‘Too Much’ — and more

Pub date January 18, 2011
WriterRobert Avila


THEATER/DANCE/PERFORMANCE Too much of a good thing can be a good thing. That became clear to artist/curators Julie Phelps and Keith Hennessy last year with the unexpected success of “Too Much!,” a no-holds-barred marathon of contemporary queer performance originally conceived as a cheeky 20th anniversary celebration of Hennessy’s lauded yet uncompromising career as performer, choreographer, and activist.

The idea of a “queer 20th anniversary” only got the conversation started, says Hennessy, whose company Zero Performance produced last year’s event. “I’m in a really different space than I was 20 years ago. I’m now 50. I made [my breakthrough] piece when I was in my late 20s. Who are those people now? And where is queer performance at? That sort of launched our thinking about putting on a festival, and [the idea] that the thing in itself should be excessive or ‘too much.’ So we crammed everything into 10 hours.”

This spirit of polymorphous plenitude launched a one-off “queer marathon” so momentous it turns into a second annual this Sunday, over the course of another 10 hours. Between 2 p.m. and midnight, three rooms at Dance Mission Theater are given over to the work of more than 50 artists — a mix of performance, installation, video, public discussion, workshops (in street art and queer games), and dinner. It promises to complicate all the usual expectations around identity-based art and politics. The only thing not overflowing is the price: 10 bucks.

This year’s “Too Much!” is more than a reprise, though. Co-curator Phelps — a young artist who recently cofounded queer performance incubator TheOffCenter, which comes on board as coproducer — explains that she and Hennessy have broadened the program. “Last year we only had performance, live installations, or full-length shows,” she says. “This year we were interested in adding this symposium element to it. While we’re all together, we might as well talk to each other, you know? So we’ve added a few workshops. Irina Contreras, for instance, is doing a stenciling workshop aimed at reminding people of the fully accessible tools they can use to express themselves as political beings, people of action.”

The symposia quotient includes a discussion of the controversial use of blackface as a subversive performance tool, a subject both Hennessy and Phelps see as particularly contentious in local identity-based art and academic discourse.

Among some notable returns from last year are Jesse Hewit, Laura Arrington, and Mica Sigourney, who as drag persona VyvvyAnne ForeverMore returns with another installment of her “Work MORE” series. Phelps describes the series, now in its third iteration, as “decentralizing drag out of nightlife bar culture and putting it into a contemporary art scene where it can be questioned and be challenged.” In this edition, Sigourney pairs drag queens with contemporary performance artists and challenges them to come up with a collaborative piece.

Of course, San Francisco has more than the average share of venues and platforms for queer art, so why is “Too Much!” not (despite the suggestion in the name) overkill?

“The Bay Area, obviously, is one of the gayest places on earth,” acknowledges Hennessy. “There are a number of different contexts for LGBT performers to work in. We looked at those and we tried to think of what doesn’t happen there? What if we did something, in a sense, more DIY? We don’t give a fuck what happens — we’re not going to pay anyone anyway. We’re just going to do this one day, organize it all ourselves, and if you want something different you can go somewhere else.”

Hennessy says they got a small grant this year that allows artists a modest remuneration. But the lack of institutional support or control, not to mention profit motive, combines neatly with a desire to include work that slips through the usual categories. “If we’re not beholden to anything, how much could we queer even the idea of an event?” he asks. “I think we’ve pulled [“Too Much!”] even further in the direction of messing with a simple theatrical structure. That means introducing people doing time-based work, or work that doesn’t fit into theatrical contexts for a variety of reasons.”


Sun./23, 2 p.m.–midnight; $10

Dance Mission Theater

3316 24th St., SF

(800) 838-3006