Ryan Heffington’s Sex on a String: In a House Near You

I’ve only been in L.A. for a little over a year, and I’ve generally had a good run. But in the last few weeks, after a couple of mishaps, I was starting to get down on the old girl. It’s isolating, there’s no energy and excitement in the air, and there’s this annoying thing called traffic. I was due to take a field trip from Santa Monica to the other side of the earth—Echo Park—on Saturday night, to see Ryan Heffington’s collaborative performance, “Sex on a String,” and frankly, I wasn’t feeling up for it. Two friends had canceled because of a family emergency, and the thought of going to the far East wasn’t very appealing. But boy, am I glad I went.

The performance, the evening, the entire experience—and it was quite an experience—made up for my glumness and 60 minutes spent in the car (and even, the fiasco of my car battery going dead at evening’s end). We were told, mysteriously, to show up at Short Stop, a cute divey bar, with a side room and a pool table, lit with a red glow, on Sunset Boulevard at 7:30. There, were give red strings, which Ryan noted mischievously, made us appear to be followers of Kabbalah.

A motley collection of Los Angeles hipsters, as well as some regulars from Ryan’s Sweaty Sundays class (which I chronicled for the Grey Lady) formed, including Chloe Sevigny, who seemed a bit aghast that I’d moved to Los Angeles. “My friend just told me to come here,” she shrugged.

We went inside for a quick drink, and chatted with Michelle Carr (formerly of the Velvet Hammer) and another former New Yorker, Anna Curtis, who burlesque followers might remember as Lady Ace, when a shrill alarm went off and we dutifully followed our “guides,” two men wearing Mexican tuxedo outfits, and hats with strings that hung ominously over their faces. One had an accordion that he played as we were told to quietly follow up the adjoining neighborhood street, which turned out to have a *very* steep hill. (Of course, I thought, Ryan would make us exercise for a night out.)

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For the first stop, we knew something was gonna be up when we saw a man with a mask rolling around in the street. Ominous. We walked—around 150 or 200 of us—to the back of an apartment complex and waited. We looked at the cars in the open garages and thought, “would something be coming out of there?” Suddenly, the windows on the left side lit up and silhouettes of half-naked bodies writhed and danced and cavorted. The show, it turned out, was inside someone’s apartment.

I then thought: Ryan Heffington is a fucking genius.

We watched this scene play out—it was murderous and violent—-the entire night seemed to be a play on sex and violence—before applauding voraciously. If that was all that had happened, it would have been enough. But there was more.

We walked through the woods—the woods!— and came upon a woman in a clawfoot bathtub, reading a letter and weeping, alternately relaxing and thrashing in the water. She was lit elegantly with a string of lightbulb hanging on a wire.

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That was not all: we walked through the woods again to a place on top of Elysian Fields and were told to hush up. Suddenly, down below, far, far away in the field, a spotlight illuminated a mattress, with a couple having rough dance sex–toss and turning and fighting for position and power. So far away, so intimate.One of the hosts played the accordion for accompaniment. It was so dramatic and beautiful and simple.

Say it with me: Ryan Heffington’s a fucking genius.

Our journey continued–we encountered a newlywed couple in the forest, with a bride wailing and complaining weird nonsense–before ending at a house of sexo y violencia.

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A couple in one window competed for power, dunking each other’s head in the sink; another woman sat on a chair, gagged and blindfolded, while a man cut a buzzsaw around her platform. In the last room, which we didn’t completely see, a woman was naked with strings coming from her nether regions; in an adjacent room, a man appeared to be knitting, apparently, with those strings.

It was the single most interesting evening I’ve had out in my many years of going out. It was such a simple idea in a way—use private spaces for a public performance—that could only be pulled off by someone with ingenuity and cunning. Thanks Ryan Heffington for making me love L.A. again.

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