Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Medea Project and Katastrophe

Yesterday was the Women and Theater and LGBT Studies pre-conference for ATHE (Association for Theater in Higher Education) in San Francisco. For the evening keynote performance, Rhodessa Jones brought some of her performers from The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women, which was completely amazing. I expected it to be simple, honestly, girls with no performance training enacting their life stories and what got them to prision, but it was actually amazing from a performance standpoint as well. These women were wonderful artists, which made me all that much more impressed with Jones' work. I will most certainly buy the book one of these days.

Following Jones, katastrophe performed. The sad thing was that by that time it was 10pm, and almost everyone was exhausted from a full day of conference and only a few people were left in the audience. Even some of the people I would have expected to stay there, like the girl from Santa Barbara who studies transgender performance, went home. So Katastrophe was left in this big theater, performing by himself to about 20 or 30 people scattered throughout the audience. He did a valiant job, and he was great holding his own on a panel (with SEC among others) in the middle of the day, but it was clear that he belonged in a smaller venue with 2 or 3 other artists (or perhaps a show like Fresh Meat) and an audience with much more energy. Hearing more of his songs, though, convinced me to buy his CD (despite the awkward way the conference organizer relished saying the name Let's f*ck and then talk about my problems). I look forward to seeing him perform more in his element at some point. I hope they paid him well for this gig, though.

I must confess that one of the highlights of seeing Katastrophe is also getting a glimpse of Michelle Tea, who also rocks. I love her books and getting a chance to see her is pretty cool. One of these days I'll have to go and hear her speak or do a reading. I'm still a bit mad at myself for missing her in LA.

Earlier in the day, I walked in late for a performance by Anastasia Coon, who is an MFA student at UT Austin. It looked like an interesting, if slighly awkward show about a queer woman who lived as a man for years in the 1960s, but apparently eventually decided to live as a woman. What was amazing about the whole thing was the slow pace of all the talking. The performance was incredilby deliberate and precise, but clearly intentionally slow but with bursts of frantic energy. Missing the beginning, several things were unclear about the performance but it was interesting nonetheless. I will try to watch out for her in the future.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Richie still a creep

The season for the Kirk Douglas theater has been announced:

all wear bowlers by Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings Based on a Short Story by Gabriel García Márquez Adapted by Nilo Cruz
Permanent Collection by Thomas Gibbons
The Stones by Tom Lycos and Stefo Nantsou
“Solomania!” A Repertory Festival of Solo Performance Artists featuring Jerry Quickley in Live From the Front, Dan Guerrero in ¡Gaytino!, Adriana Sevan in Taking Flight, Roger Guenveur Smith in The Watts Towers Project
“Pyrenees” by David Greig

It it at least much more diverse than the Taper and Ahmanson seasons, but it remains more than half by white authors and performers, and the majority of the people of color are involved in the solo performance festival (Quicky and Smith are African-American, Guerrero and Sevan are Latino). Ironically, at least three of these pieces were presented at the Douglas last season as part of the now defunct New Works Festival and received some funding from the disbanded Blacksmyths Lab and the Latino Theater Initiative.

Also note that THERE IS ONLY 1 WOMAN ON THIS BILL! (although all wear bowlers is directed by Aleksandra Wolska who I believe got her PhD from Stanford and used to direct this Stanford Summer Theater program that I'm currently working on). I'm especially dubious about Richie's complete and utter failure to include female playwrights in his entire season.

In the LA Times article about the new season, Ritchie sounds like a total slimeball. He's still living in New York and claims he can choose plays that appeal to and represent LA? Creepy.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Summer of Old Movies

Stage Door. Starring Katherine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. 1937. Based on a play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kauffman.

Stage Door was another excellent old movie. It was odd and complex with compelling acting and some moral ambiguity. The play was set in The Footlights Club, a boarding house in New York for aspiring actresses. It centered around the moral quandries of a blonde ingenue, played by Ginger Rogers, who must decide whether or not to compromise her principles by getting involved with a big producer who has taken an interest in her, and her roommate, played by Katherine Hepburn, who is an heiress trying to make a name for herself by forsaking the family fortune and becoming an actress. Both Hepburn and Rogers were wonderful actresses with fascinating and nuanced characters who were perhaps the greatest when they were bickering wittily. Hepburn seems wise and knowing in any role, so her performance as a somewhat sheltered rich girl setting out on her own was complicated by her amazingly high status and self-confidence. Some of her actions seemed both altruistic and inexplicable at the same time. She was clever and gruff and not entirely lovable but wonderful nonetheless. Notable aspects of this movie include a large female ensemble among whom are Lucille Ball and Ann Miller. Also, compared to Ann Miller, Ginger Rogers appears to be a suprisingly bad dancer. It would have been wonderful to see the two of them dance more, but I suppose this show wasn't a musical so that's a little much to expect.

To Have and Have Not. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. 1944. Based on a novel by Ernest Hemmingway.

I must say I was a bit confused when the first 10 minutes of this movie were all about fishing. Hemmingway, fishing: did I really care? But then Lauren Bacall asked "Have you got a light" and I was hooked. She is an amazingly powerful actress and was delightful and compelling throughout the film. It turns out it's actually about the French Resistence in the Carribbean in WWII, which is much more interesting than just fishing. And the film is notable for the moment in which Lauren Bacall says "You do know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow." Also, Bacall has an amazingly deep voice, especially when she's singing. Which makes the film oddly homoerotic, although I'm sure it's not intended to be. Bogie plays the captain of a small fishing boat, an American drafted to assist the Free French smuggle a Resistance fighter into Martinque. He happens to fall in love with Bacall along the way after he catches her stealing a mutual acquaintance's wallet. They make a great team, and more or less sail off into the sunset to fight for the French together. Also on the DVD is a Warner Brothers cartoon called Bacall to Arms which spoofs the movie and is weird (and really disturbing) but kind of fun.

The Maltese Falcon Starring Humphrey Bogart. 1941. Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett.

Honestly, I didn't like The Maltese Falcon nearly as much as I enjoyed The Big Sleep. I didn't find the lead female, Mary Astor, particularly interesting or attractive. She seemed neither dangerous nor seductive, but rather seemed manipulative and frumpy. I wasn't convinced by the attraction between her and detective Sam Spade at all. Bogart was great, and he looked significantly younger, but even his character wasn't quite as interesting as in The Big Sleep. The famous Sam Spade would have been more exciting if there were more attention to the relationship between him and his partner or even him and his secretary. But this is the classic example of film noir, and as such was a good, educational film to watch. I will now appreciate the queer spoofs of it even more, and of course the scene with Peter Lorre and his cane was fantastic. He and the Fat Man were delightfully queer and strange.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Read it for the Pictures II

Halberstam, Judith and Del LaGrace Volcano. The Drag King Book. London and New York: Serpent's Tail, 1999.

This is a beautiful book, and I'm actually quite a fan of Judith Halberstam's work, but I found the book somewhat disappointing nonetheless. The book contains photograhps of drag kings primarily from London, San Francisco, and New York by Del LaGrace Volcano. The images are beautiful and artistic, and my only complaint about them is the fact that Del himself appears in a disproportionate number of them. For a collection of artwork, however, that seems quite acceptable and I very much enjoyed and appreciated all of the images. The text, however, I found irritating. It lacked any kind of scholarship and in certain places read like a personal rant about what Halberstam finds interesting and attractive about drag kings. She wanted to focus on the experiences of people who perform as drag kings and live as bucth women or transgendered men in their daily lives, but rather than narrowing the topic of the text to that subject, she threw out various ideas and opinions on several drag-king-adjacent topics.

The book was written at the height of lesbian chic and popular media fascination with drag kings, and as such it deals a lot with the contemporary (1996-1997) drag club scene, particularly in London and New York. It does not, however, do anything resembling a thorough history or anthropology of its subject, it merely touches on various relevent ideas. It seems to be written more for a popular audience than a scholarly one, so the lack of research or references is perhaps understandable as part of the project. Halberstam fully acknowledges her biased interest in studying drag king culture as a partipant, and a few photographs of her feature prominently in the book. The book, however makes gestures toward a history of drag kings, however, that it fails to properly document or support, mentioning early drag kings but not giving details. Similarly, Halberstam does description and analysis of various drag performances and even some of the photographs in the book, but the book is not layed out in such a way that the photographs accompany the relevant text. This project is more of a work of collaboration and friendship between Jack (Halberstam) and Del, and less of a book notable for its text.

The portion of the book I found most irritating was the "interviews" with drag kings such as Mo B. Dick (Maureen Fischer). Halberstam particularly spent much of the interview forwarding her own interests and ideas, often seeming to lecture her interview subjects on her own gender theories. I can't help but feel that there's some kind of weird misogyny in Halberstam's insistence on 'realness' as opposed to "femme pretenders" who remind the audience of the femininity of the body beneath the male drag. She does, however, touch on a wide range of issues, including the racial and class ramifications of performances of masculinity. She draws attention to the fact that lesbian clubs are stil in many ways racially segregated and that queer clubs in general are often gender segregated; there are few clubs where gay men, lesbians, and transfolks mix and mingle regularly. Halberstam claims that when they do, a significant portion of the crowd is also in drag.

The major successes of the book are in the images; it is a beautiful photography collection and it is worth the price if only for that. It also touches on several important issues relating to drag and transgender performances and identities, which are important to bring up even if they don't get the thoroughness they deserve. And the book probably did serve its purpose; it made me want to go see a drag show. Too bad I'll be in LA by the time this one rolls around!

I guess I'm in love with you

The Big Sleep. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. 1946.

This is a truly magnificent movie, and a classic example of film noir. I loved it. It's the kind of film that makes me break out the cliche "they don't make 'em like they used to." But I really mean it. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it. Humphrey Bogart plays Raymond Chandler's famous private eye, Philip Marlowe. While I've never considered Bogart particularly attractive, he makes quite a compelling hard-boiled detective. And Lauren Bacall opposite him was cool and striking; I was certainly fascinated by her. My mental images of Bacall are from when she was a bit older, but in this film she was young and very beautiful, with slightly odd, angular features that make her quite memorable.

The film starts off quickly with some interesting characters and impressive dialogue, and quite soon the bodies begin to pile up. Of course, what I found most interesting about the film was the women. Several female secondary characters, exemplified by Dorothy Malone as the Acme Bookstore Proprietess, seem to be instantly attracted to Bogart's Marlowe and willing to help or seduce him at a moment's notice. Rather than being offended by this male fantasy, I found myself sympathizing with them, hoping that they succeed, especially the cute bookstore girl. The array of beautiful and eager young women falling over themselves for Humphrey Bograt (who, again, I don't find particularly hansome) all seemed fairly independent and spunky and I would gladly have seen more of any one of them.

In this film, you never quite know whether you can trust the women, especially Bacall as Mrs. Rutledge. She could have very easily been a murderess, the femme fatale who triumphs at the end. And that would have been exciting, too. But instead, she turns out to be a good girl. She was just protecting her sister all along, and while she may have a nasty gambling habit, she is in general a tough and fairly intelligent female character, brave enough to take actiion and release Marlowe when he's being held hostage and caring enough to try to take the blame for a murder committed by her younger sister. While this, and her happy ending with Marlowe, isn't quite as exciting as a woman who's just trouble, it was an interesting and powerful character, and I found her and the whole film utterly delightful.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Read it for the Pictures

Stryker, Susan and Jim Van Buskirk. Gay by the Bay: A History of Queer Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area. Fwd by Armistead Maupin. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995.

This book is both fascinating and disappointing. While it lacks thoroughness and depth, the history of queer culture in the Bay Area is a rich and compelling subject, and this attempt is certainly better than nothing. In fact, it's quite a good book. It's just short and non-academic. There are very few references or bibliographical information. Its approach to history seems to be focused mainly on a biographical overview of important people and political groups as representatives of movements, but the discussions of none of these people are particularly thorough. The book is a beautiful overview most valuable for its illustrations; there are wonderful images from the archives of the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society of Northern California and several personal collections. Posters, campaign advertisements, and personal photographs make this book far richer than merely its historiography. It is a stunning book on a fascinating subject and it achieves well its intentions to illustrate and commemorate Northern California queer culture. It is heavily skewed toward the late 20th century, packing about 100 years into the first half of the book and devoting the latter half to the 30 years from 1967 to 1990. In this latter half, Stryker and Van Buskirk devote a great deal of attention to celebrities and bars, suggesting an exercise in personal history and their own nostalgia as much as historical importance. Despite my academic objections, it's a wonderful, short, fun book and I do actually recommend it for anyone interested in local queer history.