Interview with Thea Brown of World of Mirth in Richmond, Virginia.
“Mirth” is defined as “merriment” or “hilarity”. So, what about an entire WORLD OF MIRTH? Lucky for you, there exists such a place! World of Mirth is a toy store unlike any other. Looking for a place to bring the kids to play dress up? Covered. Want to find a replica figurine of your favorite 80’s cartoon character? Covered. Love skeletons, puppets, or robots? COVERED. This entertainment oasis sits in beautiful Richmond, Virginia and at the helm is Thea Brown, a tattooed sweetheart with flair to spare. We decided to chat it up with Thea and get in the know about life in and around the Richmond area.
LOCATION: Richmond, VA
OCCUPATION: Buyer/General Manager
PRIMARY OBJECTIVE: Taking over the world- one toy at a time.
That varies depending on whom you talk to… I would have to say the “Squirrel Underpants” are pretty high up there in the strange realm. You know, you’re out at the park, enjoying a lovely picnic and this naked squirrel comes scampering by with everything blowing in the breeze. It needs to be stopped. And that’s where the underpants come in. Just make sure you have all your vaccinations up to date before you try to slip them on, know what I mean? And I think some of the Mexican folk art we have freaks people out that don’t know what it is- they tend to see the skulls and skeletons and think “death” instead of “celebrating life.”
Best vegetarian restaurant in town? (and best dish there?)
Richmond has a ton of good veggie eats! I’m going to have to go with a 3 way tie:
1. Ipanema- There is nothing more comforting than their Vegan Caesar Salad. The smoked tofu on it is amazing. And they make some of the meanest vegan pies and cheesecake.
2. Panda Veg- Scallion pancakes and General Tso’s Chicken. They also have a crazy buffet. Amazing.
3. Mekong- If I ever have to pick my last meal, it will be their Lemongrass Tofu and an iced coffee. Period.
If you were a Lomography camera, which would you be and why?
I’d like to say I’d be a Diana Panda, because it’s so darn cute. But I think I’m probably more like the Fisheye- practical yet a tad bit off center. I like to find the humor in the everyday mundane.
Tell us more about Richmond’s Indigenous Gourd Orchestra:
Ah, the Gourd Orchestra! These guys grow their own gourds, turn them into instruments and then compose music with them. They dress in tribal, minstrel gowns and wear crazy hats. We had them perform at the store for a Day of the Dead party a few years back. They draw a big crowd and kids of all ages love them. One of the great things about Richmond is that we tend to foster creativity in the extreme, like the Gourd Orchestra and GWAR. Can any other city claim those two bands-nope.
THE person you would most want to photograph? (and why?)
I wish I could have shot Kurt Vonnegut. His writing changed the way I viewed the world and how people treated each other.
What’s the best music venue around Richmond to shoot some killer live shows?
I would say The National. It’s an old theater that sat decomposing for too many years and was recently renovated and turned into a state of the art venue for live shows. It’s cozy but has a super tall ceiling so you never feel like it’s closing in on you. They sometimes have a no photography policy, but I’ve been able to sneak my camera in. Oops. Sorry.
Best retreat spot around town to unwind?
The Maymont Foundation. It’s an old mansion with crazy gardens, a petting zoo, creeks, boulders, bears, and bison. The Japanese Garden is by far my favorite place to go and sit and relax. There’s huge waterfall and some of the biggest koi fish I’ve ever seen. Ok, I’m scared of them at times. I never want to fall in that water. I have visions of zombie koi. But I did once get to feed a squirrel cheese there. And they have a great Nature Center there that teaches you about the James River and has 2 very frisky river otters. They should come with a NC-17 rating.
What is something that has been an inspiration to you lately?
My son Loki is a total goofball. He has made me rethink the way I view portraits. I used to take very serious images, and would them manipulate them later on with changing the colors or contrast. He’s helped me to realize that things can be fun and not so structured. Not to take myself or others so seriously. I also am really into Barry McGee’s work right now. He’s one of my favorite contemporary artists.
Favorite spot on the globe to shoot?
I have yet to go there, but I really want to make it to Tokyo. I think all the bright lights and colors would make some interesting shots. Especially juxtaposed with the old shrines and Hello Kitty statues. And they have Beard Papa! I’d like a picture of me eating Beard Papa in Japan.
What makes Richmond unlike any other place on Earth?
The absolute swamp heat and humidity that over take the city 7 to 8 months out of the year. It makes people get very creative during the short amount of any cool season we have. But the combination of the heat and the river make for some interesting porch hangouts. And even though Richmond is the capital of Virginia, it feels like a small town. You are guaranteed to know someone any place you go. It’s also a very old city with a rich history- we still have monuments down, well, Monument Avenue. The blending of the old and new makes people very loyal to the things and people they care about. We also have a thriving grass roots arts community and a great selection of local businesses. There is something for everyone- the French Film Festival, Best Friend’s Day, the Watermelon Festival, the River Front, Shockoe Bottom. Love it or hate it, it’s really like no other place on Earth. I tried to leave twice and always made it back to RVA.
Time to geek out – Which Buffy character do you most relate to? (and why?)
Oh great, now everyone will know my not-so-secret shame! After much thought (and many viewed episodes), I probably relate most to Xander. He always means well and is super loyal, but since he doesn’t have any powers or extreme strength, most people think he gets in the way. And yes, he gets knocked out a lot. Pretty much every episode. But he always come through and saves the day, even if he doesn’t get the credit for it.
Thea’s Advice of the Day: Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, even if that naysayer is you. And don’t let the Lomo kids know you are a secret Buffy nerd.
Check out some shots taken by Thea and the World of Mirth team, as well as an inside look at the shop: