Theater

Government smackdown

The Taming hits below the Beltway but stays shy of a knockout

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arts@sfbg.com

THEATER The premise of Bay Area playwright Lauren Gunderson's latest, The Taming (not to be confused with her other latest, I and You, running more or less simultaneously at Marin Theatre Company), felt riotously germane on opening night, less than a week into the recent shutdown of the federal government. But only at first.Read more »

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 »

Grown up stuff: themes of rejection and reclamation at Portland's TBA Festival

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Now in its 11th year, Portland, Ore.'s Time-Based Art Festival is fall's major performance festival to the north (almost simultaneous with REDCAT's Radar LA, the major festival to the south). Mounted annually by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA), TBA has become something of a pilgrimage site for Bay Area artists and audiences, judging by the number of familiar faces onstage and off both this year and last.

PICA's artistic director, Angela Mattox, has something to do with this. As the former performing arts programmer at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Mattox (now in her second year at PICA) retains strong ties to Bay Area artists. Other likely factors include the relative proximity and general cultural appeal of Portland (an increasing refuge to artists and others pushed out of San Francisco by gentrification), not to mention the scandalous lack of any Bay Area performance festival of comparable scope.

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Self service: SF Fringe Festival tells it like it is

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Note: this is an extended version of an article that appears in this week's print version.

Sitting in the Exit Café with a can of Guinness and the San Francisco Fringe Festival program is one of life's modest but absorbing pleasures. For those without much inside knowledge on the lineup (currently encompassing 36 companies and 158 performances), it's a little like taking a vacation by pitching darts at a wall map. There were several immediate sub-themes to choose from for 2013. I could have picked shows with bananas in the title, for instance. But for whatever reason, I dived into the service and servitude sector.

Of course, the Fringe, now in its 22nd year, is a lottery-based operation, so it is fate's fingers that pluck these patterns from the cultural whirl. At the same time, you don't need the I Ching to know that serving the rich is about all that's left of the economy for most of us, making it hardly surprising to find so many stories of bartenders, wait staff, sex workers, and mermaids-who-are-also-sex-workers floating in the pool.

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Fall forward

FALL ARTS: THEATER Onstage highlights of the coming season

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arts@sfbg.com

FALL ARTS Kings and queens, Brits and brats, music and mayhem, puppets and oppressors—the stage brims with them this fall. Talk about holding a mirror up to nature.Read more »

The Performant: Fringe Dwellers

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It’s hard to believe, but the 32nd annual Edmonton Fringe is already over and touring companies like Naked Empire Bouffon are packing their bags to move on to the next festival, while artists who have finished their runs head for home — whether that’s Australia, the UK, or just North of the High Level Bridge. As at every Fringe, my goal has been to see just as many shows as I can, and in between stage-managing Naked Empire’s run and feverishly making deadlines, I saw 35, which ranged in content and execution from the merely mundane to the inarguably sublime. Here’s a roundup of my personal favorites and companies I recommend watching out for should they make over to San Francisco.

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Sublime nonsense: extended interview with Wet the Hippo's John Gilkey

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Note: this is an extended version of an interview that appears in this week's paper.
 
The sets are gone, and the costumes, and that giant blue-and-yellow tent. Master clown and performance maker John Gilkey has ended his fourth stint with Cirque du Soleil since 1996. But if the wiry, often wild-haired Gilkey and his Muppet-like mug are no strangers to the big time, they move just as ferociously through a bare stage in a small venue wearing not much more than, these days, a bushy beard.
 
It’s been three years since Gilkey last performed in San Francisco — flanked by comedians Alec Jones-Trujillo and Donny Divanian, the deadpan naïfs of his avant-comedy trio, We Are Nudes. Just as the very funny yet vaguely unnerving, off-center style of Nudes occupied some indeterminate territory between sketch comedy and Dadaist destruction, Gilkey’s latest venture — the Los Angeles–based eight-member improvisational ensemble known as Wet the Hippo — takes its audience beyond the usual endpoints of improv.

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The Performant: Surrender to Dorothy

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San Francisco’s invasion of Canada has begun

On my first day in Alberta, Canada I am greeted by gracious Edmontonians bearing platters of smoked meats, a local tradition perhaps, and upon joining my reconnaissance troop, the small but mighty Naked Empire Bouffon Company, who I’m stage-managing for their one-month Fringe Festival tour, we head down to the 32nd Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival headquarters to discover what we can about the territory. The Edmonton Fringe is the second largest in the world after Edinburgh (the original), attracting over a half-million people to the festival site, and hosting over 200 performing companies over the course of 11 days. Mixed in with the vast throng of performers from around the world, a small regiment of infiltrators from the Bay Area have scattered themselves throughout the festival grounds and venues, a quiet invasion of quirky monologists and seasoned storytellers.

And Naked Empire of course, whose confrontational buffooning offers an entirely different definition of Fringe theatre. Read more »

The Performant: The Stiltwalkers Union

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In an iconic sequence from Winsor McCay’s eccentrically beautiful Little Nemo in Slumberland, Nemo’s bed sprouts elongated legs and strolls through the city as Nemo and his cantankerous friend Flip cling to the bedsheets and try not to fall out. Whenever I see performers on stilts, the exaggerated limbs of that unexpectedly animated furniture are one of the first things that spring to my mind, their death-defying acrobatics furthering the resemblance to an unnerving dream sequence.

Tapping into both the whimsical and the deeply unsettling nature of stiltwalking as art form, San Francisco’s Carpetbag Brigade and Nemcatacoa Teatro from Colombia performed their unique brand of physical theater in tandem over the weekend, along with Tucson, AZ’s VerboBala and Hojarasca Andina from Colombia, as part of their transcontinental “Bi-Cultural Road Show."

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Baring all: Red Hots Burlesque presents “Burlesque and WHY”

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Red Hots Burlesque — the longest running queer burlesque show in the country, according to founder and producer Dottie Lux — moves out of the bars and into the theater with Burlesque and WHY (The Naked Truth), a show-and-tell built around the biographies and personalities of its performers, an eclectic group of burlesque artists comprised of Dottie Lux, the Lady Ms. Vagina Jenkins, Magnoliah Black, Lay-Si Luna, Alexa Von Kickinface, and Burlesque Hall of Famer Ellion Ness. It runs through Sun/4 at StageWerx.

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