Wobistdude: Please introduce yourself.
Sean: I’m Sean Pollock. I’m a director, writer, creator, sometimes actor, photographer and collage maker. I’m from a town called Mountain Lakes in New Jersey but now I live in Manhattan.
W: Could you explain what a Juggalo is?
Sean: Juggalos are hardcore followers of the Band the Insane Clown Posse (ICP). The ICP was started in 1989 by two rappers named Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. I believe the origin of the term Juggalos came from a show. Violent J just kind of said, “ all you guys are my Juggalos”. They held onto that and it stuck ever since. I’m assuming the word came from a play on the word ‘gigolo.’
The ICP have a music genre called horror-core rap which essentially just translates to hyper violent lyrics. A lot of their songs involve murder, torture and things of that nature. It’s an interesting movement because they’ve never gotten any radio play and they’ve never been on MTV before. They’re notorious for being a raucous group of people. Violent J has a concept called “The Dark Carnival” he describes (in his autobiography, “Behind The Paint”) where he creates music around the theme of a demented circus. This is where the clown thing comes from. I think it’s just shock value to tell you the truth because clowns scare people. I think they like freaking people out.
W: Can you describe the story of the play “American Juggalo” that you wrote?
Sean: “American Juggalo” is the name of a documentary filmed at the 2011 Gathering of the Juggalos. Every year since 2000, the Juggalos have their own Woodstock-inspired music festival. 2011 was an especially wild year based on what I researched. The documentary was shocking. I saw people spray painting their face to look like clowns, a 6-month pregnant woman smoking a cigarette, and all kinds of debauchery. When I saw this, I was really fascinated, it really felt like I was looking into a different world.
I thought, why don’t we see these people in film, TV or on stage? This was kind of my impetus to be like, let’s take these people who have gauges and tattoos, people who are fat and look different and let’s put them on stage because you never really see it.
W: I read that you went to the Gathering of the Juggalos to learn from the people there. Could you talk about your experience at this event?
Sean: So I had been writing the piece for 3 years that point. It was a very daunting experience. I took at 12-hour bus from China Town in New York to Ohio and paid out of my own pocket to do research at this show. I bought a bunch of Doritos and water bottles and told people that “if you tell me your story, this is what I can give you, and anything that I ask you, you can ask me.” I went by myself and used my phone to take voice memos and pictures of my subjects.
I think many people were confused. But when I went up to them and said, “tell me the story of your life in your own words, I am going to take these stories and make them into a theater piece.”, I got several responses like,”what are you fucking talking about?”.
The people who were receptive to it really opened up to me. There were so many harrowing, life-changing stories that didn’t make the final cut. One guy told me his story of getting into a rivalry with a drug dealer, killing his cat, and spending 11 months in prison for armed robbery before joining the Crips for protection. I talked to someone who went to prison for smuggling a Mexican family over the border. I talked to a woman from South Dakota who told me about growing up in poverty, living in a van with 4–5 siblings and spending her teenage years in juvenile hall (prison for juveniles in the US). A lot of the stories were really intense and people would get very emotional. I tried to really flex my muscles of empathetic listening and tried to speak without judgement as best as I could.
W: So after meeting all of these people, would you say there is a big difference between your experience with them and what is portrayed about the group on the internet or in the media?
Sean: The experience that I had at the 2018 gathering of the Juggalos versus what that documentary showed was very, very different. Juggalos do tend to predominantly be white males who are overweight. However, when I was at the gathering, it was much more diverse than I anticipated. I met an abundance of Juggalos from the LGBT community like myself and several from different ethnic backgrounds. The most unifying aspect is that the majority of people I interacted with experienced poverty or abuse on some level. Every woman I spoke to had some sort of story of being abused in some way. To me, it is really a community that is built on survivorship: these people have encountered some really heavy stuff in their lives. Their release is this music, this really hyperviolent music where they dress up as clowns. Who is to deny them of that? There are so many people who listen to metal music and other forms of hardcore rap. It is quite understandable.
Juggalos have been portrayed by the media as idiots and inarticulate people. This is definitely not true. The community is so huge and diverse, to write them off in the way that they are portrayed in shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Workaholics, does them no justice at all.
W: I want to jump forward and ask you what you found to be the most challenging and rewarding parts of putting your show together.
Sean: Oh man, well, everything was challenging. First, I’d say that writing a play about a group that you don’t belong to already raises many ethical questions about who should be presenting the work and why. The biggest challenge was simultaneously making a play about these people while using their own words and subverting the expectations of what Juggalos are. I very much set out to tell a story where the Juggalos were in charge of their own narratives.
We have a 7 person cast, the oldest is in his late 50’s and the youngest is 7 years old. Having a minor involved with very explicit material is very difficult. And I’d be lying if I said that making a play in NYC is an easy thing. My director, my producer and I have been funding this out of our own pockets without any real backing. You never feel like you are paying people enough. Rehearsal space is money and time is your enemy. It is a show that requires a very specific actor. Juggalos need to feel like authentic everyday people who find solace in this music. There is some really heavy material in it and some interviews were heartbreaking — they were about people getting their asses kicked by the world out there.
I like to think that everyone is enjoying it and that it is a rewarding process. A bunch of Juggalos came to our production at the New Ohio Theatre , and I’m hoping that they continue to come to our shows. I did have a few of them come up to me and tell me that they felt like I got it mostly right. That was really rewarding to hear because I’ve done so much research over the past 3 years — it was maybe the best outcome that I could ask for.
W: So if someone hasn’t heard of the Juggalos and they went to see this play what is the one thing that they could connect to most easily?
Sean: Anyone who has gone to a music festival or rock concert has seen people like this, people with tattoos who are kind of alternative. It’s drawn from real life, so there are aspects of familiarity in the text and in the way the characters are portrayed. I’ve had people tell me, “I feel like I’ve known someone who is like one of these characters.”
Wobistdude: You’ve been around and you’ve written some well-developed stories. What would you say is one of your favorite ingredients to a compelling story?
Sean: I have to refer to Ira Levin who wrote “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Stepford Wives” . One thing he does so well is setting up a bunch of ingredients for something really ominous to happen. I’m a big believer in saving the best for last and planting subtle seeds for what’s to come in the story. The key is subtlety, and it is all in the dialogue. Even in our own lives, how many times have we dated someone or had a friend with whom we’ve fallen out with and then in hindsight said, “wow there were so many red flags there.” I think planting red flags is a lot of fun. Because red flags can occur in so many forms, that’s definitely one way to do it.
I think one thing beginner writers struggle with is dialogue. I encourage everyone who wants to be a writer to just eavesdrop as much as possible. Some of my favorite pieces of dialogue that I’ve written have come from overhearing people sitting in a train or restaurant. When people are not actively being observed you can see how they really are in a candid way. Getting a critical sense of how people talk or how people from different social classes talk is great. A woman in her sixties from the Upper East Side in New York will speak completely differently than someone in their early twenties who is a total punk drinking a 40 and pissing in the street. Having an ear for that is really important. People often don’t say what they mean. A fun thing is deciding when your characters are telling the truth and when they aren’t and then asking,”for what purpose?”.
Wobistdude: Weird Question time- — tell me your spirit animal? And why this animal?
Sean: It’s a cop out but I’m part of the bear community. I think it’s fair to say that I am a bear in more ways than one. Besides the obvious of being fat and hairy, I sleep a lot. But at the same time I can go after what I want and hunt. It feels cliché for white people to appropriate the idea of a spirit animal but I guess that’s my answer.
W: Where can people learn more about this play or the work that you do?
Sean: You can go to my website SeanPollock.net and most of my portfolio is out there. Check out the HERE Arts Center website for information about the show. If you go to google and type in “American Juggalo play” you can find us.
Sean Pollock is a multi-disciplinary writer, director, designer, and artist. Recent credits include: American Juggalo (Porterspace Residency/Vital Joint/The New Ohio) A Very…Scientology Pageant: In Concert (The Green Room 42 & 54Below), Laundryfest, The Bed Show, Super Short Site Specific Festival, Phantom of the Paradise (Secret Loft), Intimate Bar Plays, #serials (The Flea), I’m Smiling Because I’m Uncomfortable (NYC and Touring. Winner: “Outstanding Site-Specific Performance” San Diego Fringe 2018). Off-Broadway: Trump Rally (United Solo/Theatre Row). He currently serves as the Literary Associate for The Dirty Blondes and is a company member of Unattended Baggage. Training: Ithaca College, NTI, Directors Lab North, Directors Lab Chicago, Directors Lab West. www.seanpollock.net insta: @seanp_yo