Outside and inside - Page 4

A burgeoning queer performance scene in the Bay Area is creating new zones

Queer, radical, collective: (front, then clockwise from left) Harold Burns, Tessa Wills, Honey McMoney, Ernesto Sopprani, Aylin

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."



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."


Thank you for writing this article. I find what is happening with performance in SF to be so delightful. People are making work because they absolutely must, not just for the money. But, fuck, money is sweet. People are also working together because they absolutely must. We need each other to get it done and to believe in what we are doing. When I see someone putting themselves out there mime fucking an audience member with a strap-on or dancing like a turkey with a sailor hat on I know I too must take myself as far as I can go. Have ya'll ever heard that Francis Ford Coppola quote, "Collaboration is the SEX of ART"...? So true. And SQUART is so sexy. Furthermore, I appreciated the shout outs to the more experienced performers among us like Hennessey, Curtis and Jenkins, but we got to acknowledge the work of Guillermo Gomez-Pena and the POW festivals for all they have done to bring up crazy, queer artists. With Love, Lula Mae Day

Posted by Guest on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

The Emperor has no clothes. See SF '99.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 14, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

i'm trying to figure out what's so "radical" or "autonomous" or "collective" about an organization like TOC -- is it all the grant-money, the proposals, the big art institutions, the (off)centralized bureaucratic structure (run largely by one person), the career-artist professionals, the "art-for-art's sake" attitude -- or what?

JUST WONDERING...(maybe you could enlighten us...)

but yeah, more power to SQUART! and laura arrington (who was doing this long before TOC came along, as with everything else...)

THANKS! "anonymous" guest

Posted by Guest on Apr. 15, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

Wow, I had no idea the Bay Area queer performance scene looks so very, very white.

Oh, that's because in reality, it doesnt. Not that anyone would know from your article.

While I appreciate the fact that Robert Avila wanted to highlight the work of some great San Francisco artists, the article and accompanying photo spread were shockingly pale. In a city as diverse as San Francisco, it seems as though one would almost have to be trying to make it look like most of the rad queer performers are white. Yeah, yeah, I know, Philip Huang was featured (though, notably, no photo was included). And thank you for mentioning Mama Calizo's (R.I.P.) support of queer P.O.C. artists.

But still.The omission of groups like Mangos with Chili, (an organization that fosters boundary-pushing performances by emerging and established queer artists of color), Sins Invalid (featuring performers with disabilities confronting sexuality), and individuals such as Mary Ann Brooks of DirtStar is jarring.

Please be more mindful in the future when writing articles that seek to describe happenings in the radical queer community in SF. We are not all white, and we are not all funded (far from it).


SQUIRT- San Francisco Queers Undermining Insidiously Racist Tales

Posted by SQUIRT- San Fran Queers Undermining Insidiously Racist Tales on Apr. 16, 2011 @ 11:48 am

Wait.. none of the work noted in the article is or has been funded. I believe that is why is deemed radical. SQUART, THEOFFCENTER, Home Theater Festival - are all initiatives made by a community of performance artists who are not waiting to get funding to put work out or to organize themselves.

Mangos with Chili, Sins Invalid and DirtStar are all great groups as well who deserve mention, I venture to say they probably have had it at some point or another. tho this piece is in fact about another group. One that has been working very hard at making this happen.

I would appreciate a show of respect for the hard work these artists are putting forth. It takes a community. If you "SQUIRT" as so candidly name yourself want to change anything on how they are doing what they do it might be best to email them directly and see how can your great ideas encourage change.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 30, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

that you might be offending the people in that photo by calling them white?

Posted by Tessa on May. 24, 2011 @ 12:45 pm

What can we learn from this article?

1. That a white male writer perceives the queer performance scene in SF as mostly white and not very trans.

2. That many people confuse getting press with getting funding.

3. That too many people allow the language and framing of the press to influence the language and framing of the actual art, people, and communities that make our imperfect yet vibrant networks of queer, art, performance, community, action...

4. That white and cis artists can be much more diligent about representation in the press.

Those of us who were approached by the Guardian for this article did not know of the scope of the article nor who else was involved. When I was interviewed, I intentionally cited artists of color. I articulated how Dwayne Calizo of Mama Calizo's prioritized artists of color, and tried to paint a broad and historical picture of the Bay Area's diverse communities engaging performance as both queer and cultural tactic.

Basically, a curious and engaged theater writer - fairly new to dance and performance art - has been moved by a small network of friends/artists making innovative work. So he spent some time trying to present these artists and their influences to the Guardian readers. Because the article took a relatively small view, that network seems more like a clique than a movement. Most of us who resonate with the article also recognize many its absences - artists and collectives, curators and events - that could/should have been mentioned or photographed.

Access to the press and to public attention in general is always impacted by structural racism (etc): by issues of visibility and histories of oppression and systems of exclusion and racialized strategies of divide and conquer. If a press opportunity comes your way, how will you negotiate your participation?

Let's continue to experiment - take risks - with art and solidarity. If there's truly something new and good going on, let's work it. The words radical and queer aren't very important if the same old shit is structurally maintained and reproduced and represented. Let's continue to collaborate and debate, expanding our borders rather than contracting and protecting them.


Posted by Guest on May. 24, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

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