Interview Excerpt: Nicky Paraiso

“We were rehearsing That’s How the Rent Gets Paid,* and before practice, Jeff [Weiss] always layered the blackface paint onto my face.  That was a ritual we had every night before the performance.  And we could hear Ellen [Stewart]’s footsteps coming up the stairs.  She was always hands-on in the theater.  After so many years, she would be the one sweeping and cleaning up.  And, she was coming up the stairs, and she saw Jeff putting the blackface [on me].  She looked at both of us, but she looked at me, and she said, ‘Baby, we don’t do that anymore.’  And Jeff just continued doing it.  This is the renegade he is, and he went, ‘Oh, ho ho, Ellen!  That’s so funny, ho ho!’  And he just laughed and laughed, perfectly.  And Ellen went, ‘[heavy, frustrated sigh]’ and walked out and never said anything about it again.  But one of the final acts in the play is that I kill him … I’d shoot Jeff dead, and then off it [the blackface paint] came.  It was like I was no longer his image of… yeah.”

—- Nicky Paraiso, actor/performer, writer, musician, Programming Director for The Club at La MaMa, and La MaMa Moves! Curator, who, in addition to presenting his own work, has performed with Meredith Monk, Jeff Weiss and carlos ricardo martinez, and Yoshiko Chuma & The School of Hard Knocks, among many others.

*There is little (if anything) of substance online for Weiss’s series That’s How the Rent Gets Paid, except for the fourth installment of the series, which featured members of the Wooster Group.  (My, my, how celebrity shapes history.)  There is a Village Voice review for the second installment, but less can be found for the third installment, to which Paraiso refers above and for which Weiss won an OBIE in 1980.  That’s How the Rent Gets Paid, was, in a sense, the precursor to Hot Keys, another performance series spearheaded by Weiss, in which Paraiso was integrally involved, and for which Weiss won another OBIE in 1992.


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