THEATER Between Mugwumpin’s 10th anniversary multi-show celebration and the University of Chichester’s second annual performance-making intensive, the summer has already been a pretty good one for ensemble-driven theater. “Fury Factory” sends it over the top, this week and next, with a festival devoted exclusively to collaborative efforts in live performance from around the Bay Area and across the country. Utilizing the full plate of performance venues in the Mission’s block-sized Project Artaud, the festival (a roughly biennial offering of local theater troupe foolsFURY) offers nine main stage shows and 16 works-in-progress by groups from New York, Chicago, Austin, Atlanta, and from California, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, Oakland, Blue Lake, and Los Angeles.
It all kicked off Sunday night at Z Below with Unfinished Business 2014 (Bay Area Edition), a free works-in-progress showing from the aforementioned performance-making intensive offered by the UK’s University of Chichester and co-presenter the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) — which has come onboard as a local partner and host for the university’s forthcoming MFA program in performance-making (another sign, and a favorable one, that border-blurring devised work is on the rise locally).
As part of its effort to spotlight ensemble work locally as well as put it in a larger geographical context, “Fury Factory”‘s Saturday program includes a midday “convening” on the relationship of Bay Area theater to the wider national and international scenes — a salon whose centerpiece is a public “long table” conversation that this writer, among other folks, was invited to help lead off; followed by a screening of Austin Forbord’s 2011 documentary, Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco, with further input from the film’s lead researcher, Dr. Zack.
And speaking of tables, leading off the main stage productions this year is a work that takes place on and around one long-ass dining room setting called The Party — a weirdly intent performance soirée by the Imaginists, the admirable Santa Rosa company making its San Francisco debut at the Joe Goode Annex this week.
The piece (which I saw in an earlier version several months back) comes across as mischievously esoteric, eschewing a clear storyline for a jumble of narrative fits and starts that inevitably reflect on the power and contingency of story itself. At the same time, there are immediate, real world concerns undergirding the work, lending a sense of purpose and apprehension to its playful surfaces. For the past six years, founders and artistic directors Brent Lindsay and Amy Pinto have grown a flexible and adventurous company deeply rooted in its largely Spanish-speaking, working-class community. The group had been putting together a Christmas show featuring Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden last October when Santa Rosa was rocked by the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy. (The boy had been walking home with a toy gun at the time.) The grief and the ensuing political hailstorm emanating from that event brought the company’s production plans to a standstill. What finally emerged was The Party.
“We all came to it as a collaborative effort,” explains Lindsay, “and then we all just kept trying to clarify what the hell we were doing.” While the shooting and the politics it brutally underscored remain instigating and enduring inspirations, the play has traveled far down its own path of investigation. Its action serves less to advance an overarching storyline or moral than to conjure a substratum of desires and compulsions, a silence that speaks of what is not spoken.
“We really yearn for story, we want that,” says Lindsay. “The chaos of life won’t hand it to us. So we look to storytellers, or theater, to hand us the clean arc or the plot, we all have a desire for that. [The Party],” he laughs, “is really not giving you that at all.”
And speaking of substrata, a family-friendly main stage Bay Area premiere comes courtesy of Under the Table, a Brooklyn-based physical comedic theater ensemble. Its festival offering, The Hunchbacks of Notre Dame, follows a troupe of hunchbacked siblings trying to turn the tables on their hard luck, in something maybe just vaguely resembling the story by Victor Hugo. Yet more subsurface family-friendly comedy comes along in The Submarine Show (an SF Fringe favorite by Oakland-based Slater Penny and former Cirque du Soleil performer Jaron Hollander).
The emphasis on works-in-progress in the festival’s “Raw Materials” series, meanwhile, develops an interest cultivated in two previous iterations of foolsFURY’s separate “Factory Parts” festival, which opens up the creative process to audiences (who see several offerings for the price of a single ticket) and, in the words of co–artistic director Debórah Eliezer, “provides a rare opportunity for new work to gain critical feedback through performance and audience engagement.” “Fury Factory” offerings in this realm include two developing pieces by San Francisco’s Deborah Slater Dance Theater, another by international clown trio the Defenestrators (of Blue Lake, stomping grounds of famed Dell’Arte school of physical theater), LA’s Estela Garcia (with a piece on the Spanish-Mexican surrealist painter and anarchist Remedios Varo), Atlanta’s Danielle Deadwyler (with a “stream of consciousness mixtape listening party” exploring representations of the black female body), and two by foolsFURY (including playwright Steve Haskell’s Baden Powell Wars, about the conflicted Boer War hero and Boy Scouts founder). *
Through July 20, $16 (three performances, $39; five performances, $55)
Z Space, 450 Florida, SF
Z Below, 470 Florida, SF
Joe Goode Annex, 401 Alabama, SF
NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa, SF