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.
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.
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.
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 »
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."
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.
FoolsFURY’s Factory Parts Builds a Future for Ensemble Works
Ever ambitious, the process-oriented foolsFURY theater ensemble has added yet another performance series to its production calendar: "Factory Parts," focusing on works-in-development from fellow ensemble companies from both coasts.
Structured like a lower-key version of its biennial festival of ensemble theater, "The FURY Factory," "Factory Parts" brings together ten companies to present segments of unfinished works before an audience (and each other) to gain perspective on how to shape them for the future. Broken up into three separate programs each showing three times over the course of ten days, Factory Parts offers artists and audiences alike to get in on the ground floor of a production’s existence and offer insight and feedback to the companies involved, turning what would normally be behind-the-scenes workshopping into a form of participatory theatergoing.
I caught up with foolsFURY’s associate artistic director Debórah Eliezer to get the inside scoop on the series, which opens tonight.
(Note: what follows is an extended version of a story and interview that appears in this week's Guardian.)
A white passenger van pulls to the curb in a largely residential Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Santa Rosa, discharging a group of Latino men and women at the door of a converted warehouse. The visitors vary by age, class, and education. All hail from Mexico or Central America, but more recently Los Angeles, where they're among the cities thousands of jornaleros, or day laborers, making their way job by job, often without secure documentation, or much security of any kind. Standing beside the warehouse on this quiet street, they could be mistaken for an ad hoc work crew. But the warehouse is a theater, and this sunny afternoon in June is the culmination of a precious week off. Not that these men and women aren't here in Santa Rosa to work — just this time it's on a play.
THEATER About two years ago, a small band of Brits came on an exploratory mission from the South of England to the Bay Area. They wanted to discover what, if anything, they had in common with their American counterparts in the theater world. The trip ended with a party in the Mission, where UK performance duo Action Hero performed A Western for their new friends way out West.Read more »