When David Wood announced in March 2019 that he was quitting Torture Garden for a new life in New York, it came as a big shock to a lot of people.
In his statement at the time, he talked about being burnt out and feeling that, as TG’s artistic driving force, he’d achieved everything he could with the club over the almost three decades since its launch in October 1990.
But the event in his life that prompted him not just to acknowledge that reality but also to follow it with fairly drastic action was something he could not have predicted.
In London in 2018, he had met New York event promoter Shien Lee when she visited for a meeting about the planned TG NY, of which she would be the local host.
“We felt like soulmates immediately,” David reveals. “We fell in love and had a whirlwind romance, flying back and forth for a year.
“As she had a five-year-old child, the only way to be together was if I moved to New York. So I bit the bullet and left TG, my friends, family and country.”
He was, he confesses, “a bit bored and burnt out with TG” at the time, but that was not his main motivation. “I only moved for romance,” he insists. Ten years earlier it would have been a more difficult decision, he admits.
He went to America on an investor’s visa. To get one of these, he explains, you have to be bringing money into the US and show you are going to employ US citizens.
“Shien Lee offered to be business partners, and we planned Astarte Creative as an adaption of her pre-existing entertainment agency.
“It was a way of getting the investors visa, but also gave me the confidence to leave TG and move to the US.
“I agreed at the beginning that if things didn’t work in our personal relationship then I would leave as a director and give her the company. I never doubted that it would work for us, so had a lot riding on it.
“If I the relationship failed, I also lost my new career, home and country.
“Working with your relationship partner was always going to be risky,” David admits, “and ideally we’d have avoided working together.
“But we were so similar and worked in such similar fields that It became impossible to avoid the obvious. We should have been an amazing team and we could have achieved great things together.”
So it was surely a cruel twist of fate that such a promising partnership ended up as one more victim of the covid pandemic.
“It’s a complete life disaster at the moment,” David says frankly. “I invested everything in the move, and was sure of it being a one-way, lifetime move. It was a one-way ticket without a safety net, because I had a hundred percent trust and faith in it working.
“But as soon as I moved there it was difficult. We were both stressed and dealing with a few traumatic experiences. Leaving TG was like a divorce and it was like losing my identity. Leaving friends, family and country was emotional.
“I was trying to sell my flat and potentially TG shares. Shien was going through a messy divorce court case, and was selling the family house and trying to buy a new house.
“Working together was a clash of personalities at first. I’d lost my independence and it was Shien’s company, her home, her family and her country. She was used to being a solo boss and found it difficult to have a business partner.”
Thankfully, working together gradually became a lot better as the couple divided projects and found a new house. “I was beginning to feel more at home and the future seemed bright,” David recalls.
“Then covid arrived in New York and the US, all events stopped and our business and income was wiped out. We got a little bit of government money to last three months and then nothing.
“And as I was on an investors visa I didn’t get unemployment and couldn’t get a job working for anyone else. I had to live off the limited savings I still had after moving there.
“I painted the whole three-floor house and became a home school teacher for a six-year-old, but mostly felt like a burden and disempowered. It was an impossible and desperate situation.”
But then a way to improve that situation suggested itself. David explains:
“I’d always loved collecting strange objects, antiques and taxidermy, and noticed that there was a huge online auction market in the US because the country is so big.
“And it was active in lockdown. So I launched Dreams Less Sweet and started dealing in antiques and oddities, and it started making money in the short time it ran in the US.”
Unfortunately though, the “constant traumas and stresses during Covid World War III” — on top of the existing stresses of the move — had a very destructive impact on the couple’s personal relationship.
“When I came back to London in December 2020 we were on a break for a month,” he explains. “But it didn’t work out and I shipped
my possessions to London two months later, although two-thirds of my antique stock is still stuck in NYC.
“Would things have turned out differently without the pandemic? Who knows?”
David has three new businesses which we’ll be discussing below. But first, I want to know about the financial and emotional impact on Torture Garden NY’s organisers, after covid struck and they had to postpone the annual TG New York Pride Weekend event first from 2020 to 2021, and then from 2021 to 2022.
“TG New York was an event we did for love,” says David, “and it was nice for me to still do one New York version of Torture Garden per year after leaving TG London.
“We had a great expanded line-up of three days for the June 2020 Pride TG, with Garth Knight performing on the Friday and the amazing Company XIV hosting the Sunday.
“It had been exciting to see the second TG NY greatly expand the attendance in 2019 and we were full of optimism for the third in 2020. So it was a big disappointment.”
I mention that quite a few UK TG fans had expressed surprise at how expensive the top-priced tickets for TGNY were, compared with the biggest TG parties in London.
So, can David please explain why pricing for this kind of event is so different in NYC? Yes, as it turns out, he can.
“Shien Lee stages her own Dances of Vice parties at Capitale NYC. It’s the most spectacular venue I’ve ever produced a party in. It’s a huge, domed-ceilinged, former banking hall with marble pillars and columns.
“There’s no venue in London (even for corporate events) like it. But it’s very expensive, and therefore she sells VIP tables around the stage with drinks packages.
“Those premium tickets help make it financially viable and enable the general ticket prices to be much lower (although still more than London). So it was how it works for her venue and crowd, and is more of a New York/US style.
“For me Torture Garden at Capitale made it something unique in the worldwide fetish scene, and a very different and special experience. And that was worth adapting the price structure for.”
However, he adds, “I think we reduced the general admission ticket for the second one to help make it more accessible, and attendance was much better.”
After TG NY (June 2019), Wood had also had a hand in TG LA (Sep 2019), Dances of Vice Halloween Ball (Oct 2019),Dances of Vice New Year’s Eve Ball (Dec 2019) and Dance of Vice Valentines Ball (Feb 2020) before the events scene went tits-up in March 2020
“For club events, TG NY and all the Dances of Vice were those that we fully produced and created. I had set up the TG LA event with our local LA promoters before I left TG Events, and I attended it to DJ.
“We also curated all the shows and aerial work for the Great Gatsby Party and we produced shows for their LA partyand two in NYC at Capitale.
“As Shien and I divided roles, I curated most of the shows for the club events during my time in the US, and It was exciting to work in some spectacular venues. There was also a very high standard of performers and it was great to work with great talent in NYC and LA.
“I feel that the Dances of Vice Masque of the Red Death Halloween Party was the event that most successfully fused Shien’s DofV style with my own TG style and showed the massive potential of what we could create together.”
But, he emphasises, the corporate events were much more important financially.
“The corporate agency jobs were the main financial focus, and just before the pandemic hit, we’d been given the contract for a huge 70-plus performer job at a private event on the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier in NYC.
“That was a massive financial loss. And we also had the Great Gatsby Party booked in for four US cities. So we had some really big jobs coming up in 2020 when the world ended!”READ MORE – GO TO PAGE 2 OF 3