While it could be argued that every day represents a new year, with each date falling exactly one year after the last, like unconscious clockwork, there’s something comforting in the ritual of observing the change in calendar year en masse. A time to take accounts, and make new goals. A time of psychic housekeeping: ridding oneself of the spiritual and mental detritus of the past, in order to make space for a future as yet undefined.
All of which is on my mind as I prepare to bang out my last Performant, at least for the time being. During the last three-and-a-half years I’ve witnessed hundreds of performances, featuring thousands of performers, in venues large and small, each one a brief, incandescent flame feeding into a bonfire of epic creativity. House concerts, punk shows, spoken word, street festivals, performance art meditations, live comedy, high drag camp, amateur wrestling competitions, robot soccer, battle rap, obscure cinema, alternative dance, home theater, and circus arts have all found a place in the Performant, proving, I hope, that just as borders geographical and psychological can be transcended, so too can artistic ones.
Welcome to the Starship Dental Prize. A vessel so intrepid it dares to probe the darkest, dankest folds of outer space, not to mention the incandescent snarls of surrealistic whimsy. Fish. Squonk. Celine Dion. Her stalwart crew includes a sassy computer powered by illogic (Becky Hirschfeld), a vodka-swilling ensign Anton Anton (Bryce Byerley), psychic science officer Mentoo Fractosa (Chandler White), and a pelvic-thrust obsessed captain Oliver Clozoffe (Jody Frandle). Her mission, undetermined. Her story, as yet unwritten.
Upon reaching the fifth floor of the California Institute of Integral Studies, a wall of makeshift web diagrams asks arriving oddience members to detail what the longest amount of time they went without sleep was, and what do they tell themselves to get through stress. The average appears to be around 36 hours — which is about as long as I can boast — but no responders quite match the Guinness Book record of 449 hours held by Maureen Weston, nor even to the 60 hours that Mugwumpin, creators of performative “occurrences,” intend to stay awake in this, its last presentation of the year, Asomnia.
Valencia Street art space struggles to retain its physical and spiritual existence
Sometimes you stumble across places that just feel like home the instant you step across the threshold. Maybe not the kind of home where you lounge around in sweatpants binging on Dynamo Donuts and Netflix, but a home that offers comfort for the spirit, where creativity and intention reign. Curiosity shop, design showcase, and artist enclave, Viracocha at 998 Valencia Street has been one such home for many, from the poets who helped build its pallet-wood walls, to the neighborhood literati who donated to and borrowed from Ourshelves, the private lending library that until very recently occupied the back of the building, to the acoustic musicians and spoken-word artists who gathered in the basement to perform and to connect, to the visual artists whose work was treated as décor first and merchandise almost as an afterthought.
Despite the supposed onset of winter, it’s another sunny day as I pedal up to the San Francisco Columbarium, a stately domed edifice perched at the end of a discreet cul de sac off Geary and Arguello. Currently operated by the secular Neptune Society, the Columbarium is one of the last remaining repositories for the dead within San Francisco city limits, the majority of San Francisco’s deceased having been relocated to Colma from the turn of the 20th century on. A group of about 30 curiosity seekers have gathered at the gates. We’ve all come for an Obscura Society “field trip,” in this instance a tour of the iconic structure, led by the man who has been credited with almost single-handedly presiding over the Columbarium’s resurrection from decades of neglect, Emmitt Watson.
The Obscura Society is an offshoot of four year-old online encyclopedia of wonder, Atlas Obscura, and other local excursions have included ones to Suisun Bay, the Albany Bulb, the San Francisco Motorcycle Club clubhouse, an abandoned train station in Oakland, the Zymoglyphic Museum of San Mateo, and an after-dark tour of the Woodlawn cemetery in Colma. Like a darker, more relentless version of Nerd Nite with stronger drinks and more historians, its Tuesday night salons at the DNA Lounge are equally expansive, covering a whole gamut of hidden histories on topics such as vigilantes, rum-runners, the Donner Party, rail transportation, and absinthe.
When a friend of a friend held his 33 1/3rd birthday party, he filled the rooms of his apartment with turntables and stacks of LPs for his guests to play themselves. It was basically the best party ever, and a good argument for propagating the tradition of celebrating that particular milestone. And of course what better milestone to celebrate if you’re in the music business, like long-time independent label Alternative Tentacles? Particularly in a business climate unkind to independent anything, to be able to celebrate three-plus decades of sticking it to the establishment at all is some cause for jubilee.
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.
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.
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.
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!