Dream Rockwell of the Lucent Dossier Experience talks Lightning in a Bottle and life onstage
The weekend of the Lightning in a Bottle festival is nearly here, and with that comes another chance to let your circus freak flag fly with the L.A.-based performers of the Lucent Dossier Experience.The extreme, vaudevillian-style circus show teems with sword swallowers,face-painted fire breathers, musicians and acrobatic contortionists and often borders on sensory overload.
Presented by the Do LaB, Lucent’s weekend-long stint at Lightning in a Bottle never fails to capture unsuspecting stage dwellers passing after dark.
What began as a rogue group of impromptu performers in 2004 has since blossomed into an enchanting freak show fellowship that travels the world to festivals such as Burning Man and the Electric Picnic in Ireland. Combining the aural theatrics of Queen and Meatloaf with punk passion and the sexual irreverence of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is the main objective for Lucent founder, director and performer Dream Rockwell. We snuck in a brief chat with Rockwell as her troupe prepares for upcoming performances at the Lightning in a Bottle Festival at Oak Canyon Ranch.
Pop & Hiss: Talk a little bit about how Lightning in a Bottle, now in its sixth year, first got off the ground.
Dream Rockwell: I was working with Dream Circus [Aerial Arts School], throwing underground parties. That’s when I met [brothers] Josh and Jesse Flemming, who both do sound and lighting. We hit it off and started producing events to help create the Do LaB, which we started together. I was really excited about doing performance, and we created a branch of the Do LaB called Lucent Dossier to produce the performance aspect of things. The concept for our events was to have DJs spinning first and then at night this awesome performance would happen. We all really wanted to do a bigger, longer event and eventually, we decided to do a festival, since we’re all very inspired by events like Burning Man.
We originally hosted the first Lightning in a Bottle in Jack’s Ranch near the L.A. mountains. Then we moved to Santa Barbara, to Live Oak campgrounds in 2008. But we just outgrew that space. After that, we took a year off because we couldn’t find a location and eventually we ended up in Oak Canyon Ranch.
How did you find yourself in this world of circus-style performance and how did that lead to you starting Lucent?
I was a professional dancer for a while and then worked as a comedic actress and did comedy skits on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” I was challenged by the box that I had to fit into for any shows that I did. When I was dancing, singing and touring in the [mainstream performance] world, all the girls looked the same, had the same bodies and were the same age. I just felt like there was another possibility and I wanted to start a troupe that was more based on just having fun and just shining that light from the inside.
I’m superinspired by the punk rock movement -- those early guys couldn’t play any instruments and some of them couldn’t really sing, but people loved it. They had a fire that was so bright. So I just sought out people, and I didn’t care what kind of talent they had. If somebody came to me and said, "Oh, my God, all I wanna do is perform,” I let them in. Then along came some very highly skilled performers, aerialists, musicians and dancers. And when we combined the two together, that’s sort of when Lucent was born.
How does the music of the performance contribute to the unique atmosphere of a Lucent show?
We have this vision or desire to have deep, heavy beats that you can only get with electronic music, but I also need live musicians. Once we got [performer and contortionist] Milo [Gonzales], he was kind of the gateway to bringing in a lot of the live musicians. We all write collaboratively and everyone contributes music. Some of the songs are very heavily electronic and others are all instruments. We even have one song onstage that’s improved on every show.
What role does Lucent Dossier play in festivals like Coachella that are often geared toward a more conventional performance of a band playing on a huge stage?
We definitely have people every year that will come to every single show. Last year, this guy came up to me and he goes, “Look at this! You ruined my Coachella!” And he shows me his schedule and he had everybody circled who he wanted to see and he had his route of how he was going to walk to each thing. He goes, “You know what I’ve done all weekend? I’ve watched every single one of your shows.” We did seven shows that year.
Any specific crazy memories from this or any of the other festivals you’ve done?
We were in the dressing room at that the Electric Picnic Festival in Ireland and we had collectively decided to cancel the show because it was pouring rain and everything on the stage was soaked. I figured nobody would be there, and I just see this sea of people standing in this pouring rain waiting for us to perform. So I grabbed the mike and said, “I just wanted to tell you that we were gonna cancel the show,” and the crowd shouted, “Noooo!” Then I said, “Now that I’ve seen all your amazing, smiling faces, no way.”
What’s next for the troupe this year after LiB?
We’re performing at a theater in Los Angeles for this event called Bring Back Broadway, a movement to revitalize downtown and all the old theaters. So we’ll be performing at the Palace Theatre on June 30. So the show we do with that is going to be twice the length of our 30-minute Coachella set. So we have a lot of work to do.
-- Nate Jackson
Photo: Lucent Dossier. Credit: Phil Holland