A burgeoning queer performance scene in the Bay Area is creating new zones
Just as crucial has been Mama Calizo's still venue-less but highly active successor organization, THEOFFCENTER, whose director Ernesto Sopprani helped organize and run the SQUART event at the Headlands. In fact, TOC includes a good swath of the community. Says artist and codirector Julie Phelps, "THEOFFCENTER rose from the dust [as] a loose collective of 20 to 30 people who just keep showing up, and keep making things happen."
You'd also need, for sure, to include Philip Huang's Home Theater Festival, BJ Dini's anarchist-inspired QAZ (queer autonomous zones); venues like CounterPULSE and The Garage as well as their residency programs; mentoring and collaborating queer performance elders like Hennessy, Jess Curtis, and Monique Jenkinson; the drag series led by Mica Sigourney; and a broad and often highly political host of outsider warehouse and home-based queer performance, as well as music-based work, across San Francisco and the East Bay.
"The artists in our network are making work without permission or money," says THEOFFCENTER's Sopprani. "We support one another and let the work and the questions motivating it speak for themselves. Laura Arrington's SQUART is the perfect example of that credo. Laura is a genius when it comes to building synergy. We support her work because we feel it supports the larger community. In both SQUART and TOC, artists are autonomous and free. It's a loose collective with the intention and desire to make something out of the ordinary happen. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about for us."
HOME IS WHERE THE ART IS
The Dana Street Theater is an inconspicuous venue, serving most of the year as Philip Huang's bedroom. In the first week of March, prospective patrons were alerted to upcoming performances by a blog site and a piece of yellow notepaper taped to the front door of his Berkeley apartment building, where some hasty red lettering announced, "Home Theater Festival. 'Eat, Pray, Tron.'"
The audience for the opening show of the festival — and there were about 30 of us the night I went — sat in a tight squeeze on the floor, camped on cushions or blankets. Huang greeted people as they came in. No reservations were necessary. The prices were $7.99 a ticket, or $4.99 if you're down on your luck. The scheduled curtain time was 8 p.m., though by the time Huang returned from a last-minute beer run it was more like 20 minutes after the hour. No one cared about the time, or that it seemed Huang hadn't really bothered to pick up his room before the show. Even before the malt liquor and box wine started circulating, the audience was primed.
The monthlong, second annual Home Theater Festival is Huang's Internet-orchestrated DIY affair. (And newly international: the same day I saw "Eat Pray Tron," people Down Under attended a program at Rebecca Cunningham's pad in Brisbane, Australia. In all, five countries and 30 shows are represented.)
Huang began in character as Ellen Fu, a bracingly frank Taiwanese lady in a black sleeveless number and clip-on earrings. Ellen led a seminar on how to pleasure your black lover. There was more: a disabled man making balloon animals, for instance. Huang was sharp but loose, ready to go with the moment. There was a lot of back-and-forth with pal Bryan Dini of the League of Burnt Children and the aforementioned QAZ. Seated sublimely against a wall, Dini interjected commentary as the mood struck him. Later in this carefree, careening, and irresistible evening, Huang paused for a special message to artists: "You have everything you need to do what you do right now," he told them. "You have everything you need to be happy."