course of the night on the mainstage as well as a visit by a mermaid. 

Now if you want to get a little weirder…we have three never-before-seen puppet shows happening on rotation once an hour, plus a magician, a naughty finger puppets show, AND a mini dark ride experience, all in the performance tents on the main deck. 

If you want more of a STORY (and not everyone does!) you can help the Apothecary of Stories find and save bits of long-lost history of the Carousel, which are floating around this party, before they disappear completely or are consumed by the terrible Dogfish. 

All the activities are structured like a real carnival – so you exchange activity tickets for the things you want to do, like you would for a normal midway game or to get into an oddity tent at a sideshow. So you get to curate your evening. The different ticket packages come with activity tickets, but you can always get more at the event if you need them and see thing you want to do. 

What would your three-line pitch for Apothecary be?

The Apothecary of Stories is a short immersive fantasy quest where you help a timeless traveler save the spirit of forgotten histories that had been, until tonight, locked inside the historic carousel. You’ll meet a creature inside an apothecary trunk, interact with characters at the sideshow, and hopefully scare off the terrible Dogfish.  

Are most of Carousel’s cast Rogue Artists Ensemble members? Or are there a lot of freelance specialty acts?

Most of the folks at the Carousel are Rogue Artists Ensemble members and associate artists or alumni of past Rogue projects. There are only a few folks who are new collaborators, such as Brianna Belladonna and some guests from the Santa Monica Trapeze School on the pier.

Interview: Chelsea Sutton's No Fool With Creating CAROUSEL OF FOOLS How are the duties and responsibilities divvied up between you, the Rogue Artists Ensemble’s associate artistic director, and Sean Cawelti, the artistic director?

It changes every day! Sean and I have creatively collaborated since 2015 with the premiere of Wood Boy Dog Fish, and so there’s a healthy respect and trust in our individual viewpoints as artists and we do a lot of brainstorming around the big projects together in collaboration with our Ensemble, who is kind of the brain trust of the organization. Sean is the creative lead and guide on our mainstage projects. My oversight comes with guiding our development teams (who help give focused stewardship to the development of our projects), leading our Rogue Lab New Work Initiative, and then sometimes I’m a creative lead on pop-ups or smaller events, like the Carousel of Fools. 

What’s next for Rogue Artists Ensemble?

We have SO Much! We are planning a premiere of Schlitzie: Alive and Inside the Decaying Sideshow in spring 2025. We have also been developing our project Happy Fall: A Queer Stunt Spectacular! written by Lisa Sanaye Dring and directed by Sean Cawelti and are planning the premiere of it later this year. In March we will host some community talks and script sharing of a new play of mine, Far Worse Things, which is a horror story exploring historical preservation, and we will have a concert performance of music from our Cowboy Elektra project, which reimagines the Elektra myth in California history of the 1800s. We’ll host both of those at the Valley Relics Museum in Van Nuys. In the summer we’ll do a workshop of Amy Judd Lieberman’s new play Shells, and in the fall, we’ll have a full reading of Far Worse Things. We’ll be locking in dates and locations and announce things very soon! It’s really a full two years of programming – plus a ton of other little pop-up things along the way.

What’s next for Chelsea Sutton?

Immediately next I have reading of a new play at The Road Theatre as a culmination of nine months working in their writers group. The play is called I’ll Be Your Villain and it’s about a woman’s villain arc. It will be Monday, February 12 at 7:30pm and directed by Carly DW Bones. I also have a chapbook of flash fiction coming out in April from Wrong Publishing! 

I initially met you when you were the publicist for the Falcon Theatre (now rechristened the Garry Marshall Theatre). What of your experience there have you been able to utilize as associate artistic director of Rogue Artists Ensemble?

I think everyone should be forced to do marketing and publicity when starting out in theatre! It helps you understand how to talk about the work and think about the audience experience in a way that maybe you don’t if you’re only ever inside the work. It’s still hard to talk about your own art because you’re so close! But having a realistic understanding of how marketing works, what information people need, and how your work fits into the larger landscape is really helpful. (Also, frankly, I don’t think the marketing and publicity people at theatres get enough credit for what they do – they get all the blame but none of the glory.) Having to think about that outward facing part of the business of theatre for so many years definitely infected my brain and is always something I think about when making my own work or helping to shape Rogue initiatives. 

Since Los Angeles is still in cool weathered spring, everyone should dress warmly, right?

Yes! Part of the event is definitely inside, and the outside deck is pretty protected. But it is night in January by the ocean so dress accordingly!

I see snacks are listed for the evening. Should attendees have dinner before coming to the Carousel?

Yes! Eat dinner before because we won’t have entrees available, but there will be carnival foods like popcorn, nuts, and cotton candy.

What’s the parking situation for Carousel?

There are two parking lots at the pier - one directly on the pier that are easily accessible to the event. Winter parking at the pier is $7!

Thank you again, Chelsea! I look forward to experiencing your Apothecary and sideshows.

For tickets to this one-nighter January 25, 2024; click on the button below: