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Featuring arts, humanities, and culture of Philadelphia Volume 2 Issue 4, June 2004

Garden Varieties: Big Tea Party
by Monica Pace

A mere block or two from that south Philly culinary mecca, Pat’s Steaks, grows a backyard oasis to thrill even the most hardcore carnivore. Fragrant with summer vegetables and herbs, and coils of incense to keep mosquitoes at bay, this is the garden of Big Tea Party’s Elizabeth Fiend.
“Basically, [Big Tea Party] is a snapshot of my lifestyle,” Fiend ventures. The jeweled bees on her cat’s eye glasses seem to nod in agreement.

Broadcast on Drexel University’s DUTV, and created by Fiend (writer), Valerie Keller (editor) and Gretjen Clausing (camera) this show, featuring “cooking, crafts, and anarchy,” has a distinctly Philadelphia flavor.

It’s a flavor unique as the Philly cheese steak itself.

In brief, three-minute segments, the unorthodox lifestyle program takes the viewer to Love Park, or to the local supermarket, or to a bike shop off of South Street, to demonstrate how to craft something new out of the old and familiar. The “Philly Cheese Fake,” for example, offers a vegetarian alternative to a Philadelphia tradition.

The Big Tea Party tradition began in 1998. It was Clausing, whose credits include work with the Neighborhood Film /Video Project and the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema, who suggested the idea in the first place.

“She just casually said to me one day, I think it would be good to get together to shoot a video, because we have so many projects. Drawing, cooking, all those topics,” Fiend recalls. The two shot the first five videos in one day, on location at Fiend’s house, before enlisting the talents of Keller. An acquaintance of theirs, Keller had already proven her prowess in editing films such as the PBS series “The Dinosaurs” and the Emmy-nominated “Fever.”

Big Tea Party’s trademark quick editing, colorful cartoon graphics, and down- to-earth, DIY-style craft demonstrations have earned it a large fan base among the teen set. An appearance on The Food Network’s Roker on the Road helped present BTP to a wider audience. Fiend does not take the growing admiration for their work lightly. Sipping from a glass of tomato juice, she cites a fan letter from memory.

“I got a really nice e-mail from someone who lives in a rural area in the middle of the country, and was 15. . . and she said that after her father saw me on TV, he said, ‘I have more respect for your ideas now’. And she said it made her cry. It made a huge difference to her.”

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PHILADELPHIA CITY PAPER

It’s a good thing:
Gardening and Cooking with Gretjen Clausing, Elizabeth Fiend and Valerie Keller.

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At home with Big Tea Party’s Elizabeth Fiend.

Elizabeth Fiend has become an underground celebrity in Philadelphia thanks to her eye for aesthetics. Her “cooking, crafts, and anarchy” show, Big Tea Party, has been airing in three-minute spots on Drexel University’s DUTV for the past two years. On the show, Fiend plays herself, a remarkably calm, yet zany punk-rock Martha Stewart who instructs viewers on decorating photo albums, turning Colt 45 bottle caps into necklaces and putting out a 7-inch record.

But it’s not just fans who like the show. Apparently so do the people at the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema. They’ve chosen two Big Tea Party episodes — “Philly Cheese Fakes” and “Books Without Borders” — for the Festival of Independents. City Paper caught up with a very busy Fiend and her friends for a tour of the style maven’s South Philly home, where the show is filmed.

Creativity and mischief permeate the décor of Fiend’s home. In the living room, for example, one finds a large ceramic elephant bearing a flying saucer on its back. Atop the flying saucer, a cross between a fright wig and a koosh ball slowly rotates and sparkles. It’s a knickknack so completely outside of the language of knickknacks that no logical explanation can even get near it. In a corner of the room stands a gold-painted plaster figure of a woman in a toga. It’s reasonably normal except for the accessories that festoon the woman — a violin bow, a sword and a cat-o’-nine-tails.

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Philadelphia Inquirer
Tuesday, Feb. 8,2005
By Dianna Marder

It’s free if you say your vows with a crowd

Engaged? Here’s your big chance to get a free wedding and reception.
As you might imagine, there are caveats aplenty: It’s a mass wedding (perhaps as many as 20 couples); it’s in a bar; and it will be filmed for a documentary.
Still, it’s perfectly legal as long as you get a license.

Artist/musician Elizabeth Fiend, who got her license to perform weddings from the online Universal Life Church, is offering this freebie (free for couples and their guests).

The wedding date is firm: March 14 at Bar Noir, 112 South 18th St.; A.D. Amorosi is doing the DJ-ing and the bar’s waitress, Needles Jones, will be your “flower girl.”

The whole fabulous fling will be filmed for a program about weddings on BiG TeA PaRtY, Fiend’s “television show.”

BiG TeA PaRtY is a really short (about three minutes), rather absurdist show that airs on the DISH Network on Satellite TV.

Fiend says she’s looking for as many offbeat, willing couples as she can find. And she emphasizes that the marriages will only be legal if couples get licenses.
With the typical wedding now costing upward of $20,000, why be typical?
– Dianna Marder

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PENN CURRENT


STAFF Q&A / Fast-paced household hints have moved Elizabeth Fiend up from the underground.
“I’d cook something, and my friends would say, you should do a TV show.”

ELIZABETH FIEND
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.

BY LIBBY ROSOF

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?

A. 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.

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PHILADELPHIA CITY PAPER

October 14th, 1998
New and notable local releases

Never Mind Martha Stewart

by Neil Gladstone

Party Girl: Big Tea Party hostess Elizabeth Fiend

Most Saturday afternoons, you’re probably sitting home watching the TV and wondering “Why are all of these cooking and home-improvement shows geared toward hipster-yuppies? Where’s the program for the environmentally conscious vegetarian with quasi-socialist leanings who loves to play punk rock?”

Well, your self-help prayers have been answered. More Fiends singer Elizabeth Fiend has turned her song “Big Tea Party” into a TV show.

Produced for Drexel University’s DUTV (channel 54), Big Tea Party is served in two-minute episodes which cover everything from cooking lowfat vegetarian meals to learning how to use a pitch shifter guitar pedal and making your own 7-inch. There are also plenty of craft projects like restyling vintage store coats and making malt liquor bottle cap necklaces (“This is one of my favorite projects because before you start you have to drink a 40,” says Fiend).

Though it’s a hilarious premise, there are lots of helpful tips about making seitan (and the veggie alternative to Philly cheesesteaks, Philly Cheese Fakes) and good reasons to get a pap smear (Would Martha Stewart talk about pap smears?).

Fiend is knowledgeable, but not haughty like most of those handy-hint hosts—she’s a “Philly girl” and proud of it. (If you listen closely, you can hear cameraperson Gretjen Clausing giggling in the background.)

The Folks from Big Tea Party are having a party to celebrate the show on Friday, Oct. 16, 7:30 p.m. at the A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Ave.

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BiG TeA PaRtY 10th Anniversary Party

Sat., Dec. 8, 7 p.m., $3 donation, $5 raffle tickets, Molly’s Bookstore, 1010 S. Ninth St., bigteaparty.com.

by A.D. AmorosiPublished: December 4, 2007

Celebration:

Ten years ago, Elizabeth Fiend began writing and hosting cartoonish videos on DUTV, Drexel’s cable station, with editor Valerie Keller and camerawoman Gretjen Clausing as her partners. The collective, known as BiG TeA PaRtY, promoted healthy and zestful cooking. But anarchy and truth dominated their giddy spots and everything this trio’s done since: documentaries big and small on Philly skateboarders at Love Park and the protesters of Philly’s Republican National Convention; tutorials on environmentally friendly lifestyles. “Before Reality TV, before YouTube, BiG TeA PaRtY was doing it — and doing it better,” says Fiend. “We were trend-setters from the very beginning, starting way before anyone else with the three-minute video format, then progressing to edge-u-cational videos for the classroom.” BTP is still way ahead of the curve because their videos always have something relevant to say. You can watch them all on their community activist blog/vid site bigteaparty.com — and, of course, at Molly’s, when they host an actual PaRtY to celebrate the big 1-0.

Sat., Dec. 8, 7 p.m., $3 donation, $5 raffle tickets, Molly’s Bookstore, 1010 S. Ninth St., bigteaparty.com.

© Philadelphia City Paper
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THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
November 27th, 2002

BY: Patricia McLaughlin

Martha Stewart’s punk-rock twin wants you to eat your vegetables, recycle your wardrobe, lower your water bill, get out your glue gun, and use your imagination to improve your life.

People are always calling D.I.Y. diva Elizabeth Fiend “a zany punk-rock Martha Stewart”—or else an anarchist Martha Stewart or an alternative Martha or even “an anti-Martha.”

They must think it’s funny, because what could be more of an oxymoron?

In fact, she could be ready to step into the rotation at a moment’s notice should the real Martha’s face-off with New York Attorney General Elliott Spitzer over the sales of her ImClone stock render her temporarily unavailable to her fans.

But, frankly, Elizabeth (you can’t keep referring to somebody as “Fiend” through a whole story, no matter what the newspaper style manual says about second and third references) doesn’t think the Martha comparison is all that amusing and, truth to tell, she’s kind of tired of it.

True, she does a kind of anarchist, punk-rock, thrift-shop-based, environmentally sensitive, frugality-driven, pro-vegan home-ec show on TV. And yes, her idea of craft is using kitschy kitchen sponges shaped like coffee cups and percolators to potato-print a thrift-shop pleather coat, or melting an old record on top of a coffee can in a slow oven to turn it into a candy dish that really rocks.

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