Nicole Gluckstern

The Performant: Games people play

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Ask any gamer, or specialist in pedagogy, and they'll say the same thing: games are as important to human development as any the rest of our skill-building activities. There’s evidence of game-playing in almost every culture dating all the way back to ancient Sumeria and Egypt. They also offer an entrance point into other cultures, whether by playing a familiar game like chess and seeing how it translates in an unfamiliar environment, or by learning a game representative of a particular place — Xiangqi (Chinese chess), say, or Ghanaian Oware.
 
But while some games have been around for literally thousands of years, other games seem to drop off the radar almost as quickly as they appear. What essential component gives games like Go, hide-and-go-seek, poker, Monopoly, and Super Mario Brothers such staying power over some of their, perhaps best forgotten peers? This is a question the game designers of San Francisco’s annual Come Out and Play Festival must ask themselves each year, as they present their latest inventions in the hopes of capturing the imaginations, and just maybe the funds, to bring their games to the public at large.

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The Performant: This is Halloween

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Nothing quite says “Happy Halloween” like an evening full of splatter gore and general mayhem, and this year there were several options to choose from, including an interactive zombie apocalypse battle royale at Chez Poulet and a multi-level haunted house extravaganza at the Old Mint which promised similarly to let patrons “live the horror movie,” hopefully sans actual evisceration of ticket-holders, but these are dangerous times we’re living in. On the theatrical front we had the Thrillpeddlers strutting their creepy stuff onstage at the Hypnodrome (through Nov. 23), buckets of blood and teen angst at Ray of Light’s Carrie: The Musical, and a brief, yet enGROSSing run of the thematically-appropriate Grand Guignol, co-produced by Pianofight.

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The Performant: Alley up!

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Clarion Alley Block Party still standing strong

It’s an age-old paradox of urban living that no matter how much there is to do and see it’s a) impossible to experience it all and b) so easy to take it all for granted. And it’s really not such a stretch to figure out that the more we take for granted the more chance there is that one day those things we love will disappear.

Of course a certain amount of flux is healthy, and part of what makes a city vibrant is that it’s a place where new ideas and new energies take root and flourish far more readily than in more insular, more homogenous spaces. And for every street corner band that’s moved indoors, every homey café long gone, every poetry brawl, punk rock peepshow, robot sex symposium, marching band parade, and nomadic dance party that have dropped off the radar, there’s bound to be a new crew of upstart art-agonists rising up to fill the empty spaces, it’s just finding the will or time to seek them out that can be daunting. They’re worth the effort. But sometimes we don’t want to have to put in so much effort.

Like comfort food for the underground, some perennial events are still staking out the remnants of, if not the long-distant past, at least the 90s, where the foundations for much of what is now taken for granted were formed. The Clarion Alley Block Party is one such remnant, and still going strong, as Saturday’s event proved.

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The Performant: Cheers for fears

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If you consume the news at all you'll find a lot to be afraid of that seems endemic to the modern age: swine flu, restless leg syndrome, Ellis Act evictions, terrorist sleeper cells, compromised data privacy, zombie attacks. But despite its almost constant presence in our lives, this kind of fear merely creates a continuous low-grade malaise, an emotional state which appears to benefit only the evolution of pharmaceutical companies and the self-help book publishing trade.

So it's no wonder that in our search for "real" sensation, we often turn towards a more primal state of fear. The sort of fear that compels us to skydive out of airplanes, ride roller coasters, and surf giant waves, activities designed to trigger that survivalist fight or flight instinct that we then harness for our own adrenaline-generating, sensation-seeking purposes. The kind of fear that compels us to visit that most seasonal of attractions: the haunted house.

There are haunted houses designed to make you laugh and haunted houses designed to make you scream, and ideally a bit of each, a giddy state of being which San Leandro's Fear Overload makes a considered effort to provide.

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The Performant: There will be blood

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It’s Halloween season at last, a time of year when San Francisco really shines, despite the encroaching autumnal shortening of days. In fact, during the day, it’s almost hard to remember that it’s October at all, what with all of those music and street festivals soaking up the rays, but once night falls, it belongs very definitely to darker entertainments, a realm in which San Francisco excels. One of the season’s most reliable harbingers are the Thrillpeddlers and their patented evenings of Grand Guignol spectacle, Shocktoberfest!

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The Performant: Up, up and away

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It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman flies again.
 
It’s been 75 years since Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster began developing their most enduring creation, Superman, a character who would go on to change the shape of pop culture forever. The first bona-fide comic book superhero, the spandex-clad refugee from outer space inspired whole universes of imitators, each more improbable and yet strangely influential than the next, and our collective fascination for the modern pantheons of nigh-invincible beings remains virtually unabated, as one glance at a list of blockbuster movies starring caped crusaders and misunderstood mutants can attest.

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The Performant: I’m With the Banned

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Since practically every single calendar day of the year has been appropriated by some cause or another (in this month alone we celebrated Labor Day, Patriot Day, National IPA Day, National Seat Check Day, World Rabies Day, and National Grandparents Day, to say nothing of Suicide Prevention Week, Constitution Week, and National Emergency Preparedness Week), it can be hard to keep them all straight. But one week that stands out, at least for myself is Banned Books Week (Sept 22-28), a 30 year-old tradition spearheaded by the American Library Association.

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The Performant: For Those Who Have Rocked, We Salute You

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Theater artists reflect on life on the road in this final dispatch from the 2013 fringe festival circuit.

One of the most interesting aspects of the North American fringe festival circuit is the way it makes touring with a piece of theater an accessible proposition to even typically penniless performers. It hearkens back to an era when dozens of theater companies sent themselves on cross-country tours in much the same manner as punk bands or circuses (the San Francisco Mime Troupe and the Independent Eye among them), a rite of literal passage that seems quite out of reach for most theater-makers today. This means that despite its traditional, lottery-based programming, a penchant for kingmaking still pervades the Fringe, and certain prolific artists can become as rock stars, circumventing the lottery odds by booking themselves into unofficial venues as in Edinburgh, capturing oddience attention from year to year. Read more »

The Performant: Vancouver Fringe-mania

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Well, it’s been another fringe-ferrific whirlwind here at the Vancouver Fringe, but like all good things, it too has come to an end. The Boulder Fringe is still poised to begin this afternoon despite the flooding, but the East to West Coast circuit is now complete, and many career-fringe artists headed home, wherever that may be, to count their successes and tally their losses (often both).

For Naked Empire Bouffon Company the rewards of its five-week tour appear to be both tangible (a Critic’s Choice nomination and a “Talk of the Fringe” award in Vancouver, quotable reviews, and some modest profit), and ephemeral (connecting with other Fringe artists, experiencing new frontiers of audience reaction, generating excitement and controversy). But it’s been a lot of work to get that: months of rehearsal time, many long days of flyering in costume, hustling for audience and some small portion of recognition. But it’s the shows themselves that Fringe artists and audiences come together to experience, and it’s the shows that will hopefully stay with us long after the bone-wearying nature of the hustle fades from memory. Here’s a shortlist of some of the stand-outs from my second week at the Vancouver Fringe. Catch them elsewhere if you can.

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Bikes to books

Pedal through San Francisco's literary past on this fun bike tour 

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San Francisco has been home to some of the true giants of American literature and poetry, from Jack London and Mark Twain to Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. To honor that past, 12 streets were renamed for these and other writers on Oct. 2, 1988, and there will be a 25th anniversary celebration of that dedication coming up on Oct. 6. Read more »