A burgeoning queer performance scene in the Bay Area is creating new zones
Hennessy echoes the notion that the work is generally growing stronger, wherever it may stand with respect to funding. On the anti-institutional side, he stresses the shrewdness in something like the Home Theater Festival. "Part of it is an empowerment strategy," he says, pointing out that Huang's project grew from Huang's experiments with private performances, which granted him—despite a lack of formal training or connections—the permission to consider himself an artist. "He took that personal experience and is using it as almost a viral infection," says Hennessy. "The Home Theater Festival is simultaneously a super sophisticated aesthetic strategy and an amateur hour—anyone can do whatever they want and it's not precious. It's just in your house and it's 20 people and they paid $7.99."
Hennessy stresses that this is more than just a theoretical move. "There are all these practical things: no middleman, a really accessible door price, money goes directly to the artist." In a society that easily dismisses artist labor, Hennessy sees the Home Theater Festival "starting to rebuild this broken bond between the artist and society by making everything really transparent, inviting people into your home. I think all the issues around private and public are really fascinating [and] very much inspired by certain feminist issues that have come to be in the foreground of what queer is. There's all kinds of lineage in that."
Wherever the contradictions and tensions may ultimately lead, this continues to be an exciting moment across a range of contemporary performance in the Bay Area. For its part, THEOFFCENTER is looking ahead to their second season with a conviction born of early but impressive successes many can rally behind. Sopprani says TOC will be pushing work "that integrates the arts and artists across platforms and communities." His examples include Killer Queen: The Story of Paco the Pink Pounder, a show about a gay boxer that will be staged in actual boxing rings in San Francisco and Los Angeles; and Taylor Mac's The Lily's Revenge, in which TOC comes on board as a community partner in the Magic Theatre's much anticipated Bay Area premiere.
"We are hoping to stick around for the long term," says Sopprani, marveling at all they've accomplished thus far. "It's amazing what comes out of putting the artist first. Entire houses continue to get filled. People are liking what they see, and I am very proud of us all."
Special thanks to Mark McBeth (markmcbethprojects.com) for his invaluable "field recordings in performance anthropology," which gave audiovisual access to some of the performances and artists drawn on for this article.