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Ones to Watch

Heidi Moore
Photography by Sabin Orr

Heidi Moore

Five local creatives — filmmaker, musician, performer, literary dynamo, illustrator — who are having a moment



Cult Movie DirectorTHE FIRST SCRIPT THAT HEIDI MOORE EVER WROTE WAS A MOVIE ABOUT ZOMBIE STRIPPERS TITLED R.I.P. TEASE. “I actually still have it, but I wrote it when I was like 21, so it’s not me anymore,” she says, but it’s not hard to imagine the 35-year-old self-taught filmmaker throwing zombie strippers into one of her current movies. As a teen in the small town of Chester, California, Moore already had eccentric tastes, frequenting the video store for cult movies such as Gregg Araki’s Nowhere and drag-queen comedy To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. “I WOULD RENT DEMONIC TOYS ALL THE TIME WHEN I WOULD HAVE SLEEPOVERS,” SHE SAYS. No less a cult-movie icon than Troma Entertainment cofounder and The Toxic Avenger director Lloyd Kaufman is an admirer of Moore’s work, and her 2016 debut feature Dolly Deadly channels equal parts Rob Zombie and John Waters. Plenty of low-budget genre filmmakers just go for the obvious quick thrills, BUT MOORE’S AMBITIONS ARE HIGHER. Dolly Deadly is closer to an experimental film, without gore or scares in the traditional sense. The story is often impressionistic, and Moore incorporates elements such as  stop-motion animation and elaborate sound design to create an effect that’s more unsettling and discomforting than horrific. IT ALSO STARS HER SON, JUSTIN, WHO WAS JUST EIGHT YEARS OLD AT THE TIME. “He didn’t even really know what was going on,” Moore says of her son’s experience playing a deranged trailer park resident whose doll collection urges him to kill. But Justin, now 13, has become a big fan. “He’s watched it a lot with his friends,” Moore says. Thanks in part to support from Troma, Moore has completed principal photography on Kill Dolly Kill: Dolly Deadly 2, which Moore describes as “a horror rock musical,” featuring the grown-up version of the main character from the first movie. THAT’S JUST ONE OF HER MANY PROJECTS IN THE WORKS. She’s getting ready to shoot another feature in October, the story of a shut-in which will be filmed primarily at her house. “We’re just going to keep it small and see what happens,” she says. She’s contributing a segment to a holiday-themed horror anthology produced by local filmmaker Drew Marvick, and she’s putting together a pitch for a series based on her documentary feature More Blood!, available to watch for free on YouTube and Vimeo (mainly because Moore couldn’t clear the dozens of movie and TV clips she used to explore the idea of why people enjoy watching death onscreen). There’s a Blu-ray release for the original Dolly Deadly coming from Troma later this year, and the movie is currently available on Troma’s streaming service Troma Now. ALTHOUGH SHE’S ONLY BEEN IN TOWN SINCE APRIL 2017, MOORE HAS BECOME A FORCE IN LOCAL FILM. She’s starting her own film festival, too, the Medusa Underground Film Festival, set to run January 12-13 and focus on female filmmakers. “It’s an underground film festival for movies like mine, and for a lot of movies I see that are not quite horror, but they’re weird,” she says. If there’s one thing Moore knows, it’s weird. Josh Bell



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Violist/Music TeacherViola and violin player RAHMAAN PHILLIP HAS THE MAKINGS OF ROCK STAR — confident stage presence, instrumental virtuosity, good hair. So, it’s kind of weird to see him playing in the piano bar at Paris Las Vegas, wearing a beret and vest that management gave him in a crinkly plastic bag a few minutes before the gig started. A couple strolling through the casino stops at the bar’s railing, and the man asks Phillip to play “Happy Birthday” to the woman. Phillip obliges. ... THIS IS THE KIND OF JOB THAT WORKING MUSICIANS IN LAS VEGAS do to pay the bills and stay sharp. “I’ve always followed up on every opportunity,” Phillip says. “I got a late start in music. I didn’t take my first lesson until I was almost 20 years old (he’s 28 now). There aren’t very many orchestras, and I wanted to experience what it was like to be onstage.” IN ACTUALITY, PHILLIP IS A ROCK STAR. He plays with the local band he cofounded, Stoked, and tours with Elvis Monroe, a band started by the former guitar player for Lighthouse, as well as Jeff Mix and the Songhearts, who released an album and movie last year. It’s an auspicious early career for a young man who, as a kid, dreamt of being a professional skateboarder and only took band, in sixth grade, because he figured it was an easy A. He’d goof off in the back of the room, learning only what he needed to get by and not a bit more. THAT ALL CHANGED AT CARNEGIE HALL. During his senior year, his Sierra Vista High School orchestra was invited to play in an exhibition concert at the hallowed New York music venue. Phillip couldn’t understand people’s impressed reactions when he told them beforehand about the trip. He didn’t even know what Carnegie Hall was. “Being in Isaac Stern’s rooms and hearing the stories about the music legends who played there — it changed me,” he remembers. “After we played and listened to the concert, walking through Central Park, it occurred to me that music was what got me there. I said to myself, Imagine what I could do if I took it seriously.” PHILLIP’S OPEN-MINDED ATTITUDE HAS EXPOSED HIM TO A WIDE VARIETY OF MUSIC. “I’d play with older guys that had big bands, friends with guitars at open mic nights and jam sessions, country bands, reggae bands, you name it.” He’s currently recording a demo with Senegalese world music singer-songwriter King Ibu and has a gig coming up with pianist David Osborne, playing for former President Jimmy Carter in Georgia. He also occasionally performs with his girlfriend, opera singer Isabella Ivy. But don’t confuse Phillip’s industriousness with a lack of focus; HE HAS GOALS. “I want happiness, stability, and financial comfort. I want to own a house, have money in the bank, live the life of a successful accountant — but while playing music.” And, he believes, Vegas is a good place to realize those goals, for someone who’s willing to work hard. Heidi Kyser



Performer, Visual ArtistACT I: “I LET MY LIFE TELL ME WHERE IT WANTS TO GO.” We meet our hero, Heidi, a slender girl with curly dark hair and expressive blue eyes. One of three children of a self-effacing mother and retired Marine father, who says he has “itchy feet,” Heidi grows up moving around a lot — she goes to three different schools in fifth grade; 13 from kindergarten to high school. Heidi completes a performing arts program at a community college in western Washington, where her parents finally settle. She acts in a theater company there for six years while supporting herself working in a doctor’s office. Her trajectory begins to feel predictable. ACT II: “MY LIFE IS NOT TRADITIONAL IN ANY WAY, AND THAT FEELS RIGHT TO ME.” On a theater trip to New York, Heidi meets artist Gwen Arment, who takes her to Hunter College. Back in Washington, Heidi applies to Hunter’s theater program and gets in. She packs two duffel bags and moves to the Big Apple. She loves her studies, but feels something is missing until she performs a cartoony male character, triggering a strong new creative urge. On a trip to India, under the stars in the Himalayas, a teacher tells Heidi about a Northern California school called Dell’Arte International. It feels like an epiphany. Heidi interrupts her B.A. at Hunter to go to clown school, certain that it’s her calling. At Dell’Arte, she learns to make her own art instead of waiting for parts in other people’s creations — and she falls in love with Adriana Chavez, who’s doing her thesis there. ACT III: “IT’S TERRIFYING AND EXHILARATING.” Heidi returns to New York to complete her BFA at Hunter and begins a double major in painting and theater. She starts combining multiple arts in her work and learns the resonant language of white trash art. She graduates with honors and undertakes a nomadic life with Chavez, leaving New York to live on the road. Then, friends from Dell’Arte invite the couple to Las Vegas to participate in a collaborative they’re creating, Small Space Fest. In the new city, Heidi discovers a wild, supportive arts community where anything goes. Being able to take big risks bumps her work up to a new level. She signs a one-year contract with Spiegel World as an understudy for the lead female clown in Absinthe and Opium, where she brings a maniacal, sexually charged energy to the role. She and Chavez sign a one-year lease and begin collaborating on a video project. She undertakes a solo series of sculptural pieces. Her feet, for the first time in a long time, are itch-free. Heidi Kyser


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Program Manager, Black Mountain Institute and The BelieverWHAT’S A BLACK MOUNTAIN INSTITUTE? “I won’t lie,” says Sara Ortiz, laughingly at ease and shooting for max transparency as she talks amid a Friday morning’s hubbub in PublicUs, “I didn’t know what BMI was when I applied for this job.” BUT! She did admire The Believer, the hip litmag Black Mountain acquired last year and put at the center of its now signature spring event, The Believer Festival. That had cachet in the publishing and nonprofit circles she knew from past jobs with (among others) Penguin Random House and the Texas Library Association. That signaled BMI as a place worth working for. “I was excited that I’d be able to help create the weekend-long festival named after The Believer.” BUT THAT’S NOT ALL. A few months later, now fully immersed in the BMI mojo, Ortiz works on its other public programs, too, highlighted this fall by appearances by The Moth storytelling program and U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith. It is, she says, “our largest programming season ever.” BUT EVEN THAT’S NOT ALL. Then there are the writers BMI brings in on lengthy fellowships. “We have 11 fellows coming this year, which is mighty,” Ortiz says. Among them: Claire Vaye Watkins and Derek Palacio; Hanif Abdurraqib; Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. Big names to us lit fans. They’re coming primarily to write, but Ortiz is figuring out how to better circulate them in the city’s bloodstream. “I’m making it clear to them that they still are committed to some form of community engagement,” she says. Readings, school visits, public Q&As, that sort of thing. (Watkins and Palacio have proven especially receptive on that score.) The daughter of Salvadoran immigrants, Ortiz is working with schools to get authors in front of underserved students. “There’s certainly a need” for that, she says, “and we have the resources, so why not?” NICE! BUT WHAT’S ALL THIS MEAN TO, YOU KNOW, US? Ripple effects is the point here: inspired students, for one; or local literary and arts communities perhaps continuing conversations begun by Black Mountain events. “While I wouldn’t call it a large literary community here, I see a strong literary community,” Ortiz observes. And her ingenuity, backed by BMI’s institutional heft, lends Ortiz a prominent hand in shaping that community’s future. SHE MUST BE MAD WITH POWER! “I don’t at all pretend that I am bringing something crazy new to Las Vegas,” she demurs. “What I probably bring most is passion and an excitement to curate programs.” Scott Dickensheets



IllustratorHEY, DIDN’T I SEE YOUR WORK IN … in The Atlantic Monthly? In The Economist? In one of those big-deal automotive magazines? In (full disclosure) this very publication? If you’re talking to illustrator Ryan Olbrysh, the answer is yes. COOL! Cool, indeed. You may not have noticed, but 2018 has seen a distinct upward trajectory in the number and prestige of the venues that have used the distinctive photo-assemblage artwork issuing from the office of the Downtown home he shares with his wife, noted gender and sexuality scholar Lynn Comella. “To see my work appear in publications that I’ve been reading and admiring for years is thrilling,” he says. That image of the Cannes film scene with Harvey Weinstein towering overhead that appeared in The Hollywood Reporter in May? Olbrysh’s. The cluster of British actors illustrating a story about the Tony Awards in Variety a month later? His, too. YOU KNOW HIS STUFF AT A GLANCE. While there are any number of photo-collage illustrators out there, Olbrysh’s pieces have a particular look: images digitally clipped from black-and-white photos and set against a simple color background that adds a zing of abstraction for the photo-realism to play off of. Often, elements are grouped in playfully diverse scales. “I see each piece I do as opportunity to create a unique world with skewed size relationships,” he says, “where you might have a person as big as Godzilla interacting with a skyscraper as small as a doll house.” SOMETIMES, IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS. He often tucks an element of his oblique humor into his work. For example, an image in The Atlantic illustrating a story about Russell Brand’s podcast, Olbrysh noticed that the subjects included neurosurgery and filmmaking. So, amid the visuals clustered below Brand, a filmmaker aims his camera into the exposed brain of a surgery patient. Months later, it still makes him chuckle. TAKE NOTES, KIDS. Though this burst of activity required some luck, it wasn’t accidental. “I send out a lot of emails to art directors,” he says. Just cold-call stuff: Here’s what I do, hope we can work together. Sometimes they respond, often they don’t. A lot of hustle, then. “A lot,” he agrees. Nor does he eschew the little jobs; he still does plenty of work for low-paying alt-weeklies, he says. That’s just the gig economy for a full-time freelancer. BUT, OH, THOSE GOOD DAYS! “When you wake up in the morning and check your inbox and you have a commission from  The New York Times, which just happened yesterday, you think, ‘Wow! I must be doing something right!’” Scott Dickensheets

Scott Dickensheets is a Las Vegas writer and editor whose trenchant observations about local culture have graced the pages of publications nationwide.
Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and KNPR's State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022. In 2024, Interim CEO Favian Perez promoted Heidi to managing editor, charged with integrating the Desert Companion and State of Nevada newsroom operations.