The ad was crystal clear.
"We are a new fetish company in the Pittsburgh area, Fetish Fantasy Island. We are looking for people that [sic] would like to participate in our up coming [sic] fetish event ..."
Such a spam-ish casting call is standard fare on the Internet, but this was no ordinary spam: It was directed at about 100 local people, most of them actors, arts patrons and college instructors. The ad was sent by Gene Fenton, a Pittsburgh-based sculptor and Renaissance man, who was seeking performers for a Sept. 21 party at the Altar Bar.
Those seeking to audition had to be at least 18 years old, and the parts were diverse: "Dancing Girls," "Bar Wench," "Flower Girl," "Tour Guide," and, most eye-opening of all, "several girls and guys" for a "pirate slave auction."
For many recipients, the e-mail was automatically filtered into junk folders. But for some of those who saw it, the invitation was a little startling.
When interviewed by e-mail, area actress Gayle Pazerski said she suspected that "if I answered his call for actors, I would -- at some point -- be asked to meet him somewhere and model some outfits so he could make sure I 'have the right look.'"
"I felt like he had the wrong person," said Elizabeth Haag by e-mail, another stage performer. "Whatever floats other people's boats is fine, but I'm not sure how I got on his list."
Indeed, many recipients were puzzled by their inclusion. Fenton, it turns out, is not a stakeholder in the FFI company. "I've just been helping them out," he says. "I'm just sort of a foot soldier." Fenton explained that he used the e-mail list of another theater company -- the darkly themed Rage of the Stage Players -- and simply copied and pasted the addresses. Despite some recipient surprise, Fenton reported no letters of objection.
So what is Fetish Fantasy Island?
As outlined on the Web site (www.fetishfantasyisland.com), the company's mission is to provide "a place where all your fetish and gothic dreams and kinky inhibitions come true! It's the place where everyone gets Lei'd!!" The site includes a more general call for interested DJ's, bands, models and other vendors -- all in the name of "Your Hosts, Dantes & Lady V."
These are stage-names, of course. As Dantes put it in a recent interview, "I have a high-profile professional career, so I try to keep the two separated."
The two partners described their company in an e-mail interview as an entrepreneurial venture. Naughtiness aside, Dantes and Lady V seek to support local artists, showcase local bands and actors, and "question exactly what is art." Lady V adds that scurvy sea dogs are not their only focus. While the pirate show is their maiden voyage, they also plan a gothic Christmas in December and a circus-themed event slated for sometime in spring.
"Pirate Invasion" is expected to be a five-hour affair; for a cover change of $13, visitors can enjoy games, prizes, dancers, an art gallery and "dungeon equipment." According to the casting call, the "pirate slave auction" is a scripted skit involving two pirates arguing over some human booty, so to speak. An argument is staged, and the discourse ends in sword-fighting and murder. No mention is made of the slaves' fates.
The notice clarified that no prior acting or dancing experience were required, and that participants would be volunteers. However, "[Y]ou and a guest are admitted to the event for free and we guarantee a good time! Plus you get to keep all the tips you make!"
And how is casting going?
"Great!" says Dantes. "Got almost everyone we need for the first show."