Rob Roth Previews the Black Party, a ‘Night to Let Go of Your Inhibitions’ By Brian Sloanmarch | March 29, 2017
This Saturday night, thousands of gay men will don leather outfits or the skimpiest of black accessories to dance at a club on the Far West Side of Manhattan for a 20-hour marathon event known for its erotically daring stage shows, theatrical acrobatic acts and otherworldly lighting.
The Black Party, the granddaddy of all gay “circuit” parties, is an annual rite-of-spring bacchanal that turns 38 this year, a remarkable run by any standard.
While the hedonistic, dance-driven formula has remained unchanged, it has a new creative director, Rob Roth, a 48-year-old multimedia artist who lives on the Lower East Side. The role is something of a homecoming for Mr. Roth, who made a name for himself at the Jackie 60 and Click & Drag parties of the 1990s, creating shows and art installations. When those parties faded, Mr. Roth switched to commercial work for brands like Coach, along with his own performance art.
The journey back to night life was a result of a death. For years his friend Michael Peyton, a producer of the Black Party, tried to get him to work on the party. After Mr. Peyton died from cancer in 2015, he felt an obligation to help carry the tradition forward. So when Stephen Pevner, the producer of the Black Party, asked him to join last year, it was hard to say no.
What does the creative director for the Black Party do?
My role is helping them create the theme. Then I direct and create the teaser film that comes out a couple weeks before. The film actually dictates the tone and the look and the feel of everything else. I plant the seed, and it sort of grows from there.
What was your concept for this year’s film?
I really wanted to put a pole dancer in space. I was trying to find guys who would go out to a basement in Bed-Stuy to get tied up for the two-day shoot. It was very old-school New York, like what I used to do at Mother.
How is the Black Party different from other gay circuit parties?
The Black Party is known for being much darker, much more dangerous, more naughty.
What is the most scandalous thing you’ve seen at the Black Party?
I can’t say that! Let’s just say I have seen a lot. How can I phrase this? The acts are quite hard-core. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful bondage performances and things I can’t really describe.
What’s your favorite Black Party moment?
The time that I went with Debbie Harry in 2000 and we went backstage. Backstage had more shenanigans than onstage. To me it was a rather shocking experience but sort of funny, too.
Tell me more.
There was a sort of beautiful chaos to it. There were go-go boys and performers, and all these people in fetish gear, and drag queens and people running around. Some were preparing for shows, some had just finished shows, some were between shows. And everyone was just yapping away and yelling and screaming and having a good time.
What can partygoers expect this year?
I’m working on something with Darrell Thorne, a performance artist who’s also a friend. And there’s going to be a lot of dark corners. But it’s what people always expect from the Black Party: a bit of a debauched experience that you can escape into. I think the Black Party is all about escapism, which we definitely need for the moment.
What does the Black Party mean to gay men today?
It’s definitively a night to let go of your inhibitions. I think some of the older generation look at it as a constant, something that was important in the past and it’s important to keep these traditions going. I think with the younger ones, they seem to be curious about New York in the past. And I think there’s some history there. And some ghosts.
What are you looking to forward this year?
I always really love dancing. I also really do love some of the outfits. Chi Chi Valenti used to call Halloween amateur night, but this is pro night. You’ve got to get pro for the Black Party.
Do you know what you’re going to wear?
I don’t. But last year I wore some Zana Bayne sock garters, high heel boots and a jock strap, with a military shirt. But this year I have no clue what I’m going to wear. I always wait to the last minute. It depends on how cold it is too.