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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Better Late Than Never: Eurydice

Sarah Ruhl. Eurydice. Circle X Theatre Company. 12/17/06.

I saw this one weeks ago at this point, but it's still playing, so you can check it out still at least. I was conflicted about Eurydice, which I suppose is why it took me so long to write about it. Charles McNulty of the LA Times listed it as one of his best of 2006, but I'm much more reserved about it. I do believe it is well-written - Ruhl's use of language is evokative and skillful. I absolutely loved the teal tile of Brian Sidney Bembridge's set. Kelly Brady as Euridyce is a striking and powerful actress. But, honestly, I was hoping for more from Ruhl than a beautiful play.

In once sense, Eurydice is strikingly anti-feminist and that really bothers me. It's all about a girl passing from the house of her father to the house of her husband and her refusal to grow up. The main premise is that a wedding is the moment in which a girl leaves her father and marries her husband - there are no other options for her. My problem with it is that Eurydice sometimes seems rather than the active main character of the play a passive absent center. She refuses to grow and instead chooses childhood and forgetting in the arms of her father - she doesn't reject the idea that she must choose between father and husband and learn to stand on her own as I would like her to do. The play starts out so hopefully as a recentering of the Orpheus myth to focus on the woman neglected in the story of a great mythical musician, and I still believe there's a lot of potential in this story, but in many ways that's not what Ruhl is trying to do. She's using the myth to tell her own story, and her own personal conflict, which is fine and in many ways beautiful, but for one of the few plays out there by women and one of the few women playwrights to get national attention, I think it's kind of tragic that the mindset of this play is so regressive.

The husband, an Orpheus played by Tim Wright, is part Greek poet and part urban hipster rocker, but sometimes treats Eurydice as a child and certainly denigrates her bookish intelligence. Personally, I was terribly conflicted about whether he was horrible to her and she was better off dead or if he was sweet and learning to respect her, which is part of what makes this play so complex and forces me to fight my tendency to dismiss it. The relationship between the two of them is interesting and complex and conflicted and gives a lot of depth to the play.

Is it fair of me to fault her for not telling the story I'd like to hear? Perhaps not, but I do wish it had been different. Frank' Wild Lunch attributes the feeling of this play being not quite right or not quite satisfying to modernity and his own detachment, aserting that "I feel like it wants to be a deeply felt examination of grieving, and I should be a puddle of tears by the time the show's over, like the puddles of water all over the stage," but I don't think it really wanted to be about grieving at all. I saw it as an examination of growth and maturity and death and the futility of resistance of each of these. I felt there was more resignation and melancholy than real grief in the play and that in itself is frustrating.

Friday, December 29, 2006

What's a femme to do?

Now, I have a fairly vast wardrobe. I have dresses and skirts galore. A plethora of high heels and stockings with backseams. And I have a large wardrobe of slacks and sweaters and other sensible, moderately respectable clothes for teaching. But there are some occasions for which none of these things are proper attire. Sadly, I'm tragically unhip and don't do casual wear well. So I often show up to plays and events somewhat overdressed, but I usually shrug this off as femme performativity and all in good fun.

Today, however, like many other days, I find myself in a casual daytime situation for which I have absolutely no solution. I want to be more hip and less formal than my sweaters for teaching and I want to be comfortable. But I have not mastered the art of cute t-shirts and jeans or any other appropriate look for the days when a retro halter sundress isn't quite right. How to be cute and femme in jeans? What can I wear that's resistant and slightly punk without overdoing it? My gay best friend tells me that I have not yet mastered the art of the little black t-shirt, which can solve so many of these problems. He's right; I own far too few t-shirts. There are the old ones that I sleep in, and a couple I've picked up at concerts and shows, but I own very few t-shirts that are actually anything resembling cool. I've only begun to accept the idea that I can pull off a tight-ish, girly t-shirt rather than a huge baggy men's t-shirt, which is never particularly cool. I only buy a t-shirt if I really, really love it. It has to both look cute and say or support something I agree with. I own very few slogan t-shirts because there's a very high threshold for accpetability. I'm fine with t-shirts with just pictures on them, though, as long as the pictures are cute and I can explain where the t-shirt came from if asked. So I'm asking for help and taking suggestions. What can and should I wear in casual situations? What cute t-shirts should I own? Help!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Chicano Gay Elvis Christmas - Maybe Worth the Wait

El Vez. My Mexican Merry Mex-mas. The Knitting Factory. 12/22/06.

Note: the first half of this post is a rant. If you want to know about the show, skip to the second paragraph.

OK, maybe I should have been prepared for this, but when I decided to go to the El Vez show, I was thinking it would be more like a theater experience and less like a rock concert. As in, I assumed there would be seats and that it would start sometime close to the posted starting time, which was 8pm. I was very wrong, and for that I suffered. When we got to the Knitting Factory at 5 minutes to 8, it was almost completely empty, even though the Knitting Factory website implied that the show started at 7 and you had to read the small print to see that actually the doors opened at 7 and the show started at 8. If we had been familiar with the space, we might have realized that getting there that early might have allowed us to get a seat in the upstairs balcony, but we didn't know there was an upstairs balcony and by the time we discovered it, there were no seats left. I will say that the space is extremely poorly designed and they could provide much more seating if they wished. The reason sitting down would have been important was that I, not anticipating standing for hours, had worn new high heeled boots that, while totally cute, were not meant for heavy-duty use and hadn't yet been broken in at all. My feet are still a bit tingly and sore. So, not only did the show not start on time, it didn't start 'til 9:15 and there was nothing really to do while we were waiting. The friend I was with wasn't a big drinker and hadn't really been prepared for this show - she had agreed to come with me on a whim - so I felt really bad that she was waiting around and I didn't want her to have a miserable experience and the music was too loud to talk over but not particularly good for dancing to (mostly Christmas music and some of the more obscure El Vez songs), so we sat there waiting and being bored. Eventually (9:15) the opening act, Human Hands came out. They were mildly amusing, and if they had started at 8 as advertised, I might have liked them, but after waiting so long, I was just angry that they weren't El Vez that I had no patience with them. They were a totally dorky, which could have been cute if I were in the right humor, but I wasn't, so mostly I thought they sucked for not being El Vez.

When El Vez finally came onstage, somewhere around 10:15, I was so fed up with waiting that I was almost ready to leave. Seriously, I was not happy. But then he started, and all of a sudden I was in the Christmas spirit. The whole show was delightfully campy and fun and spirited. "Mamacita, Donde Esta Santa Claus" and "Brown Christmas" managed to make me feel festive where all of my roommate's Doris Day Christmas music had not. His renditions of crowd favorites such as "Huraches Azules" and "[You Ain't Nothin' but a] Chihuahua" had everyone laughing and screaming. The show included political calls for peace and acceptance as well as general holiday cheer, Chicano culture, and Elvis-ness. El Vez is a truly delightful performer and I would gladly go see him again any time.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Longest Night

I spent the longest night of the year with friends and family, as it should be. I went to dinner and a play with my parents down in Orange County, then returned to LA to see friends. We watched the Pee Wee's Playhouse Christmas Special and The Judy Garland Christmas Show and then played goofy video games until 3am. I drove home tired and happy and didn't get to sleep until nearly dawn, which is, I think, the perfect way to celebrate solstice.

For other solstice celebrations, the always delightful S. Bear Bergman proposed spending The Longest Night telling stories. Sadly, I am not much a storyteller but an avid audience and I very much appreciate the results of hir evening. Poet and storyteller ryka aoki de la cruz also offers up a Christmas story and jackadandy gives us solstice art.

Friday, December 15, 2006

¡Una Tortillera Caliente!

Mastering Sex & Tortillas by Adelina Anthony. The Theater District. 12/15/06.



Adelina Anthony is a talented chicana lesbian performance artist returning to Los Angeles after several years away. Mastering Sex & Tortillas demonstrates her skills to the utmost in a hilarious two-character one-woman show. This piece is seriously a performance art powerhouse that kept me laughing aloud all night long. Anthony creates a super-fun, playful vibe and her supurb timing keeps the show moving at rocket speed.

The evening begins with La Professora Mama Chocha, una fiesty, flirty femme instructress, teaching her clase "How to become a tortillera" con mucho drama. You'll never look at a warm tortilla quite the same way again. The second half features Papi Duro, Fearless Butcha Instigator, teaching her recruits to infiltrate Beverly Hills and fundraise for the movemiento. Both characters are lovingly-crafted and delightfully funny. While personally I especially apreciated the utter ridiculousness of La Professora Mama Chocha cuando she demonstrated the importance of her experience as a Tejana as it contributed to her early skills as a lesbian, Papi Duro y su lugar en the 1960s Chicano movement era muy interestante tambien.

Get everyone you know who is Chicana, Lesbiana, or a tortilla-lover of any sort and go to the theater this weekend because it closes on Sunday. If nothing else, you'll learn a lot about Spanish slang and laugh out loud all night long. If you don't believe me when I say that this is an excellent show to which you should run immediately, take jackadandy's word for it.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Nasty Lesbians to the Rescue

Positively Nasty. LTTR issue 5 Release Party. Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects. 12/09/06.

This was an excellent event with a super cool crowd. LTTR attracts kinds of people with whom I wish I belong, even though I don't exactly fit in. It's an artsy creative rebellious (and fairly academic) kind of vibe. There was a proliferation of gender presentation, creative self-expression, leather, tattoos, piercings, makeup, and well-placed grunge. There were many people with butch, trans, and andro looks with whom I would gladly flirt. There were also plenty of hip boys - it was in no way a lesbian-exclusive event. And, while playing up the femininity feels so good in queer contexts, it doesn't quite mesh (or get me dates - sigh) with this crowd. Oh well, I had fun anyway.

But on to the performances. I feel bad commenting, because I walked in well after the performances began (traffic - ugh), so I missed a gret deal of the fun. Although it was a combination performance and social event and thus I'm not the only one who walked in in the middle or spent more time socializing than paying attention to the excellent performances. Some of the stuff I missed looked interesting, too. Tania Hammidi (whose column you can read at dotnewsmagazine) seemed to have done something involving green lipstick and crazy hair, which I find to be a fascinating departure from her everyday look. She also had a video piece called "I Find America Nasty" which was appropriately icky. There was also someone wandering around with a paper bag on hir head and a sign that said "she-male inside" - I have no idea if this was related to a performance that I missed, a bit of performance art, or just the way someone chose to attend the party.

I arrived in the middle of Silas Howard's performance. Ze was reading a poem/story and I didn't quite catch the main subject other than the fact that the speaker had feelings for a girl. But there was a fascinating tangent about sea cucumbers. And really, I would watch Howard read the phone book. Ze is completely adorable and totally crushworthy. Sigh.

The next peformers were a band whose name I didn't quite catch (the mic was really not so loud and I was in the back of a large noisy room). But their instruments included two flutes and a wacky rain-sounding disc thing. Their music was cool and mellow and one of the women was wearing skin-tight gold pants.

Eileen Myles was totally awesome and fascinating. She's a kickass performer/poet/person/speaker.

The final performance, however, was my favorite (and also the only one that the audience shut up for). My Barbarian performed a wacky and hilarious tribute to the Iraq War, including a delightful song about the Iraq Study group that asked "What is your favorite thing about the Iraq War?" They ended with a plea to "Bring Our Gay Troupes Home" and in general were irrevent and political in a clever and entertaining way. These are some talented perfomers and I look forward to seeing more of them in the future.

Overall, it was a great event, and I'm pretty sad that I only managed to see half of it. I appreciate all the work that the LTTR folks do to put together awesome events in both LA and NY as well as putting out an interesting zine. Bravo and thanks.

Friday, December 08, 2006

2 Super Cool Events this Weekend

ryka aoki de la cruz presents:
Queer, Kewl, and Cultured!
A night of stunning queer West Coast poetry, music, performance, and dance.

FRIDAY, Dec. 8 @ Tribal Café 7 pm
1651 W. Temple St., Los Angeles, CA., 90026

Lauren Wheeler, Jennifer Fox Bennett, Helen Wong (aka Allenina), Tiko, Edgrrr Grajeda, Lauren Steely
Tiko—Tiko’s from Little Havana, and a crowned priest in the Lukumi faith. He’s also so incredibly talented it’s sick, and Afro-Cuban beats flow from him like moonlight off the evening sand.

Lauren Wheeler—From San Francisco, no one channels broken-glass imagery into hardcore rhythms like our favorite National Slam poet, goth/industrial go-go dancer, and video game producer.

Helen Wong (also known as Allenina)—Admit it! If you’re into transsexuals, you’ve probably visited http://www.allenina.com. Speaking of hardcore, this transsexual model, scholar, and actress, and former porn icon has been there and done that. Wouldn’t you like to see what she’s up to now?

Jennifer Fox Bennett—Poet, actor, engineer, member of the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on the ethereal Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Canada. OMG! Jennifer’s words will take you away and leave you breathless.

Edgrrrr Grajeda—award-winning dancer, actor, poet. From Guadalajara, Mexico, Edgrrr’s so beautiful and honest you’ll want to sell your possessions and run screaming naked on the beach.

Lauren Steely—musician, poet, transgender activist. The sexiest redhead you can imagine, only smarter and with a better sense of timing.

The cover for this special night is $5. All proceeds will go to the artists!


**************************


December 9th: LTTR V/ issue 5/ Positively Nasty

celebrating the release with live performances by: My Barbarian, Eileen Myles, James Tsang, Silas Howard, Anna Sew Hoy and Giles Miller, Zackary Drucker, K8 Hardy and more!

at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angles Projects
5795 West Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232

7 to 9 pm with an after party at Mandrake on La Cienega

come one come all come out

contributors to issue 5 include:
Alvin Baltrop, Amber Ibarreche, Anna Sew-Hoy, Anne Hal, Bruce Weist, Celeste Dupuy-Spencer, Deb Shoval, Donnie & Travis, Edie Fake, Emily Roysdon, Erika P Earl, Fereshteh Toosi, GB Jones, James Tsang, Jeanine Oleson, Kate Huh, Leander Djonne, Liz Flint, Lupe Rosales, Mariev Robitaille, Rebecca Quaytman, Ridykeulous, Shannon Ebner, Shelly Marlow, Silas Howard, Tania Hammidi, Third Leg, Ulrike Mueller, Zachary Drucker, Zoe Leonard

LTTR info:

LTTR is a feminist genderqueer artist collective with a flexible project oriented practice. LTTR produces an annual independent art journal, performance series, events, screenings and collaborations. The group was founded in 2001 with an inaugural issue titled “Lesbians to the Rescue,” followed by “Listen Translate Translate Record,” “Practice More Failure,” and most recently “Do You Wish to Direct me?” LTTR is dedicated to highlighting the work of radical communities whose goals are sustainable change, queer pleasure, and critical feminist productivity. It seeks to create and build a context for a culture of critical thinkers whose work not only speaks in dialogue with one another, but consistently challenges its own form by shifting shape and design to best respond to contemporary concerns.

Low Budget Fantasia

Pageant of the 4 Seasons: A 99cent only modern Something. Bootleg Theatre. 12/7/06.

Ken Roht has been putting on 99cent shows for years around Christmas time. The highlight of these shows is their imaginative use of brightly-colored papers, plastics, and other kinds of junk from the 99 Cent Only stores. They also assemble an extremely talented cast who seems to be having a lot of fun, and that in itself is important and valuable.

I have mixed feelings about Pageant of the Four Seasons, however. It felt to me like it was trying a little too hard to be "experimental" and "edgy" and not trying hard enough to be cohesive. It would have been nice if there had been a little more gesture toward a story or even more of a throughline, rather than just an exploration of the 4 seasons, but even that wouldn't have been necessary if the 4 seasons themselves were a little more coherent. Summer, however, was a bit crazy and vaguely culturally offensive with its undertone of Polynesian natives and human sacrifice. Fall and Winter were more coherent and blended into each other nicely, but then Spring felt like it was in an entirely different universe. It was fun and pretty, though (I especially enjoyed the folk song trio who began the Spring section). Each season was beautiful in its own way, but they didn't really go together much at all.

Mostly, I was irritated that they charged $20 (no student discount even!) for this piece that lasted less than an hour. It was beautiful and fun, but overpriced for my budget and what it was and that makes me less likely to recommend it to others, even though it was a lovely piece of theater/dance/opera/experimentation. If it had either been longer and more cohesive OR cheaper, I would be raving about it right now. It was fun and funny and beautiful at moments, and everyone who worked on it is super talented. There were many performers who I would have liked to see more of. There was some fascinating tumbling and clowning, some compelling sugestions of character and relationship, and, of course, many gorgeous costumes (I would have loved to see more done with the fish!). There were many things they could have pulled out and made more of in this show, and I'm kind of sad they didn't. I very much admire what they do with the 99cent Only Store Shows, but I will say that I liked last year's better.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Resistant Femme as Domestic Terrorist

Lois Weaver. Diary of a Domestic Terrorist. UCLA. 11/30/06.

Lois Weaver, consummate femme performance artist, gave a combination show and lecture that included a retrospective of some of her past work, excerpts from her current performance piece, What Tammy Needs To Know, and, most importantly, a call to arms. She explored two intertwined terms, "Domestic terrorist" and "resistant femme" to posit strategies for resistance against dominant regimes. Weaver offered public, active domesticity and femininity as techniques for celebrating resistance. The image of Weaver hanging her laundry in public, projected onto a sheet, becomes an image of oposition against those who want us to be quiet and orderly. Instead of behaving properly, Weaver takes off her clothes. Instead of censoring her nipples, she shows a video in which she let them all hang out. She distributes clothespins (aka homemade nipple clamps) with the label 'domestic terrorist' on them and encourages eveyone to use them proudly and visibly. Weaver's domestic terrorism is a subtle form of resistance, but in its active opposition it terrorizes those who terrorize us. Weaver is feminity with power, performed actively and by choice, visible and deliberately not perfect. This is her performance as a 'resistant femme' embracing, celebrating, and subverting femininity. She finds the power and the threat in domesticity and performs femme as visibly queer and visibly resistant even without the butch to make it visibly lesbian. She's an excellent femme role model as well as an excellent speaker and performer, and if you're ever given the chance to see her do her thing, please take it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Fabulous Lois Weaver

Lois Weaver, of Split Britches fame, champion and pioneer of femme lesbian performance artists, will be doing a show at UCLA on Thursday. Diary of A Domestic Terrorist will combine video, political commentary, and excerpts from Weaver's past performances. I'm totally excited to see this femme dynamo on stage in real life rather than grainy video.

Lois Weaver:
"Diary of a Domestic Terrorist"

Thursday, November 30, 2006

4 - 6 pm
1330 Macgowan Hall

co-sponsored by the Center for Performance Studies, the Center for the Study of Women and by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Gratitude

Please excuse the sentimentality of this one. I want to send some thoughts out into the universe.

I'm spending Thanksgiving with my family, and I'm quite grateful that I can and that everyone is happy and healthy. But I have another family that's currently quite scattered and I want to send holiday thoughts to them even though I can't gather with them today. So here's to...

The boys who have known me since I was fourteen and overeducated and full of myself and yet somehow still love me.

Those who have known me since college, who have built sets and hung lights and shed blood with me, who never batted an eye at dramatic revisions of my identity and sexual orientation.

The grad students from whom I have learned and with whom I have shared books and ideas, seen many shows, and consumed countless cups of coffee.

My beloved roommate who has put up with so much and who is such a saint.

Those who are in New York and Chicago and Atlanta and San Francisco whose sofas I have slept on or who have slept on mine and who I don't see nearly as often as I would like.

All of these people are very much my family and I'm lucky to know them and that they put up with me.

I'm also grateful for all the theater folks and performance artists who put themselves out in the world and give me things to think and write about, all the bloggers whose voices I know without ever having met them, and all the queer folks who feel like family even when I don't really know them. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Life Lessons from a Gentleman Butch

Bergman, S. Bear. Butch is a Noun. San Francisco: Suspect Thoughts Press, 2006.

This sweet little book is gender studies, personal memoir, and butch training manual all in one. It contains the life lessons and love songs of one individual butch, spiced with acceptance for all kinds of gender presentation. It's the self-fashioning of a kind of butch that I almost find hard to believe exists in this era in which manners are a rare suprise. Bear*'s butch presentation and chivalrous charm feel profoundly intimate.

Butch is a Noun covers topics as private as cocks and breasts and as public as shopping in simple, straightforward essays that craft a description of how one particular butch navigates hir identity in the world. Bear does not, in defending hir own butchness, fall into the deadly trap of denigrating others' identities. Hir piece on butch/trans "border wars" is thoughtful annd sensitive while appreciating everyone's choices. In fact, the only harsh words Bear seems to have for anyone are for those so hurt by a world that tried to force them into femininity that they act out misogyny in order to distance themselves from womanhood. Even those harsh words turn gentle and corrective rather than punitive.

In describing butch, Bear also paints a picture of femme, and it is a lovely illustration filled with all the love and desire and hope for what a femme can be. Ze carefully avoids speaking for femmes while encouraging them to speak for themselves and offering appreciation for many things that femmes are. Ze demonstrates a subtle awareness of the ways in which hir butch identity makes it possible for femmes to move in the world. Not in safety on the streets, though ze discusses that, but in comfort and pride with their own femininity, which is so often almost as hard to navigate as butch masculinity. I would be delighted if this book helps to raise future generations of queer kids believing in butch and femme dynamics and the seductive dance of their potential for mutual appreciation.

Despite the love and appreciation lavished on femmes throughout the book, Bear in no way suggests that butch and femme are necessarily paired. Ze describes hir affection and ways of interacting with butches and transmen as equally loving, equally beautiful. Ze explores the many ways of being masculine together, in shopping and wrestling and friendship and sex, and reminds us that loving one does not necessarily mean not loving others.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to demonstrate the simple beauty of Butch is a Noun's language or the brilliant intimacy of its subject matter, because the moment I finished the book I passed it on to someone who might enjoy it. It's the kind of book that needs to be out circulating in the world, training young butches and warming the hearts of femmes who sometimes need to believe that such butches exist. And maybe it will reach others at just the right time to serve as a text of mentoring and love, carving a patch for future butches and femmes to follow, paving the way to a country in which butch is a noun and a gender all its own, and those who choose to practice it do so with the bravery and aplomb that Bear models throughout hir book. It's a beautiful book and I heartily recommend it to anyone who identifies with nouns such as butch or femme, or with forms of masculinity that draw upon ideals of chivalry.


*Forgive me the first name basis. The book feels so personal, that though Bear has never met me, I would very much like the privilege of calling hir by hir first name. Bergman, though correct, feels too formal on this particular occasion and I sincerely hope Bear will forgive me the transgression.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Jumbled thoughts

I was out of town this weekend. Which means I was super busy and bad at communicating. I visited friends who were fabulous hosts and made me happy and welcome and made my life so easy. They showed me around town and fed me and took me to art museums and plays. It was wonderful.

But in the meantime, there are so many long-neglected posts that I should have been writing. There are books I've read, and plays that I've seen and want to discuss. There's Nightengale by Lynn Redgrave at the Taper and two shows I saw while I was away, Self-Organizing Men, which I finally finished reading on the plane, and the three books I started.

And then there are the things I missed while I was gone. I'd love to hear about Trans/giving and today was also Transgender Day of Remembrance.

There's the conference itself, which was kind of unremarkable but also frustrating. There was a notable lack of attention to gender and sexuality issues, and even at the times where race was discussed, it felt rather apolitical and low stakes, which was weird.

In fact, the best thing at the conference was the cute butch who I completely failed to meet. Sigh. She was well-dressed and in general adorable, but I somehow only managed to see her during panels and other occasions when it was inappropriate to talk. Of course, it's probably my fault for missing the major receptions and generally not being so good at introducing myself to strangers. And sadly, she didn't seem to give a paper or anything so there wasn't an immediate and obvious occasion for conversation, so I was left with the thought of just plain going up to her and saying something unforgivably awkward like, "you look cute, so I thought I'd say hi" or "hey, you look like you might be queer. Me too." I was afraid that approach could be construed as unprofessional behavior. So I just want to send good wishes out into the universe for the butch with the red shirt and white tie. She had a great haircut, fade-reminiscent but longish and spiky and cute ear piercings that dramatized an otherwise fairly conservative look. She also had a suprisingly high voice for her appearance, which I found adorable. Here's to conference cruising, and once again I curse my social awkwardness.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Upcoming Show: Sex and Tortillas

Good news, via the butchlalis:

SFO PROMOTIONS & MY LUCHA announce

the official So Cal premiere of a Queer Chicana Comedy that originated in Los Angeles…

MASTERING SEX & TORTILLAS!

Written & Performed by Adelina Anthony

(Yes, after viewing this show... you too will be trained to partake in naughty fantasies with butter, Barbie dolls, and political mobilization!)

ONLY A FEW DAYS AWAY! SAVE THE DATES!
Nov. 30th-Dec. 17th, 2006.

Get a good boost of scandal before you have to go home for the holidays! This sexy, progessively political, and critically acclaimed show flaunts & flirts with sexuality, gender, ethnicity, and more!

A night of laughter is guaranteed with characters like the titillating PROFESORA MAMA CHOCHA, & the original PAPI DURO (F.B.I.)

CRITICS GIVE IT TWO TETAS UP!!

"...the original, the raucous, ultrasapphic comedy...leaves audiences shaking with laughter... screamingly funny!" - Tom Sime, Dallas Morning News

"A comedy that will make your dildo blush!"-La Panocha Examiner

This queer Chicana comedy has a track record of SOLD-OUT performances...so get your pre-sale/discounted tickets TODAY!

THURS-SAT @ 8 p.m./ Sun @ 2 p.m.
*Nov. 30th-Dec. 17th, 2006

Playing at:
The Theater District
804 N. El Centro Ave.
(Near Melrose/ Vine)
Hollywood, CA 90038

*OPENING NIGHT includes a champagne reception and a Q & A session with the artist. (Evening sponsored by SFO PROMOTIONS and hosted by Celia Acido)

If you don't LAUGH… your money back! (Unless you're a conservative apretado, in which case all guarantees are null and void.)


I can speak from personal experience that Anthony is a fun, sexy performer and I'm totally excited about this show!

Upcoming Transgiving

An anonymous poster (feel free to leave your name; I don't bite and I love friends who know about queer or trans performance) just left a comment reminding me that Trans/giving is happening this Saturday. Sadly, I am otherwise engaged this weekend, but it sounds like it'll be a great show and I highly encourage those of you who can to attend. Here's the publicity info I received, and they also need volunteers, so if you can help out on the day of the show, I'd be glad to put you in touch with the proper people.


Trans/Giving
L.A.’s only showcase and display of art, music, performance, and literature from trans/genderqueer/intersex artists.

3rd year Anniversary show!
SATURDAY, November 18th
6:00 pm
GREAT HALL, Plummer Park
1200 N. Vista St.
West Hollywood, CA 90046.

Our badass lineup includes visual, performance, music and literary art from:

Von Edwards, Talia Bettcher, Trystan Angel Reese, Caitríona Reed, Journey Light, Jessica Lawless, solidad decosta.

Remember, artists bring original merch so bring some additional cash and pick up that chapbook, poetry collection, artwork, cd or trans/giving tee-shirts and clothing galore!

Suggested donation is $5-20, with no one turned away for lack of funds.

For more information, visit the transgiving website.

This sounds like it'll be a great show. And I'm totally in the mood for more queer spoken word, so I'm extra sad to miss this. But go out and support some great performers. And tell them I'm annoyed at them for not having proper websites that I can link to.

P.S. Transgender Day of Remembrance should be coming up as well. If anyone has info about local events, I'd be glad to post it. I attended last year and it was a powerful and emotional experience. Here's a lovely piece about DOR by S. Bear Bergman.

What do you get the performance artist who has everything?

I have to mail something to one of my recent guests, and I'd love to stick something nice in the box to make it more of a care package and less of a business thing. Anyone have any thoughts about something or things considerate but not too personal I could send along?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Rave Fable Without the Rave

Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell that Once Was Her Heart (a rave fable) by Caridad Svich. Son of Semele Ensemble. 11/10/06.

I had strong hopes for this show. A Greek play set in a rave, that is also a critique of political power and corruption juxtaposed with the maquiladora murders of the women of Juarez. It had so much potential. When Son of Semele did a reading of the play, I was totally excited about what was possible.

The production Son of Semele staged, directed by Matthew McCray, is, as the LA Times states, "overwrought and under-thought" and I don't know at this point whether this could be fixed by a better production or if its weaknesses are inherent in the script.

This play asks for such a specific aesthetic, a gender-bending desert rave, and Son of Semele gets it almost write, but it feels very much the simulacrum of a rave style, with none of the noise and danger and heat and heart. A rave of four people isn't much of a rave, and I feel this could have been easily fixed with noise and video if they'd wanted to. The look wasn't loud or fast enough to get people to want to dance, and if you don't feel the driving beat and the danger, what's the point?

While the set and the integration of technology in the production was impressive, the show was too slow and too wordy. They were so afraid that a snip of dialogue would be lost that there was often no action whatsoever.

And boy did this show have identity issues. It's hard enough when 4 of the characters are supposed to be some sort of genderqueer or transgendered, but they didn't even try. The murdered women or Juarez were played by men, as caricatures, with no sympathy for biowomen or transwomen. It was just bad drag, which eliminates the policial point. The whole idea is that these people, young people, women and transpeople, poor and disenfranchised, are killed, disposable, overlooked by those in power. They are mistreated, forced into the borderlands, and disappered. When Iphigenia vanishes it's national tragedy and pornography, but these women vanish daily and no one cares. If you're going to conflate biowomen with transwomen as groups of people who get murdered, you have to do so respectfully. This is one of those cases (which I'd say are rare) when bad drag really is a travesty of women.

Similarly, the gender politics of the role of Achilles, played by Doug Barry, were suspect as well. Achilles is written as an androgynous glam rock star, supposed to be Iphigenia (played by Sharyn-genel Gabriel)'s twin. Somehow, this production missed out on what makes androgyny sexy. And I'm a sucker for a boy in eyeliner, so it doesn't generally take much to impress me with sexy androgyny. But Achilles' simple black dress, highlighting the masculinity of his shape rather than playing with signifiers of femininity, made him look out of place and uncomfortable rather than rockingly confident. He looked more like Eddie Izzard (who I love) than a sexy rock star.

Similarly, all of the sexiness was taken out of Sharyn-genel Gabriel as Iphigenia. Her character was flat, playing innocence and desolation but nothing young and rebellious and exciting. She is a beautiful, beautiful woman, but she looked to be about 12 years old in this play with her wide eyes and sweet party dress. There was no sense of physical attraction between her and Achilles, no sense of the danger of her burgeoning sexuality, very little sense of character at all considering that she was on stage for the whole darn show. Like the occasional flashes of her in a garden on one of the sets of screens, this show was trying to make her Alice in Wonderland when it should have been her driving the plot, not wandering through it.

I'm not sure whether the play itself is all flash and no substance or if the production just misaligned the style from the substance, but the show just didn't work for me. It was slow and confused and not nearly queer enough.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

More Afterglow

If you haven't noticed, I have very much been dwelling in afterglow from my crazy week. This Monday-Thursday were perhaps the busiest I've been in a very long time. I got very little sleep and survived on coffee, grading papers in the wee hours of the morning so that I could linger over dinners and conversations with friends. By the time I had to teach on Thursday, I was positively manic, but I loved every minute of it.

But by now my real life has come crashing back, and I realize that one of the things I value most about the past few days was that I got to spend all of my time in queer spaces. Between the performance on Monday and Wednesday's Shotgun Ladies' Night at The Eagle in Silverlake (remind me to go back on the first Wednesday of the month for their Gendronaut drag show), I spent all my time with queer folks, discussing queer issues, feeling femme and proud of the fact. Though my feet sometimes hurt, wearing heels and a dress all day on Monday made me really happy. I got to engage in flirting with cute guys and girls, and I was in a space with some people I know well, many people I know but would like to know better, and several people I don't know but would love to meet. It was 4 days of playing with gender signs and gender binaries, of not always knowing what pronoun to use and loving it.

It's in these times and places when feeling femme really feels right to me. Femme invisibility usually feels like such a cliche to me in general, but it was so refreshing to be dressed up and queer and out and visible because I was surrounded by others who were out and queer and visible and who seemed to accept me as such. And it was also nice that it wasn't in a dating context. That this was just my way of being queer, and that it meant I only had to be as feminine as I wanted to be. I could iron Turner's shirts and call the show and strike and in general kick ass and feel girly and powerful at the same time. It's a sadly rare set of feelings for me. And it's so weird how much my sense of myself as a stage manager and my sense of myself as queer and femme are wrapped up in each other.

The whole thing made me want to run away and join the queer circus, or at least run away and tour as Turner's stage manager for a while. I know that's not the life for me in the long run, and I know I'm doing the right thing for me in academia, but when you touch something as amazing as the time I've spent in the past week, it's hard to go back to everyday life and work.

On Houseguests with Charisma

I had a long talk with Turner while he was here about charisma and exploitation. The boy has charisma and he knows it, and he worries about taking advantage of other people because of it. Because he's so cute and talented and confident onstage, people want to know him, want to talk to him, want to do things for him. He asked what he should do about that. I said that he needs to be aware of what people are willing to do for him that they might not do otherwise, but that it isn't necessarily his responsibility to refuse those things. What this whole conversation made me think about was myself, of course. Was I letting him stay with me and share my bed (platonically) because he's so cute and charismatic? Yes, probably, but it isn't something I wouldn't have done for a friend. It's not something I haven't done for many friends before. And I really do consider him a good friend. But I also realized that there are many performers, several of whom are not exactly good friends, for whom I would have done the same. I am glad to open my home and my heart for performers whose work I believe in. I'm glad to help tech their shows (even if it means ironing as it did for Turner), drive them around, or give up my bed to make them comfortable in order to do my own tiny part to help them make their art happen. I feel as if it's the least I can do to give back to people who have dedicated their times to making good performances happen. I may have abandoned my direct participation in theater, but I still want to do everything I can to support talented performers. I want to foster good art in any way possible, and if a few hours of tech help and a bed to sleep on are what I can offer, I'm glad to do it. I would be thrilled to have more queer performance artists on my sofa if it meant more fabulous queer performance art in LA. And yes, that has something to do with charisma, but more to do with payback for the art that performers such as these make happen.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Southern Gents

The Southern Gents. Scott Turner Schofield and Athens Boys Choir. Ground Zero Coffee House. USC. 11/6/06.

The show went really, really well. I can't really review it, since I was involved in making it happen. Suffice to say, these boys are rock stars and they were playing in front of what could be considered a sold out crowd estimated to be 150-200 people.

Schofield performed his one-tranny-show, Debutante Balls, a hilarious and personal introduction to race, class, region, gender and sexuality through his experiences growing up in the South. I've discussed this piece before, and though it changes each time (especially since I first saw it before he began taking hormones and now he definitely looks and sounds more like a boy), it is still the same piece with which I fell in love several years ago.

Debutante Balls was interspersed with performances by Katz, the spoken word artist known as Athens Boys Choir. Though Katz is arguably the more famous of the Southern Gents (he's opened for Ani DiFranco), I'd never seen him perform before or heard his work, and I was pleasantly suprised. He's a fun performer with a lot of charisma onstage, a solid political sensibility, and a memorable way with words. He really broke out with the pieces he performed with backup video and music, including an adorable tribute to the Waffle House and his raucous closing number "Tranny Got Pack," which included fabulous images of dancing dildos. After listining to his CD, which I totally recommend, I can't get the song "Mighty Sodomitey" out of my head, and I look forward to hearing/seeing him perform it some day. Rumour has it that he's releasing a new album soon and will be back in LA in March; I sincerely hope that that's the case and look forward to another show.

Anyway, these boys both put on fabulous shows and I highly recommend that you bring one or both of them to a performance venue or college campus near you. Keep your eye out for when they're in your town, and for goodness sake, let's make sure they get back to LA sooner rather than later!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Histories His Stories Historicities History Cities

The America Play by Suzan-Lori Parks. The Theatre at Boston Court. Pasadena, CA. 10/26/06.

You don't very often see a play that spends its brief time ruminating on the nature of history. In Suzan-Lori Parks' play, history is life and lies, past and present, place and time. The America Play is a beautiful work of both literature and stagecraft. It's the kind of text I love as text, but that takes on a whole new life onstage, which the Theatre of Boston Court's production demonstrated admirably.

The strength of this play was its extremely skilled actors in the major roles. Harold Surratt as the digger who followed in the footsteps of The Great Man (Abraham Lincoln) and Darius Truly as his son, Brazil, gave nuanced and haunted performances that really made this play. Even when their lines were abstract and disconnected, each of these men demonstrated their proficiency with Parks' language, emotions, and ideas. J. Nicole Brooks as the wife did an admirable job in a strange and challenging role.

The great hole of history in this production directed by Nancy Keystone was a spare black space rather than the clutter of artifacts I imagined when reading the text. The stage full of what appeared to be black sand (but was actually black rubber from recycled tires) was the most impressive aspect of the design; it realy emphasized the importhance of digging and burial in the text.

P.S. The Theatre at Boston Court just announced its 2007 season. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wishing to be in San Francisco

The fabulous S. Bear Bergman will be doing readings of hir new book, Butch is a Noun (which Amazon still hasn't shipped me, darn it), in San Francisco. I was going to try and go up to see hir, but there are too many deadlines right now to get away, even for a few days. Sigh. Ze is a truly excellent writer with sparkling wit and a delightful personality, perfectly capable of making femmes of all genders swoon. Those of you who are in SF should definitely go check hir out.

26 October 06
Butch is a Noun reading (with Thea Hillman)
7pm
A Different Light Books
San Francisco, CA

27 October 06
Butch is a Noun reading
7pm
Dog Eared Books
San Francisco, CA

Monday, October 23, 2006

Cute Southern Boys

You heard it hear first, folks, The Southern Gents Tour is coming to Southern California!

Fabulous performance artist Turner Schofield (about whom I gush frequently) along with Katz of Athens Boys Choir fame will be performing at the GroundZero Coffee House at USC on Nov. 6 at 7pm. Even better, the show is free, though these hot boys are certainly worth paying for. They claim "Multimediatheater/drag/spoken word has never been smarter or funner, y'all," and I believe them. This is a show that is not to be missed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rhodessa Jones Rocks the House

Rhodessa Jones. UCLA. 10/16/06.

The Center for Performance Studies and the Center for the Study of Women at UCLA, as part of a Series on African-American Performance, brought in Rhodessa Jones of Cultural Odyssey and the Medea Project for Incarcerated Women for a performance. Jones is an awe-inspiring performance artist and activist. I've seen her speak before, but watching her perform is a different and striking experience.

Jones talked about becoming a performance artist in the '80s, saying that she began solo performance work becuase there weren't roles for people like her. The parts for African-American women were mostly maids and she didn't want to be Hattie McDaniel even though she respected her a woman strong enough to say "I'd rather play a maid than be a maid". So many of the solo performances that I love are dedicated to telling the stories that still aren't being told in most theaters.

Jones performed excerpts from three pieces, and they were amazing. She did a piece called "Raining Down Stars" which was a riff on slavery and mixed blood organized around an experience Medea had while she was in South Africa. This piece was strong, loud, and disjointed in a good way. The second piece was "On the Last Day of His Life," a piece written in 1988 in response to the death of Arnie Zane, her brother's partner who died of AIDS. This was a beautiful and incredibly moving performance that had me crying uncontrollably. Jones' ability to evoke a feeling and to communicate with an audience was inspiring. She then finished with piece from Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues that was a hilarious relief after "On the Last Day of His Life." I learned today that Rhodessa Jones is a connsumate performer in her own right, as well as an inspired activist and organizer.

Those of you in or near San Francisco have the opportunity to see My Life in the Concrete Jungle, the latest Medea Project show Oct. 24-Nov. 5. I highly recommend that you go if you have the chance.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

"Real People": Manufacturing Word of Mouth

Today's Theater Blogosphere issue is: Broadway.com's Word of Mouth Panel. Apparently, Broadway.com, which until a few months ago had regular professional reviewers writing reviews, has hired (I hope they're paying them!) a panel of 12 "regular people" who it will send to see shows and write reviews. The selection criteria for these people was apparently "interesting jobs, funny comments and genuine passion for live theater."

Rob Kendt, who used to write excellent reviews for Broadway.com, was the first to post, I believe. Theatre Conversation open things up for discussion. Theatre Ideas says maybe it's not such a bad idea, really. Theaterboy rightly points out that the diversity of their panel is laughable.

Personally, I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea to have "everyday people" reviewing plays. I'm not exactly a professional reviewer myself (although being well on my way to a PhD in theater history probably indicates that I wouldn't qualify as a Broadway.com reviewer, either) and yet I write and post my own reviews of plays. And I like reading other people's honest reactions to plays. The LA Times Reader Reviews can be a tool for getting a sense of a play before you go, or measuring your opinions against other people's. Forums for all theatergoers to write reviews can help to make theater a more vibrant opportunity for public discussion. More opinions out there can be a good thing, and selecting a few nonprofessional reviewers and giving them theater tickets and/or paying them to write reviews can be an interesting experiment in fostering discussion or offering diverse opinions.

I do, however, think it's a horrible idea to fire experienced, skilled reviewers with strong background in theater in favor of these ordinary people. It's fetishizing the uneducated opinion over informed analysis, and that is not a good thing. Silencing knowledgable professional opinion at the same time as promoting other reviewers is the disturbing aspect of this whole development. Why are the two mutually exclusive? Why not publish their opinions side-by-side?

And these particular reviewers are also a pretty laughable selection. While it's nice that there are two young people (although six seems a little too young to me), this seems to be a group of almost entirely straight, white, middle-class people. If this is Broadway's (or even Broaday.com's) audience, it's in big trouble. These aren't "real" people, they're mainstream people. Note the emphasis on the fact that they all paid full price for their tickets. So those of us who have to scrounge to afford half price and student rush tickets don't qualify to be reviewers?

We'll have to wait and see what kind of reviews these people produce before we can really judge the success or failure of this move, but it seems like a dangerous move away from informed criticism. Will these new reviewers be able to do thorough readings of complex plays? Will they be aware of race, class, and gender issues? Will they offer diverse opinions or will they agree on everything? Will their reviews allow readers to decide whether or not they want to see these shows? Will they be slavish fans or intelligent critics? I don't know yet, but I'm skeptical.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

NCOW

Happy National Coming Out Week. Today, Oct. 11, is National Coming Out Day. I just learned that this is a the commemoration of a 1987 march on Washington for gay and lesbian rights, in which the AIDS quilt was also displayed for the first time.

Personally, I feel like most of my coming-out has been accomplished. I study queer performance artists, teach classes in LGBT studies, give papers at LGBT conferences, and blog from a queer feminist perspective. And yes, my parents know. Life, as it involves constantly meeting new people, is a constant process of coming out. I may or may not be read as 'queer' when people first meet me, and thus I often play up references to my queerness or my investment in queer studies when getting to know new people. It is an effort and an investment to continue to come out on a regular basis, to not allow people to read you as straight or make any assumptions about gender and sexuality.

As I've said before here, I identify as queer and femme. I choose 'queer' over 'lesbian' because I have dated men in the past and I don't rule out the possibility of doing so again. I don't identify as 'bisexual' because I do have a distinct preference for women (generally butch or masculine women) and identify much more with queer and lesbian communities than with heterosexuality, but 'bisexual' is a word that could accurately describe me.

So, here's to coming out. I encourage everyone to do it, whenever and however it feels right to them. Even if it's not about gender or sexuality, be honest and open about who you are and what you believe. Make conscious choices about identity and identification. Own your class, race, gender, sexuality, passions or whatever else makes you special. Don't be afraid to be in-your-face about it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

2Cities: barrios, projects, and ballparks

Heather Woodbury. Tale of 2Cities (An American Joyride on Multiple Tracks). Part One: Grifters, Drifters, and Dodgers. UCLA Live. Freud Playhouse. 10/8/06.

I feel like I left at Intermission. The performance consisted of 2 two-and-a-half-hour pieces, and I only saw the first. But I blame UCLA Live (and my own procrastination). The full story is at the bottom of the post, so I don't annoy those who just want to hear about the show. But I will say that after seeing the first part, I would definitely have been glad to see the second part, and it is a piece worth the investment of 5 hours. My partial review is here, but I encourage you to read Charles McNulty's LA Times review or this review in Variety for a take that includes a perspective on the piece as a whole.

I really enjoyed the show. It started off slowly, but it drew me in to the interweaving tales of many interesting characters whose lives intersect in unpredictable ways. Each of the seven actors played multiple roles, frequently peforming across race and gender and each did so with spectacular skill. They managed to craft compelling and complex characters without any change in physical appearance. Despite frequent jumps in location and time period, the production was fascinating and not too obscure. Ostensibly, this was the story of the Dodgers leaving New York in the 1950s and moving to Los Angeles. It's about the distruction of two low-income communities, a Brooklyn united around their baseball team and Chavez Ravine razed and displaced so Dodger Stadium could be built in its place. This a terrible, poigniant story that should be told over and over, and Tale of 2Cities makes some wonderful gestures at telling it, but I would argue that it doesn't exactly succeed, because that isn't really the story this piece wants to be telling any more. As director and dramaturg Dudley Saunders states in his "Dramaturg's Note," "Septemer 11 occured during Ms. Woodbury's original, generating performances" and thus "this play was maimed by history." While Saunders argues that this is appropriate for the piece, in a way I think it was also unfortunate. I would have liked to see what this performance would have been if it weren't a performance about September 11. My reservations aside, it was an excellent demonstration of theatrical craftmanship and I would encourage anyone to see it. It raises and interweaves many fascinating stories and political issues around identity, community, and history. It asks great questions about which ways are appropriate to help those who need help and even how we mourn. A strikingly talented ensemble cast endures two pieces of epic length and scope to tell many great stories.

Tracey A. Leigh was a stand out member of the cast, transforming fluidly from a young puertoriqueña girl in New York to a crazy old hermit in LA as well as several other chorsu roles. She gave each character a distinct voice and a unique personality and really showcased her talent. Michael Ray Escamilla smouldered as a young LA DJ, drawing attention with his burning intensity. Escamilla as Manuel Vasquez was the only character in the play with any sexuality, which I would argue is a problem, but he sold sex and passion and rage in a way that made him a pleasure to watch. When he played NY police officer Chuck, his character was distinct and equally interesting. Winsome Brown, who mainly in this half played Hannah Klug, didn't have much of an opportunity to interact with other characters (she mainly monologued emails to a brother in Korea) and provided more exegesis than action, but she showed signs of being a highly versatile actress. When she played Lavinia Esmeralda, her Spanish accent clearly communicated the character she was playing, even if it was stange to see her do it. Leo Marks and Ed Vassallo had smaller parts in the first half of the show, but both created interesting characters nonetheless. Diane Rodriguez didn't play multiple characters as much as she played the same character at two different points in her life; she played the ghost of Gabriela Hauptmann waiting for her grandson to discover her body and the same Gabriela back in the 1950s growing up in Chavez Ravine. Though Rodriguez is a talented actress, this role felt somehow less genuine than many of the others, making it seem more difficult to play across age than race or gender. This could be attributed to Rodriguez's acting technique not quite meshing with the others' in the piece or it could be a problem with the writing of the role, which is quite possibly the most distant from Woodbury's experience.

Heather Woodbury as Miriam Flieschman played an outsider, a New Yorker who came to LA in the 1950s but eventually moved back to Brooklyn. Her story was the most vibrant and unifying in the production, and was also for me the biggest problem of the piece. The trouble was that A Tale of 2Cities was really only about one city. It was a piece about New York, with Los Angeles as a side-note and a gimmick. Los Angeles was painted as a city of strangers and immigrants, a city without culture and politics. And while the displacement of the inhabitants of Chavez Ravine was an event that happened here, the piece never really captured the locals of La Loma or angelinos in general. It's hard for me to explain how exactly this piece failed to capture the spirit or culture of Los Angeles, but it felt written by an outsider, which I suppose it was, though Woodbury has apparently lived here since 1998. This concern doesn't make Tale of 2Cities any less of a piece of wonderful theater, which it was, but it does make it a piece of New York theater rather than LA theater. Not that that's a bad thing.

I hope those of you in New York go to this show and tell me what you think. I'd be curious to hear if and how it felt more or less NY to you than it felt LA to me.

So here's my rant about UCLA Live. I bought a ticket for the first half because Ticketmaster was practically giving them away (thanks for the tip, Frank's Wild Lunch) for $7.50 in handling fees. I then made every attempt to purchase a ticket for the second half through UCLA Live, where I can usually get student tickets for $15-20. If that had worked out, it would have been an excellent value and a delightful day of marathon theater. But no, UCLA Live wouldn't sell me a student ticket. I don't know if it was a problem with the website or if they were sold out (they only offer a very small number of student tickets in the worst seats in the back of the theater) or what, but I couldn't get a ticket for less than $30 and that made me angry, so I didn't buy it, even though 2 full performances for under $40 would have been perfectly reasonable. They made the user experience unpleasant, and that made me decide they wouldn't get my money. I get angry because they do everything possible to demonstrate that they don't actually *want* students in their audiences.

Three Latinas Take the Stage

Rocks in My Salsa. Highways Performance Space. 10/6/06.

While this show was titled "Rocks in My Salsa" by Cristina Nava, what it turned out to be was three shows in one. It featured "The Tales of Calzones Cagados...aka Pretty Pretty Princess" by Sara Guerrero and "When Songleaders Go Bad!!!" by Elizabeth Szekeresh in addition to Nava's piece. This was much more of a Latina New Works Festival curated by Monica Palacios than the show I saw a few weeks ago was a Latino New Works Festival curated by Guillermo Gomez-Peña. All three ladies were energetic and entertaining in this evening of pieces dealing with identity, sexuality, and coming of age as Latina women in Southern California.

The evening began with a lovely introduction by Palacios, who seemed quite committed to this show. I hope I get to see her perform sometime soon, though I understand she's doing more writing and teaching than performing these days.

Sara Guerrero began the first piece aboard her bright red bike. It was a tale of childhood told with wide-eyed innocence and a lot of enthusiasm. There were points when this piece didn't quite hold together, when the stories she was telling were too erratic or the transitions were too rough, but Guerrero's grace and her mobile, expressive face and dramatic gestures carried her through so that the piece ended up being funny and charming.

Elizabeth Szekeresh's "When Songleaders Go Bad!!!" was darker than the first piece, almost painful to watch at points, but darkly funny as well. Szekeresh related her experiences as a young "brown" woman in Huntington Beach (in Orange County) with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. She illustrated both mania and depression in a disturbingly honest portrait in which the rough ride helped to make her point.

Cristina Nava's "Rocks in My Salsa," the final piece in the evening, and the longest and the strongest (it was the one we were there to see, after all), told the story of some of the bumps on the road to becoming the confident, self-accepting actress Crisina is today. It was a piece about learning to assert control over her own sexuality as it intersects with her Latina identity. There are both hilarious and profoundly disturbing moments along the way. The most powerful moment for me was an interlude in which Nava donned some beautiful teal heels and danced. Whether I was right or not, I interpreted this as a salsa dance, giving the play a beautiful double meaning in which the dance becomes a metaphor for the acceptance of herself and her sexuality in this moment of dancing alone (with Guerrero and Szekeresh keeping rythm in the background).

The show overall wasn't perfect. There were moments in each of the pieces in which the rythm or the emphasis weren't quite right. I'd say that each of the performers tried to cover too much ground and occasionally wandered farther from their central theme than I would have liked. I would have liked Nava, whose piece was the most polished, to have told her salsa story (which was in the publicity, so it wasn't a secret) earlier, to expose the organizing framework at the beginning. But these are tiny quibbles in the face of three promising performers. Each of these women is beautiful and talented and I look forward to hearing from them again in the future. I hope they have many more stories to tell.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Things to live for

Bornstein, Kate. Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks & Other Outlaws. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006.

There are many things I care about besides theater. For all of you who are new to this blog, you can expect occasional posts about books and gender and sexuality issues, of which this is both. I also talk about sci-fi, comics, or whatever strikes my fancy.

I didn't immediately recognize this as a book I would be interested in reading. But when I read Susie Bright's interview with Kate Bornstein, I changed my mind. Kate's voice and her approach convinced me that this is a book that I needed to read, even though I've never considered suicide myself. I'm glad I picked this one up.

First of all, I have a particular affinity for Kate Bornstein. I saw her speak at my college a year before I came out, and her talk moved me to tears and inspired some great conversations. I remember sitting on a knowl and processing the talk with two people who are still my friends many years later. So I will always appreciate her for that. I also saw parts of a video of her performance, Hidden: A Gender in a class that year, and it turned me on and excited me in ways I couldn't really explain at the time. It's a fascinating show, and I really wish I could see the whole thing. I read and teach her work whenever possible.

Hello Cruel World is in many ways a self-help book for young people who don't fit in. But it is so many other things as well. It's a simple, abstract approach to self-realization and identity issues, allowing even the most avid queer studies nerds (myself included) to rethink issues of gender, sexuality and many other choices that may not always seem like choices from a fresh perspective.

For a book about suicide, Hello Cruel World is pretty darn fun. It's actually quite whimsical and inspiring. It could easily be called '101 things to do before you die' whether that involves suicide or not. The first half of the book, while important and helpful, were slow going for me. But as soon as I got to the list, the crux of the book, I was delighted. Bornstein offers a brilliant, breezy list of things to do to make your life more tolerable. Many of them are playful ways to experiment with sex, gender, and sexuality and also religion, ideology, and sense of self. It encourages you to rethink and reinvent yourself in fun and managable ways. I love that she included such simple tasks as "Moisturize" and "Bake a Cake" as well as many complex ways of rethinking your entire life philosophy such as "Find a God Who Believes in You." She recommends books, movies, and video games to help in persuing each task. Bornstein seems to understand and speak from the mindset of anyone who conceives of themselves as an outsider, and really, it's not such a bad idea for anyone to approach life from the perspective of an outsider. Some of these options are final resorts, only for those who really need them, but many of them are great ways to improve your life for everyone.

Personally, this book made me want to make a list of things that make me happy, cheer me up when I'm depressed, and keep me alive. My list would put more emphasis on simple pleasures like take a bath, return to an old favorite (book or movie), cry, and laugh. Hello Cruel World's list is a little more sophisticated and a little more diverse, but I don't think making your own list of strategies for survival could ever be a bad idea. The best thing about this book is that it encourages its readers to make art in response to many of the steps in the struggle to survive in a cruel world.

This book is a fun and inspiring read for anyone who ever has been or wanted to be an outsider. Bornstein's only rule is not to hurt other people, and other than that, anything you need to do to survive is fair game, which is in itself a brilliant and very subversive approach to life. They are simple steps for changing the world and the way you look at it, and if we're lucky it will inspire not only survival, but artwork from those with an outsider's perspective on society.

Timing is Everything

Of course, just after I fisnish posting an upcoming season recap, Rude Guerilla actually announces their upcoming season. I'm not going to post it in full here, and it's not on their website yet, though I'm sure it will be soon. But the things that I find interesting are that they're hosting Tim Miller's 1001 Beds; they're doing, among other things, Durrenmatt's The Visit, Chay Yew's A Language of Their Own, The Cradle Will Rock by Marc Blitzstein, and two plays by Edward Bond. As I said before, their play selection always shows a great deal of promise to me, and I would gladly see any of those plays. Of course, I'm not so enthusiastic about San Diego by David Greig, but that's a bit of a one-bitten-twice-shy scenario due to the unbelievably dull production of Pyranees at the Kirk Douglas last season. And The Crucible, which, while politically appropriate, seems like the province of every high school and college theater ever. I've just seen and read it too many times already to be excited about a new production. But has anyone else noticed an awful lot of Arthur Miller this year?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fall Preview: Part 2

I recently posted a preview of the major LA-area theaters and their upcoming seasons. What I left out was the fact that LA has a lot more theater than these major houses. To do effective LA theater coverage, you have to pay attention not only to the major companies, but to bushels of smaller ensembles. Many of these are actor and/or director focused groups that grew up around a group of people getting together and putting on a show. They are often idiosyncratic both in their play selection and their style, although some have more concrete missions than others. They usually occupy 99-seat houses (or smaller) that they rent out when they don't have a show in production. At the best, these ensembles can be groups of hard-working, dedicated theater professionals with a clear purpose and goal, creating and perfecting a vision of theater. At their worst, they can be vanity-driven cliques with no real purpose. Often they are a combination of the two, but there's always good work out there being done by talented, creative, committed people, and it is worth the effort to find it.

I will try to limit myself to only those that are established companies with their own home theaters and a consistent reputation. I haven't seen shows from all of these people, but I will try to explain what I know about them, though that may be hearsay and general impressions. This is a personal list of what's on my radar, and I make no claims to its accuracy or comprehensiveness. Anyone who knows things I've forgotten is welcome to add them in the comments. This has taken a while, but it's also a pretty big endeavor. Bear with me. I'll start with what I know.

East West Players. They should really have gone into my last posting, as they are fairly large and well established. They have a lovely new theater and they do an excellent combination of plays that address Asian and Asian-American issues and well-known mainstream plays. I saw a quite solid Sweeney Todd there last year. Their upcoming season looks reasonably strong. I'm most likely to see Surfing DNA, of which I saw a great reading a few years ago at CTG's now-defunct New Works Festival. I am skeptical about Yellow Face and exactly what kind of deal EWP and its subscribers get for this show "co-produced" with the Taper. Is this one less show in the normal EWP season, and if so, isn't that a loss rather than a gain for the Asian-American theater community?

I had a friend involved with Son of Semele Ensemble for a while, so I'm more familiar with their work than I am with a lot of other companies. They do a lot of bold, often "experimental" work with a postmodern approach to narrative. Their pieces are often visually stunning and creative, though I often feel that their play selection and aesthetic are a bit overly masculine-driven. They haven't announced their 2007 season yet, but I'm excited to see the last show of their 2006 season, Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart: A Rave Fable by Caridad Svich. They did a reading of this that disturbed me for its seeming-ignorance of the politics and gender issues of the play, but if they're doing some decent research to back up the full production, it could be a fascinating show.

Company of Angels doesn't have anything announced past Arlington by Garry Michael White, which just finished its run, but they reliably do interesting work and have a tendency toward political issues, so they're a good company to watch.

The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble has a solid season announced, though it has a few empty slots still. They've oddly programmed two backstage dramas, but they both sound interesting. I'm most excited about Paula Vogel's The Oldest Profession, which sounds like fun. Their Threepenny Opera last year was apparently excellent.

A Noise Within is devoted to producing works of "classical dramatic literature" including two Shakespeare plays every year. Their upcoming season doesn't excite me too much, but I will definitely see Joe Orton's Loot, which I love.

The Blank Theatre Company only has two plays in its 2006 season, and is currently mounting the second of those, Hotel C'est l'Amour, which is a world-premiere musical. The company may be most notable for having Noah Wyle as its artistic producer (he seems to be actually heavily involved in the company and not just a name). But famous actors notwithstanding, I was sad to have missed their last show, Lobster Alice, which sounded like good, intelligent fun.

The Celebration Theatre is Los Angeles' Gay and Lesbian Theater, though their 2006/07 season seems to be all gay male at the moment. They just had a turnover in their artistic directors, so it's hard to say what their work will be like, but I'm interested in seeing.

Cornerstone Theater Company is pretty unique in Los Angeles, and quite possibly in the US. They are committed to ensemble work with a multi-ethnic company who does community-based work. They tell the stories of the many communities in Los Angeles in fascinating and creative ways. Their upcoming shows include The Falls at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Personally, I'm curious about Beyond the Beyond: Gay Futureworld, which is a collaboration with gay youth and seniors. Cornerstone's co-founding artistic director, Bill Rauch, was recently appointed artistic director at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which may be a loss to the LA theater scene, but should be exciting for the theater community in general.

Speaking of loss to the LA theater scene, I feel like I should mention the evidence room, which lost its space and closed its doors this summer. The evidence room did a lot of great work, and I'm hoping that something great manages to rise from the ashes of its closing, but in the meantime, we are suffering from the loss.

I hear good things about Circle X Theater Co., though I've never seen a play there. They generally do solid productions of new plays with the occasional obscure but not new play. They don't seem to want to list upcoming productions on their website, but their next play appears to be Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice, which I will definitely go see. Their myspace page has more information.

Rogue Artists is a company devoted to work with masks, puppets, projections and other creative visual elements. They are currently working on The Victorian Hotel created and written by cartoonist Angus Oblong. It sounds like a fascinating and fun piece, and I'm curious about what they'll do with it. What I'm really excited about, however, is their upcoming production of The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch, based on the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. As a serious Gaiman fan, I can't wait for this.

Theatre of Note doesn't seem to have much information on its upcoming season on its website, but their next play is The Bomba Trilogy: Illumination, F*ckjoy, Darkness by Christopher Kelley. Unfortunately, useful information is tragically lacking on their website, but here's what the LA Times has to say. I haven't been to note in over a year, but one of the plays I saw there was mind-blowingly excellent and another was intelligent, if not perfect. They do a lot of new work that is solid and well-written. Here they are on myspace.

Rude Guerilla Theater Company is a company down in Orange County. I usually like their play selections, though the quality of their productions is hit-or-miss. They tend to do an interesting selection of gay plays each year. Their 2006 season has two more plays in it: Hamletmachine by Heiner Muller and Pale Horse by Joe Penhall. I don't know anything about Pale Horse, but Hamletmachine is a bold and ambitious choice and it will be interesting to see what they do with it.

Sacred Fools Theater Company is making it difficult for me to link to their 10th season, but its most exciting element is Bukowsical, a musical based (loosely) on the life and works of Charles Bukowski. They did this as a late-night production last year, and it got great reviews. I should totally go see it.

Third Stage Theatre seems to exist mostly to be home to work by writer/director Justin Tanner, most notable for the productions Pot Mom (in which Laurie Metcalf performed) and Zombie Attack. His work is wacky, campy, and just plain fun. They're not doing anything right now, but when they do it's worth seeing.

The Attic Theatre and Film Center occasionally does some interesting shows. They are doing Closer right now. Their website is infuriating, so I'm not going to spend much time and effort on them.

I don't know anything about The Road Theatre Company, but right now they're doing Dirk, an adaptation of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, which is awesome.

OK, these are the companies that have come to mind at the moment. I'm sure I left out many deserving recognition, but there are some exciting things going on here in LA theater.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

LA Fall Preview

Several of the NY Theater blogs did a bit of a fall preview post listing the shows they're most interested in seeing. Here they are (in no particular order) from Parabasis, Superfluities, Mr. Excitement, Theatre Conversation, On Theatre and Politics, Joshua James, Adam Szymkowicz, and Jamespeak. I have my own list of the things I would see if I were in NY, but for today, lets focus on LA. I have no intention of limiting myself to 3 or 10 plays - I'm just going to ramble about what sounds interesting. LA's theater scene seems a little harder to capture and summarize that New York's. The LA Times Fall Arts Preview, was fairly limited, and revolved around major articles on Doubt and Edward Scissorhands. There are so many little (and not so little) theater companies around LA that don't announce a season but program all the time that it's hard to predict what I'll see until I get an email about it and it sounds interesting. So I'll try to do a round-up of both seasons I know about and companies I'm watching.

So, first off, I'll talk for a minute about the big one, CTG. I actually purchased student season tickets for the Taper this season. To be fair, I had season tickets for the first two years I lived in LA. When Ritchie arrived and announced his unappealing (straight white male-focued) season, I chose not to renew last year and the only shows I paid for at CTG last season were Water and Power and The Black Rider (my parents bought tickets to other shows at the Ahmanson which I attended with them). For the record, I'm not any more excited about this season than about last and part of me feels I should continue to boycott. But, I do believe in subscribing to theater, they offer a student discount that makes the tickets cheaper than any other way I could get them during the year (of course, the seats are lousy, but you get what you pay for), and I feel like even if I see a bunch of bad shows, I have more right to complain as a subscriber. So, I will be seeing Doubt and Edward Scissorhands, along with Nightengale, 13! The Musical, Distracted, and Yellow Face. At the very least, two of the plays are by women and one is by David Henry Hwang, so however much I doubt these selections, there's a little more diversity. If I didn't have season tickets, I might have seen Doubt and I would definitely have seen Edward Scissorhands and Yellow Face. I will probably also see Dogeaters at the Kirk Douglas.

The Geffen has a solid season but nothing that really strikes my interest. I might pick up tickets to a preview, but generally the Geffen is too expensive for me and terrible about student discounts.

The season is already well underway at The Actor's Gang with Love's Labor's Lost, which was in my opinion far from perfect, but interesting nonetheless. I'm curious to see what they do with Brecht's Drums in the Night and Gulliver's Travels.

Highways announces its shows quarterly, and their most recent list is winding down, but Rocks in My Salsa sounds interesting and The Discount Cruise to Hell could be either scary or fun (or both).

The UCLA Live International Theater Festival has great offerings. I want to see Tale of 2Cities and I will definitely see Mabou Mines Doll House. I'm not going to devote this entire weekend to seeing The Peony Pavillion, however, even though I should. Their scheduling is particularly idiotic this year. Two multi-part performances on overlapping weekends! ARGH! If they spread these fabulous offerings out over more than just fall quarter, I would be much more likely to see them. And if they offered a student season subscription, I probably would have bought tickets to the whole series, but since I get student tickets much more cheaply by the show, why should I subscribe? And then I miss shows because it becomes less convenient if I don't plan these things in advance.

Down in Orange County, I'm excited about A Marvelous Party at The Laguna Playhouse. Nothing really strikes me as a must-see at South Coast Rep, but they generally do a good job there with whatever they've got.

At REDCAT, the big must-see for the season is probably Michael Gordon and Richard Foreman's What to Wear, which I'm going to miss because of my slowness on ticket-purchasing. I might want to see Ann Magnuson's Pretty Songs and Ugly Stories.

Fences at the Pasadena Playhouse is probably the other must-see of the season that I've already missed.

The Theatre at Boston Court is still finishing up last season with The America Play by Suzan-Lori Parks, which I'm going to try to see.

Whew. That's just the round-up of what could be called major established LA-area theaters (and performance spaces) that are on my radar. Up next (after I get some work done) will be what I can dig up about the smaller LA theater companies, whose offerings are usually as if not more exciting. You've probably learned more about me and what I find interesting than you've learned about LA, but that's OK.