Counterpulse, Arts Fundraising and Down’s Syndrome

capacitor

Capacitor dance photo via Facebook

Over the weekend I went to Counterpulse, a local arts organization that specializes in producing cutting-edge works of performance art. They have been in the same spot in SoMA for a decade but are moving to a new building in Tenderloin later this year. I had been there before and enjoyed the space and the mission of the place but hadn’t attended anything there in a long time. I didn’t realize that what I was attending was a fundraising event, but it ended up giving me a great perspective on the place.

mayday

I heard about the May Day event because of an email from Capacitor, one of the five groups performing on the night that I went. They’re an aerial-contortionist-dance group that I always find amazing and I look forward to seeing their work. They didn’t disappoint of course, sharing and excerpt from a longer work that will be at Fort Mason next year that I’m already looking forward to.

Capacitor has been working with Counterpulse for the past year. The other performances were a mixture of similar work helped along by Counterpulse and performances by other partner / sister organizations in the Bay Area like ODC theater. Both types of performance were interesting. There was a wearable technology performance where movement altered voice sounds in a captivating way. There were two pieces that had a humorous edge. And there was a solo dance performance using a oversized chair as an impressive prop. I loved the mixture of performances, the unique inspiration of each, the abbreviated look at the dance community in the Bay Area.

directors counterpulse

Counterpulse executive director Tomás Riley with artistic director Julie Phelps

What was interesting was that it was also a fundraising event. Before the show and during intermission was a silent auction where people could bid on items including wine, bodywork, art, bike tours, overnight getaways, book collections and more. Between the two final acts there was an “auctioning of the bills”. This was fascinating to watch. The directors of Counterpulse got on stage and shared a breakdown of the different costs of operating their new facility, asking people to take on a portion of the costs. They said it was a way for donors to let people really know where their money was going. And of course it helped to make their costs really transparent.

It was fascinating to watch what people would contribute for or not, something that seemed to be based on the item up for donation rather than the dollar amount. Someone who didn’t bid on anything else shot his hand up immediately to donate enough to cover one week of free yoga for community members. Another gave to cover the cost of one month of full health insurance coverage for one of the staff members. A few donated to help provide stipend funding for arts fellows. Three more each gave a month of rent costs to keep the doors open. Another wanted to give tangibly and offered her money to the cost of office supplies and toilet paper.

Sometimes it was uncomfortable, sitting there in the audience, waiting to see if anyone would give for something specific. There was a sense of pressure to give, even though the presentation of the process was congenial and friendly, and I was curious if some people were giving out of response to that pressure. It was also interesting, as an outsider who isn’t really familiar with this community, to see how much of the giving came from a combination of staff members, board members and longtime supporters that the staff knew by name. It made me think of how we are all so passionate about our own little communities, the niches we’ve found ourselves in that we’re willing to really give for. It made me think of Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking and how it’s so true that people really do want to give to others in so many different ways.

art of asking

One of the things that they were requesting donations for was the cost of maintaining the elevator in their new space. They mentioned that they were not required to include an elevator but wanted to do so as part of their ongoing commitment to full accessibility – not only so that people with disabilities can attend shows but so that dancers with varying accessibility issues can be welcomed to participate in the shows. This impressed me. I see a lot of live performances of all types and it made me think about how few have had visible disabilities of any kind.

writing with grace book

Right now I’m reading Writing with Grace: A Journey Beyond Down Syndrome, a book by writer Judy McFarlane who works with a young woman named Grace who has Down’s Syndrome and is writing her own book. Judy is starkly honest about her own preconceived notions as she first met Grace and how she had to confront her own biases. She delves deep into the history of Down’s Syndrome research and litigation, both in Canada where she is based and also around the world. One of the things she highlights is the way that Down’s Syndrome fetuses are frequently aborted. I have no opinion either way on this, other than to say that I think abortion is a choice that all mothers should have though it shouldn’t be taken lightly and always comes with pain even when it’s the right choice. But the idea of it struck me because I have always kind of accepted that this is a totally reasonable choice to have and McFarlane caused me to consider that perhaps the legitimizing of aborting an entire category of humans isn’t something that should be commonly accepted.

What it really has me thinking about, I suppose, is the many different types of people there are in this world compared to the small percentage of which we consider “normal”. People on the autism spectrum, people with developmental disabilities and physical disabilities, people with major learning disabilities, people with mental health issues … there remains so much stigma around all of these things, stigma I admit I work with constantly inside my own self to varying degrees. And how each of these is considered a disability that diverges from the “norm”. But with the percentage of people affected by any one of these things, can we really say that the “norm” is norm at all?

I’ve learned a lot about the thinking process of people with autism as well as the learning process of people with dyslexia. Now in reading about Grace’s journey, I’m seeing yet another side of the same coin. And what it forces me to look at is my own value system in regards to “intelligence” and “knowledge” and “being smart”. I’ve always been smart by the standards of society. I’ve always gotten great grades in school and been able to carry on intellectual conversations on a wide range of topics and enjoy being well-read. And yet, it’s only way of learning and interacting with the world, so what I cling to as “smart” for me excludes entire categories of people who learn and express in other ways.

I realize this isn’t a new concept by any stretch, that this is something that people with different learning styles have been telling us for a long time. And yet it’s somehow impacting me in a different way right now. It’s subtle. I’m not sure what it means or will turn into or if it’s just reorganizing my thinking a little bit, which will likely reorganize my perception of and experience in the world. It’s all in process. And where I am at today.

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The Balcony at the Old Mint

the balcony

I worried that I’d be too tired to go see the play I’d committed to seeing last weekend. It was a school weekend for me, which meant that I’d be in classes for almost eleven hours, classes that are intense and emotional and engaging. And yet, I felt so drawn to the play that I decided to push past the wall of tiredness and see it anyway. I walked the short distance to see The Balcony at The Old Mint in a windstorm, which seemed to appropriately set the stage for the ominous, slightly surreal play.

I’d been to The Old Mint once before, to see a lecture with my sister on sustainable gardening when the building had first reopened to the public. I was mesmerized then by the unique architecture of this historic space, with its cavernous rooms and dungeon-like vaults and labyrinth of doors opening one space onto another onto another into a courtyard. There couldn’t have been a better space picked for this play that is immersive without being interactive (a key point, because I love to be right-up-in-the-thick-of-it but definitely wasn’t in the mood to interact as a part of the theater).

balcony

The play begins in the rooms in the basement where gold used to be stored in the days when this was a money vault. Four different scenes happen simultaneously and the viewers get to wander from room to room at their own whim. I was a little worried about this part because I had mixed reactions to a similar set-up at a Speakeasy-themed play last year. I loved that one in the end but it took awhile to adjust to moving about without direction. In this case, the vignettes stood on their own and I didn’t feel pressure to catch every scene of The Balcony’s four starting scenes. Additionally, the cast of characters that weren’t in the scenes were available in the hallway to quickly direct viewers to the spots they might want to check out next. The thirty minutes went quickly and I enjoyed stepping in and out of various scenes.

Truth be told, I might not have known exactly what those scenes were about if it weren’t for the handy program that provided me with that information. The combination of walking in and out of scenes with the old-fashioned language made catching the nuances of the plot difficult. But I think that would have been the case had the play taken place in a more linear fashion on a traditional stage as well and this setting worked better because it offered a close-up, intriguing look at the set and costumes and characters. It was a good experience.

the balcony 2

The group was then ushered upstairs and the following five longer scenes took place one after the other, allowing the story to unfold and become clearer as the time went on. Mind you, it’s a French play written more than 100 years ago, so it’s not clear in the way that a contemporary play is clear, but the story of a revolution, the play-within-a-play, the specific characters’ stories all do become clear. Each scene takes place in a different room so the whole group of viewers comes into the room, led by costumed ushers who generally fit well into the scene.

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I have to say that I loved the costumes of this play. Some of them (the dress of the Queen, for example) reminded me of couture wearable art that you might see at a DeYoung fabric / fashion exhibit. Others were more handcrafted and cheesy but in a way that worked. Streetwear was combined with unique artistic elements that were eye-catching and interesting.

The caliber of the actors is also notable. Not that I’ve ever questioned that here in San Francisco where we have amazing small theatre groups. Still, there were several characters in this play that really stood out as amazing actors. Irma, the Queen, was seductive and powerful. Carmen was glorious in tall heels and extravagant facial expressions. Sometimes the actors cast into specific roles were unpredictable, seeming to reflect the make-up of San Francisco’s diversity in a way that worked for this play. See the full cast here.

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The final scene plays out in a large room that looks out onto a courtyard and a portion of the scene is actually watched through the windows. It’s a unique experience. If you want to see a unique historic play in a unique historic building (a building that you really should visit even if for some reason you don’t make it to the play), The Balcony runs Th-Sat this weekend and next weekend. Tickets here.

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This Lingering Life Nominated for 8 Theatre Awards

this lingering life

This Lingering Life by Theatre of Yugen, a play I reviewed herehas been nominated in eight categories in the inaugural year of the Theatre Bay Area (TBA) Awards, which are to be held Monday, November 10th here in San Francisco.

 Individual Artist Award Category

Chiori-Miyagawa_by_Jennifer-May

  • Chiori Miyagawa* for Outstanding World Premiere Play
  • Michael Gardiner for Outstanding Original Underscore
  • Hideta Kitazawa for Outstanding Creative Specialty

Tier III Production Category

JubilthMoore-ThisLingeringLife

  • Jubilith Moore for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor
  • Lluis Valls for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor
  • Callie Floor for Outstanding Costume Design
  • Mikiko Uesugi for Outstanding Scenic Design
  • Allen Willner for Outstanding Lighting Design

Good luck wishes to everyone for their amazing creative efforts in putting together this piece.

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Describe San Francisco in One Word

How might a person describe this city of mine in one word. I was intrigued to see the responses in this video (via The Bold Italic):

I think if I were going to pick just one word to describe this city, it would be playful. There are so many opportunities to play here … to play with your own identity, to play with others in activities. More than anywhere else I’ve ever been, adults embrace the joy of play.

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Color Me Badd at Monarch

coloring date

My beaux and I originally met on the How About We dating site. A few months ago, we joined their relatively new site for couples where you pay a monthly fee and get a monthly date for free along with discounts on various dates. We’ve done some fun things through them although I’m not sure it’s worth the $18 monthly fee. A recent example of that was our date at Monarch, which was a fun date but not worth the $18 we paid just to get a free date for the month.

Color Me Badd

random coloring art

The date was called Color Me Badd and was supposed to be a date for two at happy hour at Monarch. It was advertised as having 90’s slow jams and risque coloring plus two free vodka drinks. I assumed that there would be dancing since I’ve been to the two-level bar before but the bottom level with the dance floor was actually closed so it was just lounging. The music wasn’t danceable anyway; there were no slow jams and whatever was playing was more in the family of heavy metal than anything nostalgic.

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More from the Cartoon Art Museum

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I’d been to the Cartoon Art Museum recently to see a women’s comic artist exhibit and a Ninja Turtles art exhibit. Here are a few more things I saw during that visit.

Animation Camera

More from the Cartoon Art Museum More from the Cartoon Art Museum More from the Cartoon Art Museum More Comic ArtMore from the Cartoon Art Museum More from the Cartoon Art Museum More from the Cartoon Art Museum More from the Cartoon Art MuseumThis one amused me because it’s about the tragedy of gas prices rising … and it was done in 1920. Some things never change!
More from the Cartoon Art Museum

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles … 30 Years?!

Yesterday I mentioned that I’d been to the Cartoon Art Museum recently. I went to go see a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles art exhibit. It’s there because it’s the 30th anniversary of the Ninja Turtles. It was so weird to see childhood toys and drawings that were in my home now placed in a museum as vintage ephemera! I wasn’t interested in TNMT myself but my little brother and sister loved the movies (VHS tapes at the time) and had all of the action figures. To think that those are now museum-worthy is just so weird!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ... 30 Years?! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ... 30 Years?! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ... 30 Years?!

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Pretty in Ink: Female Comic Writer Art Exhibit

I’ve had it on my radar to go to the Cartoon Art Museum for awhile but I hadn’t actually been motivated to go until recently. It was actually the Ninja Turtles exhibit I went to go see (more on that here on the blog tomorrow) but I fell in love with another exhibit there called Pretty in Ink. It highlights the work of female comic writers/ artists, which I thought was really interesting to explore.

Pretty in Ink: Female Comic Writer Art Exhibit It was interesting to learn about how women cartoonists had work during WWII and then the work kind of dried up after the men returned home but a few persistent women continued with their art. It was also interesting to see the different type of humor, the unique content and the fashion illustration inspiration in the women’s comic art. And it was fun to see the different styles of women’s comics over different eras.Pretty in Ink: Female Comic Writer Art Exhibit Pretty in Ink: Female Comic Writer Art Exhibit Continue reading

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