Inside a romantic benefit for an LA women's shelter

What better way to raise money than with karaoke by Zsela?

by Jack Sunnucks; photos by Derek Perlman
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09 March 2020, 7:27pm

Los Angeles is perhaps not especially known for its nightlife, so it takes a special kind of event to get people out of the house after 8pm. A recent such event was actor John Hein’s benefit for Alexandria House, a transitional women’s and children’s shelter, held on Valentine’s day. Working with ILYSM, which helps artists do the work they want, the immersive evening included heart shaped everything, a string quartet, and karaoke in the guise of a play by performers including Zsela and Patti Harrison. ”You walk upstairs through an ivy gate onto the main floor. On the stage in front of you is a string quartet, playing arrangements of contemporary hits," says John when asked to narrate how the evening went for guests. "A hunky and shirtless bartender named Thaddeus that I found on Craigslist asks you if you’d like a drink." Not your average benefit then.

And why Alexandria House? ”My answer to why, is why not? I watched Robin Hood too many times as a kid and I maintain a ‘rob from the rich to feed the poor’ mentality,” he says. i-D caught up with John to talk about throwing parties for the greater good, how to find a shirtless bartender, and his truly romantic heart shaped outfit.

Why did you want to throw a party? Who was it with?

I throw a lot of parties, with the main goal giving people an experience they wouldn’t have elsewhere. I find a lot of parties, no matter how much hype is built in, consist of people with a drink in hand, up-downing everyone who walks in. I’m trying to create a feeling that acting like child and complete fool is fun and OK. I want people to make a friend while doing the dumbest thing possible.

The party was far from my own. I worked with ILYSM, a company that facilitates creative projects with artists. The planning and build was done by a team including Jamie Simone, Ambrea Kai and Patrick Hartley. And we had help from several friends with construction, performances, and Derek Perlman with photography.

What was your party in aid of? And why?
The party was a benefit for Alexandria House, a transitional women’s and children’s shelter in Los Angeles. Ambrea had worked with them in the past and they do an incredible job finding permanent housing and financial stability for women coming from difficult situations. And my answer to why, is why not? I watched Robin Hood too many times as a kid and I maintain a “rob from the rich to feed the poor” mentality. It’s even nicer if a corporation and individuals are willing to facilitate that and we don’t have to steal at all. For a donation that won’t put a dent in anyone’s bank account, there can be a tremendous positive impact on another person’s life.

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Talk me through the performance aspect of the night.
SO! You walk in the front door under the heart-shaped archway with a Roman statue on each side of the foyer, where Shelley is playing classical harp. Next to her are two nude mannequins I recovered from a sex store in San Diego. A TV screen shows a chair wrapped in black plastic with a statue of Satan and bondage gear on the wall. You walk upstairs through an ivy gate onto the main floor. On the stage in front of you is a string quartet, playing arrangements of contemporary hits. A hunky and shirtless bartender named Thaddeus that I found on Craigslist asks you if you’d like a drink. There is a fortune teller specializing in love readings, a chocolate fountain, a room for speed dating, a room designated for making out with your lover, and a “naughty and nice” room with the floor split down the middle. On one side: a heart framed bed with red silk sheets, covered in silk flowers and on the other side the floor, walls, and all furniture are covered in black vinyl. You see the Satanic statue and wall of bondage gear again. Here you’re able to pick up the camcorder and control what everyone sees on four TVs that I wired throughout the space.

THEN! I announce we are showing a play I directed called Cupid’s Curse. Immediately following, a list of performers including Zsela, Oberhofer, Current Joys, Patti Harrison, Nitefire, and Guillermo Brown take turns singing classic love song karaoke hits with the string quartet as their backing band.

As is evident by the length of this answer, it’s designed to be overwhelming and fully immersive.

What about your fabulous outfit.
I found my heart-shaped ensemble at a vintage costume store in Burbank. The goal was to find the stupidest thing possible to wear all night, and I was very satisfied with how stupid it looked.

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What makes Hop Louie such an enduringly successful place to have parties?
I wasn’t here for the original heyday of Hop Louie, but I had so many people say “I’ve had the most fun at this place” and “I’ve spent soooo many nights here”. For me, the decor of a Chinese restaurant stuck in the 60s just added to the overwhelming quality of the party. There’s not a blank, boring inch in the entire venue. We worked a lot with one of the new owners, JB, and he has some wild plans for the space when they do the overhaul. I plan to do a lot more there and convert the look into a new world each time.

What's the most romantic thing you've ever done?
I regularly share ice cream cones with my dog, Ricky.

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Tagged:
Los Angeles
parties
john hein