“When the party patio lanterns are lit, something special is about to happen.”
Patty Heffley, the co-founder of the legendary fire escape performance series Renegade Cabaret, walks into the room and quietly sets her belongings on the seat next to her. She has a calming aura about her. Out of an assortment of tea, she chooses ginger herbal, known to have subsequent calming effects. The owl tattoo on her upper arm and the one hanging around her neck by a gold-plated chain are noticeable. As owls are symbolic of wisdom, Heffley provides an oral history of her Chelsea neighborhood and the first evening of the infamous series that debuted in 2009.
Would she be the same firebrand who launched a New York pop culture phenomenon synonymous with the early days of the High Line? The answer is simple. Heffley is still the high-spirited provocateur who performed on her loft’s fire escape for visitors of the High Line.
The high-tempo melodies of the punk rock music scene brought Heffley to New York City in May 1978. She found a loft on West 20th Street that looked out on the High Line, where she and her rock band could “make noise and drive neighbors crazy,” Heffley says. She recalls living in the only building on the block that had tenants.
When the revitalized High Line opened in 2009, Heffley’s safe haven, along with her practice of air-drying her laundry outside on her fire escape, dwindled as swarms of visitors eagerly walked the elevated park. “I remember Elizabeth [Soychak] saying that we had to respond to this lack of privacy. And I told her that she should sing and I would talk,” says Heffley. From there, Soychak, the Renegade Cabaret co-founder and co-producer, brought her amplifier to the loft and both friends stepped onto the fire escape.
“It was completely spontaneous,” Heffley says. “Nothing was scripted. And I remember the name ‘Renegade Cabaret’ flying out of my mouth.” At that moment, Renegade Cabaret was born. Jazz standards, classic ballads, and even a scantily clad burlesque show found a home on the fire escape. Heffly would even begin to stage her laundry to fit into the evening’s performances.
Heffley smiles when reminiscing about memorable moments. Her laugh is infectious enough to transplant anyone within the time frame of her experience. She is a vivid storyteller, and her themed nights—which included a replica of Michael Jackson’s glove when he died in 2009, and a show dedicated to garments that Elvis Presley could have worn—make you want to relive her memories with her.
Seven years have passed since the original Renegade Cabaret, and Heffley remembers the crowds of onlookers along the streets and the vibrancy of public performance art that became infectious. Next Thursday, May 26, eclectic fans and budding admirers will get the chance to stroll down memory lane with the original members of Renegade Cabaret.
On that night at 9:00 P.M., Heffley (Patrice at the Wheel) will reunite with Soychak (The Lady in the Green Dress), Mary Foster Conklin (The Lady in the Red Dress), Roger Manning (Barefoot Roger), John DiPinto (The Man in the Hat), and Amber the Poet for a night of music and comedy on the High Line for Friends of the High Line’s new performance series Out of Line. Inspired by the original Renegade Cabaret and designed to bring a downtown vibe to the park, Out of Line will feature diverse performers including The Illustrious Blacks, Narcissister, Carmelita Tropicana and Heartbeat Opera on the last Thursday of every month (through September).
As for Out of Line: Renegade Cabaret, Heffley says she’s excited about recapturing the feeling from those first sets in 2009. “I’m looking forward to recreating a magical kind of moment with my good friends,” says Heffley.
And of course… laundry will be included.
OUT OF LINE: RENEGADE CABARET