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Art or Entertainment?: Leone Reeves, Lee Heinemann and “Whoop Dee Doo”

Originally posted as Chicago Urban Art Society Young Artist Profile / January 2010 / Issue No. 4

Kevin Wilson

Lee Heinemann performing on the set of “Whoop Dee Doo”

Lee Heinemann performing on the set of “Whoop Dee Doo”

Leone Reeves, alongside collaborator Lee Heinemann, is looking to create art that is entertaining, educational and interactive with people of all ages and backgrounds. How can this be done? By creating a mock children’s show, of course. Since 2006, “Whoop Dee Doo” has been expanding and traveling the world, combining vibrant set designs, outrageous performances, and positive community involvement that ultimately blurs the line between art and entertainment.

Leone and Lee further explain what “Whoop Dee Doo” is:

Leone: It’s a non-profit organization based in Kansas City that’s been around since 2006; a variety show for all ages that’s set up as if it were a public access television show, very much inspired by things like “Chic-A-Go-Go”. It has become a huge mega-collaboration by a ton of artists from there.

The program’s production, since becoming non-profit, has increased rapidly as the members of the team have secured a permanent space in Kansas City. They are able to spend more time and effort creating sets, working on performances, and even giving back to the community.

Lee: The show has turned into something that I’ve wanted to see it turn into because we’re working with this organization called “Operation Breakthrough” that is a family service center for underprivileged children. We’re really trying to bring the most diverse group of people together.

At this point, one may be questioning what the show consists of, or where the artistic qualities come into play. The best explanation is to imagine a public access show for children, its production qualities and sets, but throw in some performance artists, loads of glitter, strange competitions, and the occasional drag queen performing alongside a clog team. “Whoop Dee Doo” when viewed from a conceptual and critical viewpoint is really quite ingenious because it masks the ideas of the participating artists with a language and a vision that children can absorb, exposing them safely and enjoyably to people, traditions and lifestyles they may not be aware of.

Lee: It’s awesome when these kids, who are participating just because they are having fun, perform right after a rapper who thinks he’s a really big deal or perhaps the Mayor of Kansas City. In trying to bring diverse people together, there have been situations where there are families who look a little bit overwhelmed because there are drag queens or drill teams or all these people they wouldn’t normally be associated with, but it’s all done in a really positive way. Hopefully there will be some family discussion after the show is over.

But is “Whoop Dee Doo” art or is it simply entertainment?

Leone Reeves “Muscle Suit” character

Leone Reeves “Muscle Suit” character

Leone: That has always been a question for me through my many years of schooling as to whether or not I am worried about if what I’m doing is entertainment or performance art. Right now, my current conclusion is that it can be both. I enjoy how people engage in something when they are being entertained. I get more information from that.

“Whoop Dee Doo” has held performances at many major establishments, such as The Smart Museum and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City. The audiences, which are quite large and energetic, essentially become part of the work during the taping of the shows, obviously feeling excitement and pride for being involved in a “television show” but unaware of the irony in the fact that the show isn’t real.

Leone: You can’t really ignore the viewers in any kind of performance setting. It’s about having bodies in space, so there will inevitably be some kind of audience involvement no matter what it is.

Leone shines brilliantly in the show, creating characters and portraying pop culture icons, including her awe-inspiring performance as Janet Jackson with her “Nasty Boys – Dirty Sock Contest”. The show has a humor and a dazzling vision that Leone carries over into all her artistic endeavors separate of the show, including her project “Year of Dreams” in which she intends to document everything she has ever fantasized about doing, a sort of bucket list including a road trip down Route 66, a night at the Academy Awards, and…

Leone: I’m going to go to Burning Man because I can’t knock it until I’ve tried it obviously, and lo the photos alone will be worth it!

She is also working to perfect a flawless macho-man character this year.

Leone and Lee, alongside a crew of dozens of other incredibly talented artists, approach their work with “Whoop Dee Doo” as well as the rest of their endeavors with a positivity and an energy that one can’t help but admire. To read more about the whole crew, view full episodes of the show and more, visit: http://www.whoopdeedoo.tv. In addition, to see more of Leone’s solo work, visit: http://vimeo.com/leoneannereeves (I highly recommend her “Zombie Feminist Rap Video”).