SF Shakes’ “Macbeth” in the Presidio National Park, Sept. 8th, 2013

September 14, 2013

“And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;”

-Sonnet 18

It does seem that way sometimes. But in my home of San Francisco, the summer weather doesn’t usually start till September, and a week after Labor Day the outdoor Shakespeare festival season is still in full swing. And so it was that I found myself last Sunday afternoon, September 8th, in the Presidio watching Free Shakespeare in the Park. SF Shakes has been doing this for 31 years, and this is the first time they’ve done “Macbeth.” I went with some friends and really loved it. The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival neatly sums things up in their program:

“We believe that Shakespeare experienced in a communal setting elates the soul, inspires the mind and unifies those who sit beside each other. Just as theatres in Shakespeare’s time were open to the sky, being outdoors in the park connects us all with the natural world around us even as we focus on a shared piece of art. Performing in a pubic park allows all to feel welcome and reminds us that art is a part of our everyday lives.”

The Presidio is the only National Park that is within the borders of a city. It’s got a lot of history, trails, groves and stories. It was a military base for many years – until the army moved out during the Clinton  administration. The old military buildings are now being used for peaceful purposes, and the land is being restored to it’s natural vegetation and flowing water.

We arrived early at the former Parade Grounds, where the soldiers used to march around, and where the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival had their stage set up. We put a blanket on the ground and got comfortable. It was Elizabeth, Ted, Alisa and myself.  Everyone took their shoes off except me. It was a beautiful, lazy sunny day. Ted took out a deck of tarot cards and the rest of us began to explore what else was happening.

We walked to the Disney Family Museum café to get lattes. And we went into the Museum basement and checked out their giant murals of Alice falling down the rabbit hole into Wonderland.

We walked back up the stairs and re-emerged into the Presidio. It was exquisite. We could see the Bay, boats, the Golden Gate Bridge wrapped in fog, and the re-born wetlands of Chrissy Field. We meandered around the Parade Grounds, which were filled with people for an “Off the Grid” gathering. Off the grid – indeed.  And in this case that meant food-trucks, a farmers’ market, birthdays, babies, picnicking and in general celebrating the weekend and life.

We returned to our blanket. Food and drink were shared. Before we knew it, 2PM had arrived. Time for the Scottish Play. That was the catalyst for all of this, wasn’t it? Not just for the four of us – by that point a large audience was gathered on the ground to sit in the sun and hear the words that were about to be spoken and see the acting that was about to happen on stage. We all settled back as the story began. And we all watched together. Whatever else may happen in my life, when I go to Free Shakespeare in the Park I am not alone.

A while later I looked over at Alisa, Elizabeth and Ted. They were all blissfully enjoying themselves. I looked at their feet. And their toes. I looked at my shoes. I took them off. I took my socks off. I put my toes in the grass. And it felt like a brave new world. This was big, thick voluptuous grass. This was Mother Earth, ancient and alive.

There haven’t been blades of grass between my toes in decades, not since I laced up my first pair of leather boots in the early punk days. And now I live in downtown San Francisco, and when I go on vacation I go to downtown somewhere else. These aren’t places where one walks around barefoot.

But you can expand your consciousness, your understanding of the world, your love of existence, just by taking off your sox. Or going to a play. Or both.

And the play itself? It was amazing. This was a modern, streamlined “Macbeth.” No intermission. Everyone in the cast was awesome, but Emily Jordan’s performance as Lady Macbeth was, for this particular interpretation of the story, the heart of things. She played the part as some kind of dramatic representation of Kali, or perhaps the Morrigan. They’re Dark Goddesses, like the one the three Witches invoke: Hecate. This Lady Macbeth is Hecate, one could even say -  she’s the one who is controlling what is going on, until she loses control that is. She goes mad; but then madness is also an aspect of Dark Goddesses.  “Macbeth” is about power and greed and much more. As with any of the great plays by Shakespeare, there are many different ways of interpreting it. I’ve seen this production three times in three different cities, and each time my reaction changed. If you go, you can decide for yourself what it means.

It’s also very entertaining, with lots of memorable characters, bloody murders and, of course, those words. 100 minutes went by quickly, and during that time we were also entertained by romantic butterflies who joined us on our blanket and mythic, primal birds flying overhead. I didn’t want the afternoon to end. But there will be other afternoons, and evenings, awaiting, thanks to SF Shakes. As I’ve said before: They’re one of San Francisco’s great cultural treasures. They’ll be in the Presidio for another weekend and then they’ll be moving “Macbeth” to the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in McLaren Park on Saturday September 21st and Sunday September 22nd. And they’ve already announced next summer’s play: “The Taming of the Shrew.” Go barefoot!

Pax,

Vox

http://sfshakes.org/park/index.html

Sam Shepard in Repertory – Boxcar Theatre

March 28, 2012

For the last two months I’ve been going to the Boxcar theatres over and over to see their Sam Shepard plays in repertory. Seeing this many plays of his, in such a short amount of time, in these tiny theatres, has been an incredible opportunity. Some brief thoughts:

Buried Child: I saw this one first,  at the Boxcar Playhouse on Natoma. I had no idea what to expect when I went in. I ended up sitting in the middle of a row of people I’d never met before, but by the end of the evening it felt like we were all best friends. Buried Child became this kind of trip that we were all taking with each other. This is a really intense play, and I don’t know if Sam Shepard intended it to be as funny as we all thought it was, but once one of us started laughing we were all laughing together. And then the play seemed to get funnier as it continued. Whatever preconceptions I had about what kind of a writer Shepard is, or what’s possible during an evening of theatre, went out the window with this one.

Fool for Love: Once again the audience and the theatre itself were an important part of the experience. When the play started multiple cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon were popped open around the room. Which is not to say there was anything at all lacking in the cast. On the contrary, they were all fantastic. And part of the joy of having these plays in repertory is getting to see the same people as multiple characters in different environments. For this particular play one of the boxcar studios on Hyde Street has been transformed into a seedy motel room. It’s not like watching them perform on a stage – it’s like being in a motel with them. You can practically hear their hearts beating. I’ve seen Fool for Love a bunch of times, including the original New York City production at Circle Repertory Theatre in 1983. Every time it’s different, and even now I’m still not sure what exactly is happening in this story. But I love Fool for Love, and this is an awesome staging of it.

True West: Another play I’d never seen before, and what a way to check it out. Boxcar’s True West seemed to continue and amplify the elements that had gone into make the previous two plays so memorable. Down a narrow hallway from where Fool for Love is simultaneously playing, past some mysterious industrial metal doors, is another black box theatre that has been transformed into a family kitchen. There are audience seats set up everywhere, including between the stove and refrigerator. The smell of burnt toast near the end of the play is inescapable, as is the relationship between the two brothers. It’s both frightening and hilarious.

Staged Readings/Workshops: There were several one-act plays that were done for limited appearances when there were dark nights in the studio theatres (which wasn’t often.) I wish I’d been able to see more of them. Of course there was no way of knowing in advance how much I’d enjoy the ones that I did. The “Shep Rep” festival has kind of built up it’s own momentum, and I have gotten caught up in it. I did manage to catch Suicide in B-flat, which was excellently staged by those rising stars of the Bay Area theatre world, “Do It Live! Productions.” For some reason this was the Sam Shepard play that made the most sense to me. It’s got a non-linear plot and some of the weirdest dialogue I heard during the fest, but I totally got it.

And then there were two short one-acts done back-to-back, Action and 4-H Club. The first play ended with the characters hanging sheets over laundry lines and completely cutting off the view of the audience. When the sheets came down the set had been changed and the second play began. They did a fabulous job of reviving these early gems from Shepard’s off-off-Broadway days. And how often does this kind of stuff get done anymore? Clearly, I can now say, not enough.

Sam Shepard in Repertory continues at boxcar’s playhouse and studios till April 14. They’re also doing Lie of the Mind, which I’ll be seeing next. And Do It Live! Productions is moving Suicide in B-flat over to the Mission for two weekends of late night gigs at Stagewerx.  I’ll likely go back for repeat viewings of as many of these as I can, because I don’t want the fun to end.

Pax,

Vox

http://boxcartheatre.org/

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Peter Bergman, 1939-2012

March 20, 2012

Peter Bergman, one of the four members of The Firesign Theatre, died a couple of weeks ago. He was a talented writer and actor, and I was sad when I learned about his death.

I’m a big Firesign fan. They put out a bunch of great record albums that I started listening to when I was in high school. Each record was, basically, a play, and they wrote everything themselves and played all the characters.  They often referred to themselves as “four or five crazy guys,” and what they meant was that when the four of them got together to do something a fifth person, a kind of group mind, was created. I think that the fifth crazy guy will live on for a long time.  And I’ll always be grateful to Peter and the three (or four) others for opening my mind to the many possibilities of not just the performing arts, but of life itself.

2011: eleven plays

January 8, 2012

These plays are eleven of my favorites from 2011, in chronological order:

JANUARY 2011:

MEASURE FOR MEASURE: This was a staged reading by Subterranean Shakespeare in some kind of meeting room in a Unitarian Church in Berkeley. They did a whole series of these on consecutive Monday nights, putting a lot of work into plays that were only seen one time each.  Of the ones I went to see Measure for Measure comes to mind right now because it’s one of my favorites and doesn’t get produced very often. SubShakes proved that Measure for Measure is not a “problem play.”

April 2011:

SPEED-THE-PLAY: Move About Theatre simultaneously did four short plays outdoors on the four sides of Union Square in downtown SF. I was really impressed with the one called Speed-the-Play, which had  everything David Mamet ever wrote squeezed into seven minutes. There were tourists walking by who were probably wondering why these people were talking so fast and yelling and swearing at each other so much.

http://moveabouttheatre.com/Upcoming.html

May 2011:

THREE SISTERS :

“VERSHININ. I have come to say good-bye. . . .

[OLGA moves a little away to leave them free to say good-bye.]

MASHA [looking into his face]. Good-bye . . . [a prolonged kiss].

OLGA. Don’t, don’t. . . .

[MASHA sobs violently.]”

Berkeley Rep’s production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, directed by Les Waters, had everything it needed: an awesome cast, beautiful period costumes and sets, and Russian vodka served in the lobby during intermission.

http://www.berkeleyrep.org/

July 2011:

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: I took a theatre trip to New York City and saw five plays in three days. I planned the weekend vacation around seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company, who were visiting from the UK. But the plays that made it to this list aren’t the RSC productions that I had bought tickets for months in advance. They’re two local shows I didn’t know I was going to see till I got there:

The first was A Midsummer Night’s Dream,  in a storefront theatre on 23rd Street that, I’m guessing, might have originally been someone’s townhouse. The opening scene was staged as a cocktail party, not unlike festivities that might have actually taken place in the same room once upon a time, with an open bar and guests toasting from a loft balcony. And then, we all went off into the forest…

Afterwards, at the end of a day that had started in San Francisco, I wasn’t even sure where I was. But I was glad to be there.

http://thehivetheatre.com/

July 2011:

On the asphalt at Shakespeare in the Parking Lot

HAMLET : My second night in NYC I saw Hamlet performed in a parking lot at the corner of Ludlow and Broome. I have a tendency to romanticize experiences like this. I’ve been trying to write about it for six months, using a lot of my favorite words – urban, cool, visceral, modern, primal, downtown, lucid, punk, Ophelia, etc. – all of which would have been appropriate. But there was much than that going on. This was a really fantastic Hamlet, and it would have been just as fantastic anywhere else The Drilling Company might have set up shop. The Bard was right: all the world is a stage.

Gertrude and Hamlet. (With the corpse of Pollonius leaning against the street light. )

http://shakespeareintheparkinglot.com/

September 2011:

CYMBELINE : Life in San Francisco wasn’t the same after I got back from New York, and I was grateful when the SF Shakespeare Festival began their annual residency in the Presidio. I’ve written about them before – seeing them on a cold, foggy Saturday night (or a hot sunny Sunday afternoon) is always a pleasure, and I still don’t understand why more people don’t check them out. Hey, it’s free! The SF Chronicle didn’t even review this year’s show, Cymbeline, and it was one of the best things they’ve ever done. It’s not one of the classics, but in their capable hands it was not only entertaining but moving.

http://sfshakes.org/park/index.html

October 2011:

INANNA’S DESCENT : Last year Ragged Wing took over a trippy neighborhood park in Berkeley and turned it into a mythic, interactive underworld for Persephone’s Roots. This year they were back with a different Goddess, but with the common theme of death and rebirth. It was that time of year – the final performance was on Halloween. Heavy stuff,  but with a sense of humor and original music. This was something that could be experienced over and over and be different every time.

http://www.raggedwing.org/show/show_detail/18

Here’s an interview I did with the director, Anna Shneiderman, in 2010:

http://voxtheatricum.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/persephones-roots-an-all-hallows-eve-ritual/

October 2011: DESDEMONA & GOOD NIGHT DESDEMONA (GOOD MORNING, JULIET): I wrote a previous blog post about these two plays, both done at the Boxcar Theatre. I’m looking forward to returning to the Boxcar this year, when they’ll be doing four Sam Shepard plays in repertory.

http://voxtheatricum.wordpress.com/2011/10/22/desdemona-the-lady-is-a-tramp/

November 2011:

HAIR: I really loved Hair, The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, which was in town for four weeks at the Golden Gate Theater. I’m still in a blissful state, and not yet ready to analyze what happened. Check back with me later for more details.

http://www.facebook.com/hairbroadway?ref=ts

December 2011:

BAD HAMLET – The Bootleg Quarto of 1603: I found this one by pure serendipity. I was walking home from the library and saw a poster for it in a window. At first I thought it was some kind of prank, but I went back in the evening to check it out and it was, indeed, real. Was it “bad?” No, actually, it was great. In closing I’d like to thank Do It Live! Productions: having a chance to see Hamlet again this year was, for me, a happy ending to 2011.

http://badhamletsf.blogspot.com/

Pax-

Vox

(Asphalt photo by Andrea Beeman/Bioluminosity B&B. Gertrude and Hamlet photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.)

Desdemona: The lady is a tramp.

October 22, 2011

Oh Heavens! I just logged in and saw that I’ve only done one post in the last year. Where did the time go? What have I been doing? I love theatre, and I go see plays every week.  I always have some thoughts about them when they’re over, though it appears that I haven’t been logging in too many of them. But I was inspired by a play that I saw tonight, and as I left I decided that I would go home and write a gonzo blog post. So I walked into my apartment, sat down (in the chair where I am now) and I won’t get up until I’m done. It’s time to share the love:

I just went to a theatre in downtown San Francisco called the boxcar. It’s in a dark alley of one of the last gritty blocks left in downtown San Francisco. This micro-neighborhood seems to have missed all the gentrification that’s happened since I moved here twenty years ago. I don’t know if that’s why I didn’t visit the Boxcar till this month. But they finally got my attention by doing not one but two modern plays featuring characters created by Shakespeare. The first one, which was only done on four nights, was called “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet.)” I’d never seen anything quite like it. The main character gets to step into two Shakespeare plays, prevent tragedies, and then find out what happens instead.

I quickly became caught up in what was going on. It actually wasn’t about Desdemona and Juliet so much as it was about the modern woman stuck in grad school somewhere who went back and met them. She was, it seemed, learning about herself; not changing Shakespeare’s stories, but her own. And that was a really interesting idea. And a great production!  This was a fully staged performance that was put together just to be done when the main show was dark, which meant I saw it on a Monday night. When it was over I was amazed at what I had seen, the hard work that had gone into it, and how I lucky I was to have gotten the chance to experience it.

Tonight I saw the main show, still running in the same space, which was just called “Desdemona.” There was what might have been a subtitle that asked the question, “What if Desdemona really was a whore?” I’m not sure if that is an actual part of the name of the play.  I’ll do the research later. This is my gut reaction to what I saw, and I dug it. “Desdemona” was kind of like Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead,” in that it is a look at some scenes that were missing from another play. The play in this case would be “Othello,” though the Moor himself did not appear. (For a moment he could be heard slapping his wife offstage.)

There was just Emelia, Desdemona and Bianca and a story about what they might have been really like.  How did they end up in the situation that they were in? Why did they behave the way they did? In this play their fates didn’t change, but who they might have been did. “Othello” is not one of my favorite plays but now I’m looking forward to seeing it again from the perspective of these three women.

I was once again impressed by the efforts of a great cast and everyone else involved in putting on the show. I’m not sure what all this means.  The boxcar theatre itself is small, but the talent in it is gigantic. And the alley the theatre is on isn’t really that dark. It’s got streetlights and there’s a lot of traffic going by and it’s easy to get to.  I’ll be going back there again. There’s a lot there to be discovered – and that, perhaps, is what both of these plays were about.

http://boxcartheatre.org/

Pax,

Vox

PS – “Goodnight Desdemona…” was the second play I’ve seen recently that featured ukulele playing, and it sounded wonderful. If this is the beginning of a trend, that’s fine with me.

“Twelfth Night” at Town Hall Theatre

June 18, 2011

I just saw the cool Town Hall production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” I live in San Francisco and took BART out to the suburb of Lafayette; it was an easy walk from the train station to the theatre. I go all over the Bay Area to see Shakespeare plays and I have previously only been to Town Hall once before, and that was 8 or 9 years ago – the play then was also “Twelfth Night.” So I think you can see that I dig the Bard, and can recognize a good production (as this one was.) There were some very talented people in the cast, the set and costumes were creative, and there was live music played mostly on ukuleles. I’ve heard many different arrangements of the songs in this play, but never any for ukuleles! It’s actually a beautiful and versatile instrument, so that was a pleasant surprise. Kate Jopson (who I’ve seen many times performing with Woman’s Will) was a sweet and fun Viola. She definitely had some mojo working with Kendra Lee Oberhauser’s delightful Olivia and Dennis Markham’s snazzy Orsino. And Alexandra Creighton was an outstanding Maria, more clever and appealing than that character usually is,

Town Hall Theatre puts on a quality show, and I won’t be waiting till their next revival of “Twelfth Night” to return. I also enjoyed the road trip to Lafayette. It’s quiet and peaceful out there, and when the play was over and I walked outside the night sky was gorgeous!
pax,

Vox

http://www.townhalltheatre.com/

Ari Up, singer for The Slits, R.I.P. (17 January 1962 – 20 October 2010)

November 10, 2010

(Here is a short article I wrote for the RE/Search Publications newsletter:)

Ariane Daniele Forster, better known as Ari Up, died month. It was reported that the cause of death was a “serious illness” but there were no other details available. I was kind of shocked to find out. Less that a year ago she played at The Bottom of The Hill in San Francisco with The Slits and she had looked great, with waist-length dreadlocks that she kept in motion as she jumped around the stage. Ari promised the audience that she’d be back to town soon to promote a new Slits album, which made this unexpected news even sadder.

The Slits were one of the original London punk bands and played many of the same venues as the Clash and The Sex Pistols. (Johnny Rotten eventually ended up marrying Ari’s mother!) But they were the last band from that scene to be signed to a recording contract, and their first album, “Cut”, wasn’t released until 1979. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” a non-LP single issued at the same time, was popular in the clubs for a while, they released one more album and quietly faded away.

Then, in 2005 Ari and original bassist Tessa Pollitt reformed The Slits. In the following years they played in San Francisco three times. I was lucky enough to see all three shows. Actually I was lucky to even hear about them – like many of the things that the Slits did during their original incarnation these shows were not very well publicized or understood. They played in three different clubs, each one smaller than the previous, and the audiences also kept decreasing in size. At their last SF gig I think most of the people watching their set were from the local opening acts.

But this didn’t stop Ari, Tessa, and their newly recruited band mates from putting on a memorable performance. Much has been written since they recorded “Cut” about how important The Slits were as a trailblazing female-fronted punk band, and that is very true. But I don’t think they’ve gotten enough credit for just how good their songs were. Their lyrics and melodies from the 70s, which had been written while the Slits were all teenagers, still sound fresh and original. And let it remembered that, in her mid-40s, Ari could still sing them with love, and with a big smile on her face.

Pax,

Vox

Persephone’s Roots – An All Hallow’s Eve Ritual

October 21, 2010

VOX: This is my first blog post previewing a play (and not about something I’ve already seen.) A few weeks ago I learned about an upcoming production in Berkeley by the Ragged Wing Ensemble. I’d seen them perform before, most notably in production they did of “The Tempest” in 2007. This play was a new one, based on an ancient myth, called “Persephone’s Roots; An All Hallows Eve Ritual.” What caught my attention was that it looked like it was going to be both a play and an actual Pagan ritual. This seemed like a good combination to me, and one that has historical validity. And it also seemed a natural fit for the Bay Area, where there are lots of theatre people and lots of Pagans!

I contacted Ragged Wing to get more info and ended up talking to the director, Anna Schneiderman.  So here, then, is my first blog interview, an edited transcription of what we talked about on the phone:  

ANNA SHNEIDERMAN: I co-founded Ragged Wing Ensemble in 2004. My background includes doing a lot of work in outdoor pageantry, ritual performance and large spectacle events with Bread and Puppet in Vermont and Redmoon in Chicago. I studied classical literature and philosophy at the University of Chicago – the Greeks mostly. I studied the connection between performance and ritual, and how ritual can be a performance. I strongly believe that theatre is ritual, and that it comes from that, and that there is a reason why it has survived so long.

The type of theatre that we usually see, where we go and sit in a theater and watch something from beginning to end, and there is this separation between the audience and the performers, doesn’t really serve that ritual function anymore – although I feel it has the potential to. On the other side, many rituals today don’t have any craft to them. What I feel is important, and what we’re trying to recreate, is something that is in between: that is crafted and rehearsed and at the same time it involves the audience in a ritual that they can participate in, that feels like they’re making something happen.

I’ve wanted to do something for Halloween for a really long time. I love Halloween, and the sense of accessing the spirit world is compelling to me. It’s my favorite holiday, and I didn’t want to just go to a party. I wanted to celebrate it in a more sacred and intentional way.

So I looked around at what was happening in the Bay Area; I thought it would be great to create something for Halloween that was a ritual and a performance, and some way for community to come together. Then, maybe six or seven months ago it clicked that this Persephone myth would be a great way to work on it. Basically it’s a journey into the underworld, and there is moment where she has this choice, and there is a deal that happens at the end where she goes back and forth between the underworld and the upperworld. The cycle of the year gets created at that moment. It’s a powerful story, and really relevant to the moment of Halloween.

The next step was I found this park in Berkeley – Codornices Park. It has this tunnel that I fell in love with, and it has this field and this wooded area with all these nooks and crannies. It’s really mysterious and beautiful. So these three thoughts came together: the Halloween ritual, the Persephone myth, and this park. And it all made sense to do the show at this place and this time.

I’m not in the Pagan community; I didn’t realize that the gods in this story were living deities; Little did I know that people are actually honoring them in a living religion. I think it’s great. I’m totally thrilled that Persephone and Demeter are still living Gods. I had no idea. This story and its archetypes are in the culture. And people, even if they aren’t Pagan, usually have some awareness of the archetypes. These are archetypes that everyone can connect with, and I hope that the way we handle this myth can be acceptable also to people for whom these are living gods and goddesses.

I don’t myself pray to these deities. But I feel that by making this performance it’s kind of like I’m praying to them; because it’s a piece of art that we’re creating about them, which is probably the hugest honor you can do. I want it to be open to anybody, not just people who believe in these deities as their own deities. There is a reason for ritual; It’s kind of essential to human nature. But a lot of people in our culture have lost the opportunity to participate in ritual on a regular basis. So I feel that the function of this performance is to be a ritual without being religious, so that people from any background can access that thing that we need.

I have nine people in the creation ensemble. They’re actors, singers and dancers, and we’re creating it together through a collaborative process. They’re coming at it as actors, not Pagans. They auditioned to be in a show. It’s more about creating an experience for the audience than about fully embodying the gods oneself. I think there is something about collectively putting on this performance that is really magical, and then we offer that to the audience so that they can experience it too.

The audience is going to enter the park and we’ll give them certain objects to hold and things to do so that they can interact with the piece as they go through. There will be live music, and the audience will help make it. There will bells to ring, and rhythms to clap, and there will be call and response songs. We’re kind of thinking of the audience as a Greek chorus. But it’s not going to be like a Greek tragedy where we all sit in a big amphitheater and watch it.

They’ll meet the two main characters, Persephone and Demeter. Persephone will discover the underworld. I’m going with the idea that she chooses to go into the underworld; it’s not an abduction. She feels the pull of the underworld. Another thing we’re doing with this piece is that Hades is not represented as a character, but more as like a force, and a place that Persephone wants to go; she is attracted by this dark force and then invites the audience to join her. So we will go with her and go into this tunnel and follow her path.

In my research I found that the myth of Persephone is a marker for the patriarchal religion taking over from the Goddess religion. Basically Demeter, Persephone and Hecate all pre-dated Zeus and the other Olympian gods. The idea of Hades abducting Persephone, and this forced marriage, is part of a series of myths about forced marriages that basically are about sublimating the goddess religions to the patriarchal religions that came in with the Hellenistic gods. One of the reasons I have gotten so excited about doing this particular story was the idea of bringing our society back into balance, and bringing back the presence of the goddess to our culture.

People who come to this might not normally go to something that was fully a ritual, and then maybe they’ll get taken into the ritual side of it as well. The parts where the audience can interact are essential to the piece. But it won’t be intimidating or scary or putting people on the spot. They’ll feel like they’re a part of it and they’re making things happen, but nobody is expecting them to stand up and say something, or to go into a trance. Anybody, including kids, will be able to come and experience this.

“Persephone’s Roots” runs Wed, Oct. 27 – Sun, Oct. 31 @ 5:30 pm at Codornices Park, 1201 Euclid Ave. in Berkeley, CA. This is a free event. More info at http://www.raggedwing.org

Pax, and Happy Halloween!

-Vox

24 hours in the heart of the Theatre District

July 28, 2010

I haven’t been going to the theatre this summer as much I usually do. A couple of Saturday nights ago I was even wondering when I would be next going to see another play. I was heading back to my apartment after a late yoga class and walking past Union Square, heading west on Geary, and I heard music. It was about 10 PM. I was curious, and  walked up the stairs into the Square itself to see what was going on.

I discovered a large crowd of people watching an outdoor movie. I was surprised and delighted! The movie was “Dirty Dancing,” and it was being shown on a big screen like the ones they used to have at drive-in movies. But instead of cars lined up in rows there were people all over the Square sitting on blankets and folding chairs and digging the show. I walked around the edges of the audience and found a place to join them. 

I’d never seen “Dirty Dancing” before but I quickly figured out what was going on. I cheered and applauded along with everyone else as the story neared it’s conclusion. The music had stopped and there was a lot of drama and talking, and then what was clearly the big moment arrived: Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey began dancing together to the hit song “The Time of My Life.” It was awesome, but I was not prepared for what happened next. People in the audience started standing up and dancing too! There was a big empty space on the ground in front of the movie screen, and suddenly it was filled up with dancers. And I mean lots of dancers. There I was, in the heart of the Theatre District on a Saturday night, and it was alive with music and dance. It was so cool that even now, two weeks later, I find it hard to believe it actually happened. 

The dancing continued all the way through the last credits. When it ended I wandered through the crowd, enjoying the glow of so many smiling faces. Eventually I made it to my apartment, which is two blocks from there, and checked my email. There was something from The Move-About Theatre Company informing me that they had just started a 24-hour project: they would create three short plays from scratch and have them ready to perform the next evening – in Union Square!

So I went to see them, and they did what they said they were going to do. The plays were all funny and mysterious genre pieces. Considering the self imposed time (and other) limitations I thought they were quite good – cleverly scripted, directed and costumed. My favorite was the second one, which reminded me of some the more existential “Twilight Zone” episodes. I don’t know who wrote what, but they all did a great job of putting on a show.

After seeing two wonderful events in 24 hours in the heart of the Theatre District I felt like Ronald Coleman in “Lost Horizon;”  I had once again been reminded that there are always amazing, and often unexpected, experiences out there waiting to be discovered.

pax,

Vox

Relevant links:

http://moveabouttheatre.com/

Here is a video that someone posted of the Saturday night movie screening. The camera is facing west – that’s the St. Francis Hotel behind the movie screen. When the camera pans to the right it catches a bit of my dangling backpack strap at 1:38 (I was standing to the right of the empty chair.) You can’t see anyone dancing, but you can hear the crowd cheering:

http://yfrog.com/hqgbgz

I’d also like to mention that the late, great actor Jerry Orbach is in this video, too (in “Dirty Dancing” of course.) He was one of the stars of the first New York production of “The Fantasticks-” that’s him singing “Try to Remember” on the original cast album, a recording I’ve been listening to and loving since I was around ten years old. And just a block away from Union Square, at the SF Playhouse, is a production of  “The Fantasticks” that is being staged in honor of it’s 50th anniversary!

The film screening was co-presented by the The Jewish Film Festival and Film Night in the Park:

http://www.sfjff.org/

http://www.filmnight.org/index.html   

Shalom!

PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED. April 17th

May 3, 2010

(This blog post is a review of a rock concert I went to last month; it was originally written for the RE/Search Publications newsletter that is edited by my friend V. Vale. I used to go see a lot of rock bands, especially punk bands, before I fell in love with theatre. The Sex Pistols were a very theatrical band – in the documentary film “The Filth and the Fury” Johnny Rotten explains how he got his early punk stage persona from watching Lawrence Olivier in “Richard III.”)

I saw Public Image Limited (Pil) play in San Francisco on Saturday, April 17th, at the Regency Center on Van Ness. I almost didn’t go; advance tickets were fifty bucks and there were an additional 12 or 13 dollars in service charges. But at the last minute I decided to buy a ticket at the door. The show was billed as “An Evening With Public Image Limited,” which meant that there was no opening act, PiL started on time and they played for a full two hours. It ended up being a fantastic experience that exceeded any expectations I had for it.

John Lydon, singer and founder of Pil, looked and sounded great. There are all sorts of clips of this reunion tour on Youtube, including the SF show, but there is nothing like being there in person. Public Image was LOUD, clean and tight. This is Pil’s first tour in 17 years. They played extended, and often danceable, versions of songs from all phases of their career. As I watched Lydon I thought about how he used to look when he was younger, with his spiky hair and sneer; He was sarcastic, insulting to audiences and always seemed angry about what was going on. His hair is now even spikier. But he has a friendly, if impish, grin and seemed happy to be on stage singing again, working with talented musicians and in a town that loves him. 

Lydon, of course, has a long history with San Francisco. On January 14, 1978, as Johnny Rotten, he played at Winterland at what ended up being the final Sex Pistols gig. (Winterland is gone now but was located just 8 blocks west of the Regency Center.) At the end of that night he famously asked the audience, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” No one felt that way at the Regency Center – Lydon actually thanked the crowd for being so respectful! There were moments when he even encouraged them to sing along.

   Lydon has returned to the City many times since then, most notably in 1984, when Pil played at a book release party for “RE/SEARCH 8/9: J.G. BALLARD.” It was in one of dock warehouses at Fort Mason. There were live S&M scenarios for people to check out as soon as they walked in. Further inside there were two wrecked automobiles that V. Vale had procured from a junkyard and mounted on top of each other like copulating bugs. It was a tribute to Ballard’s novel “Crash,” and was complete with a nurse and car crash victims covered in blood. Later a ram-car constructed by Survival Research Labs was brought in to assault the vehicles. The whole time there were multi-media projections of horrific images of forensic pathology on the walls. And then, after all that, Public Image came out and played their set.

Malcolm Mclaren’s recent death revived the discussion of the early days of punk, and of who really deserved credit for the Sex Pistols sound and image. But at the Regency Center on April 17th, all that mattered was that Lydon has survived and continued to grow as a person and an artist, and has remaining true to his punk roots and aesthetics. And for those who were there to experience it, this was yet another historic concert San Francisco. 

 For more info about this and other Pil shows, including live videos, check out the band’s website:

http://www.pilofficial.com/info.html


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