The Performant: Cheers for fears

Pub date November 10, 2010
SectionPixel Vision

Scoping out “After Dark” at the Exploratorium and a Mark Growden singalong

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.” –H.P. Lovecraft

Bolshephobia is the fear of Bolsheviks. Sesquipedalophobia is the fear of long words, which does rather beg the question, how do people with that particular fear express it without using the eight-syllable word that defines it? At this month’s After Dark event at the Exploratorium, fear was the theme explored, and confronting one’s fears directly, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, strongly encouraged.

We’ve learned to accept fear as an instinct of self-preservation, yet on the surface, so many fears seem downright petty, even ridiculous. Take, for example, the “phobia trading cards” we were urged to grab on our way in. Mine: fear of vomiting (emetophobia). Theresa’s: fear of men (androphobia). Once inside, we made a beeline for the joint San Francisco Bay Area Tarantula Society/East Bay Vivarium,. What is it about creepy-crawlies that make the skin crawl? All around us, giant cockroaches, scorpions, and spiders were adorning outstretched palms, and snakes were slithering up forearms and around the necks of museum patrons.

I opted to handle a relatively user-friendly duo, a Chilean Rose Tarantula and a sleepy Pacific Gopher Snake. Theresa would not hold a snake, but she got to watch me flinch soon enough at the Pendulum of Truth. Placed behind safety shields, facing each other, we were urged to swing a bowling ball on a chain at each other’s faces. Being bashed by a flying bowling ball is not something I expect to happen to me regularly, but when confronted with one, I can attest, yes, it’s a very real fear. Less frightening was being locked in the Utica Crib, a reproduction of a nineteenth-century restraining device used primarily at the New York State Lunatic Asylum, though I suspect I’d weary of it soon enough after a few hours—or days.

There were people practicing tightrope-walking, watching dentistry demonstrations, and confronting the pitch black interior of the Tactile Dome as we headed over to the McBean Theatre for a presentation on Nightmares by dream expert Dr. Alan Siegel. Ever had that one dream where all your teeth crumble and fall out at once? Dr. Siegel can tell you why.

One fear shared by entirely too many people is the fear of singing in public. At least that’s a fear that has a cure—practice practice practice. Happily, it didn’t seem like fear was the driving force behind people’s decisions to attend the Mark Growden Sing-along at a.Muse Gallery Saturday night.
Part grade-school music class, part hootenanny, we warmed up our vocal chords with some scales and some tongue-twisting folk tunes before tackling the Mark Growden repertoire, mostly songs from Saint Judas (Porto Franco Records, 2009). Unlike the forced make-or-break centerstage experience of a karaoke bar, a sing-along’s success lies in its collaborative nature, from each according to their abilities. The informal, free-for-all atmosphere of the evening brought the old adage “if you can talk, you can sing,” to convivial life, and whatever fear was up to that evening, it most certainly wasn’t hanging out with us.