When Warhol created his famous "Screen Tests" in the mid-’60s, he’d tell his subjects to sit motionless on a stool and stare at the camera without blinking.
While brilliant in their own right, they’re nothing like Rob Roth’s Screen Test, an abstract orgy of mental-visual-aural stimulation that, while best described as a cinematic multimedia rock opera, is hardly The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what the show is about-it has no clear storyline and follows few models-but in talking to Roth, the project’s creator and director, you get the sense that the story being told is about creating fantasy in order to cope with dark realities.
"These past eight years it seems that people have been so influenced by fear that you have to create your own world inside to survive," says Roth, who’s directed music video installations for Debbie Harry and who created the legendary downtown party Click + Drag. The party ran from 1996-2001 at the notorious club Mother and then at Chinatown hotspot Fun. It’s being rebooted on November 15 at Santos’ Party House with Roth’s installation The Hallucinogenic Toreador, based on the Dali painting of the same name.
The narrative for Screen Test is told mostly through Roth’s hallucinatory video installations, but this avant-garde show also includes haunting music written and performed by Theo and the Skyscrapers, dance choreographed by the critically acclaimed Vangeline Theater and costumes by industry fave Todd Thomas and along with Jane Kennedy.
The hour-long show stars Theo Kogan, an actress, model and musician best known for her work with Calvin Klein, Burberry and Kenneth Cole and as lead singer of Theo and the Skyscrapers. Downtown denizens will recognize her as the tattooed co-host and DJ (along with Michael T) of the polysexual play party Rated X and as a member of the now-defunct band Lunachicks. Kogan had no second thoughts about joining the project. "Doing this show makes me so happy to the core, it’s an absolute thrill," she tells us. An especially trippy moment involves Kogan standing still at center stage while an image of her delivering a monologue is projected onto her body.
The current iteration of the show is an evolution of Roth’s presentations at the Coil Festival last year and this past January. While it’s based on the previous work, some elements have changed and grown to enhance the presentation. Its current home is the Abrons Art Center, a century-old theater that has seen the likes of Fred Astaire and Sandy Duncan and is the perfect stage for this show that simultaneously mimics Hollywood escapism while eschewing its inherent glamour.
To simply label Screen Test as a multimedia rock opera would be like dismissing Andy Warhol as just a gay pop-art star. Though it’s a shame that this dark and boundary-pushing visual masterpiece will only run for four nights, how fitting that its reincarnation will take place on Halloween weekend. We know where we’ll be.
Screen Test runs October 30 to November 2 at Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand St, 212-598-0400). Visit HenryStreet.org/arts, TheaterMania.com or call 212-352-3101 for tickets.