Creator of Industria girl parties, singer, performer, actress and activist
April 25, 2018, 5:30pm (The Society Cafe at the Walker Hotel, New York, NY)
Gwen Shockey: The first thing I would ask you to do is to introduce yourself in whatever way you wish and to describe the first lesbian bar or queer-female occupied space you every went to and what it was like to be there.
Maggie Moore: (Laughing) Ok! Are we on? I’m Maggie Moore and I live in Manhattan. I’m originally from Toronto, Canada and the first lesbian bar I went to was called Together’s in Toronto. It was a long bar that you walked into. It was sort of discreet as I recall, with a small dance floor in the back. It was the only place in town to go except for one other bar called Chez Moi which was the bigger dance place. Both bars are closed now of course, but the first time I went it was very thrilling because it felt like this dark sort of hideaway. I went with a friend of mine who had been there once before. We were both sort of coming out. I met a good friend of mine the first time we went. I went up to her and said, “can you hold my coat while I go dance?” When I came back to get my coat she said, “what are you talking about?” She was a comedian and she really got me. I thought she took my coat and hid it or something like that and she goes “I’m just kidding you!” So, because she was so funny we became really good friends and that led to a lot of new friends that were lesbian in comedy and the arts like myself. So, that was my very first time and it was really fun – it was thrilling for me.
GS: How old were you at the time?
MM: I was 19.
GS: You came out young!
MM: Well I didn’t come out! I actually wasn’t out at all! I didn’t officially come out to my parents until ten years later. But that was my coming out to myself: to go to my first bar. I was coming out to my friend who was so called bi (because it was easier to say you were bi at the time). We would secretly go out and that grew into making more lesbian friends and community and then going to Chez Moi and The Rose which were two other bars that were in town. I started singing in clubs that were sort of gay-known. There was a club called Robert’s which was gay-owned and operated and I would do my music there with a couple of my friends who were also gay and that really got me into the arts and singing and writing songs.
GS: That’s fantastic! Were you a singer?
MM: Thanks! Yeah! My real roots are in music and theater, not musical theater necessarily, although that’s where I really ended up in New York in one shape or another but singing in a few bars and lounges and creating a lounge act. I moved to the States in 1991 and I met my ex. We were together for so long and we eventually became best friends, because you know... we do that!
GS: (Laughing) That wonderful lesbian cliché!
MM: Exactly! And thank god! I love that. I’m having dinner with her tomorrow night. She’s like a sister-wife (laughing). She’s my dear, dear friend and we met through music in a club in Toronto with her band Betty. Do you know Betty? Elizabeth is my ex!
GS: Yes! I’m going to see them Sunday night at City Winery!
MM: Well I’ll see you there! I’m totally going to be there Gwen! That’s so fun! Cheers to that. Cheers to the Betty connection. Elizabeth and I met when I was singing in the same club where Betty was performing. We met through music and the arts, we fell in love and I moved here! Wow. That was a lot right there! So, Elizabeth worked with a promoter named Chip Duckett who to this day is producing acts through the Lori Beechman theater as well as drag performances – you name it. He’s been a promoter all these years and he was putting together celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Chip was looking for a project managers for sixteen parties that he was producing in the city (two men and two women). I didn’t know Chip well but because of my connection with Betty Band he said “Yeah, I met Maggie! Maybe she’d be great! She’s a lesbian, why not?” So, I met with him and I got hired on a six-month contract to produce four parties with Chip. He was collaborating with DIFFA: Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. I learned so much producing those parties and they were a huge success. In-particular I was assigned Industria Super Studios which is still there between 12th and Jane. Have you been?
GS: Yes! I found a flyer from one of your parties at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Park Slope and it had the address of Industria on it so I went over there to photograph the building.
MM: Oh, that’s so cool! You have to go inside the building. Industria at that time was sort of the ticket where people would have their big, fancy, celebrity parties. Madonna had a birthday party there. It was a big photography studio where people like Stephen Meisel would do their shoots and models would hang out and things like that. A woman named Karen Hoke and Alina Landry basically ran that whole ship. Karen Hoke was a big deal. She basically built the concept of the super studio with developers who I believe were overseas. It was a really cool space. Just like it sounds it was industrial and you could drive a car up into the front entrance. Barbuto is there on the side now, but you used to be able to drive up and open this gate, turn the corner and enter into these giant studios. I’m talking giant - thousands of square feet. The party that I produced there... honest to god I’d have to go back into my own archives... but it was a big hit. Thanks to Chip and the mailing lists from organizations that we were involved with.
GS: What were the names of some of the parties you threw there?
MM: Oh, what were they... there was Girls on Top and there was a sober party. There was a whole little magazine we put together that showed the sixteen parties and what they were all about. Full disclosure, the whole party series was a part of a benefit and Chip would be able to talk more to how that worked out for him. Industria really liked working with me. They called me up (it was the middle of summer I think because it was after pride and everything had settled down) and they said, “We are interested in seeing if you’d be willing to produce more?” I said well let’s come up with a theme for it! So, I decided that the first party was going to be an homage to Charlie’s Angels. I love Charlie’s Angel’s, I grew up on Charlie’s Angels. I mean it’s really hot and this was pre-Drew Barrymore’s cool remake which I was so excited about. This was probably 1994 going into ’95. So we called it Angels at Industria and I did a whole postcard with the girls holding guns. Of course you know this but I’m going to say it for the record there was no email blast at that time, there were no mass-mailing platforms. Everything was snail-mail and everything entailed handing out a flyer. So the only way to get people to your party was to say “Hey I’m throwing a party, it’s a theme party!” I knew that that would work and I knew what had worked in the past for me. It was like producing a cabaret show which I knew how to do. You basically just put the components together and you make sure an audience shows up and these girls, Karen and Alina, had the space which was the most important thing. So, I had a blank canvas. I didn’t have a budget. They gave me no budget. They had the insurance to cover the event and they had the booze which was good because of the restaurant. But I paid for everything else including the DJ and the décor. I produced the flyers and I just put my own budget together. We had to make it work. I hired a coat staff, the front of house staff, security – all of that. It was me. And I was an artist! I didn’t have any money to do this Gwen, but I thought I’m going to freaking do it because I’ve got this amazing space.
GS: You were there greeting people as they came in?
MM: I was the hostess and the producer. At this point I could get a bar staff through my theater connections and Industria who would make a lot of tips. We didn’t actually make a profit off of booze sales. I got OUT Magazine as a sponsor. It was much more lesbian and gay men working together at that time. Eventually it became more of a gay-centered magazine which was a big deal. Fortunately, at that time it was basically co-edited by a woman and a man. Sarah Pettit was the editor then. She died at the age of 36 from cancer. She’s been gone for about 15 years. She died far too young. She was a great woman. James Conrad (who worked as the Art Director) and her were really good friends and I knew Sarah through an ex-girlfriend who was a filmmaker. I hung out with those guys all the time. These were people who all sprung out of ACT UP. So, through James Conrad and OUT’s sponsorship I was able to get their mailing list. When I produced my post card I would mail it to the lesbians on the mailing list. That’s how I built my audience but most of it was word of mouth, blood sweat and tears and on the ground work going to the bars. I didn’t have the budget for posters so I would just be on my feet. My door person was great. I would say, “Hey! Here’s like fifty bucks. Can you go and flyer on the street at the Clit Club after everybody comes out?” She’d be like “Sure” – it was all about that. Once I got through the first three parties people got to know it. The first party launch was great – I think we had seven or eight hundred people show up. No kidding and it was like “WHAT?!”
GS: Wow! Were you prepared for those numbers?
MM: Well fortunately yeah! We had the space, we had the booze, but what was the most fun was the idea of it. Concept to finish. Tony C. was always my DJ she was a great lesbian DJ from the Clit Club. This went on for four and half years and she was really loyal. The theme thing we tried to do monthly. At first we just wanted to give it a shot. But then what happened was that the neighbors got involved and it wasn’t sustainable.
GS: Was the neighborhood pretty residential then?
MM: It was mixed. There were a lot of townhouses on 12th street and we were producing a big event with literally a thousand women showing up and loud music. Every time we threw a party the cops were called. Now that could have been my competition as well but I don’t like to think of it that way so it could have been the neighbors. Look, there were a lot of other competitors when it came to Gay Pride events but at the end of the day we always handled the cops well. The most fun was the music, the space and creating the themes. I think where we stood out was as an alternative to the bars. I love my sisters at Henrietta Hudson – I’m very good friends with Lisa (Cannistraci). I used to live above her bar for four years with Elizabeth. We would always do tequila shots!
GS: Oh wow really? It’s always been my fantasy to live above Cubby Hole although I would be in the bar every night and it would be very bad for my liver.
MM: Right? I lived on the 4th floor with Elizabeth when we were together. In fact, I was just at Henrietta’s for an L Word trivia night because Betty performed to promote the show that we’re going to Sunday. Those girls were very supportive of Industria because they knew that it brought something else to the community. Wanda (Acosta) and Sharee (Nash) came every time. They were so supportive and Tabac was of course a huge deal (Elizabeth and I are a part of the documentary that she’s creating). Those guys were truly in the same vein as me. They wanted a place where we could go and dress up. A place where everyone was welcome. We wanted to feel like there was some glamour to it. Industria is a glamorous place but it was also truly inclusive and everybody got into it. Do you remember when people used to go to the Oprah show and all the ladies would show up with their lipstick and manicured nails, all dressed up? I sort of felt like that was happening and I was really proud of the fact that we created a space to elevate the party. Boys have their cruises and their white parties and at that particular time we didn’t have things like that. SheScape threw a lot of parties too but I think our themes thing really made Industria unique. I’m trying to remember all of the themes... I did Planet Girl which was a Sci-Fi one...
GS: The Herstory Archives has a lot of your postcards. I’ve seen the postcard for Planet Girl.
MM: Oh good! Oh how great! Planet Girl was really fun! As an artist I had to figure out how to decorate the space cheaply right? So I went to the New York Public Library and I researched images from magazines. I would take those images to a place where you could make slides and I’d spend maybe two hundred and fifty dollars having slides made that could be projected forty feet wide. For Planet Girl I would run the slides with the music. B Girl was another one. I had pictures of B movie stars flashing all over and then I created a B movie set where there was a director and someone filming. You could get in the scene with the monster. For the Bond Girl party, I had girls painted gold, all the bond girls were forty feet high and the music was all the bond themes. I would get props for the parties from photoshoots at Industria that were just going to be thrown away. Once they had these real trees painted white which I used for a party. When women would walk up the ramp to turn the corner there were all these ghost white trees. It looked like you were coming onto a different planet and at the top of the stairs I had a big slide projected. It was a lot of work. When the theme parties came around it would take me three months to create them from getting the props, to the photography to promoting it. It Girl was another one. I took all the “It girls” from the old movies (or my version of what an It girl was). It could have been Cheryl Tiegs, Farah Fawcett, Elizabeth Taylor among others. I remember one of my favorite ones was when you came up the stairs there was this great picture from the New York Public Library of Elizabeth Taylor with her hair in a pink towel like she’d just gotten out of the shower. You would come around the corner and you see her - it was so frickin’ fun to create that mood when you walked in. Polka Dot Girl was another. I happen to love Polka Dots. Somehow I found all of this donated black vinyl in a big ream. We took a paint can and cut around it to make hundreds of polka dots. Then our job was to get on ladders and hang them so when you came into Industria Super Studios it was entirely covered in hand-cut polka dots! I had to prep the space after all the photoshoots ended so I only had the day of the show to decorate the space. I have to give a shout out to Elizabeth Ziff. There were two rooms at our parties: Tony C.’s disco music and then there was the lounge. Every time I did a theme Elizabeth created a tape cassette and she would basically DJ the tape cassette. I literally had to turn the tape cassette myself. I’d be going from room to room and I’d be like, “Ok that song is the second to last song, so I have to be back here in four minutes and make sure the tape doesn’t run out.” Of course a couple of times the tapes got stolen. Who wouldn’t steal those tapes you know? Oh my god it was so much fun. Spanking at Industria I think was the third or fourth party we threw.
GS: Ooo that’s my favorite name!
MM: (Laughing) Spanking at Industria! A little risqué! I found this book of pictures of women being spanked from the 1800s to the 1920s I think. I picked one of those photographs and we chose the color purple or like a mauve and we made the postcard. And I was like “What in the hell am I going to do for this theme?” So, of course I projected the old photographs of the spankings. When you came into that particular party you could go off to the side near the coat room and I had an artist do a six-foot-wide picture with cut out faces of someone bending over and getting spanked so you could get your polaroid taken. We didn’t even charge we were just like here’s your polaroid of you getting spanked by your friend or your girlfriend or whoever. It was just so much fun. Eventually what happened was that we had to stop doing the parties. I did them from 1994 to ’98. Then we had to stop doing them because of the neighbors and for whatever reason the Board of Directors of Industria said we had to stop doing the big parties I think for the same reason. And I’m the kind of person who’s like “Honestly if you’re at your peak, stop.” It’s like anything. If you’re at your peak, stop. So, after Industria I did one more gay pride party under “Maggie Moore Produces” and it was the year of Cabaret on Broadway with Alan Cumming. Don’t ask me how I did this but I went to the theater operator and I said “I want to do a party here on Saturday night.” I think it was right after they closed or something like that and I wrangled that venue for this ridiculous amount of money. By the way I should mention that every party I did we gave 10 percent of net profit to gay organizations. P.S., I think the admission was always fifteen dollars or ten dollars and if you got there before eleven o’clock you got a free drink. It was a steal – best deal in town! And that’s what we could charge in those days. We couldn’t charge fifty bucks to get in – the guys could charge whatever they wanted but it was also not right. Fifteen was the max we could really charge right to the end for four years and you still got the free drink. So that last party was at the theater where the Cabaret was and it was such a hot space. What was that party called... Cabaret Girl? It was Club Cabaret or something like that. I had to take my mailing list and my clientele from downtown. It was annual at this time and so a year had gone by since the last Industria Super Studios party which people really identified with me. To move it to 45th street was risky but we succeeded. We ended up filling the house. Tony C. was there and girls with cigarettes and all that. I had strippers – we always had a burlesque thing going on. People loved it and when you came in an Alan Cummings-type person was taking your tickets. The way they had done their set was perfect. I didn’t really have to create a set. All I had to do was hire the right people and I actually sang off stage at one point. I sang “Come to the cabaret”. Nobody knew it was me but whatever the DJ was playing I kept singing “Come the cabaret my friends...” and “Life is a cabaret...” I did this mix on my own. I did have some performances going on and I always had the same dancers too. I was really loyal – you’re with me, I’m with you. I always hired the exact same people I’ve just always been that way. So after that party I sort of broke even. I never lost money and I was always able to give money away but I thought you know what, quit while you’re ahead because I gave everybody a good time, I had a ball and I also started feeling the difference out there in the community. You have to remember I was coming off the heels of Tabac (which I believe must have been closed by then) and off the heels of the lipstick lesbian thing.
GS: I wanted to ask you more about what the crowd was like that came to your parties. Was it super femme? Because it seems like there was this moment of desiring more glamor and femininity and high fashion but also with some gender-bending going on?
MM: Absolutely. After Tabac and Cabaret came on the scene people definitely got dressed up. There were some people who only came to those parties but I think everyone who went to Henrietta Hudson or went to the Cubby Hole also came to the parties and felt like this was something different and it was worth the ticket. I always dressed up too. I would always dress the theme. For It Girl I had this Italian dress with my hair in a bun. For Spanking I was a teacher in hot pants with a ruler and glasses.
GS: (Laughing) That’s so hot!
MM: Come on! I was part of the brand, right? Oh! We had a Vegas night too: Vegas Girl. We did a whole gambling night which was really hard when you think about it! I had to coordinate gambling tables, offer prizes and find professional dealers all for charity so that it was legal and there was a snow storm that night. It took a lot of creativity and a little bit of risk to do that without a budget. I had to say to myself “You’re going to make it!” I knew women would show. It was a proven concept. The only thing you had to hope for was that there wouldn’t be a problem. Like the snow storm on Vegas night. But women still showed up. You just had to figure in the loss factor but I just loved it. You can tell I’m very excited to talk about it!
GS: It makes me so happy to hear about it and I think there’s still that desire for a different type of party. Did you ever go to that bar called the Dalloway that opened in SoHo? It was that sort of environment that felt glamorous with good cocktails and a fire place and there’s nothing like that right now with the type of energy you’re describing.
MM: Yes! I did go there. I had my fiftieth birthday party there to support it, when it was around. If I may say (as a producer), and I don’t want to be negative because I think what they did was great, the number one thing is to have a flow and I could never get a drink there! You lose momentum if you’re four drinks deep at the bar and you can’t get a drink in an hour or whatever because the bartender is talking away to this girl. I always ran a tight ship because service is number one. When people came in that door they got a coat ticket, they paid their money, they came in and they got a drink and those bartenders were pros. They might have been in a bikini (laughing) you know what I mean? But they were pros. Industria had it down to a “T”. They had their bar-backs, they had their team that could throw down and that’s how you make money! I was fortunate to have that team built in and that’s just a big part of it. I don’t know the reasons that the Dalloway went under but I would say that it’s all about an experience. The look is one thing but you have to have the experience. That’s really what you’re coming for – the experience. I mean I always hoped that the girls had fun and some hot sex after my parties. I hope that couples made it, I hope that they danced their faces off and I hope they had great memories. It wasn’t the era of selfies and I didn’t even take pictures. To this day I don’t take selfies.
GS: That’s an interesting part of doing a project like this. There are very few photographs of these spaces and parties which is kind of nice because it leaves a lot to the imagination and it makes the storytelling aspect of it that much more important.
MM: It’s so cool that you’re doing this because you’re right. We only have the memories in some ways. Unless someone had a professional photographer working or a polaroid camera. It just wasn’t the way we thought. It was about the experience. That was it. We had the flyer and that was the only evidence. It’s like how you save your ticket to a Broadway show! You don’t take a picture of the Broadway show, you experience it.
GS: Thank you for telling me so much about it! I can kind of imagine that I’m there by hearing you talk about it! I am curious though about gender expression at the Industria parties. Was it mostly femme?
MM: Sure! I would say it was also the time following lipstick lesbian culture which you may remember from the cover of Time magazine in the late ‘90s. Honestly, it was just the way of thinking back then. You could be a lipstick lesbian, you could be butch or androgynous – all of it was cute! Take Wanda (Acosta) for example. She presented a certain look herself and she was always there greeting her clientele and it was always something not to miss. Men were welcome if they were escorted by a woman but honestly no fags came! They didn’t! There was never any discrimination of any kind and people sort of picked and chose what they wanted to go to. So yeah! I think there was that movement of glam lez and it projected a certain image of the time.
GS: I don’t know how much you go out now but do you think that period impacted lesbian culture now in any way?
MM: You know it’s hard to say how much people would really look to the late ‘90s at all as impactful. I don’t mean to discredit us. I mean that we tend to look forward and focus on the latest thing. What’s nice about doing this is that you’re looking back and you’re asking the questions. I think everything is related to everything else – everything’s connected. You can tell by how I was describing the people that I worked with. If it wasn’t for Chip or Elizabeth or Wanda... I see that as a thread, right? So, what I can say is that I think it’s important to look at what drag queens were doing, what people like me were doing, what was going on in theater, what was happening with writers and artists, the AIDS crisis, the magazines... The fact that OUT Magazine went from being co-lesbian/co-gay male to being taken over totally by gay men was all about economics: who was buying the magazine, who was buying the ads, I mean think about it! Again, I don’t know the whole story about why certain bars survive and certain ones don’t but I would hope that something like Industria Super Studios is going on now. I think it happens on cruises but there’s nothing like New York City! If you could do a monthly party with a theme that was super cool.
GS: I started this project with a sense of mourning that lesbian bars are disappearing and being replaced by monthly parties. I was sort of unaware of the fact that monthly parties and annual parties have been a staple of queer life and celebration dating really far back and that this is just a continuation. There are a lot of monthly parties now and they’re fantastic! I think it’s also amazing how those small networks of people and the support that is offered in those networks is really what allows party-life to thrive.
MM: It did. And it’s still a business! There were always elements of competition but it was always more inclusive than competitive. I’m pleased to hear that there are lots of parties now. SheScape also had parties. They were the biggest parties in terms of the competition. But even then I didn’t see it as competition. My night was always the Saturday of Pride so there was always my party and then there were smaller parties you know? SheScape did a big Sunday party the night of the parade. They might have done a Saturday party too. I always said this is just my own thing. Wanda (Acosta) was always supportive and would say, “They’ll come to our bar after! We can help each other.”
GS: How did you meet Wanda?
MM: I met Sharee and Wanda by going to Tabac. Of course Elizabeth and I were together at the time and we would go hang there. You could smoke in the bars and all that craziness right? And it was super sexy and fun and when I got into doing the parties it was a sisterhood in that sense. I used to sing in one of Wanda’s bars... shoot am I going to remember? Starlight!
GS: Do you have any recordings of you singing?
MM: I do! I have a recording from Starlight.
GS: Would you be willing to share it with me?
MM: Sure! Absolutely. So, there you go!
GS: Thank you Maggie. This was amazing.