Arts + Culture

Pioneering machine artist Kal Spelletich is being evicted: Help save his robots!

“On a troubling note, after 25 years, I am getting evicted from my home base and studio space,” artist Kal Spelletich tweeted this morning. “I provided housing and/or studios for countless artists, freaks, traveling activists, and radical journalists. Save Kal’s Robots here:  Thank you thank you Thank You”

So much of Bay Area arts culture is indebted to Kal, from Survival Research Laboratory shenanigans like giant fire-spewing robots (he was the first to bring both robots and flamethrowers to Burning Man) and interactive machine art that helped pave the way for today’s creative developments, to constantly helping and hosting artists (he teaches at the SF Arts Institute) and causes like Green Party fundraisers, Streetopia, and so many more … well, this just sucks. 

Kal’s studio has been a ground zero for local innovation—the kind we used to value, the non-commercially-driven kind— for a quarter century, as well as his home. Now, Kal says, “Like many Bay Area artists Im being forced from my home. I’m asking for $10K to move and store my robots by the end of the month.”

The 57-year-old artist is filing a renter’s lawsuit. “There’s always a risk with a renter’s lawsuit. It could lose and if it does it’s possible I could be sued for a lot more than I have ever made or will ever make in the rest of my life. Much more than I’m asking for right now.

“My entire art career has been a risk and a challenge. I’m on year 38 as an artist,” he writes on his fundraising page. “I’m working to make everything fall into place to keep momentum for the next couple of years—some of the most important in my life. A main concern is my old, tired body. Formerly broken fingers and limbs – my art wounds- flare up now and then. One is nothing without their health. Sorting through and moving 25 years of equipment and materials on my own is a major challenge.” 

However, he remains determined: “Over the past 38 years I’ve built momentum. Losing this is NOT an option.”     

Screen Grabs: Yellow Submarine, Sleaze Apocalypse, Star Wars with the Symphony …

SCREEN GRABS Last year SF celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. This year it’s unlikely there will be much celebration of 1968, a considerably thornier year (though an even better one for movies) in which the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., widespread riots, escalating Vietnam War opposition, a bitter Presidential election, and much more seemed to illustrate a nation tearing apart at the seams. 

In a way, so did the latest release by those hitherto reliable positivists, The Beatles: Whereas the prior year’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was a Technicolor burst of harmonious invention (shadowed only by “A Day in the Life”), their new untitled double LP that would come to be known as The White Album was a comparatively dark expression of cynicism, sarcasm, experimentation and internal discord, despite a few moments of balming pop warmth. It closed out 1968 on a note so ominous—what hope was there even even the Fab Four could turn so sour?—that it was later speculated the album was semi-responsible for the Manson Family murders, as Beatles fanatic Charlie took its purported misanthropic “lessons” a little too much to heart. 

Yet it’s the sunny, “fun” side of the Beatles that people remember, and that too was personified by something that happened in 1968, just a few months before The White Album: The release of Yellow Submarine, a whimsical animated feature like none before it, both family-friendly and wildly psychedelic in the mode of then-popular artists like Peter Max. Though the Beatles didn’t voice their cartoon alter egos (professional actors mimicked them), they contributed the soundtrack, which comprised several new songs as well as others culled from Sgt. Pepper

This week the Castro Theater is having its own mini-Beatles On Film retrospective, the main attraction being a new 4K restoration of Yellow Submarine that plays Sun/15-Wed/18. As a prelude this Thursday June 12 it will also present a one-night double feature. The first half is 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night, the low-budget, B&W lark (screened in another recent restoration) that proved a shocking worldwide smash at a time when Beatlemania was expected to be “over” any minute, and which also launched the career of director Richard Lester. 

Completing—you might say “finishing off”—the evening is a rare revival of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the 1978 debacle that tried to reinvent Submarine’s whimsy in live-action form for the Me Decade. It had Beatle songs sung onscreen by everyone from leads Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees to “guest stars” Alice Cooper, Steve Martin, Aerosmith, Earth Wind & Fire, and George Burns. Producer Robert Stigwood had had great success with such prior music-based movies (and their top-selling soundtracks) as Tommy, Saturday Night Fever and Grease, so he spared no expense with this musical fantasy. Alas, it all turned out like a tacky, terrible Beatles theme park populated by inappropriate impersonators, and was a resounding critical/box-office flop. Still, it’s a true curiosity you have to see once—if only to know you’ll never need to see it again.

If you want something a little less retro, there are not-particularly-inspiring-sounding new arrivals at the multiplex, notably the cartoon sequel Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, and Skyscraper, an action spectacle with Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock—the man who seems to be singlehandedly bent on reviving the ’70s “disaster movie” genre. (This is his Towering Inferno; you’ll recall he already re-did Earthquake as San Andreas.) 

Arthouse openings include two caustic comedies. Veteran Canadian “bad boy” Bruce LaBruce’s new Germany-made The Misandrists is a satirical tale of lesbian revolutionists in an ersatz convent school. Snarky fun until it runs out of steam, it’s like a mashup of last year’s The Little Hours and Andy Warhol’s drag-camp Women in Revolt. Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurosson’s Icelandic Under the Tree is an acidic tale of petty sniping between suburban neighbors (and one newly-separated married couple) that escalates into full-on guerrilla warfare. It, too, is fun to a point—until it just gets too mean-spirited. 

Elsewhere this week (all opening Friday unless otherwise noted):

AVA
Helicopter parenting isn’t just a phenomenon of the liberal West, as demonstrated by Sadaf Foroughi’s debut feature. Purportedly based on her own formative experiences, it focuses on the titular Tehran high school student (Mahour Jabbari), only child to upper-tier-professional parents. Dad (Vahid Aghapoor) is easygoing, understanding, but often travels for work. That leaves Ava clashing with her mother (Bahar Noohian), a tightly wound doctor whose over-controlling nature exacerbates domestic tensions until she’s cornered her daughter into disciplinary “crises” mom largely created herself. 

Strikingly crafted, this concise drama is as pristine on the aesthetic surface as it is infuriating in the needless conflicts it astutely depicts. You may not especially want to revisit those adolescent moments when your parental treatment seemed so unjust you wished you—and/or the offending adult party—were dead. But credit Ava for capturing such emotions with vivid, relatable intensity. While the film can be taken to an extent as a critique of Iran’s strictly regimented societal norms, it’s even more a devastating dissection of parent-child dysfunctions that know no national borders. Roxie. More info here

SLEAZE APOCALYPSE: EXPLOITATION TRAILER TRASH
In his first local show since being unceremoniously pink-slipped as film programmer at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts after twenty years, Joel Shepard presents a sampler of tawdry gems from his personal collection of grindhouse trailers. Spanning “the golden age of exploitation film” from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s, this packed compendium of some forty-odd previews promises the best of the worst in vintage horror, action, and smut. 

Among the delicacies on offer will be 1975’s drive-in drama of pimps and prostitutes Street Girls, whose Cybill Shepherd-looking heroine tells us “You’re the trick and we’re the treats!”  Those who always wanted a movie entirely about wet T-shirt contests will rejoice at the inclusion Hot T-Shirts (1980), whose disco-funky theme song flaunts the poetical lyrics “My body’s drippin’ wet/Wet, wet, wet, wet!” BYO paper towels to this dangerously moist program, which will also include such classics as Guyana: Crime of the Century and The Candy Snatchers and Slaughter in San Francisco. Wed/18, Roxie. More info here

A NIGHT AT THE (HOME-) MOVIES
We applaud commercial films when they approximate everyday life nimbly enough that we recognize ourselves. But amateur films have been doing as much almost since the dawn of cinema. This one-night program, a collaboration between SF’s Italian Cultural Institute and Bologna’s Italian Amateur Film Archive, will provide an assortment of vintage clips made by non-professionals in Italy. They’ll include excerpts from a 1931 color record of a folk-costume event in Naples, and 8mm artifacts from various family collections. SF-based photojournalist Lou DeMatteis will also contribute footage including rare glimpses of San Francisco before and after the 1908 earthquake. Free (but RSVP required), Tues/17, Italian Cultural Institute. More info here

GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS
Recently deceased after a long illness, Bay Area-based visual artist Frederic Hobbs was a classic free spirit of the ’60s-’70s counterculture, and like many such sojourned into film for a time—making four features between 1969 and 1973. Little-seen then, mired by Byzantine rights disputes since, they are (if you can manage to see them) crazily inventive larks of genre spoofing, surrealistic humor, and DIY whatnot. The last was this typically absurdist take on the horror film (and western), in which a giant mutant sheep terrorizes rural California into heightened eco-political-consciousness. It is arguably not as inspired as Hobbs’ even more obscure Alabama’s Ghost and Roseland, but it’s still an impressively bonkers hybrid conceit that dives into its own ridiculousness snout-first. Wed/18, Alamo Drafthouse. More info here

STAR WARS WITH THE SYMPHONY
When I go to SF Symphony—and I do—it’s for the likes of Stravinsky, Lou Harrison, and Charles Ives. But that’s just me. Appealing to a different demographic, SFS is performing John Williams’ scores to the original Star Wars trilogy over the next couple weeks, accompanying the films themselves. If seeing those movies for the 90th time with a live orchestra is worth $50+ a pop to you, knock yourself out. Thurs/19-Sat/3, Symphony Hall. More info here

An Asian American twist on the bourgeoisie, white wine included

The Donnelly Family in 'Two Mile Hollow.' Photo by Annie Wang

ONSTAGE A couple years ago Leah Nanako Winkler and her colleagues at Youngblood, a collective of playwrights under 30, were looking at the season for the Manhattan Theatre Club and they noticed the plays were similar in a familiar way.

“My friend said, ‘Oh my God, it’s white people by the water,’” Winkler said.

Winkler decided to try and write one of these plays, where rich families meet in their houses by the water and spill their troubles over white wine. The characters—the manic depressive brother, the imperious mother, the supposedly-plain-but-not-really sister and a maid or assistant who gets no character development at all—came easily to Winkler. They were so much a part of the zeitgeist that the first day she worked on it she wrote more than 40 pages about the Donnellys, a dysfunctional, Caucasian family whose son, a famous actors, brings his assistant home on a visit. 

“I knew all the characters—they’re archetypes at this point, and they’re kind of presented to us as normal people gone crazy,” she said. “They’re rich and white and their problems are not necessarily relatable.”

Winkler’s play, Two Mile Hollow, is playing at the Potrero Stage until July 15. Winkler made a big change to it since she first wrote it: Now all the members of the white family are played by actors of color, in what she describes as sort of a “mean ‘Hamilton.’”

Dramas about rich, white families are still very popular in New York, Winkler says. She had seen how lack of roles affected Asian American actors, and she didn’t want to be part of shutting them out.

“My Asian actor friends all go in and they’re all competing for one role,” she said. “It’s a travesty, and it doesn’t let actors do anything different. I didn’t want to perpetuate that.” 

In Two Mile Hollow, the characters do it all. They drink white wine, of course—and Scotch. They eat coq au vin and cake. They argue over who gets their dead father’s motorcycle. They break into song and a dance. They mispronounce words. They regret how the service at Jean Georges has slipped. They discuss gluten allergies. They have ideas for a Web series. They throw quotes from Tennessee Williams and Nathaniel Hawthorne at one another. 

The Donnellys at dinner in ‘Two Mile Hollow.’ Photo by Annie Wang

Winkler wanted to give Asian actors a chance to be funny and physical and not just the quirky sidekick. She credits Ferocious Lotus theater company founder and director Lily Tung Crystal with the success of the performances, which drew big laughs on opening night. 

“I wanted to do a few things,” Winkler said. “Highlight under representation and toss up this tired narrative and at the same time have fun. Lily did an incredible of of grounding the performances.”

Winkler’s family moved from Japan to Kentucky when she was a kid. She got into theater in high school when she was thrown off the basketball team and went to a drama class with a friend to fulfill an elective requirement. Her teachers told the students theater was a place to try unsafe things. It made a huge impact on her, Winkler said. 

“I went from this aimless kid who wasn’t doing so well in school to someone who was passionate about something,” she said. “I don’t think I would have gotten out of Kentucky and had a career if it wasn’t for that.”

Winkler, whose plays include Kentucky, God Said This, and the upcoming Hot Asian Doctor Husband, went to Japanese class when she was in grade school. The teacher didn’t expect much of her because she was mixed, Winkler says, but when she assigned the class a personal essay, the teacher told her mother what a good writer she was. Writing became Winkler’s favorite thing to do. 

She decided to completely dedicate herself to that a couple years ago. She quit the full-time job as a personal assistant she’d had for years when a play of hers got to Off Broadway, so she could go to the daytime rehearsals. She had to give up her apartment and couch surf, but after trying for so many years to write plays, she wanted to give everything to it. When she was down to about $300 in her checking account, she started getting recognition, including a Mark O’Donnell Prize, a Jerome Fellowship at the Lark, and recently, the Yale Drama Series Prize.  

“It changed everything,” she said about the awards. “The only dream I ever had was to write for a living, and I thought as long as I can live extremely minimally, I can do it with full force. But I didn’t think it was actually going to work out.”

TWO MILE HOLLOW 
Through July 15

Potrero Stage, San Francisco
Tickets and more info here

Screen Grabs: Sorry To Bother You, Whitney, The King…

'Sorry To Bother You'

SCREEN GRABS Yours truly dutifully went (along with recently sacked YBCA film programmer Joel Shepard) to City Hall last week to speak at the SF Planning Commission’s hearing on the threatened closure of the Opera Plaza Cinemas—only to experience a bait-and-switch: It turning out the promised hearing had been postponed until September 13. Mark that date on your calendars, as it may provide your only chance to prevent or at least slow the loss of yet another four dedicated arthouse screens from the city’s already hard-hit film exhibition scene. 

With even fewer venues than we currently have left (remember the Bridge and Lumiere are recent casualties), it’s hard to imagine several of the newly arriving films detailed below would play the Bay Area at all. Admittedly, that is not the case for one title in a week unusually heavy on commercially released documentaries: Whitney, the second big-screen examination (following Nick Broomfield’s Whitney: Can I Be Me) of the late pop superdiva in little over a year. While the more “authorized” of the two, this posthumous portrait by Kevin Mcdonald (of narrative features like The Last King of Scotland and nonfiction ones such as Touching the Void) promises at least one major new revelation as to why Houston’s life turned out so tragically troubled. (And no, it’s not the closeted-bisexual thing.) 

Elsewhere (all opening Friday unless otherwise noted):

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
Two of the biggest sensations at Sundance this year both happened to be very timely meditations on race and class set across the Bay in Oakland. First up at theaters (Carlos Lopez Estrada’s Blindspotting arrives in a couple weeks) is rapper Boots Riley’s feature writing-directing debut, a satirical fantasy that could be considered this year’s Get Out. In an all-too-recognizable near future, nearly everyone is barely scraping along for the benefit of an economic elite, with an increasing percentage of the population agreeing to for outright slave labor in return for guaranteed food and shelter. 

Living in his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage, Cassius Green (Lakefield Stanfield) is desperate to get ahead somehow, taking a job at a shady telemarketing firm where the wages aren’t exactly living ones. Nonetheless, he manages to excel by adopting a stereotypical “white voice” that works like a charm on people who’d hang up on him normally. This eventually gets him promoted to an even shadier top sales force, which in turn gets him in trouble with his politically conscious girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) and resentful ex-coworkers. 

The hook on which Sorry has been sold is a limited gag, and that trite racial satire in fact isn’t nearly as potent as the film’s deeper critiques of a widening American class divide—you’d have to be blind not to have noticed how Trump’s administration is undermining whatever protections remain for worker pay, bargaining rights and safety. Those aspects make this an eerily credible imagining of a U.S. that could be just around the corner. Billed as a comedy, Sorry to Bother You isn’t particularly funny, but it’s consistently offbeat and original—roughly akin not just to Get Out, but also They Live and Soylent Green, salted with an hipster wit all its own. At area theaters. 

BLACK POWERS: REFRAMING HOLLYWOOD
At a moment when filmmakers like Riley, Jordan Peele, Ryan Coogle, Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins, and others are desegregating Hollywood’s directorial “A list” at last, SFFilm and SFMOMA are providing the perfect retrospective companion piece: A three-week series that showcases those current talents as well as African-American celluloid trailblazers from the preceding century. Starting as far back as indie pioneer Oscar Micheaux’s 1925 Body and Soul (with Paul Robeson as a corrupt preacher), the program encompasses well-known later auteurs like Melvin Van Peebles, Charles Burnett, Gordon Parks, Bill Gunn, Spike Lee, Cheryl Dunye, Julie Dash, Carl Franklin and Robert Townsend, as well as popular hits such as Shaft and House Party

But you’ll also get numerous seldom-revived features that didn’t get the audience they deserved the first time around, including Kathleen Collins’ 1982 Losing Ground, Wendell B. Harris’ 1989 Chameleon Street, and Leslie Harris’ 1992 Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. This latest edition of the two local organizations’ “Modern Cinema” program will feature numerous guest speakers and filmmaker Q&A’s; check each film’s listing for details. Thurs/12-Sun/29, SFMOMA. More info here

THAT SUMMER
It’s hard to think of another verite documentary that’s had such long-term popular impact as the Grey Gardens, in which elderly Edith and middle-aged “Little Edie” Beale—once wealthy socialites closely related to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis fallen into impoverished isolation—were photographed in the squalor of their East Hamptons home, behaving like nutters. First the 1975 film became a cult favorite, then an acclaimed TV movie, a Tony-nominated Broadway musical. 

But before all that, the Beales had a near-brush with cinematic fame even before the Maysles brothers’ famous film. Three years earlier photographer Peter Beard and “Jackie O.’s” sister Lee Radziwill thought to make a movie about their friends and history in East Hampton, including the Beales. The project was never completed, and That Summer represents a salvage job—mining the four unedited original reels for their undeniable curiosity value, with a lot of additional filler and commentary to bring it all up to feature length. In addition to the infamously odd mother and daughter, we get glimpses of Andy Warhol and other luminaries in the fabulous jet-set circle Radziwill and Beard were a part of. Whether you’ll find this utterly fascinating or a glorified DVD extra depends entirely on just how obsessed with Grey Gardens you are. At area theaters. 

FLATFORM: LANDSCAPE AND INSTABILITY
The Berlin/Milan video collective Flatform is interested in landscape—and how its depiction in the digital age “offers a meeting with nature, its plurality and differentiation, its intersection between natural and historic time, its expression of atmosphere and the atmospheric, as a place where living is not confined or constrained. We are fascinated by the transformation of nature through art.”  Among the sites explored in pieces showing during tonight’s program will be various European locales and the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu; filmmakers will be present at the screening. Fri/6, YBCA. More info here

AKI KAURISMAKI: FILMS FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE
Though Finland has a long cinematic history, few films enjoyed significant export exposure until the arrival of Kaurismaki, who with his brother and sometime collaborator Mika led a Finnish raid of festivals and arthouses worldwide starting in the 1980s. The more unconventional of the two, Aki was perhaps surprisingly also the one who achieved an ongoing international audience with his astringent, minimalist, bleakly funny, sometimes macabre works. From the stark hard-luck comedy of 1988’s Ariel and the grotesque revenge saga of 1990’s The Match Factory Girl through last year’s lovely The Other Side of Hope—which continues his recent trend towards treatments of immigrant themes and slightly warmer tenors—he’s managed to find considerable popularity without changing his singular minimalist style very much at all.

If you like Jim Jarmusch, you’ll probably grok Aki Kaurimaki. (However, I like most of Kaurismaki’s films very much while being perpetually underwhelmed by Jarmusch.) This PFA retrospective presents six features from four decades’ work to date. Though only 61, Kaurismaki has claimed Hope was his final directorial feature. Let’s hope that proves as hollow a threat as it did for Gaspar Noe, Lars von Trier and Steven Soderbergh, who’ve all been quite prolific since repeatedly announcing their imminent retirements. Fri/6-Sun/Aug. 6, Pacific Film Archive. https://bampfa.org/program/aki-kaurismäki-films-other-side-hope

THE KING
This latest documentary by Eugene Jarecki (The Trials of Henry Kissinger, Why We Fight, The House I Live In) is a departure, a filmic essay of sorts that posits Elvis Presley as the encapsulation of the “American Dream”: Its mythology, its realization, its failure, and its increasing discordance with the reality we currently live in. Like the writing of Greil Marcus (a central voice here), the film aims to draw unlikely but stimulating connections between pop culture and general historical truths, digging for the heart of America itself. 

The result is an ambitious, sometimes maddening mosaic that’s part familiar archival biography, part present-day road trip, and part cavalcade of colorfully diverse talking heads. The latter range from surviving Elvis intimates, latterday musicians and plain old folks-on-the-street to a variably relevant lineup of celebrities that somehow embraces both Chuck D and Ashton Kutcher. At times the Trump Era social commentary Jarecki peddles here seems so broad and obvious you wonder if the film was made primarily for foreign audiences, and/or schoolkids. At others, it’s as poetical and meaningful as it intends to be. This is very much a matter-of-taste climb out on a long limb. Still, you have to give Jarecki credit for responding to our very strange national moment in such an unconventional way. At area theaters. 

THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS
One of those documentaries that probes deeper into a stranger-than-fiction news story, Tim Wardle’s feature has a whopper to chew on: In 1980, an accident of fate led three 19-year-old New York State boys to discover they were triplets, raised by separate adoptive families within 100 miles, with no prior knowledge of each other’s existence. 

What played then as a human-interest curio with a happy ending grows darker and darker here however, as the protagonists learned the disturbing circumstances in which they (and an unknown additional number of sibling multiples) were separated as part of a never-completed scientific study bent on answering the “nature vs. nurture” question one and for all. (For that purpose, the titular boys were deliberately placed in blue-collar, middle-class and affluent homes, their adopting parents completely unaware of the other siblings.) 

To what extent was this forced separation itself responsible for the psychological problems many of them later suffered? At first rather annoying in its heavy emphasis on reenactments, this movie ultimately proves fascinating, simply because the complicated, highly dramatic tale it tells still almost defies belief. At area theaters. 

Giving your pet some CBD love

Tallulah, the official Puff mast, taking a nap after a My Best Bud treatment.

PUFF I was on the phone with my sister Rebecca the other day catching up. She lives in Seattle with her husband Jim and their dog Maya. I mentioned I was trying to think up a column idea for Puff, and seeing she is cut from the same journalistic cloth as myself, it tickled her fancy, and she just started rattling off one good idea after another.

My favorite idea was talking about giving our pets CBD (Cannabidiol) to keep them calm when taking them to the doctor or groomer. I flashed immediately back to every Fleet Week here in San Francisco, where the Blue Angel jets go zipping over the city giving our pets and a few residents conniptions. My first time, I was ready to take my cat Tallulah to the vets because I was convinced she was going to die, but she was just freaking out over the jets. She would body-crawl under the bed or in the closet not to be seen for many hours, poor thing.

Of course, the 4th of July is just around the corner as well, and that means fireworks, BBQs, and guests which could also put an emotional strain on our pets.

With this in mind, I hung up with Rebecca and started doing some research.

Well, she did too, and the first thing I saw the next morning was a text and pics for a Colorado Hemp Honey Chill Stick from Frangiosa Farms. “Experience the power of raw honey and hemp extract. Supports anti-inflammatory and antioxidant response. Terpenes, Vitamins & Minerals. Omega 3 and 6.” 

According to Rebecca, it’s $2.75, and was recommended by her Doggie Daycare to give to Maya one hour before bringing her in to get bathed and clippered. Evidently, it had the desired effect, and the dog loved it. On further research, humans can enjoy these honey hemp treats as well!

My research led me to My Best Bud, which sells a formula that has a 4:1 CBD to THC ratio (a 1:1 formula is available as well). It is a triple-tested, organically grown, pesticide and solvent-free, non-GMO cannabis liquid supplement combined with a proprietary blend of cannabinoids, terpenes, and organic MCT (Medium Chain Triglyceride) oil made from 100% coconuts.

According to the website, it’s available locally at Bay Care Delivery on Cesar Chavez and Waterfall Wellness Cooperative on Ocean Ave.

My Best Bud is listed as helping with anxiety, arthritis, allergies, behavioral problems, digestive issues, GI problems, inflammation, skin conditions, joint and mobility issues, loss of appetite, pain, restlessness at night, seizures, and pancreatitis. (Of course, this supplement does not take the place of any veterinarian prescribed medicine.)

I was curious. Does it help a pet to use a CBD treatment? How would I figure this out? Simple, I volunteered my 15 year-old tortoise-shell cat Tallulah as a test subject.

Tallulah is in good health, but I have noticed lately she slowly gets up and lays down like she has a little arthritis happening. Plus she has always been a bit of a grouch. (All my friends who know her are laughing right now.)

So for the last two weeks I have been giving her 1 drop from a syringe every 24 hours into her nighttime meal. The directions said to start small and watch your animal. Well, Tallulah is from a stoner household. She has had second-hand cannabis exposure her entire life and will occasionally walk into my bong exhale and then chill on the couch for a few hours, so I knew she would most likely react in a positive manner to a mere CBD supplement.

As predicted by the instructions, she slept a lot the first few days which is not exactly a jaw-dropper—she is a cat after all. She has been mellow and friendly. I feel like her fur is a bit softer. After the first week, she started stretching more, which I was told is the animal feeling some looseness in their bones from the CBD.

Nothing earth-shattering, but I am still interested in continuing the treatments to she how she continues to react to it. If it provides her a nice chilled attitude and less pain in her joints. I am thrilled. Time will tell.

Tallulah and Daddy

There are a lot of CBD animal products out there—tinctures, oils, sprays, cat and dog food, snack bites, creams. Consult with your veterinarian and local dispensary for more information. If your vet does not know much about these treatments, urge them to do some research. I know what CBD has done for pain relief in my human family, so I know it has to be beneficial to my pet as well.

So when the jets go “zoom,” the fireworks go “pop” or you have to take your pet to the vet or groomer, think about helping the little critters chill out using cannabis. Anytime I can use a natural product and not a chemical from a lab to help them out weighs well on my soul. We love them, they give us so much love and companionship in return, so let’s all get high and chill together.

Now it’s time to light up!

The sheer audacity of ‘Angels in America’

Francesca Faridany (The Angel) and Randy Harrison (Prior Walter) in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s production of 'Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika.' Photo by Kevin Berne

ONSTAGE “Why is Angels in America still the most prominent story being told about AIDS?” asked a wonderfully provocative essay about the epic early ’90s play by Tony Kushner, as a critically lauded revival was being mounted on Broadway—and one was preparing to launch here, at the Berkeley Rep (through July 22).  

The essay delves into the racial politics—or rather lack of them—when it comes to the play’s two black characters, nurse Belize and Mr. Lies, and also lays out the number of good plays addressing AIDS that haven’t been similarly burned into our consciousness (unlike movies, which have given us constant community conversation fodder from the sappy Philadelphia to last year’s sublime BPM).  

I couldn’t help think about that essay as I strapped myself in at the Rep for the seven-and-a-half hour marathon of the play’s two parts: “Millennium Approaches” and “Perestroika.” (The length is really just a blip in our binge-watching era.) Despite its New York City setting and famous inaugural Broadway run in 1993, much of Angels was written just north of San Francisco, in the gay vacation stronghold of the Russian River area, and was commissioned by SF’s Eureka Theatre co-artistic directors Oskar Eustis and Tony Taccone. It played here for a trial run, after debuting in LA and before moving on to Broadway. 

Benjamin T. Ismail (Louis Ironson) and Randy Harrison (Prior Walter) in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s production of ‘Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches.’ Photo by Kevin Berne

Taccone is directing this revival, and the play itself turns out to be a love letter to the beauty and ideal of San Francisco, which stands in for heaven (although full of apocalyptic inequality, prophetically enough). So this return of Angels seems like a reckoning on home turf: How much relevance does this 25-year-old “Gay Fantasia on National Themes,” as the subtitle puts it, hold in an age when diversity, intersectionality, and social realism, at least thematically, are prized?  

Well, for one, holy hell: The political issues of the 1980s that envelope the characters in this brilliant production, from religious bigotry and conservative bullying to overmedication for mental illness and, yes, racial condescension, are just as pertinent and searing today—right down to the inclusion as a major player of Roy Cohn, aka Donald Trump’s lawyer-mentor (fiercely played here by Stephen Spinella, who originally played main character Prior Walter in the play’s Broadway debut). If anything the play is less a time capsule than a ripped-from-the-headlines episode of America: SVU

Aided by Taccone’s breathless yet sensitive direction, the heroic cast of eight turns this sprawling work—which follows a handful of human characters plus one particular angel through the cruisey bushes of Central Park and gilded offices of Washington to the North/South Pole and the afterlife itself—into a enthralling ensemble piece that whisks by, aided by an eye-popping, no-expenses-spared production utilizing moving platforms and lovely digital flourishes. (It also remains resolutely clunky when the script calls for it: Kushner’s divine machinations are rooted both in vaudevillian charm and doubts about technology. There’s good reason the angel struggles hilariously with her onstage flying contraption.)

Along the way, we plumb the depths of human betrayal and heights of ecstatic deception: a hyper-sensitive gay Jewish intellectual, Louis (Benjamin T. Ismael, nailing the type) leaves his HIV-positive lover, the Mayflower-descended visionary Prior Walter (a touching Randy Harrison) when he gets sick. Meanwhile, a Mormon housewife, Harper (Amaty Pitt, vibrant), is over-medicating herself in an attempt to overlook vital truths about her career-climbing husband (Danny Binstock, hunky). Slithery Reagan operative Roy Cohn, desperately hiding his AIDS diagnosis from the world, starts seeing the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, who he helped electrocute for treason decades ago—but don’t think that means a change of monstrous heart is in order. 

Caldwell Tidicue (Mr. Lies) and Bethany Jillard (Harper Pitt) in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s production of ‘Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches.’ Photo by Kevin Berne

Throw into all this is a swath of gorgeously poetic writing, political outbursts, bitingly humorous interventions from a heavenly Empyrean in disarray, Soviet speeches, Hebrew prayers, nuclear meltdowns, a goofy twist on “A Christmas Carol,” and a nosy mom from Utah, and it’s all a sublime rollercoaster through America’s psyche, informed equally by rage, wonder, and theatrical chutzpah. Nothing is impossible in this play: psychic connection (characters appear in each others’ dreams/hallucinations), astral projection, jolting glossolalia, bold prophecy, absurd reversals, achingly tender mercies, angelic orgasms, and even, most unspeakable of all at the time the play was written, surviving AIDS. In Angels in America, the main plot device is the sheer audacity of Kushner’s boundary-erasing imagination.      

And yes, despite Kushner’s continued tinkering throughout the years, both the surreal travel guide Mr. Lies and the pivotal character of Belize, the no-nonsense nurse who saves the day, still technically fall under the category of Magical Negro, allotted no real trajectory or backstory, a device for the other characters to grow through. (In fact, as I was noticing that the only real detail of Belize’s history in the play is that he was Prior’s ex-boyfriend, I realized how much Kushner left out of the play, including the hovering specter of how almost all of the characters were surely infected with HIV.)

I will say that the fact that the characters are played by the incredible Caldwell Tidicue, aka Bob the Drag Queen (squee!)—known to many from RuPaul’s Drag Race, but long a formidable force on the NYC scene—brings both believable humanity to Belize and inside-knowledge surreality to Mr. Lies. (You can’t be a drag queen and not know how to to work a fabulous outfit and outsize personality.) Belize did not seem more caricature than person; he seemed fully aware of, and enervated by, the way society/this play shoved him into a few acceptable, stereotypical roles.

One scene in particular plays so sharp nowadays: At a coffeeshop meeting, Louis drones on endlessly and neurotically (he too is a stereotype) to Belize about current politics, talking both over and for Belize. Tidicue’s face expertly telegraphs the frustration and fatigue a black person can feel in such liberal “conversations,” and Belize’s ultimate refusal to be spoken for felt profound, even as, of course, it ultimately fell on him to educate someone on the limits of their experience.

Caldwell Tidicue (Belize) and Stephen Spinella (Roy Cohn) in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s production of ‘Angels in America, Part Two: Perestroika.’ Photo by Kevin Berne

When Angels in America came out in 1993, I had buried three close friends, been loudly kicked out of my doctor’s office after asking about STD prevention, and was prepping my best friend for the inevitability of both his legs being amputated “due to complications from HIV/AIDS” (a phrase almost talismanic in its thrice-removedness from the horror at hand). I was 23. I was also living in Detroit, cordoned off by geography and economics from the roiling protests of ACT-UP in the big cities, the gritty artistic uprisings in downtown NYC. 

When I heard about the play—because the pre-Internet gay grapevine was in full effect on this one—the idea that an epic, hyper-poetic, quasi-religious manifesto that spoke essential truths about contemporary gay life (including the racism) could break records and score multiple Tonys was almost alarming. Are you kidding? It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco that I got my hands on a copy of the script. At first I, like many of my friends, was upset that there wasn’t more gay stuff in it. In an era of so much silencing about our plight and rights, we wanted this historical work to be ours and ours alone. 

Seeing the play 25 years later, I realize that this was a necessary reaction for the time, but also a demand that would have tethered the universal reach of this work to the earthly realm of narrow sociological disquisition. (Mush like the fate that befell Boys in the Band, also now on Broadway.) Kushner’s most audacious trick was to centralize one of the rawest moments of gay existence in a timeless story of heaven, hell, and all that lies between.   

ANGELS IN AMERICA 
Through July 22
Berkeley Rep
Tickets and more info here. 

Comedian Gina Yashere rides the ‘up’ elevator to stardom

Gina Yashere. Photo by David Burgoyne

ONSTAGE Growing up in London, Gina Yashere never considered a career in comedy. She came from an academic family, and her mother had specific careers in mind for her kids: doctor, lawyer, or engineer. So Yashere became an engineer, building elevators for Otis, at London’s Canary Wharf tower. After a few years, she took the summer off and was volunteering for different charities. One was doing a fundraiser, looking for singers and poets and other performers. 

“I wrote what I thought was a play for my friends and me,” she said. “It turned out it was comedy. And the reason I knew it was comedy was people pissed themselves laughing.”

Yashere decided to take six months to try comedy before going back to a full time job. She never returned. After becoming a standup and TV star in the UK, she came to the United States to slay on Last Comic Standing, where she made it to the final 10. She appeared on Def Comedy Jam, The Tonight Show, Comedy Central, and now she’s the British Correspondent on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

One person wasn’t thrilled about Yashere’s career path at first—her mom. 

“She was not happy,” Yashere said. “She said, ‘You’re a leaving engineering to be a clown?’ Then I got on TV and everything changed.”

Yashere’s mom even goes to some of her shows now, such as the one above, at the Apollo. And Yashere travels all over the world, selling out 2000 seat auditoriums. On July 8, she’ll be performing at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley with Shea Suga and Karinda Dobbins. 

Local comedian Lisa Geduldig is producing the show and she’ll be the MC. She’s known Yashere since bringing her out her for the 10th Anniversary of Funny Girlz: A Smorgasbord of Women Comedians in 2008. Geduldig also co-produced Yashere’s Laughing to America at San Francisco’s Brava Theater in 2012.

“She has an amazing stage presence and she tells it like it is. I feel like she could do hours and hours of comedy,” Geduldig said. “She does this routine about health care and how she could get in an accident and have her leg severed and she could buy two first class tickets—one for her and one for her leg—and fly to England to have her leg reattached and it would be cheaper. The audience really laughed. She’s so relatable. She’s not staid, and she doesn’t do the usual stuff.”

In her act, she just talks about her life, Yashere says. She’s always done that, she says, but over the years, she’s gotten more comfortable with it.  

“I’m pretty much a better version of myself,” she said. “I was always original, but now I have more freedom. Before I wasn’t that personal, and it was like ‘Where can I get the laugh and I need jokes,’ but now it’s all from a place of truth.”

Coming to the United States was a dream of Yashere’s as a little girl, and now she loves living in Brooklyn and the energy of New York with its outdoor music, museums and culture. The move has been great for her career, she says. 

“If you do well in America, you do well all over the world whether you’re a singer, actor, or comedian,” she said. “In England, I was quite well known, but coming here has taken my cache up a level.”

It certainly hasn’t hurt her cache being on the Daily Show. It was a job she didn’t need to audition for.

“Being a comedian takes me all over the world, so I’ve known Trevor for years,” she said. “We bump into each other in Australia and South Africa. When I moved to New York, we were chatting and he said they were looking for new correspondents, so he texted me to come on the show and cover the British stuff.”

She says she looks forward to the show at Freight & Salvage.

“I love performing in Northern California—the audience is a bit smarter and interested in the world at large. That’s why I shot my stand up special at Brava,” she said. “In LA, the audience wants to be in TV or movies themselves, and they’re looking for the best camera angle.”

GINA YASHERE (AND ACQUAINTANCES)
July 8, 7pm
Freight and Salvage, Berkeley
Tickets and more info here 

Seeing Red: SF Mime Troupe is making it a socialist summer

Members of the Mime Troupe's new 'Seeing Red' go back to the (socialist) future.

ONSTAGE As someone who grew up watching San Francisco Mime Troupe productions, I can tell you that there is a right and true way to view them. This basic checklist includes a multi-generational group of friends, a variety of beverages, picnic blanket, sunshine (not too much; partial clouds are fine as long as temps hover around Bay Area medians), a forgiving nature when it comes to cornball humor, and a willingness to temporarily exchange outrage over the year’s political atrocities for laughter. You may forgive yourself for the break away from Supreme Court headlines on your computer screen, traded in for the free, en plein air park viewing experience has been designed to re-charge your capacity to resist.

Hence the silliness. “Realism is anti-revolutionary,” explains Rotimi Agbabiaka, who co-wrote the script with troupe veteran Joan Holden for Seeing Red, this year’s Mime Troupe summer show offering that opens its run on July 4th at Dolores Park. “Realism really enforces the status quo.”

But the Mime Troupe plays have never been in danger of being too real. Their power lies in ridiculous characters, unlikely plot twists, and of course, the cast’s periodic bursts into song. In a Skype interview in late June with 48 Hills, Agbabiaka and Holden spoke about where Seeing Red found the potential for revving audiences’s solidarity motors (the 1912 US socialism heyday) and the ups and downs of locating one’s art in an institution with a 59-year legacy of setting dissent to musical theater. The conversation that emerged gives one a good idea of what its like to carry the weight of a heavy creative legacy.

Given the rough-hewn atrocities of the Trump era, it may be no surprise that the collective chose time travel as Seeing Red’s fantastic liberty. The plot revolves around a Trump voter who is spirited back in time to a moment in US history when socialism was hitting hard. Eugene Debbs won seven percent of the votes for president. The Wobblies were igniting strikes across the country. The focus on the proactive reaction to familiar economic inequalities was chosen to shore up audiences’ spirits and get them thinking outside the two party system for political answers.

They had a completely grand and ambitious vision for society, for fundamental change,” says Agbabiaka of the socialists of the era. “They wanted to make a society that’s run for the benefit of regular people who are the ones who are working their asses off to build this thing.”

Holden and Agbabiaka both found their first professional job in theater at the Mime Troupe, separated by a period of 53 years. Holden was first recruited as a scriptwriter back in 1967, when the troupe was R.G. Davis’ company rather than the collective it is today. She was the group’s resident scribe until 2000, when she set out as a freelancer, at one point adapting Barbara Ehrenreich’s influential book Nickel and Dimed for the stage.

Agbabiaka linked up in 2010 when he was cast in a play, skipping his MFA graduation ceremony to make the drive to Mime Troupe headquarters. He has called San Francisco home ever since. “The Mime Troupe was what brought me to San Francisco, and what in many ways has kept me here,” Agbabiaka says. This is his first stab at writing a Mime Troupe production, though he scripted a successful, autobiographical solo show in 2016. 

For Seeing Red, Holden and Agbabiaka went through an extensive research process, reading up on both history and modern day Trump voter concerns (the protagonist of Seeing Red voted for The Donald, though by the time she joins us, she is feeling uneasy about her pick.) The thought of so much reflecting on the past for present-day inspiration led me to asking the two about their own reality working in a radical arts organization in a San Francisco that perhaps, has seen more progressive times. Was this time travel for clarity a meta reference? Were there drawbacks to operating within such a legacy organization?

Holden responded by mentioning audience expectations, hardened over time — possible roadblocks in the troupe’s ability to bring fresh flavors to the stage. The antidote she’s found has been confidence in her own artistic strengths. “You’ve got to trust that and nothing else. You can’t let your critical judgement and your fears guide — that’s a conservative force. You have to trust your imagination.”

But the up side to working within the historic theater group is pronounced. Superlative cast and crew members are one plus, says Agbabiaka. Holden gets straight to certain material realities in her explanation of the perks of being a Mime. “Owning the means of production,” she says. “We bought this building with three city lots in the Mission for $55,000. You don’t get to do that anymore. I often think that the building is salvation.”

The company is well aware of its responsibilities to do its own legacy proud. In Seeing Red, the troupe want to raise the urgency of solidarity, the necessity of living the revolution through joy, the arts, through doing the things that keep us thriving. “We’re against Trump, we’re against ‘them,’” says Agbabiaka. “Where do we begin to talk about what are we for, what kind of society do we want to live in, what kind of world do we want to live in?”

The answer, for some, this summer will be splayed out on the grass at the — always free! — Mime Troupe shows as Seeing Red travels around the greater Bay Area. Consider it your political duty in trying times. “I’ve always thought comedy was revolutionary,” says Holden. “It is a willingness to free your imagination.”

SF MIME TROUPE: SEEING RED
Opens July 4, 2pm, free
Dolores Park, SF.
Continues through September 9 around the Bay Area. 
More info here

Leticia del Toro grounds her ‘Cafe Colima’ in the lives of ‘everyday Latinas’

Leticia del Toro

LIT Bay Area author Leticia Del Toro is not a household name… yet. Her work has appeared in Huizache, Zyzzyva, Cipactli and Mutha Magazine. Her short stories are some of the best out here dealing with migration, gender and working-class realities. One of them, “Café Colima,” received the prestigious Short Fiction Award from Kore Press and is now available as a chapbook.

Leticia Del Toro spoke with 48 Hills ahead of her reading (with Norma Liliana Valdez)
at the Green Arcade Books, Wed/27, 7pm. All proceeds from the sales of “Café Colima” will benefit the ACLU.

48 HILLS You have been writing since your teens, growing up in working-class
Crockett during the 1980s. To what extent did growing up in the Reagan
years shape your writing?

LETICIA DEL TORO Living in fear of nukes was part of my childhood. I can remember doing the lockdown drills in my elementary school, but I wouldn’t say that specific fear made its way into my fiction writing. I do, however, remember as a third grader, writing to my grandmother on her ranch in Jalisco, and telling her I was afraid the world would end either from an earthquake or a bomb. She wrote back via my aunt who was the letter writer and told me not to worry about the problems of the world, to be happy that my parents would take care of me.

There existed a fear that permeated my childhood experience, but there were other hostile elements I experienced as a young person living in a small refinery town. Even though I was from a family who was known and liked, I was sometimes called a Hindu or Iranian, and called “Ayatollah” at school. I didn’t truly know what was going on politically or racially until later. It begs the question: how were elementary school kids taught to hate so early? The media had so much to do with feeding anti-immigrant sentiment. I have a story called “Peaches” in which the protagonist, Tila, is eleven and she is assaulted on the playground and called “Ayatollah.” That’s very real. It made me feel an early connection to other communities of color. I remember thinking, I could just as easily be identified in the world as Indian or Middle Eastern. It made me reflect on what it’s like to walk in other people’s shoes and hopefully, it gave me a little more empathy.

The other Reagan-era policies that inherently make their way into my work and truly, impacted the lives of folks across the country, were the cuts to mental health care from the federal budget. My father was a machinist, who held the same job for over forty-five years. He had also experienced violence along the border when he came over as a fourteen-year old. I think those early years of his immigration really scarred him and he battled addictions and depression all his life, until his death in 2010. Many working-class folks of his generation truly needed mental health care. I remember being in grade school, hearing about suicides and violent acts that occurred along the Carquinez Bridge and near the bay. There were also folks that had serious chemical dependencies and ended up dying in the street or incarcerated. When I moved to Berkeley as an undergrad, I saw suffering up close in the streets. Here we were these privileged kids studying lofty ideas on campus and then you’d walk past Sather Gate and mingle among all the homeless people. I soon learned there was a direct correlation between vulnerable populations living in the streets and the cuts to mental health care.

When I look at my stories now, I see most of my main characters are dealing with the impact of addiction in their lives or fleeing from the law in some way. In “Café Colima,” the protagonist is living with the aftermath of having both lost her sister and her parents to different types of violence. In some ways, my writing bears witness to those circumstances.

48H “Cafe Colima” explores grief and loss of a sibling. Is moving on from this kind of tragedy also a form of loss?

LDT Sure, one can cling to tragedy and trauma and use it to create meaning in your life, whether we’re talking about real life or in Arcelia’s case as the protagonist in “Café Colima.” She uses her trauma as an excuse not to take risks. She uses her grief as a sort of barricade between herself and the world. The loss can be a way of defining yourself. It’s just a shaping force in your life if you’ve lost someone you’ve shared a very close bond with.

There’s also a certain intensity to the early process of grieving, in which you want to scrape together every memory you have of that person, every photo, every note they’ve ever written to you. It all becomes this kind of sacred quest to enshrine your memory of the person. It’s no secret that much of this story is derived from the grief I felt in losing my own brother when I was 25. Unlike the two sisters in the story who were very close in age, we had a seven year difference between us. For years, I was in this mode of piecing together my memories of life with him. It’s only in the last four or five years that I have started to write about him in essays and in a more layered way, in fiction.

I do know that a part of my life, my early adulthood, has been defined by that loss. Growing away from its intensity, actually growing older and giving myself permission to move on has been daunting. I was terrified of having children and yet I took on that challenge of becoming a parent. I knew how deeply it hurt to lose my brother and I was actually afraid to have a child, to move on to parenting because I was afraid to love that deeply, and I’d ask myself wow, what would the loss of a child feel like? Grieving and feeling that pain can be something to hold on to, but if you hold on to it too much it can paralyze you, too.


48H What was the purpose of making the Café itself a sort of character?

LDT It’s interesting how that turned out. I didn’t actually plan to make the Café a character, but it does kind of have a life of its own. I know I wanted Arcelia and Selene’s every day surroundings to have their own physicality. That everyday quality of having to work, having to show up and prep radishes or fill pastry boxes, those necessary images just presented themselves while I was writing. The representation of the café probably showed up so vividly because it stems from a time when I was around nine or ten and I went to my mother’s work after school. It was a Mexican deli in Richmond, go figure, and I hung out in the pantry and listened to these Mexican women, my mom and her coworkers talk and work, and take orders and cook, and get through the evening. There were actually two delis that my mother worked at and she alternated between them, La Palma and La Palmita.

I also knew I wanted to write about an everyday, average Latina, someone you might run into waiting for the bus, or getting lunch, or someone you might see at a café and not think twice about. I know that these every day characters often appear ordinary, but often are very humble about their own heroic qualities. I’ve talked to plenty of editors who want to see a Latina in exotic, international locales making an impact in the world, rising above her humble beginnings. Fine, that’s one kind of story, but I think reflecting a neighborhood and the specificity of one character’s suffering and changing is equally interesting. I had also read a good amount of work about Chicanas set in Los Angeles, Chicago and Texas and at some point I started generating actual scenes about this East Bay character whose life was grounded in her grandmother’s café.

48H Does your mission as a writer change as the external world becomes more reactionary and conservative?

LDT It becomes more intense and necessary. One of the reasons I write is because it helps me make sense of the world. It also gives me pleasure. When I’m on a writing streak and I’ve been at it for hours, I actually feel physical pleasure and gratification. Discussing writing and being in an intellectual environment is also a happy place for me, but then you get to a point where writing is just necessary. Some of my poetry and essay writing has surged from that place, where thoughts are just swirling in my head and I have to get them out.

The first essay I wrote for Mutha Magazine was in response to police brutality and the initial stages of the Black Lives Matter movement. I also wrote a poem called “Alive at Lampedusa” that referenced one of the ships of African refugees that arrived in Italy, but it linked ideas about immigration in the Southwest, as well. I wrote those pieces because they felt very essential, poems of witness, but they are also pieces that stake a claim and express my beliefs.

Luis Alberto Urrea was a faculty member in the audience when I first read “Alive at Lampedusa” in Ripton, Vermont, and he came up to me afterwards and hugged me. That was a big moment. I felt I’d hit a nerve and people really listened. With fiction, I think I’m just trying to filter through what it was like to be a young woman in the 90s, a young woman born into a very traditional, macho-led family which did not encourage me to take risks or to aspire to become anything other than a wife or mother, not what I wanted to do at age eighteen! I needed to see literature which spoke to my experience. I have been writing towards that void. At the same time, I know I have an urgent responsibility to write about injustice and how I feel connected to other people in the world, to highlight my experience when we’re living through this era of isolationism, othering, and the dehumanization of Latin American families.

48H One of the great things about the moment we live in is the attention given to the exclusion, and alternatively tokenization, of writers of color. What do you think needs to happen to for the publishing industry to finally move forward in terms of race?

LDT We need a lot more people of color in publishing and we need a whole plethora of writers of color published. We need to multipy the titles written by people from different racial, cultural and socio-economic perspectives, When I have had work that has been rejected, one of the comments is invariably, “it didn’t speak to me,” or “I couldn’t get into the story.” It’s all a matter of taste, right? So editors and publishers want stories that they can relate to, but honestly how is an editor going to relate to my linguistically specific and regionally specific story about working-class issues or misogyny if they have no life experience to bring to that reading?

There is the rare editor who is going to appreciate a new point of view and a new voice and appreciates a glimpse into a world unfamiliar to them, but those editors are few and far between. In order to get more people of color into publishing we need more mentorship programs, more opportunities for paid internships and more formal initiatives that promote diverse writing. That bit about getting paid is serious, too, because let’s face it if you come from a non-traditional background and your parents are not able to support you for a summer or two, you are going to pick an industry that pays you over a seasonal nonpaid internship in publishing. It’s economic survival.

Oscar Villalon wrote a very pointed essay about this a while back on LitHub, called “Diversity in Publishing: What Happens Now?” We Need Diverse Books is also a great organization that is making changes to diversity children’s and Young Adult literature. Other publishers need to take the lead like Graywolf Press. They offer a fellowship called the Citizen Literary Fellowship that encourages candidates that would not otherwise have access to careers in publishing to explore the field. More fellowships like the Emerging Writers Fellowship from PEN America would also help people like me gain access to the industry.

48H What’s next for you?

LDT I’ve been invited to do another reading in San Antonio, Texas on July 30th at The Twig, after attending the Macondo Conference. I’m especially thrilled to join theMacondo Conference, since so many amazing writers have sung its praises over the years. It’s rumored that Sandra Cisneros will be attending this year, so I’m excited to share time and community with her. Kore Press is also organizing a joint reading in Arizona, in a few months which will feature me along with poet, Natalia Treviño, who also has a forthcoming chapbook called, VirginX (Finishing Line Press). In between readings, I’ll be switching gears a bit and working on a novel. I’m moving away froms short stories to work on my novel, Return to Azucena. I’m also going to Mexico towards the end of the summer for research and reconnection with family.

LETICIA DEL TORO 
Wed/27, 7pm
Green Arcade Books
More info here

Arts Forecast: Gray Area Festival lineup, Laborfest, Fillmore Jazz Fest…

Performers at last year's Gray Area Festival.

ARTS FORECAST Lots of fests coming at you fast! We’ve got details below, but here’s a future one to put on your radar: The Gray Area Festival in the Mission, Thursday July 26–Sunday July 29. If you’re unfamiliar with Gray Area, it’s an organization that brings some incredible junctures of arts, music, technology, activism, education, and partying together. Once located all over the Tenderloin, Gray Area itself is now housed in the former Grand Theater on Mission Street, beautifully restored, and its annual festival is “a conference, performances, workshops, and an exhibition surveying culture through the lens of art and technology. It brings together art and technology for social, civic, and cultural impact,” according to Gray Area honcho Josette Melchior.

This year’s lineup was just announced, and it’s pretty major, with dream-pop group YACHT, the author of Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women who Made the Internet, Claire L. Evans. Indie electronic-acoustic darlings Hundred Waters, experimental musicians Second Woman with Pfadfinerei, techno delight Machinedrum, and dozens more. It’s a multimedia, mind-expanding experience (I loved last year’s) that, when combined with the Fillmore Jazzfest and Laborfest below, really outlines the current state of the city and its various forms of activism and interaction. More info here

MORE UPCOMING EVENTS 

THU/28 MUSIC THE GO-GO’S From their totally unexpected triumph of a whimsical musical, back to their status as “America’s ’80s pop sweethearts,” the frothy California rockers are back at it, and we love them. 8pm, $49.50. Fox Theatre, Oakland. More info here

Film School Dropouts host ‘Pink Flamingos’

THU/28 FILM PINK FLAMINGOS There’s probably no better way to view John Waters’ 1972 trash masterpiece than at the Roxie with a bunch of camp queens, hosted by drag duo the Film School Dropouts. Kill everyone now! 9:30pm, $15. Roxie Cinema, SF. More info here.   

FRI/29 NIGHTLIFE CATZ ‘N DOGZ Bet you didn’t know Poland had a killer techno scene, eh? This duo is phenomenal and fun—plus a couple of real sweethearts. They’re closely associated with our very own dirtybird crew, so expect lots of crowd pleasing bass, but also fastidious students of all sorts of music. (They once opened a set with several minute of jazz goddess Alice Coltrane.) 9:30pm-3:30am, $10-$20. great Northern, SF. More info here.  

FRI/29 PERFORMANCE STEREO ARGENTO: CRONENBERG An insanely clever drag tribute to horror master David Cronenberg? Goretastic! Hosted by Meredeath + Jillian Gnarling, with dancing and drinks, too. 10pm-3am, $10. the Stud, SF. More info here.  

SAT/30 NIGHTLIFE VOLVOX Volvox (Discwoman) finally makes her triumphant return to headline Lights Down Low and bring it hardcore with a special night of blistering techno bliss, foot-stomping electro, and pure sonic satisfaction. Every time she slides behind the decks is a pulse-racing, hands-raised and room-detonating affair.” Well, then! 10pm-3am, $15. Monarch, SF. More info here

SAT/30 AND SUN/1 FESTIVAL FILLMORE JAZZFEST This storied celebration is so ingrained in the city’s cultural fabric that it’s hard to believe this is only the 34th installment. While the latest attempt to revive the historic jazz district didn’t exactly pan out, and the black exodus from San Francisco continues, at least the hometown spirit of love and music (and great food and shopping!) is still going on. This year’s theme is “’90s Throwback,” with Kim Nalley, The Mo’Fessionals, Alphabet Soup, Jungle Biskit, Dogslyde, Marshall Arts, plus Lavay Smith, the Broun Felinis and many more performing. Come support. More info here

SAT/30 PROTEST FAMILIES BELONG TOGETHER RALLY This Arts Forecast is getting taken over by politics because this week has been absolutely awful (except for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s wonderful win), but here’s a good way to feel useful: Rally with others against the fact that our government is forcibly separating children from their families and putting them in cages. I cannot believe I just wrote the last part of that sentence. 10am-1pm, free. Dolores Park, SF. More info here

SAT/30 FESTIVAL ALL DAY I DREAM + WAKING HOUR  The All Day I Dream outdoor party is a traveling fiesta of techno and house tunes, coming to Hellman Hollow in Golden Gate Park with bigtime burner-favorite DJs Lee Burridge and Oona Dahl— and in which “mystical melodies hang on the evening breeze as a setting sun illuminates the Golden Gateway which sparkles seductively, far off in the distance.” You don’t want to kickstart anything this magickal without 12:30pm-2pm’s The Waking Hour, “the opening ceremony of guided yoga, meditation, and sound healing” lead by yoga instructor Hayley Ebersole and sound healer Cheryl Bowers. 12:30pm-7pm, $35. Golden Gate Park, SF. More info here

SUN/1 FESTIVAL CIVIC CENTER COMMONS BLOCK PARTY  Every 1st Sunday starting July 1 through November 4, there’s going to be a big block party on Fulton Street between the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Main Public Library, and it looks like tons of family fun. The inaugural one features beloved Circus Bella in performance, followed by a juggling workshop, and some fun movement excercises from Alonzo King LINES Ballet, plus tons more, including craft vendors and refreshments. 11am-3pm, free! Civic Center Commons, SF. More info here.  

SUN/1 FESTIVAL LABORFEST “Surviving The Billionaire Robot Assault in the 21st Century”. is the vital theme of this year’s sprawling Laborfest—especially urgent in light of the Supreme Court’s crushing blow to unions this week. Films, arts, speakers, and great events. “This year LaborFest continues to commemorate the San Francisco General Strike of 1934 with a series of lectures and walks. LaborFest will also focus on the role of technology on workers from Silicon Valley to UBER, Lyft and taxi drivers, workers in the so-called ‘gig economy’ as well the role of Airbnb on hotel workers and communities and neighborhoods in San Francisco.” July 1-31. More info here. 

ONGOING VISUAL ART URBAN ABSTRACTS: PHOTOS BY RONALD B. RICHARDSON My friend, Ron Richardson, is a university professor, but every moment he can spare he’s been taking gorgeous pictures of tiny details of the Bay Area (which he once walked all the way around). This is his first show, up at Madrone Art Bar; you should go to the bar ad garb a drink and a dance, and check our these lively, colorful shots. Show runs through August 26. Madrone Arts Bar, SF. More info here.  

ONGOING THEATER SOFT POWER The creators of two of my favorite shows—David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly) and Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home)‚ come together together for this “play and a musical” that “rewinds our recent political history and plays it back through a Chinese lens.” Looks nifty, and hey: 48 Hills readers can get 20% off tickets with the code 48HILLS20 at checkout. Through July 8. Curran Theatre, SF. More info here.