Robert Avila

Intimate company

Cutting Ball's Ghost Sonata stalks the stage as the opening gambit of its Strindberg Cycle

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Dog eat dog

Times change (but maybe not so much) in beautifully staged, Pulitzer-winning 'Topdog/Underdog'

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Gimme shelter

Negotiating crisis and 'Turbulence' at Portland, Ore.'s TBA Festival

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER The word "challenging" gets thrown around a lot in the art world. Everyone wants to be considered challenging. So much so, it starts to sound like a byword for its opposite. A plea to "like" on Facebook. That sort of thing. In truth, few pieces of theater, dance, or performance actually live up to the meaning of this over-used phrase by unsettling basic assumptions about our relation to the work itself and its social and institutional contexts.Read more »

Insider/Outsider art: Paul Festa's 'Tie It Into My Hand' at ODC Fri/21-Sat/22

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In a way, his first film, the experimental documentary Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006), did for Paul Festa what years of classical musical training and fiction writing never yet had: it put him squarely before the eyes and ears of the world as a serious artist. Ironically, he'd never trained as a filmmaker. He was following a musical muse, to be sure, but down an unfamiliar path.

Asking how we listen — why we listen — to music, Apparition gathered an eclectic assortment of interview-subjects (friends, drag queens, his Juilliard mentor Albert Fuller, even his old college prof, renowned critic-scholar Harold Bloom), had them strap on headphones, and then describe their reactions to Olivier Messiaen's Apparition de l'église éternelle, the composer's unrelentingly intense 1932 piece for organ. It was a simple notion that produced complex, and completely absorbing, results.

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Life boat

Sheila Callaghan and foolsFURY set an existential course over shallow waters in 'Port Out, Starboard Home'

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THEATER "No one is stupid on a cruise."

Now that's a line that puts the dumb in wisdom, which is the point. For no one can be stupid where everyone is by definition stupid. And that, in turn, might become the basis for a transformation of some kind.Read more »

Pi in the sky, fig leaf optional

The annual San Francisco Fringe Festival embraces humanity again

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER Aficionados of the San Francisco Fringe Festival, now in its 21st year, know that sorting out the clowns, puppets, relationships, rock operas, and foreskin on display or under consideration across 12 days and roughly 40 shows can be a real crapshoot. But that's the deal — and at least part of the appeal — with a curator-free, lottery-based program in which anybody with an act and the luck of the draw can set up shop for an hour on one of the handful of stages in operation at the Exit Theatre complex and participating venues. Read more »

More than ink

Mission gangs and tattoos are the stuff of a dynamic experiment in theater activism, as Paul S. Flores' Placas moves from page to stage

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER In 2009, Paul S. Flores was at work on his new play, Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo, in consultation with Alex Sanchez, founder of Homies Unidos, when a call came from Denver that brought everything to a standstill.Read more »

More 'Work MORE!' with Mica Sigourney/Vivvyanne Forevermore

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If Friday means Some Thing — the popular late night drag performance showcase at the Stud — then tonight means something More: opening night of "Work MORE! #5," the hybrid performance installation headed up by Some Thing's charismatic and catalytic hostess, Vivvyanne Forevermore, alt-persona of artist-curator Mica Sigourney.

Tonight has even a little more More than that: it's also four years to the month since Vivvyanne Forevermore first stepped onto the San Francisco stage. It's an auspicious moment, in other words, for one of Sigourney's more ambitious Work MORE! undertakings to date (with the possible exception of next year's planed tour of Work MORE! #4, but more on that below). Number five brings together (at CounterPULSE this weekend) a group of drag queens, visual artists, dancers and performance artists in an overlapping series of collaborative performance installations that do away with the usual proscenium setting in favor of a loosely compartmentalized stage that's more like a haunted gallery.

"Logistically, I've never done anything like this at all," says Sigourney, speaking at a SOMA café last week. "It's going to be too hot, it's going to be too loud, and it's not going to be easy." But then, he immediately adds, "that's not any different from a drag bar."

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Howdy, strangers

FALL ARTS PREVIEW: UK-based Action Hero collaborates with local artists on 'Stranger in a Strange Land' — plus more upcoming theater

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arts@sfbg.com

FALL ARTS Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse were obsessed with Americana long before the two Bristol-based performance makers (known collectively as Action Hero) ever set their cowboy boots in the United States. In fact, they'd performed their site-specific first piece, a barroom exploration of the Western (called simply A Western) for years before lobbing it into the belly of the beast, where it appeared as part of Austin, Texas' Fusebox Festival in 2010.Read more »

Off the walls

Strategies of performance animate art — and site — in SFMOMA's 'Stage Presence'

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arts@sfbg.com

VISUAL ART As the Cindy Sherman retrospective draws huge crowds to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's fourth floor, visitors will find it the gateway drug par excellence for a neighboring show just a few steps away. Taking in Sherman's frozen drag — in which visual art harnesses performance as both subject and tactic — is already to broach the invigorating dialogue underway in "Stage Presence: Theatricality in Art and Media."Read more »