"I'd cook something, and my friends would say, you should do a TV show."

Photo by Jeff Duckworth


Bibliographic specialist, Lippincott Library
Length of service:
14 years
Other stuff:
Taught herself nutrition, transforms vintage clothes, co-wrote the "Index to the Annenberg Television Script Archive" and crusades for a low-impact lifestyle, and that's just for starters.

The energy force-field that is Elizabeth Fiend comes across in her 3-minute television show, "Big Tea Party," with its quick cuts, funny titles that skitter across the screen, and multiple bits of advice compressed into just a few moments. The show, a punk, ecology-minded, vegetarian "Hints from Heloise," has won admittance in several film festivals, and locally won recognition from public television's Channel 12, which purchased two episodes - "How to make your wheat meat" and "Philly cheesesteaks" (hold the steak) - that focus on local foods.

A former cartoon artist whose work was carried by such underground publications as Robert Crumb's "Weirdo," she also performs on slide guitar with a punk band, More Fiends, along with her husband Allen Fiend. They take their last name from their 15-year-old band, in the punk tradition of the Ramones and Iggy Pop. But it's with the TV show that Elizabeth Fiend has finally found the wide audience she craves.

Q. How did "Big Tea Party" happen?
I do all those things that I do on the tape. That's my real life. I'd bring some crazy cakes to a party, I'd cook something, and my friends would say, you should do a TV show. One of my friends was a film maker, and kept saying, oh, you should do it, we should make some films. So after the 50th time that she said it I just said, okay.

   So I started out working with Gretjen Clausing. And then we realized that it was really too big of a project for two people, so we asked Valerie Keller, she's an editor, to come and help us.

   What worked out really well for us, because the whole concept is do-it-yourself, is that we were able to work with DUTV Channel 54, which is an educational access TV station. They're into community programming, so they gave us cameras for free and tapes. And then Valerie is a professional editor, and one of the perks for her job is that at night and on the weekends she can use the editing equipment there, which would normally cost starting with $100 an hour.

Q. When did you start doing the TV show?
The first episode aired in January 1998. We've been in several film festivals. Then we sold two episodes to PBS [Channel 12]. They have an annual contest called "Independent Images."

Q. Who's your audience?
I think the audience is everybody. I didn't realize this at first, because I've been involved in other projects like the band, and my art, which seemed to be geared to a very specific audience. Like the band is a punk band, we play punk music, we would play at venues that punks come to and we'd be on radio stations that punks listen to.

   The TV show's the first project that I've ever been involved with that seems to have universal appeal. And I didn't realize that until I would be at the supermarket, and the produce man would come up to me and go, I saw your show on TV, and I really love it. And then I would be at a restaurant and the cashier would come up and go, I saw your TV show. I really love it. And the little kids who live on my block, in Section 8 housing, they would come up to me and go, my friend told me you were on TV.

Q. Where do you live?
I just recently purchased a house. It's funny, 'cause I work at the Lippincott Library, which is the Wharton library, and I just purchased a house on Wharton Street. So I'm totally the company man now.

Q. You have the band, the TV show, the cartoons. You even have stickers at the "Sticker Shock" show at the Institute of Contemporary Art [see "For What It's Worth"]. How do you find the time?
I found out a long time ago that it doesn't take more energy or time to do something as it does to just sit on the couch and watch TV. TV's good. I'm not against watching TV. But you'll find at the end of the day, if you work and do projects, you're tired. But if you don't work and don't do projects, you're tired anyway. So there really was no difference.

Q. When can people see your show?
The station manager at DUTV is very shrewd when he schedules "Big Tea Party."

   We went to him before we started the project, and we knew that a long program would be beyond our means, because we all have full-time jobs. So we asked him what would be a good format. And he said the three-minute educational spot would be very helpful for stations like his around the country because some programming is designed so you can put commercials in it, so this would fill that void for TV that doesn't have commercials. He puts the show on the hour, right before the hour, so when people are channel surfing, that's when a lot of people see "Big Tea Party."

"Big Tea Party" airs at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on DUTV, with more episodes airing at irregular times between other programming later in the afternoon.

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Originally published on February 25, 1999