Industry Insiders: Cheryl’s Nick Schiarizzi as New Party Monster
What are four twentysomethings who want to dress in extravagant costumes and dance all night to do? Start their own party and wait for the masses to follow. That’s what Nick Schiarizzi, Destiny Pierce, Sarah Van Buren and Stina Puotinen did when they conceived of Cheryl (a.k.a. The Party That Will Ruin Your Life), a monthly bash hosted at Brooklyn’s The Bell House. The foursome comes up with a theme each time (Nausea, Cherylympix, Sasquatch on Broadway and Cherylween are recent examples), posts a performance-art video that serves as an announcement for the upcoming festivity and, when the time comes, throws down in a serious way. Their last event, Fright of Spring (on May 8) was based on the Stravinsky ballet Rite of Spring. More on how fake blood and a Miley Cyrus song get tangled up in the mix from the group’s sole male member, after the jump.
How they got the party started: It was beginning of the summer of 2008. Sara and Destiny were working together that day on a few projects. They wanted to go dancing, but didn’t want to go to Williamsburg, so they thought to themselves, “Why don’t we start our own party?” They sent out an e-mail to a bunch of friends. When it came time to have a party, there were four of us who were really into it. We got an offer from this little dive bar in Park Slope, the Royale, that had a back room with a DJ booth. We told them we wanted to do a Thursday night, and they were like, “Whatever.” Right from the beginning, it was way bigger than expected. We just filled up the space immediately, and everybody was blown away. It’s been almost two years. Our last party was about 500 people.
Dressing the theme: Anybody can go. It depends on the theme how many people dress up. Obviously at the Halloween party, the majority of the crowd is going to be dressed in costume. At the Olympics party, I’d say, half of the people were in costume. The last party was ’70s themed and a lot of people dressed up for that. There’s no pressure to dress up, but it’s an okay environment to do that in. We encourage it, but it’s not like you have to do anything.
What/who is Cheryl? It’s hard to explain. Not to dissect what we do or make it seem that there’s this post-modern, academic thought process that goes into everything, but it was just something that made us laugh. It’s one of those names that is so commonplace. Everybody knows somebody who’s named that, but when you sit back and think about the name itself, it’s kind of funny. Part of it is that a bunch of us are from Boston. We’d make fun of Boston accents like the way that our parents talk. We’d say Cheryl in that accent and thought it was funny. We came up with a dance that we called the Cheryl. The party’s called Cheryl. Then, the four of us are called Cheryl. The word encompasses a huge aspect of what we’re doing. At this point, it’s not really about anything specific.
On choosing party themes: There’s a Cheryl cycle that begins right after the last party. That’s where we’re coming up with the video idea. Then, we shoot the video. Then, I edit it. Then, the video comes out and introduces the theme of each party. There’s a week or two between the video coming out and the party when people are preparing their costumes and getting inspired to dress up. Then, the party happens and it all starts over again. We compare it to the menstrual cycle. When we started doing the party, I don’t think anyone was doing video promos for parties that were self-standing. Our first video was just an instructional dance video on how to do the Cheryl. Then, we just kept doing them because they’re really fun. Now, we’ve done 18 videos. We did a video shoot at MoMA with a bunch of teenagers and made a video out of that. Then, we were invited to PS1. We did a video shoot there. We had a video installation in The Bruce High Quality Organization show. It’s this group of artists who were chosen to be in the Whitney Biennial this year.
On the night of the event: We arrive at The Bell House a little early. We set up a crafts table that has to do with the theme. Sometimes we have to explain the theme to people, because it doesn’t make much sense. For example, the Nausea party. We associate nausea with ’70s yellow, orange and brown colors and remembering when you were a kid and your mother would drag you to the bank where everything was wood paneling. You’d be sitting in the back seat of a station wagon. That all just tied in together for us. At that party, we had a craft table that with bronzer make-up that anybody could put on, and frosted lipstick. We had this big photo station. At the peak of the party around 12:30 or 1am, we do a little performance with the four of us, recreating something from the video. It usually involves us puking blood out of our mouths or falling on the floor and having a seizure or something. Towards the end of the night around 3am, there are anywhere from 50 to 100 people left. It’s just the most concentrated craziness out of all the party. We end each party with this Miley Cyrus song. Everybody runs around the dance floor screaming. Then, it’s over.
On the smaller party series: In Greenpoint, we use a place called Coco 66. They have a pretty big back area for dancing and DJ booths. The whole place is probably at capacity with 200. We were offered the opportunity to have a monthly party series there every first Saturday. One issue with Cheryl is that people get so into it and have so much fun and it’s so euphoric that when it’s over people get really depressed and they want another one immediately. We’re trying to bridge the gap between parties by having one in the middle. It’s in no way competing with the big Cheryl at Bell House because it’s half the size. We encourage people to dress up because the whole party’s about doing whatever you want and looking insane. We’re calling it New Movement Workshop. It’s just for people to come and show off dance moves.
On the indescribable qualities of Cheryl: We’ve gotten a lot of great press lately, but I still feel like it’s really hard to describe what the party is like. The main thing with the party is that it’s scrappy. It’s not about going to a dance party to meet somebody to grind with on the dance floor. It’s not about listening to a DJ who shows off his esoteric music collection. It’s not about looking hot. It’s not about feeling confident because of how sexy you look. It’s this really delicate balance between total insanity and totally silly that people can buy into. People just come to this party and they’re immediately dancing. We’re all in awe of how great things are going and how things have ended up this way. We have gay guys working in fashion. We have lesbian baristas. We have straight architects. All these people are really into the party and always come and dance together. I think the common thread connecting everybody at the party isn’t really orientation or being a hipster. It’s just about a group of people who are nice and who aren’t afraid to dance. I do play a lot of disco. I think some people might say that a lot of the music is traditionally gay because of that, but I don’t think that’s true. I think music that’s been labeled as traditionally gay in the past is just really dancey. Not to generalize, but gay guys know how to dance.
Photo: Joshua Herman