The Performant

The Performant: Epochalypse Now


Embracing the great unknown
While it could be argued that every day represents a new year, with each date falling exactly one year after the last, like unconscious clockwork, there’s something comforting in the ritual of observing the change in calendar year en masse. A time to take accounts, and make new goals. A time of psychic housekeeping: ridding oneself of the spiritual and mental detritus of the past, in order to make space for a future as yet undefined.

All of which is on my mind as I prepare to bang out my last Performant, at least for the time being. During the last three-and-a-half years I’ve witnessed hundreds of performances, featuring thousands of performers, in venues large and small, each one a brief, incandescent flame feeding into a bonfire of epic creativity. House concerts, punk shows, spoken word, street festivals, performance art meditations, live comedy, high drag camp, amateur wrestling competitions, robot soccer, battle rap, obscure cinema, alternative dance, home theater, and circus arts have all found a place in the Performant, proving, I hope, that just as borders geographical and psychological can be transcended, so too can artistic ones.

But, point proven, the Performant is going to take a bit of a break to focus on some other projects I’ve been neglecting. Avoiding, really. But I’ll still be out there, an ever-appreciative oddience of one, reveling in our infinity of scenes, influences, disciplines. As a parting gift, here’re a few recommendations I can make for our collective new beginning. It’s been an honor to Performant for you.
1) Godwaffle Noise Pancakes: Do you like Noise? Do you like vegan pancakes? Do you like The Lab? Duh, yes, of course you do. Usually Sundays, usually from noon-2pm, usually at The Lab, except when it’s not. By far the best-sounding brunch spot in the Mission, and no line!
2) Saturday Write Fever: It’s like a playwriting bootcamp for the broke-ass camp, this monthly event held in the café of the EXIT Theatre brings together budding monologists — writers and actors both — for an evening of spontaneous writing and seat-of-your-pants performance. Writers have 30 minutes to prepare a new piece, riffing off a common theme, and then each mini-script gets a quicky performance treatment by members of the oddience. It’s free, it’s fresh, it’s fearless, and frankly, it sounds like a hell of a lot of fun.
3) The Cynic Cave: Actually, it would hardly matter what “the Cynic Cave” was, I’d have to go for its name alone. But the fact that it’s a literally underground comedy club ensconced in the basement of my fave local video store, Lost Weekend, makes it a total win. Hosted by George Chen and Kevin O’Shea, the Cave has quietly hosted some of the Bay Area’s funniest humans for just $10 a pop since 2012.
4) Boxcar Theatre’s Speakeasy: Boxcar Theatre has always had a knack for thinking outside of the (black) box, and this totally immersive, three-and-a-half hour-long performance sounds like their most enterprising yet. Like Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, the interactive show promises to be different for each individual participant, a self-directed foray into the seedy underbelly of a 1920’s Speakeasy, populated by showgirls, war veterans, blackjack dealers, and bootleggers, each of whom has a story arc which can be followed to its end, or abandoned halfway through in favor of another. In short, prepare to go a couple of times to get a real sense of what’s going on, and don’t be shy about eavesdropping. Or playing a round of roulette.
Honorable mentions: Katabatik, Ask Dr. Hal, Undercover Presents, DJ Purple Dance Karaoke, Playland Not-at-the-Beach, Shaping San Francisco Public Talks

The Performant: To Boldly Go


Resurrecting the Exquisite Corpse
Welcome to the Starship Dental Prize. A vessel so intrepid it dares to probe the darkest, dankest folds of outer space, not to mention the incandescent snarls of surrealistic whimsy. Fish. Squonk. Celine Dion. Her stalwart crew includes a sassy computer powered by illogic (Becky Hirschfeld), a vodka-swilling ensign Anton Anton (Bryce Byerley), psychic science officer Mentoo Fractosa (Chandler White), and a pelvic-thrust obsessed captain Oliver Clozoffe (Jody Frandle). Her mission, undetermined. Her story, as yet unwritten.

The third in an ongoing series of “Exquisite Corpse” theatrical events spearheaded by members of Foul Play Productions and Stage Werx, the evening’s production, entitled Defenders of Intergalactic Donuts: They Dared to Conquer Infinity, admittedly doesn’t have much to do with donuts in the end. Scripted on the spot by oddience members who are given a choice of random props and three minutes to pen a few crucial lines of dialogue without seeing the lines that come before (except the very last), the resultant play dwells at the crossroads of blind chance and organized chaos. Or as host and “Voice of Stage Directions” Mikl-em points out in his welcome speech, it’s a “piece of art … that no one would make on purpose.”  Purpose be damned, let’s play.

The Exquisite Corpse writing game was popularized by the surrealists in the early part of the 1900s, in which a word or series of words would be written on a blank page by the first player then passed on to the next, whose own contribution would follow a previously agreed upon sequence (i.e. noun adverb verb) or spring off of whatever the last line of the previous contribution was. Adapted into a theatrical format by the San Francisco Cacophony Society in the 1980s, the corpse has been recently revived down at Stage Werx as an occasional occurrence, taking on film noir and sci-fi tropes with equal verve. I’m still holding out for a musical (hint to organizers).
The first hour of the evening is one part cocktail party, one part scriptwriting boot camp, as attendees are first encouraged to mingle with the cast in order to get a bead on their personalities in order to write lines of dialogue for them. From the outrageous, androgynous intergalactic rock star Lord Lady Chameleon (Gerri Lawlor) to her estranged sister and chanteuse Camilla Chameleon (Christina Shonkwiler), to the television-obsessed Queen Vixxnord! (Dawn Corine) and her evil sidekick Professor Fritzdoctorsteinberg (Brendan Hill), each character has just enough backstory (not to mention improv training) to keep the party patter flowing along with a few choice libations and some groovy, space lounge tunage. After some chit-chat, each oddience member gets a crack at the script, and the results are predictably unpredictable.
As the actual play unfolds, part of the fun becomes trying to guess which person is responsible for penning the mort disturbed set of lines which include such gems as “I’ve got glitter in my ass-crack,” “I liked them better when they were dead,” “No tickling for you, I fear,” and “I’m feeling festive, we’re heading to planet Get-down-get-down.” Plot twists are as varied and muddled as the frantic search for the correct props becomes, but some universal truths do still manage to shine through. Rock stardom may have little to do with actual talent but much to do with seduction. Desire is a universal drive. Always look on the bright side of life (whistle, whistle). If you’ve got it, flaunt it … and if you flaunt it, make sure people are wearing sunglasses. Hiccup. Weevil. Splat.

The Performant: Sleep No More


Upon reaching the fifth floor of the California Institute of Integral Studies, a wall of makeshift web diagrams asks arriving oddience members to detail what the longest amount of time they went without sleep was, and what do they tell themselves to get through stress. The average appears to be around 36 hours — which is about as long as I can boast — but no responders quite match the Guinness Book record of 449 hours held by Maureen Weston, nor even to the 60 hours that Mugwumpin, creators of performative “occurrences,” intend to stay awake in this, its last presentation of the year, Asomnia.

More of an experiment in endurance than a traditional performance marathon, Asomnia ushers in what artistic director Christopher W. White promises to be a season focused on the theme of exhaustion. A rigorous schedule of private confessionals, cognitive testing, hygiene and wellness breaks, group check-ins, and meals are interspersed with performances staged for those in attendance, as well as the time necessary to create them. Every two hours a new piece is ready to be performed for whoever has dropped by at that time, whether it’s 4pm or 4am.
The room feels especially conducive to this kind of experiment. Book shelves of philosophical, political, and artistic content line one wall; mirrors, another. A mural of jagged, abstract lines adorns the “stage” area, while a bank of windows offer a spectacular view of the skyline from dusk to dawn to dusk again. Wooden drafting tables, brightly-colored metal stools, and comfy chairs appear scattered almost randomly, and a low table laden with munchies and a fortifying tea kettle invites judicious snacking.

“We’ve been eating a lot,” performer Michelle Talgarow tells me as she gives me a tour of the space around the 30-hour mark. She’s surprisingly alert despite having just performed a medley of musical numbers under the direction of guest artist Erika Chong Shuch, one of four non-asomniancs to direct the “process-oriented performance showings,” or “POPS.” The highlight of Shuch’s piece is almost certainly the moment she places her eight-month-old son Wakes on the ground with the performers and has him “choreograph” a segment to the music of Peter Cetera. The performers seem to appreciate both its whimsy as well as the opportunity to get off their feet for a few minutes, and Wakes basks in his spotlight with the casual aplomb of a pro.

I return around the 35-hour mark and again at the 59-hour mark, when the six core performers (Talgarow, White, Ashley Rogers, El Beh, Stephanie DeMott, and Natalie Greene) present the final POPS: a “best-of” compilation of their favorite performative moments from the weekend. How they even remember what they are is impressive to me, and they range from purely playful (a segment involving sunglasses and the music of Esquivel) to an esoteric game of “Blind Man’s Bluff,” from an impromptu group dance party set to “Drinking in Spanish,” by Diego’s Umbrella, to an equally participatory mirroring exercise involving everyone in the room.

The line between spectators and spectatees, already blurred under the extreme circumstances dissolves completely at this point, the only thing continuing to separate us is amount of sleep we’ve had over the past three days. I can think of no other performance I’ve been to in recent memory where oddience members brought cookies and kittens to fortify the performers, and performers offered gracious cups of tea, hugs, and unfiltered access to their completely vulnerable, sleep-deprived psyches. Sure, ultimately the event comes off as more of a congenial scientific experiment than a cohesive work of theater, but for White, that’s precisely the point.

“Primarily we’re doing this piece as research,” he explains prior to the marathon via email. “And as part of (our) ongoing interest in integrating the audience into the process of making a show, we decided to conduct this research publically.” No word yet on how many hours of sleep each performer got to indulge in that night, but perhaps we’ll discover the results in a future piece.

The Performant: Home is where the art is


Valencia Street art space struggles to retain its physical and spiritual existence
Sometimes you stumble across places that just feel like home the instant you step across the threshold. Maybe not the kind of home where you lounge around in sweatpants binging on Dynamo Donuts and Netflix, but a home that offers comfort for the spirit, where creativity and intention reign. Curiosity shop, design showcase, and artist enclave, Viracocha at 998 Valencia Street has been one such home for many, from the poets who helped build its pallet-wood walls, to the neighborhood literati who donated to and borrowed from Ourshelves, the private lending library that until very recently occupied the back of the building, to the acoustic musicians and spoken-word artists who gathered in the basement to perform and to connect, to the visual artists whose work was treated as décor first and merchandise almost as an afterthought.

One part art installation, one part community outlet, and one part ostensible retail venture, the four year-old Viracocha feels far older, thanks perhaps in part to its proximity to the venerable Artists’ Television Access, or a lingering resonance from santería supply store Botanica Yoruba, which occupied the same space for many years. Stepping inside always feels like stepping through a cool, jazz-infused looking-glass into a parallel world where life is art and art is life, and all that other stuff doesn’t matter quite as much as you thought it did. Plus, typewriters.
But it’s a brave new Valencia Street, and in matters of merchantry (some of that “other stuff” we wish didn’t matter) it’s an increasingly challenging atmosphere in which to be experimenting with idiosyncratic business models. And as many creatives-turned-commercialists have discovered, sinking all of your energies into commerce can sap those same energies from creation, and balancing the two can be a constant struggle. So it wasn’t exactly a surprise when Viracocha announced that it was raising funds in order to reorganize in the new year, a reorganization that includes proprietor Jonathan Siegel passing the baton to an as-yet unnamed group of successors, and applications for permits to legalize the heretofore “secret” performance venue below the floorboards of the retail space. Not a surprise, but still a sad shock. We like our quirky empires to remain unchanged and unperturbed by the pressures of the outside world, even when clinging onto the “old ways” can mean driving them out of existence. It’s an often unspoken conundrum, but retaining loyalty is a delicate balance too.
It began as much an experiment as anything else. The idea of a space that put the art before the consumption of it had come to Siegel years before while he lived in New York working as an actor and in the construction industry. After moving to San Francisco in 2005 he became a known denominator on the poetry scene, including as the organizer for the Poetry Mission reading series at Dalva, and as a member of the erstwhile Collaborative Arts Insurgency. And when he signed a lease on the space in 2009, it was to members of the latter that he turned for assistance in building the space up from scratch, a modern-day barnraising where a vision of community was constructed along with each new wall. A community Siegel refers to as “an orphanage for the lost creative spirit inside all of us,” where practitioners of many mediums might find a place to commune, and where patrons of same might come to discover new artists and new-to-them treasures in a non-pressured, almost anti-commercial environment.
While the future of Viracocha is still uncertain and dependent in large part on what repairs and modifications are deemed necessary by the city (ADA-compliant elevator and restroom for starters, an expense Siegel claims is manageable) and what kind of entertainment venue permits the space is able to secure in the new year. But from Siegel’s POV, he’s leaving Viracocha’s future in capable hands (“the (people) coming onboard don’t want to see the energy of the space shift into something radically different”). As for his own future, he alludes to completion of not one but four books in the works, and a reconnection with his own creativity.

“It’s time for me to let go of many things in my world and rebuild from within,” he muses via email, a sentiment which seems to apply also to Viracocha, and its current state of rebirth, and pretty apropos both for a space named for the Incan god of creation, and for the modern-day visionary who named it.

 (Full disclosure: the author’s collaborative literary bike map is currently for sale at Viracocha.)

The Performant: Dead man’s party


Despite the supposed onset of winter, it’s another sunny day as I pedal up to the San Francisco Columbarium, a stately domed edifice perched at the end of a discreet cul de sac off Geary and Arguello. Currently operated by the secular Neptune Society, the Columbarium is one of the last remaining repositories for the dead within San Francisco city limits, the majority of San Francisco’s deceased having been relocated to Colma from the turn of the 20th century on. A group of about 30 curiosity seekers have gathered at the gates. We’ve all come for an Obscura Society “field trip,” in this instance a tour of the iconic structure, led by the man who has been credited with almost single-handedly presiding over the Columbarium’s resurrection from decades of neglect, Emmitt Watson.

The Obscura Society is an offshoot of four year-old online encyclopedia of wonder, Atlas Obscura, and other local excursions have included ones to Suisun Bay, the Albany Bulb, the San Francisco Motorcycle Club clubhouse, an abandoned train station in Oakland, the Zymoglyphic Museum of San Mateo, and an after-dark tour of the Woodlawn cemetery in Colma. Like a darker, more relentless version of Nerd Nite with stronger drinks and more historians, its Tuesday night salons at the DNA Lounge are equally expansive, covering a whole gamut of hidden histories on topics such as vigilantes, rum-runners, the Donner Party, rail transportation, and absinthe.

Atlas Obscura senior editor Annetta Black eagerly explains the society’s zeal for local exploration. “Originally we [Atlas Obscura] were focused on the idea of far away exotic places, but then we realized that we were falling prey to the idea that the world is only interesting if it’s far away. Once I discovered that I could travel in my hometown with the same sense of curiosity I would apply to Angkor or Paris, it opened up a world of infinite possibilities.”
But back to the Columbarium. Once part of the Odd Fellows cemetery that was relocated in 1929, the Columbarium spent the next few decades rotting from neglect — preserved on paper as a historic landmark, but lacking a caretaker. The loquacious Watson lists its former defects including “cobwebs, fungus, slime, pigeons, and raccoons,” in such quantities that it took him awhile to realize the building wasn’t an empty shell, but a mausoleum for hundreds of cremains, each interred in the walls in a honeycomb series of niches, which he playfully refers to as “apartments.”

Now the Columbarium gleams in the late morning sun, the glass-paneled niches catching the mellow light streaming in the intricate stained glass windows. The baroque trim has been painstakingly hand-painted rose and sky-blue by Watson, who calls them colors of life. Small mementos decorate the later niches, like a series of found-object still lifes: martini shakers, whiskey bottles, baseballs, teddy bears, glass slippers, lottery tickets, love letters, mardi gras beads, hundreds of photographs. 

It’s impossible at times to not get separated from the main group, so if Watson mentions one of what I consider to be the most striking characteristic of the Columbarium’s more recent dead I don’t hear him. But as a secular sanctuary, the Columbarium is perhaps the only place I’ve visited where gay couples are buried together in the manner of heterosexual husbands and wives in conventional cemeteries. That there are so many casualties of the AIDS crisis or, as with a memorial built for Harvey Milk (whose ashes were scattered elsewhere), by acts of violence, is an unhappy reality, but at least they have been laid to rest in a place where their equality is never questioned, and the full sum of their lives and loves cause for celebration. Better yet, with a new wing, the Columbarium is open to newcomers and, in death at least, all are welcome.

The Performant: Louder, faster, more!


When a friend of a friend held his 33 1/3rd birthday party, he filled the rooms of his apartment with turntables and stacks of LPs for his guests to play themselves. It was basically the best party ever, and a good argument for propagating the tradition of celebrating that particular milestone. And of course what better milestone to celebrate if you’re in the music business, like long-time independent label Alternative Tentacles? Particularly in a business climate unkind to independent anything, to be able to celebrate three-plus decades of sticking it to the establishment at all is some cause for jubilee.

Of course there are pitfalls to growing older, which I only discovered when I got to the Alternative Tentacles blowout anniversary show at Slims at the perfectly respectable club-going hour of 11pm, to discover that I had missed most of the show. Well, I never! Not only had a missed out the rare opportunity to see one of my personal musical heroes, Mojo Nixon, tear it up in his indomitable, breakneck way, but I didn’t really get a chance to soak in the atmosphere building up to the main event: headliners Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine.

Fortunately even if my flow was off, the band’s was not, and the fast and furious set punctuated by politicized bon-mots and observations was classic JB. Jello Biafra, of course, is the founder and overlord of Alternative Tentacles, former frontman of the Dead Kennedys, spoken-word raconteur extraordinaire, and occasional political candidate, and while he was sporting the unlikely trimmed beard and mustache combo of “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” his voice was still the strident, yodel of days of yore, and his stage persona full of ham.

Humor and politics have always been the hallmarks of Jello’s work, which songs like “Burgers of Wrath,” “Pets Eat Their Master,” and “Kill the Poor,” perfectly encapsulate, and except for an awkward stagedive that didn’t quite go anywhere, Biafra’s stage performance was as energetic as ever, thankfully proving that aging doesn’t have to be about being graceful, and a punk show that ends at midnight can still rock.

Meanwhile on the other side of the city, an unexpected Alternative Tentacles connection represented at the Emerald Tablet, where Philadelphian Joseph Gervasi held a screening of his Philly punk-scene archive project, Loud! Fast! Philly!, and his co-host/co-organizer turned out to be Jesse “Luscious” Townley, formerly of the Philly scene, and general manager of Alternative Tentacles, who DJ’d an eclectic set before the show.

Originally compiled in the earlier part of the year, Loud! Fast! Philly! was originally shown at the Cinedelphia Film Festival as an “interactive” audio-visual presentation combining old home movie-style footage of various Philly punk bands with live commentary from members in attendance. But in compiling the project, Gervasi realized it was the stories behind the videos he really wanted people to have access to. Thus began the second arm of the project: an audio archive of interviews with a variety of old school Philly punks, which lives in perpetuity online.

Truthfully the archive is probably the most fascinating part of the project. The video clips, while offering a fascinating peek at a particular time and place (and substandard quality of recording devices), don’t offer nearly the same breadth and depth of history as do the interviews. That said, rare footage of bands like More Fiends, Flag of Democracy, Dead Milkmen, and R.A.M.B.O. were unique and frankly humorous enough to transcend their shaky amateur quality and insider appeal, and provided a weirdly cohesive portrait of an ever-morphing scene, from the 80s to the present.

The Performant: Games people play


Ask any gamer, or specialist in pedagogy, and they’ll say the same thing: games are as important to human development as any the rest of our skill-building activities. There’s evidence of game-playing in almost every culture dating all the way back to ancient Sumeria and Egypt. They also offer an entrance point into other cultures, whether by playing a familiar game like chess and seeing how it translates in an unfamiliar environment, or by learning a game representative of a particular place — Xiangqi (Chinese chess), say, or Ghanaian Oware.
But while some games have been around for literally thousands of years, other games seem to drop off the radar almost as quickly as they appear. What essential component gives games like Go, hide-and-go-seek, poker, Monopoly, and Super Mario Brothers such staying power over some of their, perhaps best forgotten peers? This is a question the game designers of San Francisco’s annual Come Out and Play Festival must ask themselves each year, as they present their latest inventions in the hopes of capturing the imaginations, and just maybe the funds, to bring their games to the public at large.

Since the festival itself is free, it’s always fun to drop by for a few hours to see what’s being played. Attending Saturday, myself and my buddy in game, P., stopped to peek at the Mime Boxing tournament, a rowdy free-for-all of imaginary walls and temporary alliances, and play a round of the tabletop Thrown Into Chaos, before assuming our roles as Prohibition-era booze smugglers in Rumrunners, a two hour-long treasure hunt and commodities exchange scenario.

Sent out into the world with a packet of money and a series of orders, we purchase “booze” from a pair of nattily dressed mobsters standing on the street corner, and then hurry to our first drop off point, in order to make more money, in order to buy more booze. We split up in order to make it more confusing for the “agents” who pop out of the shadows occasionally, clipboards in hand, and try to shake us down for the booze we fortunately never have on us when they ask, though one tries to run off with a $500 bill at one point which we protest vigorously.

We come in fifth out of 10 teams, thanks to a pair of particularly persistent agents who stake out one of the drop-off points for at least 20 minutes, forcing us to circle the same block again and again until they leave.
Transitioning into the hide-and-chase game Witness Protection Plan, we draw cards with our characters printed on them: Witness, Detective, Suicide Bomber, Assassin, Handler, Civilian, etc. The “Witness” hurries off to hide, and then the rest of the players spread out through the neighborhood to find them. One-third of the players have to find the witness and hide with them before any assassins or traitors find them first, and each round lasts just 10 minutes, which makes for a tenser, more physically demanding game than Rumrunners.

As far as involved and demanding goes, the centerpiece game of the festival, the annual Journey to the End of the Night can be both, an epic, miles-long scavenger hunt replete with checkpoints, chasers, safe zones, and an outdoor after-party in a unique setting (this year, Corona Heights Park). P. is “game” for it, but I’ve neglected to pre-register so I head off, but before I do we play a few rounds of Stranger Danger, an ice-breaker game clearly aimed for the teen-to-20-something demographic (sample question: “What color describes how horny you are right now?” Answer from stranger: “That’s an awkward question to ask me in front of my 13-year-old brother”).

Whoops, well, still a few bugs in that system, but keep it up friends. Someday you might come up with the next Twister! Now there’s a game with staying power.

The Performant: This is Halloween


Nothing quite says “Happy Halloween” like an evening full of splatter gore and general mayhem, and this year there were several options to choose from, including an interactive zombie apocalypse battle royale at Chez Poulet and a multi-level haunted house extravaganza at the Old Mint which promised similarly to let patrons “live the horror movie,” hopefully sans actual evisceration of ticket-holders, but these are dangerous times we’re living in. On the theatrical front we had the Thrillpeddlers strutting their creepy stuff onstage at the Hypnodrome (through Nov. 23), buckets of blood and teen angst at Ray of Light’s Carrie: The Musical, and a brief, yet enGROSSing run of the thematically-appropriate Grand Guignol, co-produced by Pianofight.

Not the straightforward revivalism practiced by the Thrillpeddlers, this Grand Guignol is both a play about, as well as a direct descendent of, the form. Penned by Kneehigh Theatre’s Carl Grose, the play centers mainly on one of the most prolific playwrights of the Théâtre du Grand Guinol’s heyday, André de Lorde (Christopher Sugarman) and his sometime collaborator, psychologist Alfred Binet (Thaddeus Bing). Plot points and diversions from several of de Lorde’s best known plays, including The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, Crime in a Madhouse, and The Laboratory of Hallucinations are woven throughout the piece, and the rogue’s gallery of characters are mostly pulled from the actual pages of history — such as Max Maurey (Brian Trybom), the theater’s tireless proprietor and promoter, inventive propsmaster Paul Ratineau (Raymond Hobbs), and actress Paula Maxa (Christy Crowley) “the most-assassinated woman in the world” and original “Queen of Scream”.

Opening with a scene set in a mental institution, the play pulls the oddience quickly into the exaggerated aesthetic of the Grand Guignol, as it becomes quickly apparent that the inmates are running the asylum, and blood-drenched violence ensues until an excitable patron runs up onto the stage and faints with shock, an act that heartens the small company as they think he is a critic who will give their play a rave (perhaps raving) review. Instead it turns out he is Binet, and the seeds for his future artistic collaboration with de Lorde are thus sown.

Bing as Binet bubbles over with nervous tension, while Sugerman’s de Lorde is so pale and withdrawn he appears a specter haunting the corners of his own life, though in truth it is the ghost of Edgar Allen Poe (Cooper Carlson) who comes to haunt him more frequently, a pushy creative partner offering his own work up for adaptation (such as the aforementioned Doctor Tarr). Pianofight regular Christy Crowley inhabits the body and reputation of Maxa with devilish relish, dying dramatically on demand, while Andy Strong rounds out the capable cast as actor George Paulais, whose ego is only exceeded by his extreme self-interest. A side-plot involving the identity of a real-life serial killer who stalks Montmartre results in the play’s most gleefully gross-out moment, and Binet’s unlikely collaboration with de Lorde results in perhaps the messiest artistic divorce since, well, ever.

Messy is a byword of the Grand Guignol, and a segregated splatter zone surrounds the stage, crammed with patrons who have paid extra for the privilege of being randomly drenched by stage blood. It’s a bit of an awkward set-up, the gap between the zone and the rest of the seating is so large it’s almost as if one were perched in the balcony, or in the back of an art-house movie theater, a little too far removed from the up-close and too-personal proximity that really amplifies the Grand Guignol experience. Thankfully Pamila Z. Gray’s lighting, Hannah Birch Carl’s sound design, and Pandora FX helped amp up the bawdy, bloody atmosphere, and as far as All Hallows’ Eve experiences go, an evening at Grand Guignol was a worthy treat.

The Performant: Alley up!


Clarion Alley Block Party still standing strong

It’s an age-old paradox of urban living that no matter how much there is to do and see it’s a) impossible to experience it all and b) so easy to take it all for granted. And it’s really not such a stretch to figure out that the more we take for granted the more chance there is that one day those things we love will disappear.

Of course a certain amount of flux is healthy, and part of what makes a city vibrant is that it’s a place where new ideas and new energies take root and flourish far more readily than in more insular, more homogenous spaces. And for every street corner band that’s moved indoors, every homey café long gone, every poetry brawl, punk rock peepshow, robot sex symposium, marching band parade, and nomadic dance party that have dropped off the radar, there’s bound to be a new crew of upstart art-agonists rising up to fill the empty spaces, it’s just finding the will or time to seek them out that can be daunting. They’re worth the effort. But sometimes we don’t want to have to put in so much effort.

Like comfort food for the underground, some perennial events are still staking out the remnants of, if not the long-distant past, at least the 90s, where the foundations for much of what is now taken for granted were formed. The Clarion Alley Block Party is one such remnant, and still going strong, as Saturday’s event proved.

Blessed by mild weather and a musically diverse lineup of beloved local bands, attending the annual celebration and fundraiser for CAMP (Clarion Alley Mural Project) was a bit like attending the reunion party that more reunion parties should aspire to be like, full of familiar faces and a distinct lack of hubris.

 A couple of new murals glowed from the colorful walls which have been evolving since 1992, a who’s-who of notable works including Chuy Campusano’s homage to Picasso’s Guernica; Jet Martinez’ fantastical, Tomi De Paola-esque landscape Lo Llevas por Dentro; and a venerable, twitchy elephant by Andrew Schoultz, crowded into a much too confined space. Of the newer works, a comic strip detailing the adventures of modern-day, anti-overdose superheroine, Narcania, by Erin Amelia Ruch and Mike Reger (of Mission Mini-Comix infame); an image of busy cartoon ants working over the pale blue corpse of a gadget-toting, tech-type by Mats Stromberg; and Megan Wilson’s playfully anti-capitalist Tax the Rich (with its bed of smiling flowers that carpet the sidewalk) are perhaps the most eye-catching, and provocatively relevant to some of the abiding concerns of the neighborhood.
Of course it wouldn’t be a proper block party without bands, and Clarion Alley always manages to put together a creative and raucous all-day show on its twin stages. Highlights for me this year included a bombastically sludgy set from three-piece doom metal outfit HORNSS; a noisy, drone-y, industrial meets hardcore set from masked musical marauders Death Cheetah; and a sweaty, climactic apotheosis of sound from the last band of the evening, old school rabble-rousers, Apogee Sound Club.

The smell of cigarettes, dope, cheap beer, and tamales mingled in the still evening air, revelers in their Halloween costumes bobbed their heads in time to the tunes, and the only real sign of the times was the occasional ipad lifted aloft for photo-taking, which, given the casual nature of the event, didn’t even seem that intrusive. Proving, at least in the moment, that art and innovation can coexist if we let them.

The Performant: Cheers for fears


If you consume the news at all you’ll find a lot to be afraid of that seems endemic to the modern age: swine flu, restless leg syndrome, Ellis Act evictions, terrorist sleeper cells, compromised data privacy, zombie attacks. But despite its almost constant presence in our lives, this kind of fear merely creates a continuous low-grade malaise, an emotional state which appears to benefit only the evolution of pharmaceutical companies and the self-help book publishing trade.

So it’s no wonder that in our search for “real” sensation, we often turn towards a more primal state of fear. The sort of fear that compels us to skydive out of airplanes, ride roller coasters, and surf giant waves, activities designed to trigger that survivalist fight or flight instinct that we then harness for our own adrenaline-generating, sensation-seeking purposes. The kind of fear that compels us to visit that most seasonal of attractions: the haunted house.

There are haunted houses designed to make you laugh and haunted houses designed to make you scream, and ideally a bit of each, a giddy state of being which San Leandro’s Fear Overload makes a considered effort to provide.

Conveniently located just steps away from the Bayfair BART, in an innocuously suburban shopping center, the R-rated Fear Overload contains two separate labyrinths for its patrons to struggle through: “Ward 9” (a supposed asylum for the criminally insane), and the macabre Abusement Park. Both are equally blood-drenched and disorienting, and are welcome throwbacks to the glory days of haunted houses where the highest-tech prop on display was a guillotine, and the real scares came from the all-too human element lurking in the shadows ready to pounce. Let’s just say ironic detachment won’t get you very far in Fear Overload, and thank goodness for that.

At the door to Ward 9, my companion T and I are handed an almost completely useless flashlight and bid a hearty farewell, the door slamming behind us like a butcher’s cleaver. To navigate the dark and claustrophobically narrow corridors with a pencil-thin beam of intermittent light proves both unnerving and hilarious, and as each twist of the path leads to room after room of blood-splattered furniture, swinging doors and rattling cupboards, rotting corpses with dramatically gory headwounds and severed limbs, dungeon walls lined with bodies in straitjackets, oh, and living monsters who delight in leaping out of random corners our anticipation grows into a kind of delightful dread.

I’ve chosen the right partner for this foray into fear. T’s suspension of disbelief is willing and open, her cool quotient, like mine, hovers close to zero, and she is more than happy to let me hold the flashlight, which I figure could at least serve as a makeshift bludgeon should it come to that. In the FAQ comes the promise that the actors won’t touch you, at least not intentionally, but there’s no promise that won’t get in your face, and we wind up getting pretty close and personal with a lot of great makeup jobs and mask designs. Their timing, I have to say, is mostly impeccable. We scream every time.

From a theatrical standpoint, both haunted “houses” are a scenic designer’s wet dream, full of intricately-conceptualized nooks and crannies filled with scenes of extreme splatter gore. In Ward 9 we find the disturbingly shambolic nursery and the “morgue” inhabited by a double-jointed creature that slithers as much as crawls into our path to be especially evocative, and in the Abusement Park, our theatre-geek hearts are filled with admiration for the atmospheric boiler room and the horrifyingly stark and bloody women’s room, which also proves the hardest room to find our way out of (tip: ask a monster for help).

Sure, there’s not a lot of character development per se, or at least not enough to compel us to stick around and hunt for backstory, but as the protagonists of our own survival story, we make it through to the final xit relatively intact, which is really the only storyline that matters when confronting fear as a means of accessing fun.

Through Nov. 2, $19.50-35

Fear Overload Scream Park

Bayfair Center

15555 East 14th St., San Leandro

(510) 730-2221

The Performant: There will be blood


It’s Halloween season at last, a time of year when San Francisco really shines, despite the encroaching autumnal shortening of days. In fact, during the day, it’s almost hard to remember that it’s October at all, what with all of those music and street festivals soaking up the rays, but once night falls, it belongs very definitely to darker entertainments, a realm in which San Francisco excels. One of the season’s most reliable harbingers are the Thrillpeddlers and their patented evenings of Grand Guignol spectacle, Shocktoberfest!

Since 1999, Shocktoberfest has become part of the definition of Halloween in San Francisco, a ritual gathering ground for freaks, geeks, and ghouls. And although Thrillpeddlers have become synonymous with their glittery Theatre of the Ridiculous remounts in recent years, it’s their epic Grand Guignol revivals that first defined the tenebrous thrills being peddled, albeit combined with a playful wink. Shocktoberfest fare has always included bloody murder ballads and bawdy Victorian sex farces on one bill, usually four to five in an evening, and in addition to remounting classic Grand Guignol plays translated from the original French, they also recruit local playwrights to pen more contemporary pieces in the same throbbing vein.

Opening this year’s Shocktoberfest with a fleshy wallop, A Visit to Mrs. Birch and the Young Ladies of the Academy (Scene One), features not Mrs. Birch so much as her namesake discipline, meted out with great relish to a peeping maid (Julia McArthur) by a troupe of naughty schoolgirls. “That sheds some light on the Victorian psyche,” comments director Russell Blackwood drolly as he introduces the centerpiece play, Jack the Ripper.

Originally written in 1934 by André de Lorde and Pierre Chaine, the play manages to do in 45 minutes what 125 years worth of speculation has failed to do — solve the mysterious 1888 serial killing spree in London’s Whitechapel district. Norman Macleod as the overwhelmed Scotland Yard inspector, Smithson, cuts a jaded world-weary figure, desperate at all costs to capture the elusive killer, and Bruna Palmeiro plays the tough and terrified bait for his Ripper trap, Jenny Wickers, with trembling conviction and unfortunate consequences.

De Lorde’s London is a shadowy world of amoral men and monsters, with very little separating them, shrouded by the fog that obscures their most violent actions from the watchful eyes of the streets. Embodying aspects of each, John Flaw’s misunderstood yet unrepentant Jekyll and Hyde persona wears menace like an overcoat even when stripped to his long johns and trussed up in a straitjacket, insisting to the end that it’s not his fault, a touch of humanizing vulnerability.

After a sexy, slapstick song-and-dance routine Salome, penned by Scrumbly Koldewyn and directed by Noah Haydon (who also plays sinuous Salome), the evening ends with frequent Thrillpeddlers collaborator Rob Keefe’s The Wrong Ripper. Set in San Francisco during the headline-grabbing trials of alleged killer Theodore Durrant (who was eventually convicted and hanged despite his assertions of innocence), the story is as much a comment on sensation-seeking journalism as on serial murder, and how each shape our particular world view.

Side plots involving hot girls (Noah Haydon, Tina Sogliuzzo, Bruna Palmiero) pining for Durrant (Kai Brothers), an adorably schlubby cat burglar (John Flaw) and his haunted girlfriend (Julia McArthur), and an earnest young beat cop (TJ Buswell) afraid of the dark, tug the play in multiple directions, some more fully realized than others, but a signature blood-soaked plot device hearkens back to the Grand Guignol’s brutally naturalistic roots, and as always, the lights-out finale provides the oddience with a chance to scream out loud, a reviving release.

Through Nov. 23, Thu-Sat, 8pm, $30-35
575 10th Street, SF

The Performant: Up, up and away


It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman flies again.
It’s been 75 years since Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster began developing their most enduring creation, Superman, a character who would go on to change the shape of pop culture forever. The first bona-fide comic book superhero, the spandex-clad refugee from outer space inspired whole universes of imitators, each more improbable and yet strangely influential than the next, and our collective fascination for the modern pantheons of nigh-invincible beings remains virtually unabated, as one glance at a list of blockbuster movies starring caped crusaders and misunderstood mutants can attest.

While superheroes might mean big business in the movies, aside from the infamous (albeit income-generating) debacle that is Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, they’ve only rarely ventured to Broadway, and here again, was Superman the pioneer. A (very) minor Broadway hit in its day, the goofy 60s-era It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman channels the campy vibe of Adam West’s Batman and the relentless cheeriness of an Archie comic. Newly revived by 42nd Street Moon in honor of Superman’s 75th anniversary on earth, the musical is as clean-scrubbed as the titular role, whom mere mortals sometimes exasperatedly refer to as an overgrown “Boy Scout,” recalling times of more innocent entertainment if not actual innocence.

42nd Street Moon embraces this innocence with playful flair. The costume palette (designed by Felicia Lilienthal) appears to have been lifted straight from Warren Beatty’s 1990 Dick Tracy film, and the cartoon-panel backdrop (courtesy of Alvin Shiu) from a book of Lichtenstein prints. At strategic moments, giant word balloons and cardboard computers crowd the stage, and our hero frequently demonstrates his flying “prowess” by leaping clumsily into the wings. Even the villains turn out to be, if not exactly sympathetic, good comic relief, and their sinister goal is not so much to take over the planet so much as to take Superman, representative of perfection, down a notch, the preferred pastime of the small-minded.

Probably best not to dwell on the outdated gender roles that punctuate much of the action, a regrettable by-product of those “innocent” times, but at least the primary criminal mastermind of the show is not only female but also a mad scientist, Dr. Agnes Sedgwick (Darlene Popovic), proving, however thinly, that there is more to the double-chromosomed life than pining for the unattainable as does Lois Lane (Jen Brooks) or soothing the inflated egos of megalomaniacal employers as does glamorous office flirt, Sydney (Safiya Fredericks).

Lucas Coleman as Clark Kent/Superman plays his dual characters with an eager beaver likability, and a humanizing streak of self-doubt that ties both of his identities together just as surely as the single spit curl that dangles across his brow. His arch-nemesis Max Mencken (Brent Schindele) practically steals the show on the strength of his bright yellow loafers and hoofing technique alone, but his last moment of would-be glory is appropriately deflated (kids, crime doesn’t pay, and neither does petty spite!) and it’s all’s-well-that-ends-well for our underrooed protagonist, his best girl, and even for the second-tier criminal element, the hilariously inept Grimaldi family, who make tracks back to the Mamma-land before you can say arrivederci. Sure you could tap into a similar zeitgeist with a stack of Silver-age comics, but comics won’t sing to you. That’s a unique angle that 42nd Street Moon has totally got covered.

It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman

Through Oct. 20, $25-$75
Eureka Theatre
215 Jackson, SF

The Performant: I’m With the Banned


Since practically every single calendar day of the year has been appropriated by some cause or another (in this month alone we celebrated Labor Day, Patriot Day, National IPA Day, National Seat Check Day, World Rabies Day, and National Grandparents Day, to say nothing of Suicide Prevention Week, Constitution Week, and National Emergency Preparedness Week), it can be hard to keep them all straight. But one week that stands out, at least for myself is Banned Books Week (Sept 22-28), a 30 year-old tradition spearheaded by the American Library Association.

A celebration of free speech and the free exchange of ideas, especially in regards to minors and schoolchildren, Banned Books Week events range from readings to panel discussions to virtual “hangouts” across the nation. And lest you think that banned books are an anachronism of unenlightened school boards past, consider this list of the most challenged books of 2012, which includes such well-known works of obscenity such as Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and the gleefully irreverent Captain Underpants series. Lists like these are practically an invitation to read, and the persistence of certain books such as Brave New World, The Chocolate War, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings on the list over the past 10 years only speak to their enduring ability to provoke, to embolden, and to inform.

Since the single best way to celebrate Banned Books Week is solitary in nature, I opted for the second-best way, which was to head over to the Emerald Tablet for their flagship reading series: “Under the Influence.” Not a celebration of Banned Books per se, what “Under the Influence” offers is a mash-up of influential works alongside works written that were somehow inspired by them. In last Friday’s edition, excerpts of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Paula Vogel, William S. Burroughs, and Maggie Nelson were presented side by side with essays, poems, and plays about deserts, identity, pending apocalypse, and fibromyalgia, speaking less perhaps to the manufactured exile created by banning books, but instead to literature’s overarching resilience and penchant for freedom.

Colleen Hubbard was first, and immediately won me over by reading an excerpt from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars (Reynal and Hitchcock, 1939), and then an excerpt of her own writing about Denmark’s Råbjerg Mile, the largest Wanderdüne in Northern Europe. The next reader, Abe Becker, read an excerpt from Paula Vogel’s Desdemona (Dramatists Play Service, 1994) with a friend filling in the role of Desdemona while he took on Emilia, her maid. His work that was inspired by Vogel was also a play: a retelling of the play-outside-the-play in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, in which local drunk Christopher Sly is taken in by an aristocrat to be made sport of, performed by a cast of three volunteer readers.

Clint Flippen read excerpts from notable banned book Naked Lunch (Grove Press, 1962), by William S. Burroughs, then proceeded to read poems of his own that flirted with that enduring obsession we have with the apocalypse while likening the destruction of ant farms to that of destroying whole civilizations — certainly an accurate observation from the POV of the ants. Wrapping it up was Amy Berkowitz, who channeled Maggie Nelson, first in a few excerpts from her short prose meditations on a color, “Bluets” (Wave Books, 2009), and then delved into a piece of her own entitled “Tender Points,” about living with fibromyalgia.

Co-created-and-curated by local literary wrangler Evan Karp, the event’s comfy living room vibe was that of anything goes, and past readings have included influential works such as films, songs, and Shakespeare (see Becker) along with the usual prose. Last Friday of the month at 7:30, if you’d like to check it out. Snacks are provided, and donations cheerfully accepted.

“Under the Influence”
The Emerald Tablet
80 Fresno St, SF
(415) 500-2323

The Performant: For Those Who Have Rocked, We Salute You


Theater artists reflect on life on the road in this final dispatch from the 2013 fringe festival circuit.

One of the most interesting aspects of the North American fringe festival circuit is the way it makes touring with a piece of theater an accessible proposition to even typically penniless performers. It hearkens back to an era when dozens of theater companies sent themselves on cross-country tours in much the same manner as punk bands or circuses (the San Francisco Mime Troupe and the Independent Eye among them), a rite of literal passage that seems quite out of reach for most theater-makers today. This means that despite its traditional, lottery-based programming, a penchant for kingmaking still pervades the Fringe, and certain prolific artists can become as rock stars, circumventing the lottery odds by booking themselves into unofficial venues as in Edinburgh, capturing oddience attention from year to year.

One of the biggest “rock stars” of the Fringe is Canadian solo artist TJ Dawe, whose shows are both personal and cerebral, exploring themes such as bodily functions, the war of the genders, figures of influence, and more recently, the spiritual and medicinal implications of ayahuasca. He also directs and dramaturges for other artists, most notably perhaps for Charles Ross in his highly physical, fanboy homages One Man Star Wars Trilogy and the One Man Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

For a draw like Dawe, touring the circuit has its clear benefits. “I quit my day job in May 2001,” he explains in a recent email exchange. Still, success doesn’t come without hard work. Dawe estimates that he’s performed over 700 shows throughout the years, and due to his many collaborations with other Fringe artists, is often attached to multiple shows in one season, including a record six in 2008. But even with a modicum of off-season success (including a recent movie made of a play he co-wrote in 2003: The “F” Word), Dawe admits that Fringe stardom rarely translates to mainstream success.

“Life after the Fringe more often consists of people hanging up their Fringe capes and playing the game as actors, writers, and directors generally do: audition, submit scripts, network in the theater community, apply for grants, hope for the best.”

Artistically speaking, the circuit offers an attractive alternative. “Instead of waiting to get cast, you cast yourself. Instead of waiting to be programmed into a theater’s season, you program yourself into a tour. The tour kicks you into shape in terms of getting you coming back with something new. Pretty soon you’ve built up a body of work and developed your own voice as a writer and performer.”

For less-established artists, a way to maximize opportunity is to apply for a long-shot spot in the official CAFF touring lottery, the winners of which can build their tours around the host cities of their choice. Two of this year’s winners had San Francisco connections: clown conservatory alumnus, juggler Aji Slater and puppeteer Zeb L. West, a graduate of SF State. Both have generally positive things to say about the experience, though neither walked away with much in the way of profit (“We merely didn’t lose as much money as we could’ve,” quips Slater). But it was the artistic rewards of the Fringe that each prefers to speak to.

“One of the best things about the Fringe is being around so many creative, incredibly talented people,” Slater asserts. “I dare anyone in the arts to do a Fringe tour and not come back energized to create. Even if zero people had come to see our show, it would be incredibly successful for this jolt of excitement and passion for our craft.”

Via email, West succinctly echoes both Dawe’s passion for the independence afforded the Fringe artist as well as Slater’s enthusiasm for the energizing effects of the more communal aspects of the circuit.

“The Fringe is a great way to get your own weird and wonderful original work out to a broad audience,” he writes. “And if you have a good show, you can fund a tour doing your own stuff. That’s a unique thing at the do-it-yourself scale. The most rewarding part is easily the camaraderie that forms with other touring artists. It makes what might be a lonely job feel like a community of gypsy dream-chasing theater people!”

The Performant: Vancouver Fringe-mania


Well, it’s been another fringe-ferrific whirlwind here at the Vancouver Fringe, but like all good things, it too has come to an end. The Boulder Fringe is still poised to begin this afternoon despite the flooding, but the East to West Coast circuit is now complete, and many career-fringe artists headed home, wherever that may be, to count their successes and tally their losses (often both).

For Naked Empire Bouffon Company the rewards of its five-week tour appear to be both tangible (a Critic’s Choice nomination and a “Talk of the Fringe” award in Vancouver, quotable reviews, and some modest profit), and ephemeral (connecting with other Fringe artists, experiencing new frontiers of audience reaction, generating excitement and controversy). But it’s been a lot of work to get that: months of rehearsal time, many long days of flyering in costume, hustling for audience and some small portion of recognition. But it’s the shows themselves that Fringe artists and audiences come together to experience, and it’s the shows that will hopefully stay with us long after the bone-wearying nature of the hustle fades from memory. Here’s a shortlist of some of the stand-outs from my second week at the Vancouver Fringe. Catch them elsewhere if you can.

Preacher Man Jesse LaVercombe’s solo show only lasts 25 minutes, and he’s confined to a chair the entire time, but there’s nothing static about his character Marcus, a convicted killer awaiting execution. “Do you know what it’s like to live a fulfilled life?” he taunts the oddience knowingly. “Probably not, because if you were living a fulfilled life you probably wouldn’t be attending funerals.” As his story unfolds, it’s a sad one of abuse and befuddlement, but Marcus still manages somehow to convince us he’s the happiest man in the room. LaVercombe also played an equally intense though much less “fulfilled” killer in the full-length Model Wanted, by Step Taylor, but it’s the charismatic Marcus who will haunt me for longer.

Eyes of the Enemy Speaking of haunting, this unsettling show gives its viewers what basically amounts to a crash course in “enhanced interrogation techniques” including stress positions, sleep deprivation, fingernail-removal, psychological manipulation, and finally waterboarding, as Chris W. Cook relentlessly torments Evan Hall, attempting, he claims, to stop a terrorist attack. Cook and Hall literally don’t pull punches in this harrowing reenactment of the grim realities of modern-day “information gathering,” and the message that this sort of treatment is not atypical is one that can’t be ignored.

6 Guitars Florida-native Chase Padgett looks like any ordinary guy with a guitar until he begins to seamlessly switch between six different musical styles — and the musicians who play them. There’s Tyrone, the bluesman who once tried to follow the Blind Lemon Jefferson formula by renaming himself Syphilis Mango Taft, and Wes the effete jazz player who states we probably don’t understand his music before grudgingly admitting that the best listeners of jazz can be those who don’t speak its language. Some of his characters are better developed than others, but it’s Padgett’s guitar playing that really stands out, connecting each disparate character and genre into a cohesive musical experience.

Threads Portland, Ore.’s Tonya Jone Miller reenacts the fall of Saigon with just a pair of suitcases and the power of her performance to convince us. She primarily portrays her mother, who traveled to Vietnam as an English teacher during a period of time when most Americans were trying to stay away far from it, as well as a slew of supporting characters who are part of her story — her students, her love interest, the doctors at the orphanage she volunteers at. Like all the best solo performers, Miller has a powerful charisma that keeps one riveted despite the bare stage and minimal tech, and her vivid story is lush with detail and energy.

The Performant: Mean Streets and Matchsticks at the Vancouver Fringe


Here in Vancouver, the Fringe Festival has been in full swing since Sept. 5, and its early bustle has come as something of a welcome surprise. Shows have been selling out right and left, including those by the five-woman sketch comedy team Strapless, and the manic SNAFU Dance Theatre‘s survivalist romp Kitt & Jane. The buzz hangs as heavy in the air as the morning humidity. It’s interesting to compare the rowdy carnival atmosphere of the Edmonton Fringe, complete with sideshow attractions, tireless street performers, and mountains of cheap fried food and the people who eat it, with Vancouver’s more refined approach and oddience. The Vancouver Fringe is the biggest theater festival in town, I’m told, and therefore attracts a fairly large percentage of mainstream theater-goers.

But despite the fact that each show begins with an overly complicated spiel about sponsorship opportunities, the shows themselves have run the usual fringe-y gamut of content from heartfelt to hilarious, edgy to educational. Here are some of the standouts I’ve seen so far.

One of the bravest shows of the 2012 San Francisco Fringe was not actually a theatre piece at all, but an educational talk entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Circumcised, complete with video footage of infant (male) circumcisions that was decidedly not for the faint of heart. I see a lot of similarity in Tasha Diamant’s equally brave The Human Body Project, because when she takes the stage, naked and unscripted, the audience is immediately forced to examine their own reactions and assumptions around the act, the artist, and the body in general, leading to a tangibly cathartic yet thought-provoking collective experience.

Speaking of San Francisco Fringe, homegrown clown Summer Shapiro, whose Legs and All charmed at the festival in 2009, is here in Vancouver with a fun, interactive work, In the Boudoir; it’s a mostly silent comedy of a first date gone terribly awkward. In the same venue, the wry magic of Travis Barnhardt astounds in his mentalist routine Unpossible, during which he confesses several times that he hasn’t quite mastered the art before revealing that he clearly has.

Canadian storyteller Andrew Bailey, whose show Limbo I enjoyed in Edmonton, knocks one out of the metaphorical ballpark with his smart, compelling The Adversary. Matchstick, a two-person musical centered around a troubled, International love affair with political implications, impresses with its quick wit, inventive staging, and dynamic duo, despite some silly lyrics. Solo clown show Butt Kapinski follows a diminutive, speech-challenged “Pwivate Eye” down the mean streets and aisles of the small theater space, filled with cruel tenements, corrupt cops, and a bevy of working girls and murder victims (all unsuspecting oddience members), while the aforementioned Kitt & Jane wows with its energetic portrayals of a pair of angsty high school misfits who have one hour to save the world from itself.

Still looking forward to so much more, including Little Pussy, Model Wanted, Preacher Man, Kuwaiti Moonshine, Radio:30, The Cruelest Phone Book in the World, Against Gravity, Fools for Love, and 6 Guitars so I’d better get cracking. So little time. So many shows.

The Performant: Fringe 101, an essential lexicon revisited.


With the frenzy of the Edmonton Fringe Festival finally subsided, and Vancouver’s about to begin, myself and the Naked Empire Bouffons are ready for action. We have posters to plaster, our venue to scope out, and fellow artists to schmooze before the festival opens on the fifth, but in the interim I have time to let my attentions wander back momentarily to San Francisco, whose Fringe Festival also opens this week.

Did you know that we boast the second oldest Fringe Festival in the United States (the first being Orlando’s)? And that, along with Vancouver, we represent the final leg of the CAFF (Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals) circuit for touring Fringe artists, despite the small complication of not actually being Canadian? Admittedly our festival is smaller than the Vancouver event (36 shows, as compared to 91 and counting), but it’s still a veritable bacchanal of drama, dance, and comedic derring-do packed into 14 days.

For the frequent fringer and the newcomer to the fold alike, the biggest challenge can be narrowing down the field of options to a manageable handful, and while I always advocate the time-honored tradition of asking other people who have already seen a particular show their opinion of it, I’ve also become rather adept at translating some of the more commonly-used descriptors in program blurbs, which does help with the initial elimination process (note: you should always be willing to change your mind about something you’ve eliminated if the buzz it’s generating is suitably favorable). Since it never hurts to be prepared, here is my personal Fringe Festival program guide glossary, reprinted from its 2011 debut, to help you locate the Fringe experience you’re looking for, whether it be a farce, a fantasy, or a free-for-all.

Bare Bones: We’ve never heard of Kickstarter
Cheese: Neo-surrealists in the house
Classic: We don’t need the rights to present this work
Dark: At least one of the characters dies
Disturbing: If you don’t like fart jokes
Dynamic: Theater Arts undergrads
Edgy: Guaranteed to offend at least one minority group
Erotic: For inexplicable reasons, won’t include nudity
Existential: At least half of the characters die
Experiential: Audience participation required
Experimental: We decided not to bother writing a script
Fresh Take: You’ve seen this play 100 times before
Hilarious: If you like fart jokes
Inspirational: Overcoming the effects of an upper middle-class upbringing
Interactive: Don’t sit in the front row
Internationally-acclaimed: Also performed at the Winnipeg Fringe
Multi-media: If our projector breaks we’re screwed
New Translation: We worked way harder on this show than you can imagine
Noir: Will be wearing great hats
Noirish: Couldn’t afford great hats
Poignant: There will be at least one monologue about innocence lost
Provocative: Will include violence and nudity
Quotes from famous people: Assistant Director used to walk their dogs
Quotes from previous runs: We have had a chance to rehearse this
Reimagined: We don’t actually have the rights to present this work
Sensitive: Over-wrought
Site-Specific: Wear layers
Riveting: The stage manager’s mother-in-law said so
Thought-provoking: Will include either violence or nudity
Uncompromising: Guaranteed to offend pretty much everyone
Unforgettable: No matter how hard you try
Universal: Fart jokes
Visceral: Don’t sit in the front row
Wacky: A kazoo will definitely make an appearance at some point
With a twist: You can see it coming
World Premiere: We haven’t had a chance to rehearse this

Wanna Fringe vicariously through us? Follow @enkohl and @NakdEmprBouffon on the twit-thing for updates and gossip.

The Performant: Fringe Dwellers


It’s hard to believe, but the 32nd annual Edmonton Fringe is already over and touring companies like Naked Empire Bouffon are packing their bags to move on to the next festival, while artists who have finished their runs head for home — whether that’s Australia, the UK, or just North of the High Level Bridge. As at every Fringe, my goal has been to see just as many shows as I can, and in between stage-managing Naked Empire’s run and feverishly making deadlines, I saw 35, which ranged in content and execution from the merely mundane to the inarguably sublime. Here’s a roundup of my personal favorites and companies I recommend watching out for should they make over to San Francisco.

1) Best Interpretation of “…the rest is silence:” Grim and Fischer, by the Wonderheads. Haunting, heartfelt, and humorous, Grim and Fischer unfolds on the stage like beautiful French animation, with nary a spoken word passing between the three meticulously-masked characters: the sepulchral Grim, the feisty Mrs. Fischer, and the frustrated Nurse Doug. A classic struggle against the inevitability of death told in movement, allusion, and fart jokes, to a soundtrack of Mozart and Survivor, the impact of the imagery lingers long after the show is over.

2) Best Surrealist Ensemble: The Tenant Haimowitz, by Zygota Theatre. Penned by Israeli playwright Ariel Bronz, this abstract journey through the purgatory of one poet’s worldview is both complex and confounding, but absolutely mesmerizing. Bullied into renting a cheap flat only to discover five unexpected roommates after he signs on the dotted line, Daniel Haimovitz is sucked into a whirlpool of situational farce, at one moment being literally wrapped in bureaucratic red tape, at another forced to play a word association game the rules of which seem not to apply equally to all the participants as the tight-knit, highly-kinetic ensemble alternately defies gravity and gravitas.

3) Best Lo-Budget, Hi-Voltage Costume Concept: Moby Alpha, by Charles Comedy. The staging of this quirky mashup between science-fiction serial drama and Herman Melville is pure fringe, with the two actors (Charlie Stockman and Chuck Armstrong) illuminated only by their inventive space helmets, with switches that allow them to change colors for each character and transporter sequence, while they float through the vastness of space, represented by the otherwise dark stage.

4) Best Canada-centric History Lesson: Jake’s Gift, by Juno Productions. Unless you travel to Canada, chances are you won’t get a chance to see this show about a Canadian WWII vet returning to Juno Beach for the first time in 60 years. While somewhat predictably staged, in a manner most likely to inspire unabashed sniffling from the audience, the script reveals an interesting chapter in Canadian military history, one completely subsumed in the states by our own.

5) Best Whimsical Literary Reimaginings: Poe and Mathews, by Grumble Productions, Innocent When You Dream, by Zeb L. West. What if Edgar Allan Poe was washed up on a deserted island with the now-forgotten author Cornelius Mathews with only a rock to keep them company and a sandwich to stave off the hunger? What if the bulk of the action of Moby Dick took place inside the whale including a long diversion in the guise of Don Quixote? Physical comedy, puppetry, and ukulele tunes take us down those quirky rabbit holes.

6) Best Unscripted Fringe Experiences: Late Night Cabaret, Truth or Dare With Strangers, “The Zackie Awards.” Sorry improv groups, the best unscripted performances are almost always those tackled by the unsuspecting in moments of nervous anticipation and heightened awareness. I loved the randomness of the Late Night Cabaret once the “Wheel of Desire” was spun and whoever the night’s special guests were had to perform the action dictated by random chance; the sweet-natured experiment of Tasha Hickie’s “Truth or Dare With Strangers” where, for two Canadian dollars, you could huddle in a tent with people you’d never met and reveal yourself without inhibition; and the slap-happy hilarity of the performer-centric Zackies after a long hard Fringe.

Next stop, Vanvouver. Stay tuned.

Wanna Fringe vicariously through us? Follow @enkohl and @NakdEmprBouffon on the twit-thing for updates and gossip.

The Performant: Surrender to Dorothy


San Francisco’s invasion of Canada has begun

On my first day in Alberta, Canada I am greeted by gracious Edmontonians bearing platters of smoked meats, a local tradition perhaps, and upon joining my reconnaissance troop, the small but mighty Naked Empire Bouffon Company, who I’m stage-managing for their one-month Fringe Festival tour, we head down to the 32nd Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival headquarters to discover what we can about the territory. The Edmonton Fringe is the second largest in the world after Edinburgh (the original), attracting over a half-million people to the festival site, and hosting over 200 performing companies over the course of 11 days. Mixed in with the vast throng of performers from around the world, a small regiment of infiltrators from the Bay Area have scattered themselves throughout the festival grounds and venues, a quiet invasion of quirky monologists and seasoned storytellers.

And Naked Empire of course, whose confrontational buffooning offers an entirely different definition of Fringe theatre.

Once briefed, we spread out into the Old Strathcona neighborhood to make ourselves known. Old Strathcona is one of those sweetly-preserved old town areas filled with historic wood and brick buildings, cute vintage boutiques, head shops, pubs with names like “Filthy McNasty’s” and “The Tilted Kilt,” as well as many of the city’s theaters and clubs. But what catches our eyes most immediately are the community signposts and storefront windows already covered with Fringe show posters and flyers, although the festival won’t open for another three days. We’re lucky we’re so early, there’re still a few empty spots we can claim as our own with a stack of posters and reams of packing tape. The Naked Empire conquest of Canada has officially begun.

Over the next few days I keep an eye out for evidence of our Bay Area comrades. Some shows are familiar to me, such as David Caggiano’s Jurassic Ark, which won a “Best Of” award at the 2011 San Francisco Fringe, and Annette Roman’s Hitler’s Li’l Abomination, which plays the same venue as Naked Empire — the Yardbird Suite, a volunteer-run Jazz Club during the year. Others are performers I’ve seen in previous shows, such as Pi Clowns, here with a stripped-down, three-person venture entitled De(tour), and Randy Rutherford with Walk Like a Man, a low-key, heartfelt solo show combining folk music and reminiscence. Still others are performers I haven’t yet seen in the Bay Area, so it was fun to catch them across the border instead: Howard Petrick on riding the rails in Never Own Anything You Have to Paint or Feed, and Barbara Selfridge in Zero Tolerance: Sex, Math, and Seizures.

Out of all of us, Rutherford is the performer who’s most seasoned on the Canadian Fringe, a linked circuit of 22 individual festivals with staggered starting dates stretching across the continent, making it possible for a Fringe artist to start touring in June in Montreal (or May, in Orlando, Florida), and travel west all summer long, hitting multiple festivals along on the way. Performing his solo shows on the circuit since the late 1990s, Rutherford has won 21 “Best Of Fringe” awards, and is one of the rare performers from the United States to really tap into the potential rewards the Canadian Fringe has to offer. The irony, of course, is that he’s much better known in Canada than in his own hometown, as are many of the Fringe famous.

As for Naked Empire, our second show is today, so it’s still early to tell whether or not we’ll be joining those ranks or not, but stay tuned. The Edmonton Fringe is just beginning and there are dozens of stories yet to tell.

Wanna Fringe vicariously through us? Follow @enkohl and @NakdEmprBouffon on the twit-thing for updates and gossip.

The Performant: The Stiltwalkers Union


In an iconic sequence from Winsor McCay’s eccentrically beautiful Little Nemo in Slumberland, Nemo’s bed sprouts elongated legs and strolls through the city as Nemo and his cantankerous friend Flip cling to the bedsheets and try not to fall out. Whenever I see performers on stilts, the exaggerated limbs of that unexpectedly animated furniture are one of the first things that spring to my mind, their death-defying acrobatics furthering the resemblance to an unnerving dream sequence.

Tapping into both the whimsical and the deeply unsettling nature of stiltwalking as art form, San Francisco’s Carpetbag Brigade and Nemcatacoa Teatro from Colombia performed their unique brand of physical theater in tandem over the weekend, along with Tucson, AZ’s VerboBala and Hojarasca Andina from Colombia, as part of their transcontinental “Bi-Cultural Road Show.”

At Dance Mission, Carpetbag Brigade’s Callings featured a quintet of stiltwalkers, suggesting the virtually alien clime of the deep sea with nothing more than a few rowboat paddles and a soundtrack heavy on implication. A trio of overall-clad performers with impossibly long legs moved in and out of the center point of the stage, paddles aloft, menacingly brandished as weapons, then put to more utilitarian purpose as propellers. A single performer clad all in white held another aloft like a seagull skimming the surface of the waves. Performers recreated the motion of rolling waves and tempestuous storms in synchronized group groundwork and intense, contact improv-style duets.

An innocuous wooden swing on a sturdy rope lost all innocence, serving both as life preserver and obstacle to the performers as they grasped for it from the “sea” and became entangled in it, singly and in pairs, as the pre-recorded music shifted from darkly ominous underwater electronica to sprightly accordion tunes to dramatic strings and clattering percussion in the style of Cirque de Soleil.

Meanwhile, outside the 24th Street BART station, Nemcatacoa Teatro was embarking on a site-specific exploration of the area as part of its “Landscape Re-Invention Society” series. Like reanimated Diggers or extraterrestrial visitors, the troupe turned the mundane into occasion for wonder. Painted black-and-white and clad all in fluttering white garments (streaked, perhaps inadvertently, by their body paint), the stiltwalking group towered above the crowd and many of the familiar landmarks of the area: the metal fences surrounding the station entrances, the busses pulling up to the stop outside El Farolito, the looming McDonalds across the street.

Followed by Hojarasca Andina, a trio of enigmatic musicians with pan pipes, the intrepid bunch felt their way boldly from corner to corner, gazing in puzzlement through windows, hugging trees, tumbling across pavement, and lounging along the BART station walls (the latter segment inadvertently bringing to mind the recent tragic breakdown of Colombian acrobat Yeiner Perez though fortunately for all, the mood is strictly playful, not aggressive), until at last they came to rest, posed flat against the vibrantly-painted mural outside Dance Mission.

Sorry you missed the spectacle? Watch all four companies (Carpetbag Brigade, Nemcatacoa Teatro, VerboBala, and Hojarasca Andina) in their collaborative piece Dios de la Adrenalina at Union Square Sun/11 at 2 p.m., and Yerba Buena Gardens on August 17 at 2:30 p.m.

(Don’t panic! The Performant will be on hiatus for one week as she packs her bags for the Canadian Fringe Festival circuit. Check out her tweets for up-to-the-minute dispatches from the Great North @enkohl)

The Performant: Brave Old World


Tweaking tradition with Minor Empire and Thingamajigs

There are as many roads down the path of “world music” as there are countries represented within that nebulous category. And while there’re still plenty of purists adhering strictly to the musical traditions of the past, it’s just as common for today’s world musicians to use those traditions as a kind of jumping-off point for their compositions, in much the same way that the 12-bar blues have been the foundation for numerous offshoots of “American” music.

A good example of this conscious hybridization between past and present, old word and new, is Toronto-based Turkish-Canadian combo Minor Empire, who blend sinuous Eastern folk tunes with Western jazz-jam, desert rock, and pulsing electronica, providing multiple entrance points to their specific sound.

In an intimate show at Yoshi’s San Francisco, the touring band seemed simultaneously dwarfed by the lofty ceiling and genteel table seating and yet musically unconfined as they introduced their set with building blocks of drone, guitar, bass, percussion, and kanun (a kind of zither), creating an elegant setting for the jewel-like vocals of Ozgu Ozman. Gracious and grounded, Ozman took time to translate some of the lyrics later in the set, but the first songs were left tantalizingly ambiguous, layering different kinds of familiarity on top of one another.

Plaintive traditional melodies of love and loss, an undercurrent of electronic glitch, the occasional flourish of Calexico-style guitar riffs and funky bass lines, the insistent twinned rhythms of the kanun and the doumbek. The resultant mélange sounded to my ears a little like Wovenhand’s Eastern-tinged album The Threshing Floor, a little like Baba Zula, an alt-jazz/psychedelic combo from Istanbul, and a lot like a band I’d want to get to know better in slightly less refined surroundings — a sweatier nightclub, perhaps, or a sunlit outdoor stage. A space where not just the ears could be transported by the complex compositions, but the body entire.

Architecture favored Thingamajigs Performance Ensemble better at the Berkeley Art Museum on Friday, where a trio of trios performed experimental music in the cavernous atrium of Gallery B. Although, like Yoshi’s, the ceiling soared far above the huddle of intently concentrating musicians, and the room sprawled far beyond the tight confines of their performance area, they managed to fill in the gaps with their judicious addition of a multimedia dimension. From the ground to the lofty balconies above, three long scrolls marked with arcane symbols, half-recognizable words, and morse-code like rhythm tablature were slowly unfurled before each trio in sedate counterpoint to the deliberately atonal improvisations.

Live video projections of a poet at work (Sasha Hom) further helped to fill the empty spaces above, while below the oddience was encouraged to shift position and wander the wings during the concert. Scattered about the room, brightly-colored, padded shapes — trapezoids and triangles — designed by Rebar served as seating and further added another playful visual aspect to the event.

Using a variety of traditional instruments in some very non-traditional ways, Thingamajigs has been experimenting with the creation of differently-structured sound since the mid-nineties. It’s an artform with a long lineage, and as such cannot be championed as an entirely new concept. But given the rare confluence of disparate factors in any given concert — space, spectators, ever-evolving interpretations of the potential locked within each instrument and each composition — every performance is in itself as new and as fleeting as the first few moments of a half-remembered dream. Thingamajigs will be in residence at BAM through August 16; check out the website for ways to dream along.

The Performant: Roll Out the Barrel


At Nerd Nite, beer + nerds = fun

One of beer’s most intriguing qualities is that it’s an incredibly easy elixir to get nerdy about. In fact, it’s almost like a double gateway — attracting regular folk to the wide wonderful world of microbiology and science-minded folk to the bar scene. What’s more, beer as a social catalyst has been bringing people together for possibly over 10,000 years and is the third most popular beverage in the world after water and tea, providing plenty of opportunity for historical insight and cultural exchange.  All of which made hosting a beer-tasting event at San Francisco’s 38th edition of Nerd Nite kind of a no-brainer … except with brains.

Nerd Nite San Francisco has been running strong at the Rickshaw Stop since its local inception in 2010 (Nerd Nite as a phenomenon having been founded in Boston in 2003 by Chris Balakrishnan), regularly packing the place to the literal rafters with fans who flock to witness talks on such phenomena as “The World’s Weirdest Fungus,” the science behind circus sideshow acts, the inevitability of the zombie apocalypse, and the intricacies of video game design. But this month, beer. Ok, and video game design. But mostly beer.

After an informative lecture on the history of beer delivered by Jim Withee of GigaYeast (a company producing and packaging a variety of beer yeast strains for professional and home-brewers) came the beer-tasting portion of the evening. An ingrained beer-brewing rivalry between the Bay Area Science Festival and the Philadelphia Science Festival led to three experimental batches being brewed by local craft brewer (and scientist), Bryan Hermannsson of Pacific Brewing Laboratory, the winner voted on by the crowd to become the beer entered into the official 2013 competition. So not just tasting for the sake of tasting, but a group experiment to determine the beer with the best flavor and presentation. Yay for science!

What made the experiment even more intriguing from a beer science standpoint was the fact that all three batches were brewed with the same base recipe of two-row malt and simcoe hops, and under the same temperature conditions, what made the flavor of each different was strictly the yeast strain used in each (courtesy of GigaYeast, natch).  The first was a pale ale, so reminiscent of the Bay Area they even called it the “Norcal”. This one was my personal favorite, the way it embodied both the beer style and the region that brews some of the best of that style in the country, possibly the world. People were less enthusiastic about the Kölsch-style beer, which one member of the oddience likened to “cat pee” and one of the panel judges, Ken Wever, to “Band-Aids”. I just found the flavor and body flat, uninteresting. But the third brew, a Belgian-style with pear, was definitely more inspired. The nose was the best — fruity, rich, and herbal — plus a creamy mouthfeel and a lingering note of bramble and spice. It was a little sweeter than I usually like, but the crowd response to it was generally positive.

The taster cups were generous and the crowd response to free boozing was as enthusiastic as you might expect. But calling the winner was less easy, although the Bay Area Science Festival’s Kishore Hari attempted to do just that (in favor of the Belgian-style) amid loud protesting coming from the back of the room where votes were still rolling in. So clearly some bugs still remain in the scientific process of vote tallying, but you’ll be glad to know that as far as the science of beer-brewing goes, things appear to be better than ever.

The Performant: Parts is Parts


FoolsFURY’s Factory Parts Builds a Future for Ensemble Works

Ever ambitious, the process-oriented foolsFURY theater ensemble has added yet another performance series to its production calendar: “Factory Parts,” focusing on works-in-development from fellow ensemble companies from both coasts.

Structured like a lower-key version of its biennial festival of ensemble theater, “The FURY Factory,” “Factory Parts” brings together ten companies to present segments of unfinished works before an audience (and each other) to gain perspective on how to shape them for the future. Broken up into three separate programs each showing three times over the course of ten days, Factory Parts offers artists and audiences alike to get in on the ground floor of a production’s existence and offer insight and feedback to the companies involved, turning what would normally be behind-the-scenes workshopping into a form of participatory theatergoing.

I caught up with foolsFURY’s associate artistic director Debórah Eliezer to get the inside scoop on the series, which opens tonight.

SF Bay Guardian So how does the focus of Factory Parts” differ from that of “The FURY Factory”?

Debórah Eliezer What we’ve been doing with “FURY Factory” is creating mainstage performances during the weekends; in the middle of the week, we’ve been doing works-in-progress. So what would happen is, we’d do multiple types of shows, and you’d get this cross-hybrid of audience, who were all there to see a different thing. And the secondfold here is to be able to offer a venue for creators who are working together over a long period of time. You need to have these stops on your journey where you go “Ok, this is what I’ve got, I’m going to bare my soul in front of you and show you this, bearing in mind that it’s a work in a larger development process.”

What we’ve found is that there are a lot of venues showcasing this kind of work if you call it dance. It’s very typical for dancers to have five minutes of their work in a choreographic showcase, and then to keep working on the piece. So what we want to do is [similarly] educate the theater audience member. We really want to bring people into process.

SFBG When we talk about works that are in progress in the context of this festival, was there a minimum threshold of completeness required for participation? What was the selection process like?

DE The selection process was in large part determined by time. My thing was, “Just give me ten good minutes. I would rather see that, than half an hour that contains ten good minutes.” I think the majority of the pieces, about 80 percent, are ten-minute pieces, including foolsFURY’s. It allows artists to take responsibility for what they are capable of producing in a time period that is feasible. 

SFBG And how did you wrangle the artists that you did?

DE We did send out a publicity letter, but more specifically, we reached out to people that we thought would really benefit from the experience. And I think we’re building on the strength of “The FURY Factory,” that this is really a way for some of the companies to start ramping up for next year. There’s no guarantee of acceptance but the idea is we’re providing this venue as a stair step for how to develop your piece. ”Ok I’m in ‘Factory Parts’ and maybe I can work toward ‘FURY Factory.’”

SFBG So the main thing you expect audiences to get out of this program is the opportunity to be integrated into the process of creating theater? Or what do you think the main draw will be?

DE [To] invite the audience into process development with the idea that they can then take responsibility for what they see and their own enjoyment, their participation is a vital aspect of the development process. On the third night of every program there’s going to be an audience feedback session, moderated by a dramaturg, a talkback of sorts, so there’ll be the feedback between the artist and the audience. And then there’ll be peer review feedback, between the companies, who are all required to see the other two programs, and they’ll have a feedback forum … and then the third part of this whole response ecosystem will be a roundtable discussion (on the morning of Sun/28). It’ll be a moderated discussion among peers, a community gathering of sorts, to culminate the process as a whole.

“Factory Parts”

Wed/17-Sun/21 and July 25-28, 8pm, $15 ($40 pass)

NOH Space

2840 Mariposa, SF


The Performant: The Real Patriot Act


Celebrating Freedom of Expression with Tourettes Without Regrets

I’m as susceptible as the next ‘Murican to the social imperative of observing certain time-honored holiday traditions, particularly the ones that involve drinking and blowing shit up, but still I appreciate the opportunity to mix things up in that milieu. Which is why this Fourth of July, heading over to the Oakland Metro for Tourettes Without Regrets was the perfect way to celebrate my inalienable right to get freaky.

Probably the least predictable and therefore most electric variety show in the Bay Area, TWR has been throwing down the gauntlet of weird since 1999, a mad mashup of foul-mouthed comedians and spoken word performers, battle rappers, burlesque beauties, and sheer, unbridled chaos. Can YOU guess what’s in host Jamie DeWolf’s pants? Would you fuck a pie onstage? Compete for the prized “golden dildo”? Participate in a bout of pants-off musical chairs? Be forewarned,
there are no true bystanders at TWR and nobody is innocent.

“Everyone is a part of this fucking event,” warns DeWolf at the top of the show, and although his smile is deceptively genial, the cold steel glint in his watchful eyes tells you he means it.

Freedom of speech is so important to our national identity that it was the first right to be codified in the Bill of Rights, way back in 1791. Of course efforts to chip away at that right have been in play from both sides of the political spectrum ever since, and speech considered to be hateful, obscene, seditious, or libelous has been under almost continual attack for centuries. And though much of Tourettes Without Regrets keeps its tongue firmly planted in cheek (any cheek), a paranoid visitor from planet normal could get nervous about the broadness of the show’s interpretation of protected expression.

Dirty Haiku and a sexy pie-eating contest (won handily by a lesbian couple) could easily be viewed in the heartland as obscene, rude Battle Rap as slander, a downright lascivious fantasy about hate-humping Sarah Palin and a joyous spot of burlesque flag-burning as borderline seditious. No stranger to the controversial, the charismatic DeWolf provides as much distraction as direction, deploying an arsenal of colorful tangents and unflinching observations, gleefully pushing the buttons of anyone within earshot, and at some point almost everyone in the freewheeling oddience has at least one chance to squirm uncomfortably beneath the onslaught of freedom we are fortunate enough to take for granted.

Special July 4th additions to the evening’s festivities include a spontaneous shower of sparklers, burlesque dancers in camouflage and red-white-and-blue toting guns and six-packs of cheap beer, and a guest appearance by the Bay Area’s finest amateur wrestling and performance troupe, Hoodslam, who provided their signature wrestling ring to be the event stage, as well as a couple of whirlwind melees involving some of their most iconic players including Johnny Drinko Butabi (sporting stars-and-bars tights with wild fringe), the preternaturally handsome Anthony Butabi, the user-friendly Stoner Brothers, the perpetual user Drugz Bunny, the menacingly masked Scorpion, and the formidable Ultragirl.

And because nothing spells M-U-R-I-C-A so much as conspicuous consumption and wanton destruction, a bout of toilet paper dodgeball involving the entire crowd “wrapped up” the evening in one delightfully riotous exemplar of our constitutional right to make asses of ourselves in public. Now that’s independence!

First Thursdays
8:30pm, $10
Oakland Metro
630 Third Street, Oakl.