Sunday, December 14, 2008

Free To Be You and Me

I've been extremely lucky.  Self-employed and working out of my home for 30 years, I've been able to set my own deadlines, punch my own time clock, and limit most of my socializing to people I actually want to spend time with.  As a result, I have never felt a need to develop a public persona that was separate from my private persona.  

My life is not compartmentalized. What you see is what you get.

I live in a neighborhood noted for its freedom of expression.  Dolores Park, which I can see from my desk, has become a gathering place for all kinds of protest events, celebrations, and free performances by groups like the San Francisco Mime Troupe.  People are not shy about dressing up, playing with gender roles, and having themselves a good time.

Whether you come to Dolores Park to participate in a hula hoop exercise group, walk your dog, sunbathe on the grass or listen to a free concert by the San Francisco Symphony, you will never be bored. Whether you are making use of the tennis courts or have merely chosen to join in the fun when the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence hold one of their big annual fundraisers (like the Easter Sunday Hunky Jesus Contest), Dolores Park is a grand place to be.

In hot weather, you might see a bevy of nude bicyclists making their way up 18th Street.  This weekend I watched from my desk in amazement as several hundred people dressed in Santa suits gathered in the park as part of the 2008 SF Bay Area Santarchy event (be sure to read their FAQ here). There were male Santas, female Santas, Santas on bicycles, and Santas in wheelchairs.  

With Christmas fast approaching, it's interesting to note how San Francisco deviates from the norm with regard to seasonal entertainment.  Locals get to enjoy events like the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus performing their Home For The Holidays concert, choose from several Sing Along Messiah concerts around the Bay, attend the Dance-Along Nutcracker or sing-along screenings of The Sound of Music at the Castro Theater.  Whether you prefer a performance of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf narrated by Leonard Nimoy, the Lorraine Hansberry Theater's production of Langston Hughes' Black Nativity, or Theater Rhinoceros' offerings of The Rhino Christmas Panto and a reading of Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory. there are plenty of attractions to choose from. 

On December 27th, the Kinsey Sicks return to Herbst Theater for a one-night stand to celebrate their 15th anniversary with a performance of Oy Vey In A Manger. Here are Trixie, Trampolina, Winnie and Rachel (in a clip from their 2003 concert at the Herbst) performing their Dragapella number -- a spoof of the famed Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah.

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Of course, not everyone embraces the Christmas spirit with equal gusto.  A recent New York Times series started off with Theater for Holiday Haters #1: Jackie Hoffman's Scraping The Bottom.  Last week, I finally got to experience The Eight: Reindeer Monologues in a deliciously snarky performance at the Exit Theatre. Written by Jeff Goode, this very merry and wonderfully wicked one-act show explores the seamy underside of life at the North Pole as eight reindeer bitch and moan about work-related issues. 

Not only have there have been productions of Goode's play all over the world, it has inspired some great marketing.  Here's a trailer for a production in Newburyport, Massachusetts:

Here are some outtakes from rehearsals of a production in Auckland, New Zealand:

As directed by Vic Chaney, the San Francisco production was exceptionally strong. Although none of the actors wore fake antlers while performing their monologues, the intensity of each piece was startling, bold and quite refreshing.  A simple, tasteful hanging sculpture of green Christmas lights (designed by Bruce Walters) coupled with Dustin Snyder's sensitive lighting was all that was needed to focus the audience's attention directly on the actors.

From Steven Budd's tough, macho, in-your-face portrayal of Dasher to Stephen Pawley's sadly resigned Donner (the reindeer who offered his son up to Santa, even though he knew it would mean a lifetime of abuse for little Rudolph) --  from Rana Weber's angry Blitzen (ready to expose Santa and his wife as abusive employers who hide behind good press) to Joshua Wynne Hillinger's Comet (a determined Santaphile, unwilling to face the reality of the scandal that had engulfed Santa's reindeer), the cast offered rock-solid performances.

I particularly liked Emily McGowan's Dancer (a ditzy blonde who couldn't understand why she had to be available on December 24th and who worried what would happen if the date conflicted with Hannukah or she became pregnant) as well as Ogie Zulueta's playfully slutty Cupid. Elias Escobedo scored strongly as the media-savvy Hollywood, intent on negotiating every possible perk.  Johanna Parker's Vixen topped off the evening as the reinder who, having been raped by Santa, told her story with a sexy worldliness that revealed how well she understood what the future held in store for her.

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Scheduled for a world premiere on Wednesday, January 14, 2009 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is a new documentary from Academy Award winning filmmaker Debra Chasnoff. The subject of Straightlaced -- How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up is simple and straightforward: Chasnoff talks to straight and gay teenagers about gender issues. As students go shopping for clothes, discuss their schoolmates, and talk about what they feel are misperceptions about themselves and others, they describe the various pressures put on them to dress in certain ways in order to fulfill certain gender expectations.  

A key ingredient of the propaganda used for Proposition 8's campaign was that children might end up being taught about gay marriage in California's schools.  What Chasnoff's documentary demonstrates quite clearly is that schoolchildren are away ahead of their parents when it comes to recognizing the intensely gender-driven marketing aimed at them as well as unspoken signals they might give off by what they wear, who they associate with, and how they speak. 

Many students have reached a level of self-confidence where they will wear what is most comfortable for them and not be intimidated by how others might react.  Some have learned to embrace their transgender classmates, had the courage to file suit against a school whose teachers did not protect children from repeated attacks, and demonstrated the need to honor the memory of a depressed teenager who committed suicide because he did not fit into prescribed gender roles.

As I watched Chasnoff's film I couldn't help but be amazed at how much progress has been made in the ability of these teeangers to articulate their needs and fears.  Back when I was in junior high school, I showed a distinct preference for brightly-colored shirts that might be orange, pink, or purple.  Why? I just liked those colors. They made me happy. I would never have thought that choosing such colors telegraphed any kind of character deficiency or predilection for deviant behavior. 

In fact, those were the days when it was hard for me to find temp work because I had a skill that was traditionally assigned to women. Having studied piano, I was an extremely fast typist (110 words per minute). I got as excited about getting my hands on a Selectric typewriter as other boys did about being chosen for the football team. But in those days, jobs for typists and secretaries were only advertised in the "Help Wanted - Women" employment listings. In order to get hired, I had to accept a substantially lower pay rate than what "male" jobs offered.

How I wish a film like Straightlaced -- How Gender's Got Us All Tied Up had been shown in schools when I was a student!  You can watch the trailer and order tickets for the world premiere/educational campaign launch here.


Hey Jud said...

Your descriptions of Dolores Park are so vivid, I want to move back! I want to see all the Santas, see the new Deb Chasnoff movie premier, go to the Castro for the Sound of Music singalong. And of course, spend time catching up with you.

Of course, all of these entries are technicolor, since they are seen through your eyes.

Can't wait to read your next installments.

Much love.

surya said...

Thanks for sharing, I will bookmark and be back again
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