#MeToo

me too

Over on social media (Facebook particularly) women are sharing the hashtag #metoo if they have ever been impacted by sexual harassment / assault. At first, I wasn’t going to join in, because there are so many “share this” things on Facebook and I’m really not even a fan of Facebook, but it became so powerful to me to see “me too” after “me too” in my feed. It wasn’t surprising. I can’t think of a woman who has ever shared her personal life with me who couldn’t answer “me too” to this. And yet it has affected me deeply thinking about my own “me too” experiences and those of the people in my life.

About This Project

I want to share a few of my experiences here, but first a few things:

  • There are many reasons why people may not feel comfortable/ empowered / safe to share “me too” and I want to recognize and honor that. You may also just not want to and that’s okay as well.
  • I don’t want to forget about the many men who have been impacted by sexual violence, as that is a huge issue as well, but to hold in this space the girls and women who have had this particular social experience again and again.
  • As I wrote on Facebook this morning, I want to add the echoes of another thousand me-too’s that have touched my life. I’ve worked in group homes, foster care, with child protective services, as a mentor, in schools, with prisoners, in mental health settings and in recent years doing interviews/ writing around mental health and in all of this work I have held the stories and experiences of so many people impacted by sexual harassment / assault. These are not my stories to tell (except in the ways I’ve been given permission to share in writing) but I wanted to acknowledge these, too, because there is something about how each time it happens to someone around me there’s an echo of impact that reverberate backs to us all.
  • This has happened in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein case but goes so far beyond that.

My Stories but Only a Few Of Them

Memories just keep coming back as I read everyone’s posts. There are so many, from so many years, from so many situations, that affected me to varying degrees. Here are a few in my head that won’t go away:

  • Walking down the street after school in junior high and on two different occasions having strange men walking past me grab my breasts / ass.
  • Getting off the bus in junior high and being followed by a group of males my age who encircled me and threatened to rape me. They did not but more than this feeling like there was no one that I could go to who would help.
  • Shortly after that last-mentioned incident, watching a friend in school go through something similar. She did speak up; and both she and the boys were suspended for the same amount of time for “inappropriate behavior”.
  • In that same school, a male teacher refused to hand me my school photos unless he could cut one out and put it in his wallet, which he did.
  • In high school, a peer’s father was supposed to drive me home but instead convinced me to let him sneak me into a bar. I refused to drink while he got sloshed and told me how attracted he was to my best friend. She had just turned 15 and was 7 months pregnant at the time.
  • The experience of having a stalker as a teenager and not even having language to explain the fear of what was going on. He showed up at my school, on my city bus route and my home (where he had followed me). He was an adult.
  • Every experience I had at age 19 of visiting my then-boyfriend after he went to prison, especially when it came to male guards judging the appropriateness of my clothing and checking what I might be bringing in.
  • An extremely negative harassment experience from on-campus health when I went to get STD tested for the first time. To this day I have to take anti-anxiety medication to even be able to get through that kind of exam, despite much more positive female-supported medical care since that time.
  • Being an adult in my mid-late twenties with male roommates who verbally assaulted / humiliated me in reference to my consensual adult sexual choices with other people.

Internalized

I can think of so many more situations, some more blatantly severe, some subtler that actually impacted me more … some from younger ages, some more recent. And most of all what I’m thinking about right now is how so much of my experience of sex/ gender/ power in this culture caused me to become numb to so much of this, about how so many of the experiences I had in high school and college and beyond are things I barely, only-vaguely remember because they were my “normal”. The earlier ones stick out because they weren’t so normal, yet, because I was still so young that they were new. Things are coming to mind in snippets and I think, “oh yes, that too” because there were so many things.

And there were so many situations that I take some responsibility for … or maybe not responsibility but awareness of the role I played (particularly but not only in situations with chosen male partners) … that because of the experiences I had when young and the cultural messages that I received I unintentionally colluded in experiences that I chose semi-consciously but that did great damage to me nonetheless. This isn’t self-blame but rather regret for how deep those things got into me that I didn’t even know it was happening. And awareness that I unintentionally harmed others as a result of the reverberations of the many “me too” times that had come before.

I don’t have an answer. I don’t think that this is the only major issue in our society today that needs to be completely explored and dismantled in the co-creation of a new society. But I see all of these “me too” situations and I just feel so much …

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Dr(owning) and S(wallowing) in Depression

I originally wrote this article for Rebelle Society, although it is no longer available on their site.

 

Depression came back. It walked right in through the front door while I was busy guarding all of the windows and cracks.

It ignored the sign warning that Danger, there’s a dog here to protect me. It sidled up next to my fireplace and let the smoky stench of difficulty waft throughout my home. I saw it, but I didn’t recognize it, and I was aware of it, but I ignored it.

I went to sleep, and then all I wanted to do was sleep and sleep and sleep because its presence brings exhaustion to every limb.

I’ve been here before, in this place, detailed it in blog posts and memoirs, shared it over coffee and in classrooms. I am intimately familiar with what depression is, what it looks like in my home, what it feels like in my bones. I have training in it and professionals explaining it and experience with it.

And it doesn’t matter, because depression is this tricky thing that manages to convince me that it’s something else this time, every time.

I take synthroid because I know I’ve had low thyroid issues in the past, and that’s probably why I’m tired and feel sad. I overload on synthroid and feel anxious and upset, and think that if I just stop taking it I’ll probably feel better.

I realize that I’m not eating right, and after berating myself about that for a while and starving myself on 1000-calorie diets and trying to eat only things that are green I decide that I should probably take vitamins again. And iron, because I have a history of anemia, and that’s probably why I’m tired and feel sad. I take too much iron and my stomach feels queasy.

I see that I am too busy, my schedule is too packed, and that’s certainly why I can’t get anything done. I need time and space to be creative and feel productive and get those juices flowing. So I cancel commitments and revamp my schedule, and think that soon I’ll be done being tired and feeling sad.

But then I have too much time on my hands and the hours yawn open before me, and I can’t get myself to get going and I watch too much TV and take naps that are hours long and swear that tomorrow I’ll finish that book that’s been hanging over me for years now. I need to be busier. Or not as busy.

My beau’s mom is really sick. My best friend seems to be having a hard time. A cat died in a horrible incident at my mom’s animal rescue. A good friend from my online world committed suicide. These are some of the reasons that I’m tired and feel sad, but they are not all the reasons.

The thing about depression is that it’s not consistent. I’ve been here before but it’s different this time, even in the ways that it’s the same. When it comes out of remission, it has altered, and it doesn’t look quite the same even though it’s attacking the same cells in so many of the same ways. I am indecisive again and anxious all of the time.

But it feels different. It feels new, like it’s never been this hard, like it’s never been so difficult and devastating and so damn annoying and frustrating.

I look into my refrigerator, thinking that I should eat something, and I almost start to cry because the process of eating seems so complicated. I want carbs and sugar and feel bad about myself when I consume them, bad in my body, bad in my life.

I go to the grocery store and can’t decide what to buy and come home with $80 of produce and a bag of Fritos. I eat the bag of Fritos. Then I take a nap because I don’t want to deal with how disgusting I feel.

I don’t want to deal with the fact that I’m full but still hungry, and that there’s still this question of what I’m going to eat for dinner.

But eventually I wake up from my nap and I forage some type of dinner, and from out of nowhere comes the motivation for just a moment to do something. So I answer a few emails or message a few friends or call someone in my family. I write a blog post, apply for a new gig, celebrate the little things that are going right.

I list out my accomplishments so I can recognize that I’m doing okay despite the fact that I feel terrible. And my mind thinks, See, you’re fine, you can do this.

It begins to make grandiose plans of the next three books I’m going to write and the art project I want to work on and the things I’m going to do… just as soon as I take another nap and get that energy together.

But when I wake up, I still feel tired, and even answering one more email feels impossible, and I’m convinced I failed at all of the ten thousand things I thought I was going to do in that one moment when doing anything at all suddenly felt possible again.

This is depression, this time around. It’s too many naps and getting angry at myself for not knowing what I want and being fully aware of all of the steps that I can take to pull myself out of this while simultaneously knowing that I can’t pull myself out of it, not really, not quite yet. Because the worst isn’t over. It’s right where I’m at.

It’s big and wide and cold and dark, and I’m one hundred percent certain that I’m going to get to the other, sunnier side of it, probably even sooner than later, but I can’t see that side from where I sit.

No matter how many right things I do, I can’t propel myself directly up into the air above to get a bird’s eye view that will make this spot seem smaller and more manageable.

So I own that I am drowning. I swallow the protests and explanations of every other thing that it could be or that I should be doing, and I admit that I am wallowing right now. I accept that this is the current state of being, and I confide that I am powerless to change it.

I check in with myself and others, and make sure that there is a lifesaver at the ready in case I can’t swim out of it this time. But for now, I just bob in the dark waters, noticing that this is where I am, hoping to eventually be somewhere else again but knowing that for this moment, this is exactly where I need to be.

I curl up next to my fireplace, with a book I might not have the energy to read, and a craft project I may or may not feel better completing. I sit beside the hearth, holding hands with depression. And somehow, I feel not better but less bad. Accepting that I’m not well right now makes me feel less not well.

It puts a name and a reason to the myriad other feelings and thoughts that I can’t cope with. It tells my brain to stop trying to explain away everything because it’s all just depression talking, and depression is a language that doesn’t make a lot of sense even though it can sound romantic and soothing and convincing at times.

I don’t drown. I refuse to sink. But I don’t swim either. I rest. I lie on my back and let the waters carry me. I swallow until the lump in my throat clears and I can breathe again. And I await the day when I can put my feet down and feel the stability of sand beneath me, and…

… I realize yet again that I was able to pull myself up after all.

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MUST READ – Real American: A Memoir

I received a free copy of Real American: A Memoir in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Bold. Powerful. Authentic. Touching. Moving. Raw. Honest.

These are just a few of the words that come to mind when I think about sharing the book Real American: A Memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims. In a way, it’s frustrating, because none of these words come close to explaining how affected I was by this intelligent memoir. And yet, it’s also a great thing, because the truth is that nothing I can say in this book review is going to fully encapsulate the importance of this book. And what’s great about that is that I can honestly, genuinely, truthfully say that I encourage you to read the book itself because no review is going to be able to really show you what is so great about it.

So, what is Real American: A Memoir? It’s Julie Lythcott-Haims’ story of growing up as a biracial woman in America. It goes back into her family’s history a bit, shares the details of her childhood, and explores the various changes she went through in understanding, owning and sharing her own identity across varied life stages. It places the story within the historical context, but it is truly just her own story, filled with her own human thoughts and feelings. She speaks to a cultural experience shared by others, one that we should be aware of particularly in this atmosphere of divisive politics, but it doesn’t pretend to speak for anyone else’s experience but her own.

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There are other great books about people’s individual experiences with identity, including Black identity and biracial identity. And, of course, we should read those as well. We should be informed about what experiences others around us are having, giving us a broader perspective and some cultural humility that hopefully helps us to better see the individuals in front of us each day. What makes me particularly recommend this book is that it is brand new and very relevant to today, but more than that what I love is the author’s ability to express herself so articulately without seeming to compromise her own voice. Everything from the language choice to the chapter layout speaks to a unique perspective that captured my attention from cover to cover.

Let me share just a snippet of what she writes from early in the book, after noticing that when people ask her, “where are you from?” they mean something more – trying to classify and categorize her because her hair color and skin texture aren’t easy for them to pinpoint. She begins to share some of where she’s from and writes,

I come from people who broke the rules. Chose to live lives outside the box. Chose hope over hate as the arc of history was forced to bend a bit more toward justice.”

This is just one small bit of a nearly 300 page book filled with brilliant writing. This book is about the racism in America, how it impacts the self-esteem of so many people, especially as they are growing up, and how one woman worked through the years to accept herself exactly as she is. There were times when labels were important for her in defining her self-identity and times when they were limiting, and she is honest about these transitions. She explains the struggles and triumphs of different experiences throughout her life and how they impacted her both in the moment and later in understanding them from a different perspective. I felt lucky, as a reader, to be witness to this.

 

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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The Breakout Project: 48 Hours of Innovation to Change the World

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In May 2017, innovative minds are coming together for a 48-hour round-the-clock event to “kickstart social good projects designed to improve our community, society and planet.” The Breakout Project in Kingston, Ontario invites “designers, dreamers, innovators, influencers and investors” to join the event where teams “will work around the clock for 48 hours to raise the human and financial capital required to take their project from ideation to completion in just one year.”

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This is a networking event but it’s so much more. There are speakers and mentors to learn from, people from various areas of business to collaborate with and unique opportunities to innovate. It provides opportunities to learn from others but it’s also a place where you can fully participate in building something that is meaningful to you. “Attendees have a full-access pass to learning sessions, main stage activities, watch and engage with teams, interact with companies in Innovation Alley, participate in audience-only experiences, and celebrate in evening events and concerts.”

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During the event, teams will raise the resources to complete their project over the next year. Teams will have a range of different projects that will go from idea to business over the 48 hour event.  For example, “One of our teams wants to create a system whereby he can help train and certify one million teachers in a year for third world countries. His focus is Africa, but he knows the need is also great in other countries. We really want to help support projects that might improve the world for as many people as possible!” Attendees can donate a portion of their ticket value to the teams. Supporters can join in online with their contributions as well. The teams will go on to complete their project and in 2018 everyone will come together again “to celebrate achievements and kickstart a new crop of projects.”

breakout project

 

The Breakout Project happens May 10-12, 2017. Tickets are $349 for the entire event. Buy tickets here. The event culminates with a free concert headlined by Sam Roberts Band. Can’t attend The Breakout Project in person? It “will be broadcast live online in a reality TV format. The live streaming combined with the power of social media means that our global audience can be more than just spectators — they can be active participants sharing their own knowledge, capital and connections to support the teams they believe in.”
You can also follow announcements for The Breakout Project on Twitter and Facebook.

 

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GRIMM or 7 Reasons I Love Every Kat Robichaud / Misfit Cabaret Show

grimm

It’s no secret that I love every show by Kat Robichaud and Misfit Cabaret since I’ve seen every performance they have done at Great Star Theater and always post about it on social media. Last night I went to the current show, GRIMM, which is playing this weekend and next only (get your tickets), and it got me thinking about why I like these shows so much. Here are the top seven reasons:

1. Themed Performances That Don’t Take Themselves Too Seriously

Each show has a theme around which the songs, costumes and acts are based. The themes are always original, unique, and artistic. But they also don’t take themselves too seriously. The theme is more of a starting point for each act to use as inspiration than a guideline for what will be found in the night’s performance. Grimm, of course, is derived from the fairy tales, with divergent acts including Snow White, puppetry, references to once upon a time and Neverending Story and more. It’s always fun to see the different interpretations of a theme, some of them looser than others. The next show after Grimm, Cinepheilia, is themed around cult films.

kat robichaud GRMM

2. Kat’s Original Songs

Kat’s voice is the big draw for me and I always love her original lyrics. She writes two original pieces for every Misfit Cabaret themed show. They’re the highlight of every show in my opinion. In fact, when I saw her perform at this year’s Edwardian Ball, where she sung several of those originals, I suddenly realized that I knew a bunch of her songs by heart.

3. The Medleys

They also have a couple of song medleys in each performance, suited to the theme but drawing from a diverse array of different musical genres. They are endlessly fun every time. I love that there’s always a mixture of songs I know so well and songs I’ve never heard.

snow white, GRIMM

4. VARIETY!

A great cabaret performance includes a range of different acts and Misfit Cabaret always meets that criteria. Kat is undeniably the star of the show but she does a great job of humbly highlighting the skills and talents of everyone she brings to her stage. There are people who have been featured in more than one show and new people each time and it’s always a delight to be introduced to both. GRIMM’s standout is Eliza Rickman who shared three songs last night, for two of which she accompanied herself on xylophone. She has a truly magical, ethereal voice. Amazing. That’s not to say that the other performers weren’t also great, because they were. Most shows include a burlesque performance and an aerial dance; those were both great pieces in GRIMM as well.

Eliza Rickman is working on a video for this song funded via Kickstarter; she performed the song in GRIMM

5. Quality of Performance Art

Kat’s style is this fabulous mix of classic rock with musical theater. It’s high energy, sexy, dramatic entertainment replete with fabulous costumes and interesting sets. These aren’t high budget productions but so much goes into the making of them that there’s always plenty to delight the senses. I am endlessly entertained throughout every show.

aerial dance, GRIMM

6. Great Star Theater

I won’t wax poetic about this historic Chinatown theater since I’ve mentioned it plenty of times in the past. I’ll just say that it’s an example of everything I love about the arts in San Francisco and it gets better each time I go and I’m thrilled to support the place as much as I can. The next big show isn’t one of Kat’s, but it looks good: Twisted Cabaret in March.

7. It’s San Francisco At It’s Finest

Kat may hail from North Carolina but everything about her seems so San Francisco. There are magical things about this city that captured my heart the first time I saw it and continue to make my heart flutter to this day. They aren’t easily describable in ways that don’t sound cliche but if you love the arts and activism and originality and celebrating-weirdness of this city, the things about the city that have stood the test of time across different social issues and many changes, then you’ll know what I mean. The audience at these shows celebrates that underlying energetic feelings; we are not the only ones to sometimes dress up for the theme, although we wouldn’t go so far as to say we dressed in costume since simple accessories don’t qualify as costumes in this heavily theme-dressed, event-loving city. Kat’s shows exude this “San Francisco creative energy” at every level.

Go see her. Support local art.

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Interview with SOULSKIN Dance Artistic Director Adrianna Thompson

soulskin dance

SOULSKIN Dance has an upcoming San Francisco performance called SATIN & SWING that highlights the best of the 1920s flapper era while drawing connections with the period’s relationship to the modern day.

Dance Mission Theatre transforms into a time machine, transporting us back to the 1920s. Glitz and glam sparkle from the dingy corners of a speakeasy. Raucous jazz blares, bringing bejeweled and sequined dancing flapper girls to life. An evening of indulgence has begun. The entry notes of Prince’s “Erotic City” ring in your ears, an echo from another time.

In this interview, artistic director Adrianna Thompson shares more information about the upcoming performance and offers a compelling argument for attending live theater.

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How does it feel to return to San Francisco?

Well, first of all I’m from San Francisco – born and raised. I have been back here in the Bay Area for the past five years and I’m thrilled to be back home. I have lived in many places during my lifetime – NYC, LA, Aspen, Colorado … but San Francisco has always officially been my home.

What are your favorite elements of the 1920s? 

The music and the history of that period. The artists that had a clear visionary voice for what was happening during that time period.

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How does this relate to us today?

The 21st Century reflects similar cultural, political, industrial ideologies as the 1920’s. Many are feeling powerless and without choice. In both eras, the people were exploring new ideas of of who they could be, who they could love, and how they could express themselves.

What is important about Prince’s work that comes through in this performance? 

His work represents sexual revolution, free expression and the ability to love without judgment.

What can you share about your process of choreographing this work?

I like to work with great talent. I work with many collaborators such as DJ artists, composers, multi media designers, costume designers and dancers. I also enjoy creating a nurturing and positive environment that encourages personal growth and potential. To me this is the complete and universal truth of creativity when all participants are engaged.

What have been the most difficult part of this project?

What I find most challenging is scheduling everyone’s participation around their other commitments in their lives.

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What do you hope people take away from the work when seeing it?

I hope that the audience can recognize the importance of live theater and what it shares to our community and the world around us. Live theater, like real life, allows for an experience that happens only once. No two nights are the same. Once the moment is given, it is gone forever.  The beauty lies in the artists and audience sharing an experience that allows for truth to unfold itself before our very eyes.

What do you think is the most important issue facing the arts / dance industry today?  

Art as we know it is becoming more challenging to continue because of the demands of what the world is offering society now. It is hard to survive as an artist. There is a lack of public funding and support is given mainly from private donors who are more likely to support long established institutions than smaller independent artists. It costs a lot of money to be an artist so a lot of great work will never be seen and new voices will never be heard because of the lack of funding.

SATIN & SWING has three performances March 10-12, 2017 at Dance Mission Theater.  DJ CAMCON (Camille Conrotto) will design and live mix music on stage as part of the performance. The evening will open with two works created by guest choreographers: Robert Sund and Dylan Elmore. The 3/11 performance will be live-streamed at 8 pm and can be seen for $10 at Concert Window.

Once again SOULSKIN Dance has teamed up with Andy Mogg Productions to offer a one night only Live Streaming of the performance. Renowned dance photographer Andy Mogg will direct a 3 camera shoot using the latest robotic Pan Tilt Zoom cameras. Live Chat Room participation will be available during the Live Stream.”

Photos by Andy Mogg.

DETAILS

WHAT:            SOULSKIN Dance presents…
SATIN & SWING
SOULSKIN Returns Home to San Francisco for a 4th Season
       with Guest Choreographers Robert Sund and Dylan Elmore.
       Three Virtuosic Cuban Male Dancers perform in Satin & Swing. 
 
WHEN:           March 10, 11 12, 2017 (Fri., Sat. – 8:00 pm / Sun. 7:00 pm)
Limited Engagement  – Only 3 Performances.
 
TIX:                 Tickets $20 – 25 (Gen. Admission). / Tix at door $25.
Advance $20 tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com 
or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006
 
WHERE:        Dance Mission Theater – 3316 24th St. (at Mission) SF 94110 (24th St. BART)
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Don’t Miss a Last Chance to See Thrillpeddlers at The Hypnodrome

Thrillpeddlers - Pearls Over Shanghai - 2009 - photo by Daniel Nicoletta web res
Thrillpeddlers in Pearls Over Shanghai – 2009 Orig cast. / photo by Daniel Nicoletta

 

I remember when I first went to see Thrillpeddlers at The Hypnodrome, I had a tough time deciding between the Shock Box seats and the Turkish Lounge. Did I want the romance of being in our own little two-person cubby with extra effects or the comfort of lounging on carpets to watch the show? I went with the Shock Box, laughing when suddenly air squirted on to me, tempted to close the curtain and contain my date and I. I had only been living in the city a little while at this time and I fell in love daily with all of the quirks of San Francisco; this theater was one of those falling-in-love things.

But alas, San Francisco is a city of transience, and we are in a time of flux. Thrillpeddlers just announced that they’re losing their home at The Hypnodrome. Their future is unclear at this time. And folks who want the chance to have that unique quintessential San Francisco experience with them there, or who have been to the theater in the past and want one last blast for nostalgia, only have a few more opportunities to see shows there before the end-of-February closing.

First up: Naked Dudes Reading Lovecraft

“Marvel at some of San Francisco’s finest avant-garde actors and actresses, reading excerpts from H.P. Lovecraft’s finest works while displaying 100% visible sexy bits!”

Sat., Jan. 28, 2017 – 8:00 pm Sun., Jan. 29, 2017 – 2:00 pm & 7:00 pm

And Then: Amazon Apocalypse

Amazon Apocalypse, “Scrumbly Koldewyn’s new musical tour of Brazil and all things Samba! It’s part Fellini, part Antonio Carlos Jobim and always part Thrillpeddlers realness” was slated to run Feb. 23 – April 15, 2017. With the sudden news of the theatre’s closure, Amazon Apocalypse will be presented as a semi-staged concert for 3 nights.

Feb 9-11, 8 pm.

And Finally: Farewell to the Hypnodrome

“Bid adieu to our beloved theatre with custom made variety acts and song in this Valentine’s Day benefit final performance.”

Valentine’s Day, 7 and 9 pm

Get Your Souvenirs

There will also be a rummage sale on The Hypnodrome on 2/25-25 from 12-5 each day, where you can get good prices on set pieces, costumes, props, books, odds and ends.

What Next?

It’s hard to say what’s next for Thrillpeddlers at this juncture. In addition to Amazon Apocalypse, they had already scheduled a revival of rock musical Cybererotica for a late spring run so they have projects, just no space. The sales from these last shows and the rummage sale will assist them in relocating. In this time of difficult rental space, who knows where they will go.

But the Thrillpeddlers have moved before. They launched in 1991 and didn’t move into The Hypnodrome until 2004. At that time, they only expected to be able to stay two years, so it was completely unexpected that the move didn’t happen until now. Artistic director Russell Blackwood shared in a statement,

“In October 2016 I celebrated the 25th anniversary of directing my first Grand Guignol horror one-act play, The Laboratory of Hallucinations upstairs at 30 Rose St. across from Zuni Café. Right off the bat I knew that San Francisco would provide a singularly ideal home for this theatrical genre.

After several years of sporadic producing, including the American Premiere of Clive Barker’s Frankenstein in Love at the Bindlestiff on Howard St. in SF, Thrillpeddlers co-founder Daniel Zilber and I produced the first of 17 Shocktoberfests, a full-length bill of one-act Grand Guignol plays, sex farces and fetish variety acts. After those first three annual Shocktoberfest!!productions at The EXIT Theatre and one at The Odeon Bar, the future of our cash-strapped itinerant company was unclear.”

And of course, as Peter Lawrence Kane wrote over at SF Weekly, “have been a spiritual successor to the famed Cockettes” who first performed in North Beach and at one time took their act all the way to New York City. So it is likely that in some form the show will go on … we will just have to wait and see how that turns out. That said, it’ll never be quite the same as seeing Thrillpeddlers at Hyponodrome so take the last opportunity if you can!

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Interview with Musician Heather Schmid About New Album Transformations

 

Heather Schmid is a classically trained opera singer who has worked around the globe as not only a singer but also a television host, philanthropist and spokesperson. She recently released a new album, called Transformations, that serves a beautiful reflection on the last three years of her spent touring Pakistan.

“The songs highlight the heart-stopping experiences, true grace, life, death, and humanity as she promoted world unity throughout Pakistan.  The lyrics on the album were written by Pakistani legend Anwaar Magsood and the melody by Ashaad Mehmood.  Phelay Hum Pakistani Hay fused the American pop rhythms with Pakistani regional instruments and local musician melodies.  … Heather is a new-breed, millennial performer. Within our extant global community, Heather envisions her music as the bridge that can span cultural differences and connect people in their over-arching sameness.”

Heather shares more in our interview:

heather-schmid

What does Transformation mean to you?
Transformation to me equals change so dramatic that you are never again the same. I think of Life never being the the same after a transformation. To me, transformation is growth. That’s why I named this album Transformations. After the past three years, I was transformed. I will never be the same person. I am changed forever because of dramatically positive and dramatically difficult struggles that I faced and I hope I am strong and better because of it. 
How did you come to spend the past 3 years in Pakistan?
When I was a sophomore at Boston University as a music student, I went to Kenmore Square to learn how to meditate in a hotel conference room. As it turns out, on this night there was only one other person who also wanted to learn how to meditate. That was Rafay, and he was originally from Pakistan. Rafay and I are soul mates that traveled thousands of miles together and plan to travel thousands more. We were married in Pakistan among all of our relatives and I have traveled there ever since. Three years ago we decided to create a Unity Project in Pakistan to talk about Unity and celebrate the positive aspects of the nation. It was our hope to reignite a peaceful dialogue between our two nations. 
Amazing! What is one stand out experience in Pakistan that has affected you?
There were moments in Pakistan that were quite harrowing, but that is never what I focus on. I remember the deeply rewarding positive interactions with everyday Pakistanis. Finishing the Unity song, performing in Pakistan, meeting and hearing the positive responses to the music is the greatest, most rewarding thing of my music career. 
After the Unity song was released and become popular on the radio, TV and social media, I started to hear from people on the streets of Pakistan. Many talked about how the song was meaningful to them and how much it meant that in the middle of such negative press about their country, this was something that they could feel proud of. I was in a hotel lobby when a few medical school students eloquently expressed their reaction to the song. They detailed their feelings of despair with the current environment in Pakistan, how dangerous it was because of terrorism. Students credited the song with helping to ease their feelings of helplessness and shame. 
What global issues are of most concern for you personally? 
Access to Education is a very important issue to me.  I mean… I can’t solve the world’s problems but I can help with education. In Pakistan, I see firsthand how lack of education perpetuates poverty. Kids that cannot read street signs are taken advantage of. Parents without enough education take their children out of school to help feed the family. Education is a pathway for a better life for generations. Even for me, educated myself about the cycle of poverty provides a much deeper understanding and hopefully keeps me from perpetuating subconscious biases. But nobody want to hear from a singer how she “educated myself out of my biases” blah blah blah… I was never the popular girl I will tell you that!
You were educated in music through Boston University. How has your classical training at BU influenced your career? 
Classical Training means freedom and autonomy to me. I never had to rely on a producer to arrange a track for me. I could read music, write and arrange parts and open up pro-tools session and do it myself. If I had a great musical idea, I could write it down and arrange the parts mentally and sketch out the idea to see if it was any good. 
I could sing any style of music because I had the classical training which provides a solid foundation vocally. I have the range to sing any part because I trained my voice for so long. I never had to wait for a song to come along that I could sing on. I never had to beg a producer to work with me. As an artist, when inspiration strikes, you want to be able to fulfill your musical vision. That is all possible with my classical training. 
In China I learned and wrote music in Mandarin because of the language learning in opera school. When I was asked to perform and sing with an orchestra, we spoke the same language. Rhythms, beats, measures and notes was our universal language. 
The other thing is, I own all of my own music. If I could not write, produce and arrange, which I learned from my classical training, I would be at the mercy of the owner of the tracks. 
You also had a TV show in China, right? How does your TV show influence or tie in with your work as a musician? 
The Ambassador was a show on CCTV in China. It followed my live shows, meeting locals, exploring the fun local tourist spots, also the charity that each show benefited. It was so friggin’ cool. I loved every minute of my touring life in China. It was basically a travel show, combined with a reality show, combined with my life as a touring artist. I learned how, as the only American in a region, you become a Music Diplomat almost by accident. It definitely seemed like local people were judging my actions to form their opinions about all Americans. I learned I better watch what I say! I definitely learned about music diplomacy through this show. It is what influenced The Unity Project in Pakistan. 
transformations
What is your favorite song off Transformations?
Journey. That cello line seduced me. I am the snake with swirls in my eyes slowly uncoiling from the charmer’s wicker basket with that cello line. I’m done. The lyrics are brutally honest. I feel my own relentless anxiety fade away into peace through that song. It’s like a therapy session. Then I go back into my wicker basket and say “what just happened?” 
What is the process of working with Anwaar Maqsood and Ashaad Mehmood on these songs?
Working with Anwaar Maqsood and Ashaad Mehmood was like being in the presence of greatness and just trying to soak it all in. They call Anwaar Maqsood the Shakespeare of Pakistan because he is such a legend. He is brilliant and smart and hilarious all at the same time. He has produced TV shows, songs, movie scripts, poetry for more than 40 years in Pakistan the whole time poking fun of the government  in a smart articulate way.
It is no easy task to be an artist in Pakistan.  There is virtually no support for artists in the nation. In a country with a history of martial law, military takeovers, widespread corruption, and terrorism; artists struggle on every level. Their forward-thinking mindset is welcome and persecuted at the same time. How can anyone think of inspiring, articulate, creative phrasing when they are worried about road closures and whether their family is safe? Ashaad Mehmood runs the only Cultural Arts School in the whole country. The stories they told as artists in Pakistan were inspirational, difficult to hear, and deeply moving all at the same time. 
So powerful! What do you hope listeners will take away from the album?
Transformations is about connection … higher connection, universal connection, ancestral connection, spiritual connection. I hope the words, struggles and resolutions are universal. It is what helped me recover from failure, struggle and disappointment. I hope we make a connection through the music. 
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San Francisco Fringe Festival Plays and Performances

fringe program cover 5.5x8.5

I went to a Fringe Festival play the first year that I lived here in San Francisco. I had met a potential date online, on Craigslist because it was used for it back then, and we met for a play. I recall that it was some kind of science fiction thing that also had to do with Elvis and that I didn’t like it at all. I recall even less about my date who I didn’t see again. But even though the date was a flop and the choice of play a miss, I loved living in a city with Fringe Fest. I remember that I took the cable car home from my date, because I lived in North Beach then, and I felt like there was nothing more romantic than wearing high heels, hanging off of the cable car, going back to the place where I lived with my best friend.

3d-glasses

2016, Fringe Fest

I hadn’t been back to Fringe Fest since, despite loving and attending many local theatre performances throughout the years. Sometimes I think Fringe Fest just passed without my noticing it. Other years there was just too much going on – school or petsitting or travel. Often, there were just other things on the calendar; San Francisco is filled with events through summer and fall and you can only do so many of them in a given year before your emotional and psychological well is too full and you need to rest your mind. So somehow ten years went by and I didn’t attend Fringe Festival again … until this year.

fringe-fest-mathematician

A Mathematician at Play

The first day of the festival was last weekend, and we went and checked out a performance at Exit Theater called A Mathematician at Play, in which magician / mathematician Greg Tobo shared some inside secrets about how math can seem magical … while also performing magical feats like multiplying huge numbers in his head and filling in a  soduko style puzzle at an advanced level in front of our eyes.

fringe fest

It Came From Fukushima, from Fringe Fest on Flickr

Last night we went and saw two more performances, back-to-back, at PianoFight. The first was It Came From Fukushima, a play inspired by Godzilla-style movies. It has the feel of old detective films with some martial arts and socio-political statements worked in. The program includes the old style of red/blue paper 3d glasses, and although they turn out not to be so necessary, it is fun to put them on. The play begins and ends with intensely beautiful live saxophone music. And it includes a monster. :)

kit-yan

Queer Heartache

Mathematician and Fukushima were both good enough performances. I didn’t think that they were outstanding but I didn’t dislike them either. I thought they were entertaining. I liked them. But I LOVED Queer Heartache, which was the third performance we saw. New York-based Kit Yan (formerly Laura from Hawaii) is a slam poet sharing his story through spoken word in one of those performances that touches on the political through being in touch with the personal.

queer heartache

Kit uses vignettes from different stages of his own life to reveal to the audience what it has been like to be moving along the gender spectrum, learning about self-identity, figuring out what that means in relationships from dating to family … particularly as a person of color. He shares snippets of life as a child growing up in poverty, as an older sibling trying to set an example for a young brother, as a straight man attending speed dating events, as a genderqueer man dealing with body hair and injury … as a human in various ages and stages approaching life with both seriousness and humor. Warning: this show has some graphic sexuality and even more graphic emotion oozing from between the lines. Raw and honest, sometimes funny, continually authentic, definitely a must-see in my book.

San Francisco Fringe Festival runs for another week. Queer Heartache has two more performances. There are also tons of other great things to see. The fabulous thing about Fringe Fest is that there is something for everyone. Each of the works are unique and different … and they are affordable enough that you can take a risk on a play that is out of your normal comfort zone. Support local theater.

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