What started as a couple of friends horrifying each other by trading job-site accident clips and safety instructional videos has grown into a raucous and rowdy celebration of all things unsafe. Originally called Safety Third Funfest, the shindig, helmed by fabricator and freelance journalist Dan Glass, producer Alex Augustyniak, and designer Jaclyn Atkinson, went down in the huge manufacturing workshop that Glass shares on the banks of the Gowanus Canal this past Saturday.
Guests, who were required to bring protective eyewear, entered beneath the legs of a rickety ladder, and the Beep Beep Team — lovely ladies and gents wearing things like caution-tape halter tops and modified construction vests — performed absurd safety tests on all comers before releasing folks into the party proper. The night played out as a wild testament to creative mayhem and controlled disregard for caution and sense.
“I want people to feel like they've played,” Glass told me. “Collectively watching things is fine, but there are all kinds of ways to gather that mix up the crowd and conversation and bring about meeting of others, and learning of things, and ways of discovering common bonds. I want them to feel a certain way — free, I guess, or like it's an ‘us’ here, and not with any kind of corresponding ‘them,’ just all of us bringing something to the party.”
The night was filled with interactive performances and installations. There was Jason Eppink’s GIF photo booth, where folks could don thick gloves and run an angle grinder over an abstract hunk of metal, showering themselves and everyone nearby with sparks. There was Augustyniak’s interactive gameshow, for which participants pulled down their pants and received electric shocks when they got safety questions wrong. “We decided it would be really fun to merge the utter mundanity of OSHA safety guidelines with this really great physical comedy,” Augustyniak says.
For Human Wrecking Ball, people strapped themselves into a harness hanging from the ceiling, then swung through the air to crash into a pyramid of stacked boxes. At the Gorey Hole, you could stick in an appendage and pull it out slathered in fake (and maybe a little bit of real) blood. In the luridly lit shooting gallery, attendees aimed plastic pellet guns at lightbulbs, mirrors, and cans.
There were all sorts of memorable performances throughout the night. Chris Hackett told a story about blowing off half his face making a DIY confetti canon — via puppet show, and punctuated with actual explosions. Stefan Zeniuk played a flaming saxophone tantalizingly close to the assembled crowd. Magician Tanya Solomon came this close to having her palm sliced open by a razor blade and a distracted volunteer. And Larissa Hayden, after reminding everyone to get their safety goggles on, demonstrated how to open a champagne bottle with a saber.
Another performance showcased a different kind of unsafe: NSFW. Two fellas, Makita Spins and Punch Boy, did a skit about a broken jukebox that involved an excess of lubricant, a high-powered “drill-do,” and a well-timed lip-sync of Queen’s “I Want It All.” Lest that sound aggressively raunchy, it actually wound up coming off rather sweet. (Glass said it “approached the enchanting.”) “I think it's really important to bring queer play and intimacy into what's largely a straight-presenting space,” Makita told me. “There's an inherent danger to crossing that boundary, to performing an act that many could see as repulsive. I think events like SafetyFest are essential because they encourage taking risks — some that fail, some that succeed, and some that straddle both in beautiful ways.”
The whole shebang was theatrically lit by wall projections of industrial accidents and worker safety films, punctuated by punk bluegrass music from Morgan O’Kane and Ezekiel Healey, as well as an assortment of DJs, and culminated, well after dawn, with a miniature conflagration: an entire tabletop model of Coney Island set aflame.
“Industrial workshops are severely underappreciated,” Glass says, telling me about a prominent real estate developer who is attempting to get the area around his workshop rezoned from industrial to residential, “upending the worlds” of those who have invested years in running small businesses there. “This isn't an event space, it's a place where things get made. After long days of wrestling metal, or making furniture for name-brand artists, or drawing up safety plans for an event gig somewhere, we like to do some playing with our friends — the good stuff, where stories get told or made.”
GIFs courtesy Jason Eppink