Whoop Dee Doo is an art collective based in Kansas City, Mo., but it’s quirky enough to have emerged from Baltimore. It produces a faux public access television program that combines elements of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Double Dare, Soul Train, and The Carol Burnett Show, among others. Since 2006 the collective’s members have taped these live shows a few times a year, and the footage is posted on its web site, whoopdeedoo.tv. Co-founders Jaimie Warren and Matt Roche, along with a fluctuating cast of collaborators, employ a unique brand of community engagement in cities across the country and internationally, creating a show that is at once flavored by the local and wholly out of this world. Recently, a group of local curators from the Maryland Institute College of Art’s MFA in Curatorial Practice invited Whoop Dee Doo to put together a show in Baltimore, and on April 12, 15 artists from the show began arriving, primed to create colorful mayhem.
In putting together a typical show, Whoop Dee Doo holds workshops with local youth groups, who help with research, development, and installation of the elaborate sets. (Whoop Dee Doo’s energy is prodigious. The sets, props, and costumes created for its projects represent an artistic output that would make Damien Hirst blush.) Warren, usually dressed as an item of junk food, and Roche, as a listless werewolf, host the show, with other Whoop Dee Doo artists making regular appearances as characters such as Wet Clown, a forgetful joker who is always inexplicably soaking wet.
But the bulk of the show’s content comes from local talent groups. The nonprofit becomes acquainted with each community’s unique cultural makeup, inviting acts as disparate as drill teams and bagpipers to perform. Unexpected combinations are encouraged to inspire interactions between community members unlikely to meet outside the dreamlike environment of a Whoop Dee Doo hullabaloo. (At a 2010 show in Kansas City a group of clogging grannies stomped it out to a drag queen’s rendition of Rihanna’s “Disturbia,” for example. This level of oddball camp is par for the course.)
In Baltimore, Whoop Dee Doo is collaborating with youth from Muse 360, a nonprofit focused on dance, and 901 Arts, a Better Waverly community arts organization,* to create the set and costumes. The participants began with the disparate themes “science” and “royalty.” As of press time, the basic plot for the show revolves around an alien encounter in which performers show a mysterious foreign royalty that Baltimore is the greatest city in the world, home to things both rare and fascinating. More than a dozen local talent groups—including a Nepalese musician who contributed a song that will be interpreted by dancers from Muse 360, and Charm City Cakes, which is creating a secret treat geared toward the show—will then set out to prove that to be no idle boast.
Initial visits to Whoop Dee Doo’s space in the City Arts building in Greenmount West revealed a jungle of cardboard and two-by-fours. Giant papier-mâché eyeballs and half-finished costumes littered the room, and storyboards lined the walls. The set had to be completed a week before the show’s April 26 taping to allow for rehearsals, and the energy was frenzied but collegial. “We’re pushing people to step outside of their comfort zones, work with people they wouldn’t normally work with, build relationships with people they wouldn’t normally,” Warren says. “It’s very emotional. Whoever’s involved contributes so much of themselves. . . . I think it’s some of the most interesting parts of the show.”
It’s difficult to know exactly what to expect from a Whoop Dee Doo show. Last year in Portland, for a show titled “Your Body Isn’t a Wonderland, It’s Gross,” there were flappers covered in giant zits, a traditional Japanese Butoh dance troupe costumed as poop, and a contest that involved creating concoctions out of various vile-looking fake bodily fluids. In Malmo, Sweden, Whoop Dee Doo convinced a death-metal band called Pagan Rites to host a hugging contest. And Whoop Dee Doo threw a dazzling holiday party in 2008 for Deitch Projects, then a New York City art gallery; the party included a cameo by transgender model and performance artist Amanda Lepore. “There’s something cool about the mysterious element of what’s going on, people being confused or enveloped in how surreal everything is,” Warren says.
Chaos is one of the main ingredients in Whoop Dee Doo’s magic. By creating an environment that is strange and at times uncomfortable for everyone involved, the group levels the playing field. “It’s nice to approach in that way because you can remove some of the cultural bias that’s sort of built into any event, whether you want it or not,” Roche says. Like Pee-wee, Whoop Dee Doo manages to manufacture a world that is humorous, strange, and altogether unforgettable for kids and adults alike.
Whoop Dee Doo will hold two performances on April 26 at 5 P.M. and 7 P.M. at Gallery CA, City Arts Apartments, Brentwood and Oliver streets. Priority seating for kids and those in costume; flatscreen TVs on the building’s exterior will display a live feed for everybody else. On April 27, Whoop Dee Doo hosts a block party from 5-8 P.M. for Station North’s Final Friday, outside the same location. For more information, visit stationnorth.org/finalfridays.
*An earlier version of this article referred to 901 Arts as a Greenmount West community arts organization. It is a Better Waverly organization. City Paper regrets the error.