Pushing Detroit Queer Culture Forward!
Kathe Koja - Mistress of The Brothel

Kathe Koja – Mistress of The Brothel

Posted in Features
© Rick Lieder • Dreampool.com

© Rick Lieder • Dreampool.com

Kathe Koja, author of the critically acclaimed immersive theatrical production Under The Poppy, is the author of 14 award-winning books, ranging from historical to young adult to short fiction, with several having been optioned for film. A native Detroit, Koja’s visionary approach to theater is set to change the genre’s definition here.
Under The Poppy is an immersive theatrical performance set in a Victorian brothel.  The unique performance invites the viewer into a world of music, puppets, actors and film to create the thrilling story of Istvan, Rupert and Decca. Stemming from the novel of the same name, the story is a passionate telling of love lost, betrayal, danger and redemption. We sat down with author Kathe Koja for a peek inside the brothel.


Wink: When did you and what inspired you to write Under the Poppy?

Kathe Koja: Under the Poppy began as an image in my mind of a man on the road, not of our time, with some very saucy puppets in tow. The next image was of another man, his lover and traveling partner, and from there, the story of Istvan and Rupert took shape into UNDER THE POPPY the novel, in 2007. The story on the page has become a trilogy, with THE MERCURY WALTZ to be published this year, and THE BASTARDS’ PARADISE just completed.

W:  Why did you decide to create the live version?

 KK: Making the book trailer was a total gateway drug! Seriously, it was so much fun to create, and the story lent itself so naturally to a visual format, that I kept dreaming bigger and bigger. Beginning at Motor City Pride in June 2011, each event produced was more elaborate than the last – we took the brothel to the DIA, the Russell Industrial Center, District VII, the Evans House in Woodbridge …

And my collaboration with Diane Cheklich, Joe Stacey, and Aaron Mustamaa (all awesome queer artists) has continued throughout the Poppy events, to this final four-night run in Brush Park.

 Istvan/ © Rick Lieder • Dreampool.com

Istvan/ © Rick Lieder • Dreampool.com

W: Why is it important to present it “interactively?”

 KK: When you really engage with a novel, it enmeshes you in the story, it puts you *there* with the characters, seeing what they see, feeling what they feel. We knew early on that the Poppy performances had to be the same, had to involve the audience as intensely, put them close enough to touch the lovers, smell the floozies’ perfume, sense the desperation of the oncoming war. We want our audience to be more than a passive crowd sitting in the dark – we want them to be as engaged and ravished as if they were present at the Poppy itself.

W: There’s definitely queer content in the work. Why is it important to be inclusive in this way?

 KK: Because the story is about people, and life – and life definitely has queer content.

W:  Have you received any negative feedback because of the content? Any positive?

 KK: The novel’s had some wonderful reviews from Publishers Weekly, BoingBoing, LGBT organizations like Lambda Literary, and best of all, intense engagement with its readers, who respond to the heart of the story, the passionate and turbulent romance of Rupert and Istvan. That said, there are readers whose responses were less positive, though most of the open hostility seems to be directed at the use of puppets in the story! Istvan is a master showman, and occasionally deploys his puppets in a rather lurid way – which not only freaked out some readers, it also cost me a potential funder of the performance. C’est la guerre …

W:  How far are you planning to take the live version of UTP?

 KK: We’ve had such great response from fans – of the novel, and of the concept of this sexy, immersive Victorian brothel – patrons are traveling from New York, Colorado, and Ohio to our performances here, and people in NYC, San Francisco, Portland, Paris, and Brussels have asked us to take the show on the road. So it looks like we need to start planning the “Victorian Values Tour.” Bring the whorehouse to your house!

Rupert/ © Rick Lieder • Dreampool.com

Rupert/ © Rick Lieder • Dreampool.com

W: How can UTP and performances like it transform queer culture in Detroit?

 KK: By opening the doors to as diverse and adventurous an audience as possible, queer culture can reap new energy, and flower all the more riotously and synergistically in its own backyard. We can make the things we used to have to get onto planes to go and see (and invite other people to get onto planes and come see them).

W: What’s your view of opinion of queer culture in Detroit?

 KK: I want lots more of it, engaging every discipline – music, art, writing, dance, everything – with a queer sensibility, energy, humor, and fearlessness. The Midwest has a reputation for a certain cultural timidity – let’s banish that.

W: We’re working on it, lol! What’s next for you and UTP?

 KK: As I write this, the brothel doors will open in nine days ….

Under The Poppy happens April 12, 13, 19 and 20, 2013, at the historic Bernard Ginsburg House in Brush Park.  236 Adelaide Street, Detroit, Michigan. Tickets are available at: http://underthepoppy.com/farewell-performance-2013/

Link to the blog: http://underthepoppy.com/
Link to the brothel on FB: