A burgeoning queer performance scene in the Bay Area is creating new zones
But Hennessy adds a key distinction. "Auf Den Tisch! is more about improvisation than SQUART," he points out. "In SQUART you have to use improvisational strategies to survive, but it's actually about collective composition, which is really kind of amazing."
Hennessy — who was among the celebrity judges at the Headlands SQUART — has been a motive power himself in stitching together this younger generation of artists. Dancer/performer Harold Burns says he moved here from the East Coast partly inspired by Hennessy's work, "the idea of merging queer and radical with powerful performance that really broke boundaries." Burns joined workshops Hennessy led in November 2009 in the lead-up to Hennessy's anniversary season (workshops that would inspire the two annual Too Much! queer marathons). Burns calls those workshops an important catalyst in the development of the community and its momentum. "The relationships were already there," he explains, "but it personalized them more and took them to the next level." Arrington agrees. "I met a lot of the people I consider close personal friends and colleagues there. After that, Jesse [Hewit] and I (with our friend Hana Erdman) started a little workshop/experiment where we tried to gather collaborators with similar interests."
For his part, Hennessy got introduced to many of the younger artists through his participation judging earlier SQUARTs. In fact, SQUART and its larger community have been acquiring the regard of older, more established colleagues in a relatively short time.
David Szlasa can concur. "When I judged SQUART in October, there were 50 incredibly talented people making work who I barely knew," confesses the artist and programming director at Z Space (which, significantly, will be presenting new work by Laura Arrington and Jesse Hewit on its massive stage in December). "I realized the 20-something crew just came to town, and they're kicking ass."
Szlasa credits SQUART with opening his eyes to the recent shift in approach as well. "One of the things that distinguished [the new work] was its nonreliance on the institution. SQUART is a hugely successful, hugely popular thing put together through Facebook." For Szlasa, committed arts presenters like CounterPULSE and Z Space go only so far in explaining the success being enjoyed by artists like Arrington and Hewit or other of their peers.
"It's artists who are being built up on the support of a community," Szlasa notes, "rather than artists looking to institutions to find the support in the community for their work, which is a really different thing. It might be a small community that they're rallying, but it's significant. Maybe it's 200 people and they all see everything everybody does, but, you know, that's a thing. And it appears to be a mindset change also, which I really appreciate. And I think that there's something for us — I say "us" as a representative of Z Space or that sort of institution — to consider and learn from that."
CounterPULSE's Jessica Robinson Love agrees. "These artists are not just interested in getting their own work out there. Most of them are also engaged in curating and producing each other's work, serving as dramaturge, writing about it, and generally working to support the community and not just themselves. That's where the strength comes from."
MAMA'S BIG HOUSE
In any preliminary mapping of the scene, such as the piece you are reading, SQUART is only one point of reference, albeit a prominent one. At the very least, one would need to include now-defunct Mama Calizo's Voice Factory, which for three years, under Dwayne Calizo, consistently supported exceptional work by queer artists, especially queer artists of color, in the old Jon Sims Center for the Arts space.