Created and performed by Kim X Knowlton and Maggie Siena
Music by James Siena

New Territory Series, BACA Downtown, Brooklyn, NY      April 1986

Additional performances:
April 1986 – Johnson Museum, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
May 1986 – SNAP Series, Franklin Furnace, NYC
July 1986 – Darinka, NYC
July 1986 – Watchface’s Greatest Hits, Gates of Dawn, NYC (excerpt)
August 1986 – Gates of Dawn, NYC
September 1986 – Watchface’s Greatest Hits, Darinka, NYC (excerpt)
October 1986 – Dixon Place, NYC
October 1986 – La MaMa, NYC
February 1987 – Gusto Cabaret, NYC
March 1987 – A Watchface Sampler, Jeffrey Neale Gallery, NYC (excerpts)

Ralph and Louie’s Bad Habits
Prologue
Confessions
Secret Eating
Partners in Crime
The Letter
The Judge
Relationships
Ode to Picking
Theme Song
Fantasy Island
Off the Wagon
Acceptance

Ralph and Louie’s Bad Habits was the third of four collaborations between Kim X Knowlton
and Maggie Siena. It was both more fun and more serious for the two women than their
previous partnerships. The performance was partially styled after a vaudeville act and
contained a good deal of physical comedy. However, the subject of the piece was a
thoughtful and intimate look at habitual behavior commonly branded as “bad.”

The approach to the work was more disciplined than their previous shows and more strictly
adhered to techniques they learned through participating in Iris Rose’s House of Jahnke and
Of Little Women. Kim and Maggie went into the rehearsal process with a concrete idea of
how they wanted to express their various perceptions of bad habits. The women conceived
of the show in two parts. The first half of the performance dealt with specific vices and
obsessions and how they affected Ralph and Louie, the performers’ alter egos. The second
part considered the responses to bad habits – self-contempt, relapse, and ultimately
acceptance.

In preparation, they catalogued what they considered their own bad habits. They also
circulated a “bad habits” questionnaire to their – mostly female – current social circle of
friends, fellow students, and instructors. The questionnaire asked very personal questions,
such as, “What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?” and “Name any personal habits you
are ashamed of.” The returned questionnaires were scoured for possible topics and text to
be used in the performance. Additionally, as roommates at the time, they drew upon their
shared trials of attempting to quit smoking.

The names Ralph and Louie were taken from a mnemonic device that both knew from
childhood to identify your right from your left. To depict the universality of humanity’s
addictions, they preferred the men’s names. Their various costumes worn at different venues
informed their desire to represent both male and female. They wore bras and boxers for one
show and ties over dresses for another.

The construction of Ralph and Louie’s Bad Habits was very much in the Watchface mold in its
division of topics into sections. The performance, which was just over a half hour long,
consisted of twelve separate segments of varying length and approach. The list above
shows the original sequence; however, the order evolved and certain sections were not
included for some engagements. Most often the crowd-pleasing Theme Song was left for
last.

The opening Prologue was little more than a tableau. The lights came up on the two women
as Ralph and Louie, caught in the act of enjoying some of their favorite vices – beer, Tab,
and cigarettes. They quickly indicated that they were “caught in the act” and gestured for
the lights to go to black. Confessions followed. The women alternated stories of indulgence;
as one spoke, the other performed a series of Emblems (for a description of the techniques in
green, see METHOD) based on her own “confessional litany.” The lists contained habits as
diverse as Bite Nails and Take Everything Personally. Maggie still laughs when she recalls an
action that Kim did to represent her driving while picking her nose and wiping the findings on
the car’s carpet. Confessions script

Secret Eating was performed to a voiceover recorded by both Maggie and Kim. The text
was made up of anecdotes gathered from the questionnaires and from discussions on
specific bad habits they had held around their kitchen table. A group of friends chatted
about things they had done of which they were now ashamed, what the judgmental voice in
their heads said to them, and habits they wished they could get rid of. The talks, as was
common in Watchface shows, were recorded so they could later be transcribed and used as
material for the script. “When the subject was `secret eating,’” Iris later recalled, “I was
surprised that more people didn’t have stories, because I had plenty. When I saw the show,
my horrible eating habits made up a sizable chunk of Secret Eating, but of course, nobody in
the audience knew that but me!” the secret of Life Saver roulette The section Partners in Crime
dealt with the issues of codependence and enabling – “two is better than one” when
rationalizing a bad habit. For The Letter, Ralph and Louie sat and read brief notices from the
Surgeon General, stating what they knew was coming: confirmation that after their years
of smoking, they had indeed been diagnosed with cancer. Resigned, yet realizing that bad
habits have their consequences, they crumpled the letters and threw them away.
Ralph and Louie’s letters

The text for The Judge was based on an internal, disapproving voice commenting on what
Ralph and Louie considered their shameful, flawed behavior. Again, the ideas were pulled
from the discussions but written to represent a flow of consciousness. The women performed
to a recorded narration, voiced by their friend and acting teacher, Gina Barnett, who had
also participated in the roundtables. This section was adapted from a tool taught in Gina’s
acting class as a way to overcome one’s own judgmental inner voice. While the self-critical
lines were read, the women performed actions for the qualities that were the object of their
disdain, such as Arrogant, Tactless, Needy, Overbearing, and Stingy. This choreography was
referred to by the women as their “attitude aerobics.” They repeated phrases of apology
and subservience – “Please,” “Excuse me,” “Thank you,” “Sorry,” “Pardon me” – under
Gina’s reading. A section of The Judge text:

You’re just like a big waffle. You just waffle from one thing, waffle onto the next thing.
When you gonna do something? You’re just skimming through, skimming through, when
are you gonna to do some work? You’re so disorganized. Fucking Love Boat, turn the
TV off, okay?

Repetitive and destructive interactions between couples was the topic of Relationships. The
women wrote four short scenes depicting unhealthy patterns that recur among men and
women. One scenario was “single woman/married man,” while another had the man as the
aggressive male stereotype and the woman docile and passive. Kim played the male role
in each scene, and Maggie the female. The movements were repeating Walter Kendall
Fives
that reflected the various settings. For the “single woman/married man” scene that
took place while the couple dressed after having sex, Maggie’s cycle of movements was:

Scrunch right leg of panty hose, put on right leg
Put blouse on, left arm through, then right arm, button four buttons
Brush hair bent over three times, up four times
Adjust earrings, first left, then right
Put on shoes, right then left, adjust left heal
script for “Relationships #2”

Ode to Picking usually came next in the lineup. It was a brief, humorous solo by Maggie.
While executing actions that mocked poses of the Indian gods depicted in statuary and
paintings, she extolled the virtues of picking in the manner of a Japanese haiku: “Picking. I
learn about myself.” script for Ode to Picking

The place free of addictions was Fantasy Island. The women took turns reciting short stories
of idyllic situations and happenings, while drawing abstract symbols that represented their
own personal fantasies. The figures were drawn with colored chalk, usually upon a piece of
seamless photo background paper hanging on the back wall of the performance space.
Fantasy Island diagram The section highlighted yet another bad habit of constantly wishing for
a certain outcome instead of striving to make it a reality. Adding to the dreamlike feel was
the sound of the tinkling keys of a toy piano: James Siena composed “Fantasy Theme” on
one of his favorite instruments. Breaking resolutions was the subject of Off the Wagon.
Actions for Shame, Fear, Anger, Sadness, Paranoia, and Loneliness were performed in unison
to the sound of a ticking clock.

Originally conceived as a solo for Louie/Kim, Acceptance became a duet and the original
finale of the show. As Kim performed the script addressing habit versus choice, she and
Maggie recreated movements that had come from Bodies in Space sessions. As the women
improvised moves to a tape recording of the Acceptance script, the most interesting actions
were noted by invited observers and formed the final choreography. The first performance
ended with the lines:

We can create a story to justify any action.
Alibis. Our specialty.
Believing we’re pushed and pulled by irresistible forces,
We throw up our hands and say,
I had to react, I had to respond, I had to do it.
It obsesses me, it commands me.
Decide what is really wanted,
Take control,
Stand in the center,
Choose.

Partly because of the positive audience reaction to it, Theme Song was repeatedly moved to
the final position on the list of sections performed. Ralph and Louie’s Theme Song illustrated
more than any other part what Kim and Maggie wanted to express with this production.
Through the lyrics and movement of the song, Ralph and Louie shared the joys of self-abuse
and rejoiced in the fact that to err is human. With humor instead of shame, they exposed
their bad habits, promoting acceptance of our own vice-ridden selves. Theme Song lyrics

Both Maggie and Kim look back at Ralph and Louie’s Bad Habits as their most successful
enterprise. The show had universality; everyone has what they consider bad habits. Many of
their ideas were conveyed through clever writing and broad humor to which the audiences
responded.

They also took a step that was seldom done; they coordinated a studio-produced, quality
video of their favorite sections. To keep the tape an appropriate length for promotional
purposes, some of the chosen sections were edited before recording.

In addition to James’ original composition for Fantasy Island, other musicians’ works were
used as accompaniment, ranging from harpist Carlos Salzedo to the tango singer and
guitarist Carlos Gardel to the Band of the Black Watch’s version of Laurel and Hardy’s theme,
“Dance of the Cuckoos.”

After its premier at BACA Downtown in Brooklyn in April of 1986, BACA mailer the show played
at many of Manhattan’s downtown performance venues that same year, including Franklin
Furnace, La MaMa, La MaMa program Dixon Place, Gates of Dawn, Gates of Dawn program and
Darinka. Also in 1986, Ralph and Louie took a trip to Ithaca, New York, for a mixed bill
presented at Kim and James’ alma mater, Cornell University. When Watchface officially
announced their name in Watchface’s Greatest Hits that July, Theme Song was chosen to be
included. The final performance was also in a collection of Watchface pieces: the sections
Relationships and Fantasy Island were part of 1987’s A Watchface Sampler at the Jeffrey
Neale Gallery in New York’s East Village.
Jeffrey Neale Gallery postcard
Jeffrey Neale Gallery program