Off the wall. Queer. Out the box. Wacky. Wild. Raw. That’s The Dumpsta Players. Since the 90’s, this company has been producing monthly theatre experiences that feel a lot like a genderfucked sketch comedy show on acid. They’ve got their own style; Dumpsta. They reach in their bag and recycle costumes,actors, and characters every month to lampoon the shit out of pop culture and society, leaving you laughing, disturbed, and quite often sexually aroused (this isn’t just colorful writing, I mean it when i say sexually aroused). The shows feature dancing- big choreographed numbers, some of which feature the entire cast, live mic’d acting, and some of the best, funniest, wonkiest, lipsynching numbers. This group has a style; Dumpsta. This group has a feel: throwback. This group has an attitude: Queer. When I found out The Dumpsta Players had given their last scripted live performance, I was in shock and I felt sympathy for all the souls just moving to Philadelphia who never got a chance to witness the company and the Queer Royalty that rolled through over the years. I must be noted that Ricky Paul, John Donges, Chatty Catty, Freddy, Franco, Nathan, Kevin Jordan, Sara Sherr, and the gorgeous, Messapotamia Lafae are the wonderful performs I had the privilege to witness on stage, but there were many more amazing company members over the years. So, I got to thinking I needed to talk to Ricky Paul, one of the founders and scratch his brain for info. I knew there was one place he was sure to be… The Green Room
When I came to Philadelphia as a young queer looking for hope of similar life forms, The Dumpsta Players were a lighthouse, helping to steer me in the right direction. When did you all first get started and what were you aiming to accomplish? How did the show end up being at B&B?
I began my relationship with Bob and Barbara’s in 1996 DJing retro 70s and 80s. Having worked as an actor and activist, the event attracted peoples from those communities. We were a motley crew that shared one common goal-accentuate the alternative. After a few months, performers started appearing in wild costumes ready to lip synch their fav retro hits. The Dumpsta Players organically grew out of this.
Tell us about the early days, what was it like when the show was in a state of obscurity? Was there more artistic freedom?
Firstly, South Street was still a middle class neighborhood with artists and students starting to creep in.
It was a bit rough and somewhat derelict. After the excesses of big 90s circuit parties, the dive bar was an oasis and people loved the buttoned-down style. We were a perfect match! Much of our random audiences in the early days were made up of working class folks just finishing their shifts mixed with poor, queer West Philly types and dandies out for a few laughs. This unlikely combination made for great fun. Artistically, improvisation was much more in the mix. Often, drunken strangers would wind up onstage playing along for all to see. Audiences ate it up.
How was the show initially received by audiences?
The Dumpsta Players were a relief for audiences tired of the same old Liza/Barbra style sing-song drag. Lisa Thompson and her drag show were already pleasing crowds with r n b hits and we occasionally would join forces which made for great audience crossover. Lisa used to say that, “The Dumpsta Players were the clamor and they were the glamour”.
The Dumpsta Players reminds me of Monty Python or a queer SNL. In the early days, was there a natural leader that emerged among the performers or someone who unexpectedly found their wings and took off?
John had never done any acting at all and was a bit terrified of performing. He built up slowly, took acting classes and eventually turned in a fantastic performance as Petula Clark. Through it all, I continued to direct and lead the troupe relying on my years of professional experience, training and activist roots to guide me.
I’ve often been surprised by the storylines, what is the writing process like for the show?
The group would meet after a show to watch the video and that naturally led to discussions of future shows. I encouraged people to “babysit” their ideas and worked with them until they were full show scripts and ready for production. Everyone contributed, in some way, to the process.
Run us through the rehearsal process, how hectic was it?
It was quite hectic. In the early years, we produced 11 shows per year! The morning after a performance, I was already shoring up the next script and cast. It had to be written with all songs edited for rehearsal the following Wednesday. We would typically rehearse 4 times and then perform the show once, then, start the process all over again.
The entire company seems like one big family to me, what’s it been like working with so many of the same wonderful people each year?
It’s really a wonderful experience and I am quite grateful. I love working in an ensemble. Of course there are personalities that don’t always mix, and people do go their own way, but love is at the heart of it all.
In the nearly 20 years we’ve worked together, members have died, partnered with one another and had second generation Dumpsta babies!
Were there any major struggles the company had to overcome?
Hmmm…..major struggles…..keeping costs down. Part of The Dumpsta Players modus operandi is recycling props, costumes, wigs and even lines. It’s an artistic choice as well as a pragmatic one. Still, I have been presented with more than one $89 receipt for reimbursement on a new wig. It’s challenging.
How did Prom Trash get started? How did it become a recurring thing?
“PromTrash” was the first show we ever performed. It is at the crux of all things Dumpsta.
As young high school queers, many of us had horrible, sometimes scarring, Prom experiences.
“PromTrash” was created as the first alternative Prom. It’s a chance to take back your lousy memory and remake it into something more fitting. The first Prom was such a sensational hit it seemed only fitting to crown a new queen each spring. We are presenting our 20th PromTrash competition on April 20th, 2016, “PromTrash All-Stars”!
Can you entertain us with one of your favorite stories from the glory days?
Oh, Lord, well, after the 2002 performance of “Prankstas’ Paradise”, we were loading out the costumes and props around 2AM, lining up bags along the curb. Well, one or two performers who were assisting with the load out may have imbibed one too many spirits, ahem. I realized a bag of wigs was left behind on the curb. Unfortunately, it was trash night, and the bag blended in with the rubbish. We walked over the next day to search around for the missing stuff and found Dumpsta wigs strewn all over the street. Classic Dumpsta 😉
What do you think The Dumpsta Players meant to the city? to the people?
The Dumpsta Players are at the cross section of chic and realness. We are absolutely fashion forward while maintaining a distinctly Philly vibe-stripped down, scrappy while presenting cutting edge, topical humor in a classless style. In a John Waters’ tradition, we are truly an original creation.
What”s next for The Dumpsta Players?
The Dumpsta Players will continue our mission in a studio setting. Through our parent non-profit org, DP Arts Consortium, (www.dpartsconsortium.org), we are partnering with PhillyCAM (www.phillycam.org)
to produce raucous sketch comedy and other parody performances. Just completed-“Razzle Dazzle” featuring old skool stars of the screen and radio, Charles Nelson Reilly and Peggy Lee, coming to PhillyCAM Comcast channel 66 in April!
Can you share one of your favorite ensemble videos with us?
Sure! There are sooo many, but I will go with one featuring the music of eternal icon, David Bowie with a hot rap by Queen Latifah. Enjoy and thanks for your interest!!!
Description of video clip:
In the exciting conclusion of the fashion show, Kim Katrashian, Miss Philippines, Lance Armstrong, Miss Kosovo and Honey Poo Poo all claw and scratch for the title of most attention-seeking celebrity! Find out the winner of this pathetic attempt at tabloid domination! From The Dumpsta Players, “Honey Poo Poo’s Chic-Fill-A Fashion Show”!
If I were you, I would get my ass to Prom Trash All Stars on April 20, 2016 and catch the last live show!!…AAAAnd follow The Dumpsta Players on Facebook to learn all about their future endeavors.