The individual practices of Samuel Eugene Puglia and Bailey Scieszka delight and terrify us for the ways that each artist is able to create such believable characters out of the day-to-day, and to project them into the world with the most rudimentary materials. Their respective protagonists, Dawn Lombardi and Old Put, rarely share the stage with anyone, but for our second annual film issue, both artists put down their alter egos long enough to pass the talking stick back and forth with Cultured ’s Kat Herriman and create a video vignette. Of course, the results were ultimately murderous (see for yourself on culturedmag.com), but what else can we expect from the stars?
Kat Herriman: I was hoping that you could both introduce yourself briefly and share how you fell into the arts.
Old Put: I was a child hand model. I did all the Livestrong kids’ bracelet ads and that’s when I got my first taste of success. My family owned a toy gun factory for dolls. It really put us into the poor house. I grew up ambling along in the hay and the dust. I started to become a crafter because of Joumana, the Detroit bus ad lawyer. I wanted to make the most realistic sex doll of her that I could. I would just wake up every day and see her and just want to own her in a way that wasn’t humanly possible. So I put out ads on Craigslist to find an artisan who could make a realistic doll.
Kat: Dawn, did you also create a sex doll or was your journey a little bit different?
Dawn Lombardi: Just a wee bit different. I started young. I would say that I came out of the womb dancing and singing, but that’s just not possible, so I guess it started in the fourth grade when I attended my first performing arts school in Akron, Ohio.
When I started my own show—The Dawn Lombardi Show—it featured a lot of different local New York artists, as well as some in Ohio and some from different states—you know, all around. It was a variety show, broken up with sketch comedy and live acts. That’s where I got my start, and business was booming two years ago. But now I’m focusing on rebranding and trying to get some vocal training because I’m starting a band. I just finished watching a Marilyn Manson documentary and I think we can do it. Our name is Sue Ellen, featuring Ally Servino, Fanny Cohen, Brooke Morgan and Anna Pollack.
Kat: It sounds like the key to stardom starts with obsession.
Old Put: Obsession feeds everything that I do, for sure. Or I should say mania, like WrestleMania.
Dawn: I think I appreciate people more when they’re trained. And that doesn’t mean that they went to school or anything—I think everyone has the ability to do something. But, if you take the time to train yourself, you’ll be fabulous.
Kat: What kinds of things do you practice?
Dawn: As I said, Dawn is rebranding. I’m trying to expand my knowledge for music so I can accomplish a greater Dawn Lombardi.
Old Put: For me, it’s all about the craft. Whatever the latest craft trends are, that’s what I’m down for.
Dawn: You know what? I think we’re in a state right now where every day, Dawn Lombardi—and whoever else—wakes up and thinks, “what’s the point of having my dreams accomplished? What’s the point in training myself?” But that’s where the rebranding comes in. The state of our world, environment and politics is really fucked up. I’m trying to start myself fresh, so that I can feel confident enough to actually continue my craft, to play the game right.
Old Put: For me, it’s not rebranding but growing: adding things on to each other. I went from crafting Joumana to crafting food, and now I’m crafting games and thinking about what a game is.
Kat: What kinds of games are you playing?
Old Put: There are so many different things that mean “game.” That’s what I spend time exploring. Do you know the book Gone Girl? I really like that story as an idea: the game of life being played.
Dawn: Has that helped you cope with reality?
Old Put: There is no reality. It’s all just a bunch of toxic gas mirages.
Kat: I know this is getting a bit abstract, but I’m wondering if the unreality of 2020 and self-care can’t live in tandem. What advice do you have for actually buckling down?
Dawn: That’s a hard one. I think it’s about waking up and just being like, “I’m going to take care of my hair.” Because I actually need to do that right now. Do you know how curly my hair is?
Old Put: I do. I remember from when you came to model for me.
Dawn: Oh my God. I forgot you have curly hair too. Curly-haired girls are having a moment. I’m taking a lot of inspiration these days from Bette Midler. Recently I took a long look at Midler’s face and hair, really examining her, and I realized that we look identical.
Old Put: You’re nailing it for sure.
Dawn: You’re just too nice. I love that.
Kat: First Wives Club is my favorite Bette Midler Moment.
Dawn: I have that one on repeat on VHS.
Kat: Old Put, you’re a big VHS person, right?
Old Put: I get whatever other people throw off: usually a lot of VHS. We don’t have Blu-ray down here in the gutter.
Kat: It’s coming. One of the things that I want to talk to you guys about is jealousy. How does jealousy play into your peer-to-peer relationships?
Dawn: Let me tell you something. The whole art scene is dead. You can quote me on that.
Old Put: In Akron? What’s the art scene to you?
Dawn: Whatever is around Dawn at the moment is the art scene to her. And, let me tell you something, when the scene comes back it’s going to be great and it’s going to bring rock and roll with it. It’s a new era of music and Dawn Lombardi will be right there and I hope Old Put will be next to her.
Old Put: I will be.
Dawn: But, more seriously, I don’t really feel like I compete with anyone because every time I try to play a game, it comes right back and bites me in my cute ass.
Old Put: Same goes for me. I’m so consumed with my own narcissism that I don’t even think about anything outside of what I’m crafting. Usually I’m just staring at myself in the puddles. That’s all I need.
Dawn: I wish I could stare at myself and cuddle into one big mirror but, for that, I would need to put my glasses on.
Kat: Do your mirrors ever fog?
Old Put: That’s what we call abstract art.
Dawn: When it comes to everybody else, though, I have a lot to say. But it gets all twisted and turned and then people started saying, “Hey, Dawn Lombardi said that.” And I just don’t want to hear about it. I really don’t. What I can say is that there’s real talent and there’s no talent and there’s good performers and there’s bad performers. And the rest is history, really.
Old Put: There’s only hearts that bleed and hearts that don’t.
DAWN: Yes ma’am
Kat: Who do you consider stars? Who are your muses?
Old Put: Anna Nicole Smith and soprano Anna Netrebko. Can you sing opera, Dawn?
Dawn: Dawn can sing opera, but she’s never tried it; that happens a lot with her. There’s always someone who asks something like, “Do you know about opera?” You know, something that takes years of training and is really prestigious, and I’m like, “Oh yeah, Dawn is an amazing opera singer.” So, “yes” is the short answer. She can sing opera.
Old Put: I will have to write a libretto for you.
Dawn: We should make a tape, a mixtape. Everyone’s listening to tapes now. Old cassettes. You know, people are edgy nowadays.
Old Put: We have those down here, too.
Dawn: I don’t know if there’s anyone I’m truly inspired by anymore, besides aliens. My biggest inspiration is myself. I’m Dawn Lombardi all the way. Also my father, who was an amazing artist based in Akron. RIP John Puglia, 1964-2013.
Kat: So what projects do y’all have cooking in the new year? What do rebranding and growth look like?
Dawn: I’m really excited about a new series that I recently started working on. I don’t have a name for it, but it may be the same thing as Documentary Time, which airs on The Dawn Lombardi Show. We are taking real-life stories, in the form of documentary, but told by fictional characters. Almost like how news stations will do a story on someone or something and then it will be a late-night special. These characters are just the broadcasting team for the series and will narrate each episode while also going on the scene and interviewing people. Our first episode will air on YouTube this spring, featuring a bizarre story from
Akron: The Purple Man.
Old Put: I’m staging two shows next year as part of my ongoing performance series. One of them will be a dinner party at Larrie Gallery in the Lower East Side and the other will be at Stems Gallery in Brussels. I’m thinking about how I can blend the dinner party and the game into one idea.
Kat: I wonder if we will be invited?
Old Put: Dawn should come sing opera at Larrie.
Dawn: I would love to come and sing for your opening.
Kat: What is your advice for someone who is just starting out, and who wants to eventually have their own show and exhibitions?
Dawn: I think that if you really, truly believe in what you’re doing, you shouldn’t stop no matter what it takes, but don’t run anyone over on the way. Create a positive lane for yourself and fucking pursue your art.
Old Put: My advice is: do a man’s work through a child’s heart. And for every dream you make come true, you’ll pay the price in heartbreak. That’s my life.
Kat: I guess I wanted to close out by asking you guys about the video that we made. What’s the takeaway?
Dawn: I think the video will take you into Old Put and Dawn’s worlds for a little bit.
Old Put: Ya, you get a taste of it. A little taste of Old Put, even if it’s sour cream.
Dawn: Don’t be afraid of a little sour taste in your mouth.
Peep the meet cute they created for our spring issue here.