Outside and inside - Page 6

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

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

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.

Comments

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).

Thanks,

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.

Keith

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

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