Note: Scroll down all the way to the to the comments section at the bottom of this article to help support specific local artists, workers, and small businesses who need help in the shutdown.
Following the lead of doctor-musician Rupa Marya and others on social media who have called for musicians and queer artists and sex workers and others to post links to their websites and social donation apps, we want to help compile lists and resources for this who can to support and donate to these vital and creative members of our community.
We’re going to keep a running tab of resources for the community here to amplify. Please write firstname.lastname@example.org if you know if any others we should add. We encourage all workers and small businesses in need to drop a link in the comments of this article (scroll down!) to their website or Patreon/Venmo/PayPal/GoFundMe/Cash app for 48hills community members to purchase merch and services or donate to help you get through this.You can tell us a little about yourself and your work, too, if you like.
We’ll be blasting this throughout the next few weeks via our newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and site, so please don’t be shy! We want help to support our community in need.
HERE ARE SOME GENERAL RESOURCES FOR ARTSTS AND WORKERS:
**Donate to a collective of Bay Area performers here.
**Apply for the Arts & Culture Leaders of Color Emergency Fund here.
**Check out this freelance artist resource guide here.
**There’s a running list of the GoFundMe campaigns for many nightclubs and cafes here.
**View Broke-Ass Stuart’s guide to ways you can generally help the arts community here.
If you are in need of help during this time, please comment below this article — scroll down!! — with your website/social/pay app! And if you know of any more relief funds/threads please email email@example.com.
“I don’t even know anybody who has been able to handle this.”
Entertainers and performers have been devastated by the coronavirus and the subsequent ban on events of more than 100 people, which went into effect Friday evening.
And with the governor’s declaration today closing all bars and clubs, the situation will just get worse.
DJ Jimmy Love, founder of SF-based production and dance company Non-Stop Bhangra, has had to postpone a music festival in Fresno which was supposed to be happening at the time of the writing. Love is unsure if the festival will ever take place.
“We had 78-100 people staffed, food trucks, a staging company, full dance company, and we sunk a lot of marketing money into it … we moved it to a day next month and we’re still not sure it’s gonna happen,” said Love.
Love explained that the postponement of the festival is potentially catastrophic for DJs and performers who were booked.
“We spend a lot of time planning, and then we get to this one payday. [As a performer], you don’t make a lot of money from December to February, and March and April are our payday, you get paid for all the work you put in dancing, rehearsing. This is our key season,” said Love.
Beyond the festival, Love has lost nearly all his business due to the coronavirus. Since Wednesday, Non-Stop Bhangra has had seven high-value corporate events cancel, resulting in a sudden loss of $15,000 in expected revenue.
Love said he believes the situation for the entertainment industry, especially for smaller venues, will be dire in the coming months due to the coronavirus.
“I don’t know any small venues that can handle three to four months of paying rent with no sales,” he said. “We might not have clubs to come back to. This could be completely the end of our business. By then you’d better start some other kind of business, otherwise I don’t see how else you’ll get by.”
For Dan Karkoska, who produces Puff, which he described as a “queer cannabis drag party,” things are up in the air.
“We’re in a state of waiting, everyone’s scared,” said Karkoska. “For us it’s financial, how long is this going to go for? I have a month, if I have to,” said Karkoska.
On Wednesday, the day before I spoke with Karkoska, he had expected to have 14 performers at the Puff show at The Stud, San Francisco’s oldest gay bar, but only seven showed up, and turnout was a paltry ten people, about a tenth of what the show usually gets.
Despite the low turnout, Karkoska was grateful that the show was able to happen.
“Last night’s show was fun, good to get everyone out, I think that’s the scary thing is staying away, it’s a human nature thing to come together when we’re scared,” said Karkoska.
To make ends meet during these trying times, Karkoska plans to sell things from his house on eBay and hopes that there will be government assistance for performers who are out of work.
Rasa Vitalia, a professional dancer, singer, percussionist and caricature artist, said times ahead look bleak as well.
“I don’t have any backup solutions… I just have to surrender to what’s happening, there’s no creative solution,” said Vitalia.
Vitalia has had all her events for March, April, and May cancel, and is scrambling for a plan to earn income during what is normally a busy time for her business.
“I’m hoping my May events happen, but if not, I don’t know what to do,” said Vitalia. “I have like $10 left. I’ve been looking for other employment, trying to teach online dance, do online caricatures for people,” said Vitalia.
The situation for performers is worsening in real-time. Even as I was speaking with Vitalia, a Saturday gig where she was going to perform cancelled at 1:30pm Friday. Another artist and drag queen I spoke with on Saturday, Jordan Sunshine, showed me a screenshot of a Facebook message telling her that an event where she was booked to perform had been cancelled. The message was timestamped 3:30pm, about one hour after I spoke with her over the phone.
Sunshine has had 18 events cancel on them because they would draw more than 250 people, including the Palace of Trash drag show, which normally has 300-600 attendees and was scheduled to occur on her birthday.
“No birthday drag show for me,” said Sunshine.
Sunshine, like many performers, holds another job to make ends meet and has also been affected by the gatherings ban and social distancing. In addition to working as a drag queen, Sunshine works in visual design at Living Green Design, where she builds artwork out of plants for events. According to Sunshine all the events where they were scheduled to work have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.
Karkoska works as an usher at the Curran Theater for the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. All shows have been cancelled, erasing all Karkoska’s expected income from that job. All of the performers I spoke to said that they have other friends with side jobs, such as driving Lyft or playing piano at high school musicals or events, and have lost that much-needed income due to the closure of schools or the practice of social distancing due to the coronavirus.
As their income channels have been shut off, Sunshine, Vitalia, and Karkoska are all moving toward performing online to make ends meet.
Karkoska streamed the Puff show where Jordan Sunshine performed live from The Stud Thursday night, and had 800 people tuning in, and got two small donations during the streaming. He intends to look into streaming more drag shows and having attendees tip electronically, possibly through Venmo or Paypal.
“We’re fighters, we’re doing online drag shows and doing online streaming, Other queens are looking at starting Youtube shows, I’m hoping to get my shows digitally produced,” said Vitalia.
Sunshine told me that many performers are moving to Ubereats, Caviar, Doordash, because “the only way to make it in the gig economy is to deliver food to people staying home” as the coronavirus continues to spread.
Although the present situation for performers in the wake of the coronavirus is dire, many are still trying to remain positive.
“Money’s great, but if we can make the world feel better, that’s our next and ultimate goal,” said Sunshine.
“I hope that if people are looking for some alleviation from this crisis, and [that] they will invest in entertainment, and perhaps supporting the arts online is good for everyone,” said Vitalia.
If you want to help support artists and performers in the Bay Area affected by the coronavirus, you can donate to a GoFundMe campaign arranged by performers from Puff, where they are gathering funds to support each other. Donate here.
You can also contact legislators and demand financial assistance for affected artists. A SF-based drag queen, Polly Amber Ross, has posted a script on Facebook.
“We’re gonna have to forge a whole new now,” said Karkoska.
I finally made it to Salesforce Park, a perfectly pleasant, perfectly sterile civic project atop the new Transbay Terminal. The downtown public space is billed as a “living roof”—the gardening, featuring plants from around the world, is impressive and sculptural, if far too overdetermined to feel outdoorsy—and the whole thing probably aspires to the urban-activation genius of New York’s High Line.
While it’s a lovely stroll, with features like a glass Salesforce Gondola ferrying people from the Salesforce Plaza below (it frustratingly only runs one way), there are three things which will keep Salesforce Park from attaining the cultural and even poetic highs of the High Line. First, obviously, the noxious branding. Salesforce, we get it, even if we still have no idea what that phallus-housed company actually does. Or where the public part of this project ends and the private part begins.
Second, the charm of the High Line, despite inciting a rampage of development and gentrification, is that you feel like you are walking though old New York (the path used to be a railway for meat cars winding above the Chelsea neighborhood), even peering into decades-old brick buildings and warehouses. The view from Salesforce Park, however, is completely unrecognizable as San Francisco, hemmed in by blinding glass towers and new construction. Even the area itself is disorienting—Rincon Hill has been rechristened as “The East Cut,” a chilling rebranding that only a broker could love.
How did this happen? Inside the Transbay terminal itself, as KQED arts editor Sarah Hotchkiss has described, are some large, intriguing installations. Just down the street, at the former Rincon Hill Post Office, you can see some of the most famous and historical murals on the West Coast. Imagine the bottomless-pocketed Salesforce commissioning 30 artist to create something for this outdoor 5.4 acres, an art-washing that would be welcomed by an underfunded scene. Maybe something’s on the way. As it is now, though, the whole thing feels somewhat bleak, like an open-air office. There’s a Starbucks.
Luckily, the rest of SF seems to be slowly waking back up to public art beyond those legendary Mission murals and neato windows—from the humungous, politically-conscious street art pieces going up in the (rapidly gentrifying) Tenderloin and Mid-Market areas, to tiny pop-up wonders like Peephole Cinema, which is exactly what it sounds like, and this adorable thing on Market I just noticed:
Now, Hotchkiss herself, along with partner-in-curation Zoë Taleporos of the San Francisco Arts Commission, joins in the guerrilla-esque artifying with Premiere Jr., a wee billboard-cum-gallery in the Inner Sunset, on Irving between 7th and 8th avenues. They’ve rented the 72-square-foot billboard for a year, and will be commissioning four different local artists to take over the space, beginning with Lindsey White Sunday, February 9-April 19 (opening party Sun/9, 2m-5pm, outside the nearby Fireside Bar, where there’s the best view of the piece).
The thought of an artsy billboard immediately calls to mind the glory days of culture jamming and the Billboard Liberation Front. But while the politics behind Premiere Jr. may be more liberating than liberationist, there’s still a good dose of street-level (or rather, roof-level) subversion, especially when it comes to the state of SF’s public art.
Taleporos told me, “I currently work as a Public Art Project Manager at the San Francisco Arts Commission where I am involved in commissioning a wide range of artworks for public spaces, including murals, free standing sculptures, and architecturally integrated projects by both local and non-local artists. While San Francisco’s Percent for Art Ordinance allocates 2% for public art (New York and Los Angeles only allocate 1%), that funding is usually restricted to commissioning permanent public artworks that are tied to large stakeholder groups and complicated sets of restrictions.
“You don’t see a lot of temporary public artworks in San Francisco because funding opportunities for that type of work are hard to come by,” Taleporos said. “And the politics of public space are so robust here. So, when you have a self-funded project on a tiny, weird space that no one else wanted, a project that’s only on view for three months, you have nothing but freedom to experiment.”
Both curators have been involved with such projects before—Taleporos was a co-director and curator of Royal NoneSuch Gallery in Oakland and Queen’s Nails Projects in San Francisco. And Hotchkiss was the founder and co-director of Stairwell’s, a project that led walking tours and staged exhibitions in nontraditional spaces. But something drew them to this particular spot.
“I live very close to the billboard and have spent a lot of time waiting for the N Judah while looking up at it,” Hotchkiss said. “It’s extremely small, and only seems to exist because there’s another, larger billboard for it to hang off of. It is just such a weird little space, it was really calling for an art experiment to cover its surface. We contacted Clear Channel and it was available starting at the beginning of 2020—the timing worked out perfectly.”
Unsurprisingly, Clear Channel wouldn’t pony up any discount for the project, and the two are paying for the billboard and providing honorariums to the artists out of pocket. But “it’s surprisingly affordable to rent a 6-by-12-foot billboard for an entire year—more people should interrupt their neighborhood advertising!”
Challenge accepted. And a billboard obviously comes without the outrageous rent hikes driving so many small galleries to close. If you can’t survive on the ground, take to the skies. But what about the art itself? Lindsey White, the first contributor, is a visual artist who’s worked in photography, video, sculpture, and book-making. She won the prestigious SECA Award in 2017, and her work often summons humor and magic.
“I haven’t made a billboard, but I did present a series of photographs in Copenhagen subway kiosks a few years back,” she told me. “My favorite exhibition opportunities are generally in alternative or public places, like SFO or the subway, so a billboard project is right up my alley. I love when art becomes part of an everyday, lived experience.
“I felt intimidated at first, because I wanted to make a piece that got people’s attention and was entertaining, but that also asked questions and tapped into an existential mind space,” White continued. “Hopefully, someone will be sipping their coffee as they wait for the N Judah, and they’ll look up at my billboard and be curious enough to call the toll free number.”
I asked White, without giving too much away before the unveiling, what was the inspiration for her piece? “A wig, fake mustache, buttons for eyes, and a big question. I wanted the billboard to feel kind of timeless, but have the ability to rattle around your head like a good jingle. I was also thinking about how every billboard in the Bay Area seems to be for a tech-based demographic. Why not push back with something a little antiquated? Either way, I hope people will get a good laugh.”
And, as an artist, what are her general thoughts on the state of pubic art in SF? “The San Francisco Arts Commission has developed a lot of great public projects, from airport terminals to kiosks,” White told me. “On another note, I think tech companies should stop paying artists to make art on their private campuses and instead support artists to make genuine public art for various local communities. Those sort of projects aren’t branded, they’re real. Most importantly, projects like Premier Jr. add to the long history of artist-run projects and keep San Francisco interesting.”
PREMIERE JR.: LINDSEY WHITE Sunday, February 9-April 19 Opening gathering Sun/9, 2pm-5am, outside Fireside Bar at 7th Avenue and Irving Billboard location: 624 Irving Street, SF. More info here.
Then head to the Legion of Honor (on the site of a former graveyard, muahaha) and see French artist Alexandre Singh’s show, A Gothic Tale (through April 12), which includes a 20-minute film, The Appointment, an absurd and dreamlike thriller. The main character wakes up to find “12 o’clock at the restaurant La Folie” written in his appointment book – but he doesn’t remember making the date or who he is meeting.
When no one shows up at the restaurant, he gets obsessed with solving the mystery. Nothing says haunting and creepy like organ music, and the film’s score, written by a Dutch composer, is performed at intervals on the museum historic Spreckels organ.
San Francisco’s ties to film noir, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Orson Welles’ TheLady From Shanghai inspired Singh, as well as the Legion being on top of a former cemetery. The mirrored walls in A Gothic Tale are a nod to a famous scene from Welles’ 1947 movie with a shootout in a hall of mirrors, and doppelgängers, or doubles, are a device used in Gothic literature.
These divided selves first popped up in German literature of the 1800s, and also have appeared in the work of Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King, famously inThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray, and in TV shows like The Vampire Diaries. Many video games have some version of fighting an evil version of yourself. The Legion itself is a doppelgänger of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris.
Before entering the room where The Appointment is showing, you go through the Legion’s medieval art gallery, where doppelgängers, such as prints of Roman tombs by Giovanni Battista Piranesi and biblical scenes by Albrecht Dürer, hang on walls covered in mirrors.
Singh looked through the museum’s collection with contemporary arts curator Claudia Schmuckli, to find works for A Gothic Tale. He and art historian Natalie Musteata, who produced The Appointment, worked to create a surreal experience with prints that look like duplicates – but are mirrored, bastardized, or pirated, Singh said on the opening night of the show.
“We are presented in this Hall of Mirrors with reflections of ourselves and reflections of characters where there are little eerie differences,” Singh told the crowd. “It’s an opportunity to celebrate the eerie, the uncanny, the strange, the horror in a museum context, which may sound odd, but then when you walk through these galleries and see all the decapitated bodies and Christ being tortured on the cross, it’s not so strange.”
People who’ve watched a couple seasons of Orange Is the New Black sometimes think they have a savvy understanding of what it’s really like in prison. It’s a panopticon that’s also like a de facto segregated middle school cafeteria, where long stretches of boredom are punctuated by acts of caprice and cruelty—and for every tireless do-gooder who believes the inmates are capable of re-entering society on their own two feet, there’s at least one sociopath.
The San Quentin Project: Nigel Poor and the Men of San Quentin State Prison, a collaborative exhibit at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (through November 17), complicates this picture somewhat through the use of found photography. Poor, who’s taught photography at the facility since 2011, has had to make up for the fact that her incarcerated students are not allowed to possess cameras, and the resulting collection comes from a cache of unarchived (and, in many cases, bizarre) photographs she was given access to by the prison authorities, presumably after earning the administration’s trust. Constrained by the inability to instruct people about apertures and f-stops, she taught them to perform close, often psychologically canny, readings of images.
Unfortunately, the exhibit, which premiered at the Milwaukee Art Museum, isn’t always mounted in the most easily comprehensible way; viewers see the original photograph on one wall and then a heavily marked-up version, full of inmates’ marginalia, somewhere else. But the composite effect is strong, as a picture of life inside San Quentin accumulates from all perspectives.
Established in 1852, it’s the oldest prison in California, and the site of the state’s death row—inactive since 2006, and probably kaput, after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a moratorium on capital punishment earlier this year. The “minimum-maximum” facility houses some 4,000 people. But most of the photos are from the mid-20th century, a time of fights, unlikely camaraderie, and sad Christmas trees decorated with paper (because anything sharp or breakable was almost certainly contraband). We learn that as recently as the 1950s, San Quentin had its own school, for the workers’ children. It’s impossible not to read the naughty expressions in a 1958 class picture and wonder if they would later return to San Quentin in a different capacity.
Of the shots taken within the prison walls, the photographs are often tender but seldom happy. If anything, happiness in prison is highly suspect, as in the image of a professional-looking man smiling into a cell. There’s no one else in the frame, so is he a neatnik warden taking pleasure in a tidy space, or something more sinister?
Weirder still is the image of an inmate, his new bride, and a clergyman all touching a marriage certificate. Facing to the side, the officiant is smiling, but the woman’s eyes are full of resignation over the life she’s about t embark on, an expression belied by her meretricious flower brooch. This one could be a Garry Winogrand, or even a Weegie—as could the one of a veterinarian (we assume) holding a stethoscope up to a cat that an inmate is holding.
Without few notations from San Quentin officials, Poor passes these photos onto us, to share in the wonder as to why these minimally catalogued images were even taken. But that’s what makes it interesting. And it’s clear some of the inmates had fun, too, combing through the prison’s past and offering a great deal of insight. Some of their speculations can be jarring, as when someone scrawls that a picture has been re-created or otherwise staged. A shot of a person, wedged in a crate of “tomato catsup” tins with only their hands and legs visible, looks a little too-perfect, less like an escape than someone demonstrating how to make an escape. It’s not all fun, of course: A cord tied almost in a mini-noose that dangles into the prison yard from a parapet suggests a lynching and a reign of terror.
There are bodies all throughout “The San Quentin Project,” often documented as if for medical purposes. Beyond the guys boxing or lifting weights, there are images of bruised, lacerated, swollen, wounded, and scarred men. A guard with an abrasion on his cheek looks ready to kill whoever did it. But the best photographs are the ones that leave you slightly confused, like one of a sad-eyed guy on the phone in some prison office. It looks to be the 1970s, and he’s manspreading so that we can see the crotch in his jeans has been patched. Behind him, there’s a baseball bat, and a sign on the windowsill reading “ULCER DEPT.,” a piece of self-aware office humor from the days before Dilbert clippings. Why was something so banal worth capturing? It wasn’t then, but 40 years later, it sure is, and Poor’s student Harold Meeks had a field day documenting every last detail, from the rotary telephone to the guy’s tattoos.
The most magnificent image—also from the ’70s, based on the hairstyles—is of a Black family, a smiling young man and his late-middle-aged parents. Everyone’s dressed up, so there’s no indication if the young man is an inmate or a staffer. But his mother’s body language and weary half-smile seem to suggest a prison visit. Her pained expression says she prays for her son, who she knows deep down to be good. It’s called “Mother’s Day.”
“The San Quentin Project: Nigel Poor and the Men of San Quentin State Prison” Through November 17
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley Tickets and more info here.
Lino Tagliapietra became an apprentice glassblower in his hometown of Murano, Italy, at 11 years old and was given the title of Maestro when he was 21. He visited Seattle for the first time in the late 70s, and introduced students at the Pilchuck Glass School there to the tradition of Venetian glassblowing.
Tagliapietra, who now splits his time between Seattle and Murano, has had his work exhibited at some of the most prestigious museums in the world, including the de Young Museum of San Francisco, the Victoria and Albert Museum of London, and the Metropolitan Museum of New York.
At 85, Tagliapietra, considered one of the best glassblowers in the world, hasn’t stopped innnovating and trying new things. He’s expanded on traditional glassmaking, experimenting and playing with new forms. When he came to the United States, he saw that ceramics and textiles, considered crafts, were becoming thought of as fine art. He has been pushing that transformation in terms of its perception as fine art with glass.
In a show at San Francisco’s Montague Gallery (through October 13), “Radiance,” you can see in the 22 pieces there, all made in the last two years, his experiments with light and color as well as his series of intricate, gravity-defying sculptures, called Dinosaur.
“Lino’s technical excellence is extraordinary,” said Dani Montague, the owner of the gallery, pointing out some of Tagliapietra intricate work on display. “His artistry and design are superb and his use of color is phenomenal.”
To the artist, the light in San Francisco is special—and he wanted to capture that in the pieces in Radiance.
“San Francisco is like glass – it looks very strong, but there is a fragility too,” he wrote in an email. “There are very few places in the world that have this light—it makes colors dominant.”
After more than seven decades of glassblowing, Tagliapietra says there is always more to learn about his material. The conversation about art and craft that surrounds ceramics and textiles and glass is an ancient one, he says.
“Artisans, the craftsman, can make fantastic pieces. They have the skill to make wonderful pieces. But to be an artist, it is necessary to invent. It is necessary to look into the past and to know the past, and then to push that material to the future,” he wrote.
“You must first be able to do it (this is the craft) but you also must be able to think of how to do it, you must be able to imagine the creation (this is the art). There is a historic discussion of what it means to be an artist—this is an old conversation.”
LINO TAGLIAPIETRA, RADIANCE Montague Gallery The show has been extended to October 10 More information here
FALL ARTS PREVIEW Let’s keep this short because there’s a lot to do and see, obviously! Proclamations of the SF arts scene’s demise—despite the continued hounding of artists and supporters out of housing and livelihoods—have been premature.
9/6-1/26 ART THE BODY ELECTRIC “In an age dominated by digital technology, The Body Electric explores themes of the real and virtual, the organic and artificial, moving from the physical world to the screen and back again. Crucially, The Body Electric highlights historically overlooked women and artists of color who comprise a family tree for a younger generation of artists working with new technologies.” Of course you don’t want to miss the opening party, either! YBCA, SF. More info here.
9/7 FESTIVAL OAKLAND QUEER PRIDE You’ve been to the hullaballoo of SF Pride, now celebrate with soul on the other side (of summer and the Bay). Fierce, diverse, and family-style, this celebration is packed with entertainment and art, but maybe not so many rainbow tutu’d out-of-towners? In any case, love is all. More info here.
9/7 NIGHTLIFE CLUB LEISURE 15TH ANNIVERSARY This ace club started celebrating Britpop almost right after the ’90s wave had ended—but also takes in all things UK as well, from mod to Madchester, all under the auspices of DJ Omar and a double decker bus-load of talented friends. It is a very good party indeed. Cat Club, SF. More info here.
9/12 MUSIC 20TH ANNUAL SF ELECTRONIC MUSIC FESTIVAL Such a great annual event that celebrates our local musical heritage (founded in 1999 by a committee of eight Bay Area electro-acoustic music and sound art practitioners) while showing a path to the sonic future. This year’s lineup is stellar, and includes an evening at the Envelop venue, so surely you’ll be sensurrounded. More info here.
9/13-9/15 FILM SF INDIESHORTS FESTIVAL 12 themed programs showcase a panoply of directorial visions. “The short film—what a perfect genre. Like the perfect snack. Or the very best poem: intensity and imagination distilled down to the most crucial and poignant of words. Short films are the quintessential starting point, and for some filmmakers, the definitive end goal.” New People Cinema, SF. More info here.
9/15 NIGHTLIFE BODY & SOUL I used to save my pennies to fly out to this incredible NYC soulful house party in the very early 2000s. Absolute DJ legends Danny Krivit, Joe Clausell, and Francois Kevorkian—they’ve produced some of the most major disco and dance records you know by heart—came together to provide the scene with some spirit. Now, they’re touring again and hitting up the new SVN West (cannot wait to check this space out) for a Sunday day party sure to please generations of dancers. SVN West, SF. More info here.
9/15 COMEDY COMEDY DAY 2019 1 stage, 5 hours, 50 comedians! “Now more than ever we need laughter in our lives, and the comedians who headline this annual late-summer treat come from far and wide to bring a good dose of lighthearted free fun. Comic veterans like Diane Amos (aka the Pine Sol Lady) and Will Durst are joined by a host of others in the meadow that will now and forever be named after one of the Bay Area’s best loved and greatest ever.” Robin Williams Meadow, SF. More info here.
9/19 STAGE TOP GIRLS We’re going to have a a very good theater season in the Bay Area, and this contemporary classic from Caryl Churchill at ACT helps blaze the way. “In Thatcher’s Britain of the ’80s, Marlene celebrates a promotion with a dinner party full of legendary, historical, and mythical women, from Pope Joan to one of Chaucer’s pilgrims to an imperial Japanese courtesan. As the wine starts to flow, each of these iconic women shares her own stories of sacrifice and success—but where’s the sisterhood?” ACT Geary Theater, SF. More info here.
9/19 TALK COCKETTES 50TH ANNIVERSARY Oh hey, I’m moderating a panel of original members of the iconic “gender-bending, acid freak-out, satirical, hysterical theater troupe.” We’re turning the Balboa Theater into a Cockettes shrine, with movies, performance, and memorabilia galore. It’s all thanks to the newly minted San Francisco Cultural History Museum. Balboa Theatre, SF. More info here.
9/20 NIGHTLIFE PUBLIC WORKS NINTH ANNIVERSARY A 36-hour party with dozens of insanely talented above- and underground talents—Questlove, Crazy P, noncompliant, Holographic, Minx, Mike Huckaby, etc etc—to celebrate almost a decade of great times in one of SF’s best clubs. Public Works, SF. More info here.
9/20-9/29 FILM SF LATINO FILM FESTIVAL The 11th edition of this always-enlightening fest brings films from near and far in a celebration of Latino creativity and vision. Particularly interesting program: “Environmental Change Maker Shorts—From communities facing climate change and doing something about it to thought-provoking stories about the environment told in both narrative and documentary formats.” More info here.
9/20-9/21 STAGE2 INFINITE 2 WRENCH Lightning-quick improv wonder-troupe the San Francisco Neo-Futurists always drops my jaw—but I’m clenching extra hard for this: “A once-in-a-lifetime, one-weekend-only rollercoaster ride of a specialty show where we’ll perform 60 even-shorter-than-usual plays in 60 standard minutes. Will we succeed? Will we fail? Is this even possible?” Let’s go find out! Exit Theater, SF. More info here.
9/20 NIGHTLIFE DARK ENTRIES 10TH ANNIVERSARY Do you like dark and minimal synth music and dance floor gems from obscure ’80s underground bands (and the contemporary acts who adore them) Then you can’t miss this celebration of local powerhouse label Dark Entries, run by encyclopedic mastermind Josh Cheon. Throw on something dark and slippery and dance all night. The Stud, SF. More info here.
9/21 EVENT PROJECT NUNWAY X The 10th installment of this eye-popping fashion extravaganza from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence promises to be the biggest yet. RuPaul’s Drag Race star Trixie Mattel helps ring in the Sisters’ 40th anniversary(!) at a runway event combining art, design, drag, performance, and creativity. All for charity, of course. It is the Sisters’ way. SOMArts, SF. More info here.
9/22 FESTIVAL ROADWORKS STEAMROLLER PRINTING FESTIVAL The SF Center for the Book is seriously a treasure trove of fantastical things—check out this month’s exhibition of “Drop Dead Gorgeous” fine bindings—but this annual festival, now in its 16th year, is a spine-tingling thrill. Basically: a day-long public printmaking and book arts extravaganza that includes free hands-on printmaking and book arts activities, demonstrations, 50 arts and crafts vendors, art gallery and studio tours, and more. HOWEVER there is also a seven-ton 1924 Buffalo Springfield steamroller that creates giant prints by rolling ink over linocuts on Rhode Island street. Neatest thing ever? OK. SF Center for the Book, SF. More info here.
9/26-12/10 STAGE WHITE NOISE The theatrical force of nature the is Suzan Lori-Parks brings her latest to the stage—this time exploring the contemporary relationships of two millennial, cosmopolitan couples, with a truly breathtaking twist. As always, Lori-Parks calls racial expectations and stereotypes into question in ways only she can. Berkeley Rep. More info here.
9/28 STAGE TRIPTYCH (EYES OF ONE ON ANOTHER) A perfect lead-in to Folsom Street Fair weekend, this is a fascinating look at Robert Mapplethorpe’s still-controversial photographs through song and projection. Featuring the words of poet Essex Hemphill and Patti Smith—fashioned into a libretto by korde arrington tuttle—and the music of renowned composer Bryce Dessner (you may know him from rock band The National), the piece pairs huge versions of Mapplethorpe’s photos with the diverse voices of the Roomful of Teeth vocal ensemble. CalPerformances, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley. More info here.
10/3 TALK REMEMBERING A POLICE RIOT: THE CASTRO SWEEP OF 1989 Sure to be a lively talk at the GLBT History Museum, featuring a fine panel of those who were there: “On Friday, Oct. 6, 1989, San Francisco police responded violently to a small, peaceful ACT UP march protesting government neglect of people with AIDS. Nearly 200 San Francisco Police Department officers — half of all those on duty — invaded the Castro district for more than three hours, beating activists and passersby, systematically sweeping all pedestrians from seven city blocks and placing thousands in businesses and homes under virtual house arrest.” GLBT History Museum, SF. More info here.
10/3 DANCE JESS CURTIS/GRAVITY: (in)VISIBLEHow do you experience a performance if it’s not possible to see it? This fascinating work “dislocates vision from the center of your experience. Developed in collaboration with—and particularly focusing on access to culture for—blind and visually impaired audiences, (in)Visible is created and performed by an international cast of six blind, visually impaired and sighted body-based dancer/performers who dance, sing, whisper and feel their way into your consciousness, bringing experimental dance/performance and sensory accessibility practices into a rich and moving interaction.” CounterPulse, SF. More info here.
10/3-11/2 STAGEPUPPETS & POE Theatre of Yugen presents this journey into the macabre via marionette: “Start with Edgar Allan Poe – the beloved master of poetry, short stories, and tales of mystery and the macabre. Dissect and remix. With a departure from Japanese Noh drama and Kyogen satire, mix with Theatre of Yugen’s signature physicality, voices, words, ideas, bodies, and PUPPETS. Stir in a splash of contemporary relevance, with good old-fashioned irreverence. Bake at a macabre 666 degree heat for an hour and a half. Devised Defiance is a dish best served cold.” Theatre of Eugene, SF. More info here.
10/4-10/6 MUSIC HARDLY STRICTLY BLUEGRASS Don’t lug that cooler with you this year (new rules) but this must-attend musical blowout still attracts tens of thousands with a stellar lineup including Tanya Tucker, Judy Collins, Michael Nesmith, Robert Plant, Beth Orton, Mercury Rev, and the New Pornographers. Golden Gate Park, SF. More info here.
10/4-10/5 DANCE SINTONÍA: TATTOOED Sintonía, a new Oakland-based flamenco dance troupe, presents its inaugural production, which “consists of a series of theatrical vignettes that utilize each dancer and musician as a player in the narrative, gives voice to survivors marked by abuse. Tattooed illustrates stories that have scarred yet shaped their lives. Ultimately, Tattooed is a proclamation of strength, resilience, and seeks to challenge people’s perspectives on flamenco and survivors.” Featuring local flamenco great Yaelisa. Presidio Theatre, SF. More info here.
10/5 EVENT BBQ WITHOUT BORDERS “A benefit event that will celebrate immigrants through food, drink, music, dance, art and more” featuring Indonesian, Northern Iranian, and Mexican barbecue from Bay Area chefs, music from Diana Gameros, Rahill Jamalifard, and DJ Cherry Moon, and dance from Gamelan Sekar Jaya, the Cal Bhangra team and Meli Cruz. Proceeds go to the National Immigrant Justice Center & Pangea Legal Services providing direct legal aid and advocacy for immigrants. Impact Hub, Oakland. More info here.
10/10-11/10 SCARY TERROR VAULT From the maniacal mind of drag horror Peaches Christ comes this bonanza of boo—at the Old Mint, so you get extra ghosties! All new script, storyline, and scares from last year’s overwhelming success, with all the twisted only-in-SF freakiness that Peaches and her team can muster. (Also in the same space, check out “Apocalypse: A Zombie Survival Game”—perfect for those bored with corporate escape rooms). San Francisco Mint. More info here.
10/10-10/19 LIT LITQUAKE Hang on to your shelves, SF’s about to get Lit. The 20th installation of this enormous literary festival comes with some big names—Ann Patchett, Tobias Wolff, Mike Isaac, Jane Hirschfield, Michelle Tea—and some fun and quirky programming. Plus there’s the can’t-miss Litcrawl, where literature spills out of venues ll down Valencia. More info here.
10/11 TALK AN EVENING WITH DR. JANE GOODALL “Esteemed ethologist and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace, will start off Wildlife Conservation Expo weekend with a special Friday evening talk. Jane will share fascinating stories about her studies on wild chimpanzees in Gombe National Park beginning in 1960, which continue through the work of the Jane Goodall Institute.” Total hero. The Masonic, SF. More info here.
10/18 MUSIC Z.E.N. TRIO How about some electrifying classical from a fabulous trio of young Brits? Schubert, Brahms, and Shostakovich are all on the program. “While the trio’s name, Z.E.N., is an acronym for the three artists’ initials, it also represents the philosophy with which they approach chamber music making—the forgoing of the self for total togetherness.” San Francisco Performances, Herbst Theatre, SF. More info here.
10/20 MUSIC 7TH ANNUAL SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL BOOGIE WOOGIE FESTIVAL An “international gathering of top boogie woogie artists with two pianos on stage, and always surprises.” With boogie woogie ivory-ticklers from USA, France, Hungary, Switzerland, and Germany, I bet those flying fingers get some frequent flier miles. SFJAZZ. More info here.
10/23—POSSIBLY FOREVER STAGE HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD Look, even if you ran a book store in the ’90s and rolled your eyes slightly while the Harry Potter fans and dough rolled in (and flipped through your much-preferred copies of the Golden Compass Trilogy)—that, yes, would be me—you’d still want to hit up the lavishly praised production, full of astounding special effects and narrative goodies. The hype is just too strong, and honestly I could sit through anything at the lovingly restored Curran. Curran Theatre, SF. More info here.
10/25 MUSIC SUNSET ROLLERCOASTER A six-piece Taiwaniese soul-psych outfit at Slim’s? (Say that six times fast.) Sign me up, especially after sampling their Bossa Nova-tinged sci-fi suite Vanilla Villa. Slim’s, SF. More info here.
10/25-12/1 STAGETHE CAKE A sly piece of relevant theater, served bittersweet: “Things are on the rise for Della. She’s been accepted as a contestant on the Great American Baking Show, her faith is as solid as ever, and her goddaughter, Jen, is back in town and wants Della to bake her wedding cake. But cracks start to appear in Della’s idyllic life when she learns Jen is marrying a woman – something that goes against everything Della believes.” New Conservatory Theater, SF. More info here.
10/27 MUSIC THE WAILERS Reggae royalty return to celebrate the 40th anniversary of seminal Revival album and perform more classics. “Led by renowned bassist and founder Aston ‘Familyman’ Barrett, and joined by original Wailers guitarist Donald Kinsey, The Wailers give audiences around the globe the opportunity to experience their unique and innovative sound. From 1972 to 1980, Bob Marley & The Wailers recorded, toured, and performed before countless millions worldwide. Since 1981, Familyman has carried on the mission to ‘keep The Wailers together’—just as Bob requested.” The Chapel, SF. More info here.
10/31-11/16 DANCE SOLEDAD BARRIO & NOCHE FLAMENCO: ENTRE TÚ Y YOIt may become obvious from this list that I adore flamenco, and Soledad Barrio is one of the absolute best. After the national triumph of ‘Antigona,’ Barrio and Noche Flamenco return with this program duets, solos, and ensemble works, featuring Barrio’s signature, “Soleá,” which “exemplifies the catharsis at the heart of flamenco.” Z Space, SF. More info here.
11/1-11/2 FILM COCO WITH THE SF SYMPHONY Seeing this Pixar triumph around Day of the Dead, on a big screen, with live accompaniment by the SF Symphony is a perfect city activity for families—and those of us quietly weeping with joy in the corner. Davies Symphony Hall, SF. More info here.
11/2 MUSIC EGYPTIAN LOVER The king of body-rock electro and a marvelous musicologist to boot, Los Angeles’ Greg Broussard will have you chanting “Egypt, Egypt” and “Computer Love” while throwing back (and possibly your back out) to ’80s dance floor gems. Starline Social Club, Oakland. More info here.
11/10 MUSIC LACHANZE: “FEELIN’ GOOD” I freaking love this Tony and Emmy-winning sensation, and seeing her in an intimate cabaret context will be beyond! “On November 10th, the singer/actress will make her long-awaited Bay Area concert debut with her powerful autobiographical show, which originated at Joe’s Pub and was a hit at venues like The Cabaret in Indianapolis and New York’s Highline Ballroom.” Venetian Room, SF. More info here.
11/22-11/24 DANCE SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL HIP-HOP DANCE FESTIVAL Holy headspins, hip-hop hero Micaya is celebrating 21 years of presenting the latest and greatest in hip-hop dance. Crews from all over the world astonish and amaze with kinetic moves—it’s a true rush of diversity and expression in a city that’s seen its hip-hop scene quashed, alas. Palace of Fine Arts, SF. More info here.
12/15 MUSIC CATTLE DECAPITATION Just in time for the holiday season! “Compromise is not a concept Cattle Decapitation are willing to entertain. Ever. Over the course of nineteen years and six full-lengths the San Diego quartet have more than proven this, defining themselves as one of the most vital, brutal, and relentless forces in extreme music, and with new album The Anthropocene Extinction they have delivered a volatile, apocalyptic beast that is as hideous as it is compelling.” UC Theatre, Berkeley. More info here.
FALL ARTS PREVIEW Gallery season leaps into fall affect this week: Check out arts writer Matt Sussman’s picks for enlightening, expanding experiences.
Africa State of Mind + Rashaad Newsome at MOAD (Both Sept 4 – Nov 15) The Museum of the African Diaspora has been delivering some of the best local institutional programming over the past few years—and these two exhibitions continue the trend. This is the only US stop for Africa State of Mind, a rich and enriching survey of contemporary art from across the African continent. Category is: galactic glamour! Creative polymath Rashaad Newsome’s new video work, inspired by the opulence and life-giving performances of the gay ballroom scene, is simply out of this world. See it all come to fruition in 3-D on October 19, as the museum hosts an Afropolitan Ball, with specially created projection mapping by Newsome. More info here.
Dale Hoyt: Farm and Friends—in 3D! at Telematic (Sept 7 – October 12)
From pastoral poetry to The Simple Life, farming has often been held up as a paradisiac alternative to urban malaise. Shot on an actual farm in SF, Dale Hoyt’s experimental narrative exposes the rot at the heart of its central father-daughter dyad (the pair are as interested in true crime trivia as they are in agriculture), a toxicity that seems to seep from the soil as it does fall from the rapidly gentrifying air. The accompanying exhibition features art by supporting cast members, which picks up on the film’s themes of alienation and environmental collapse. More info here.
Katherine Vetne: Whatever I See I Swallow at Catharine Clark Gallery (Sept 7 – October 26) Jumping off from Barbara Kruger’s ironic, iconic maxim “I Shop Therefore I Am,” Katherine Vetne solo debut at Catharine Clark investigates the deeper drives that subtend gendered forms of consumption and luxury retail. In drawings, hands swarm the folds of Hermes scarves like hungry locusts or lovers. Elsewhere, assemblages of melted candelabras coated in silver nitrate look like relics from the Blitz. That the pieces themselves are so covetable, so polished, adds another turn of the screw. More info here.
Dana Hemenway: Differently Structured Possibilities at Eleanor Harwood (Sept 7 – October 26) Approaching materials commonly found at the hardware store (extension cords, ropes, light bulbs) with a fiber artist’s hand, Dana Hemenway creates woven sculptures that are both a part of and hang apart from their built surroundings. At once abstract and oddly tender, Hemenway’s work creates visual poetry out of the frequently hidden circuitry that surrounds us. More info here.
4Waves: 40 Performances for the Hole @ SOMARTS (Sept 11)
It’s back! A who’s who of Bay Area creative royalty will each have only five minutes total to do their thing – set-up to clean up— in a 100 year-old pit in the floor of SOMArts. Guest curator Justin Hoover’s reprise of his now legendary marathon night of performance is time-based art at its most democratic, gonzo, and gloriously San Franciscan. “There are no rehearsals.” More info here.
Assume Vivid Astro Focus @ Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture (Sep 13 – Oct 6)
Queer psychedelic art collective Assume Vivid Astro Focus has landed their space ship at Fort Mason and created a mural you can skate on. That’s right: the main gallery floor has been transformed into a multi-colored and clashing-patterned circular roller rink, complete with a fully kitted-out DJ booth at its center. BYO wheels (or rent a pair) and roll-bounce along with your fellow machine elves to jams by some of the Bay’s funkiest selectors. More info here.
Nicki Green: Splitting/Unifying at Et Al Etc (Sep 13 – Oct 26) Nicki Green creates ceramics that are not merely beautiful in their own right but which are meant to function as queer ritual objects. Vessels, in all senses of the word, Green’s pieces are both reverential and playful, at times honoring queer elders via a kind of adapted Jewish mysticism that also allows for moments of cheeky eroticism.More info here.
Terry Fox: Resonance @ Various locations (October 1 – December 14)
Berkeley Aart Museum alumnae Dena Beard and Constance Lewallan have curated an ambitious two-month long tribute to formative Bay Area conceptual artist Terry Fox. Something of a weathervane for the currents of his time, Fox brought back both his firsthand account of the May ’68 protests in Paris and the experience of working with Joseph Beuys in 1971 to the Bay, influencing a generation of fellow artists in turn. Spread out over venues across the Bay, Resonance will highlight various components of Fox’s practice, including his hermetic performance pieces, giving this mercurial, exacting artist an overdue homecoming.More info here.
The Continuous Thread at SFAC (Oct 4 – December 14)
After the removal of Early Days, the settler colonialism-glorifying component of SF’s Pioneer Monument in Civic Center plaza, over 150 members of Bay Area’s indigenous communities stood upon the now-bare neoclassical plinth on April 5 and 6 and had their pictures taken by three different photographers. Those photographs comprise The Continuous Thread, a commemoration of a wrong righted, a corrective to popular representation, and a collective portrait of American Indians now. More info here.
Sylvia Fein: Matrix 275 at BAM (November 13 – March 1)
Sylvia Fein’s delicate, highly detailed paintings of landscapes and subjects, both mundane and fantastic, are remarkable contributions within the generation of American artists who took up Surrealism’s mantle in the 1940s. (Her skilled use of egg tempera, a notoriously temperamental medium, makes them positively glow). But add in the fact that the longtime East Bay artist is celebrating her centenary this year makes Fein a cause for even more celebration. Don’t miss her artist’s talk on November 13, and be sure to check out the concurrent survey show Strange which should provide additional context for Fein’s work along with that of her contemporaries. More info here.
ONSTAGE Out New York-based comedian Matteo Lane didn’t dream of a career in comedy, growing up.
In fact, the “Moving On” (2015), “Crashing” (2018), and “The Comedy Lineup” (2018) star told 48 Hills that stand-up wasn’t even a draw for him, initially. That is until he discovered more inclusive, gay-friendly comedians like Kathy Griffin.
“I didn’t watch stand-up as a kid, because it didn’t feel like it was speaking to me,” Lane said.
“So I didn’t become interested in it till I saw Kathy Griffin, because she was the first comedian I saw who didn’t make fun of gay people like we were the butt of the joke. We were in on the joke. I was lucky to have women like Kathy Griffin, Margaret Cho, and Joan Rivers lead me to comedy.”
As part of this weekend’s Clusterfest, Lane will be paying tribute to comedy queens Lisa Kudrow, Mira Sorvino, and Alan Cumming with the Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion Live Read alongside RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova.
“I’m playing Alan Cumming’s part where they do the interpretive dance at the high school reunion where I think Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’ is playing,” he said. “So I have to learn the dance.”
At the annual comedy and music festival, now in its third year and featuring Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Neal Brennan, Issa Rae, John Mulaney, Leslie Jones, The Roots, Chelsea Peretti, Courtney Barnett, and My Favorite Murder, among many others, Lane will also appear in Todd Barry’s Crowd Work Show, Saturday’s Chi Guys, and Sunday’s Patton Oswalt show.
I spoke to Matteo Lane about coming out with humor, relating to Alladin’s Jafar, and why he refuses to make Trump jokes.
48 HILLSMatteo, you went from being an opera singer and oil painter in Italy to a stand-up comedian. Do you ever imagine what your life would have been like had you pursued those other talents?
MATTEO LANE I just don’t think about it that way. Your life just happens as it happens and stand-up has allowed me to do all sorts of things including drawing because I have my comic book with Bob the Drag Queen called “Kickass Drag Queen” that we’re going to hopefully get made into a cartoon, and I’ve been able to do my own singing show, which I tour the country with.
I feel like none of those would have been possible had I not done stand-up, so in a way I don’t look at it as separate. I look at it as other ways to explore my creativity, so if anything it’s helped me be more of a singer or artist than I ever was.
48 HILLSYou have a bit called “Every Disney Character is Gay.” Do you really think so, or are you just trying to piss off conservatives?
MATTEO LANE I’m just trying to write material that makes people laugh. If we wanted to have an existential conversation about those types of characters, I’d say, “Yeah, usually the villain in a Disney movie doesn’t bend to the male or female roles, like the prince or princess. They’re somewhere on the outside, look different and feel different. They’re some sort of an other.
I think that gay people growing up often fall into that experience of being the other, at least in my experience. So I feel like I’ve always latched on to the villain, as most young queer kids do. I don’t relate to Princess Jasmine and Aladdin. I relate to Jafar.
But I don’t write my material to say, “Who am I going to get?” Or to do a bigger conversation about something. I’m doing it, at the end of the day, to make people laugh.
48 HILLSYou also talk about growing up on the same block as your 22 cousins in your act. When you came out, was your family supportive?
MATTEO LANE I am very lucky because my brother’s gay and my cousin’s also gay, so we’re all gay. [Laughs] I’m very lucky to have a very supportive family.
My mom had a very difficult childhood and my grandfather grew up in an immigrant family, went blind at the age of five, put himself through law school, and became a judge. So my family was able to see that there are bigger things out there than just being gay. So being gay was like, “OK, cool, pass the butter.”
My family communicates through humor, so I used humor to make it not this taboo subject we couldn’t talk about, and, as a result, I feel just like the rest of my cousins.
48 HILLS You’ve said before that while you don’t discuss Trump directly in your act, your “material in itself is a stand against Trump.” What did you mean by that?
MATTEO LANE What I mean by that is a technical thing. I’m not the kind of comedian who writes topical jokes about what happened or what I saw on MSNBC yesterday because the news cycle is going so quickly that even if I do a joke that’s funny about what Trump said yesterday, it’s forgotten the next week. So it doesn’t serve me or an audience in any way, because they’ve forgotten because he’s done something else that’s stupid since.
So I have some jokes that are political but I’m not a comedian who’s only interested in talking about Trump. So yeah, if I’m onstage in Ohio and I’m gay and talking to voters who may have voted for Trump, by me not living my life apologetically or editing or censoring myself to hundreds of people I’m performing for daily, that’s something. It’s better than me just sitting at home and tweeting about it.
48 HILLSGay material makes up a lot of your act. Do you feel like you’re a comedian or a gay comedian?
MATTEO LANE I don’t think about it as being a gay comedian. I think about it as doing good work and being as funny as possible.
But I probably am in the last generation who grew up not having the Internet and not having the easy access to a gay community. So now that it’s so prevalent, the only thing I think about is that it’s cool that young kids can look at the TV and see me or other gay comedians and it’s just normal.
48 HILLSCan you envision a day when your sexual identity won’t matter to audiences?
MATTEO LANE When I started stand-up, I would have thought, “I just want to be a stand-up and not have my sexuality determine who I am.” But now that I’m doing it and onstage and talking around the country, I’m proud of it.
I don’t care how anyone reads me — that’s a gay comic or that’s just a comic — because it doesn’t matter what someone else says. I know who I am and I’m proud of being gay and proud of being a comic.
I think where we start to go wrong is when we start labeling everything. So however you want to describe me, I don’t care. I think as we have more diversity onstage we can start having the idea of stand-up not being just for straight men. But I think it’s happening right now.
Editor’s Note: Word came Saturday from his wife and fellow writer Dodie Bellamy that essential SF queer writer Kevin Killian—poet, teacher, playwright, gossip, Kylie Minogue super-fan, heart of the New Narrative literary scene that electrified SF in the ’80s, and Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer—had passed away. Here, Alvin Orloff of Dog-Eared Books remembers the prolific writer. (Read a short, vital essay Kevin wrote for the Bay Guardian’s “SF Stories” issue in 2012 here.)
I met Kevin Killian by taking writing workshops with his wife, Dodie Bellamy, some 20-plus years ago. Climbing the stairs to their third floor South of Market apartment, I always felt anticipatory tingles for the fun and stimulation ahead. Dodie and Kevin’s small living room, cluttered with cats and books, felt like a refuge from the dull, mercenary forces that were (even then) erasing the old bohemian San Francisco, and the writers I met there were uniformly clever and charmingly offbeat. Many are still friends today. Within that enchanted bubble, wit, good manners, and the tough-minded analysis necessary to inculcate literary talent reigned supreme.
At the time, Kevin was workshopping a novel in progress that became Spreadeagle, a wryly twisted and rather noirish tale of literary celebrity, criminality, and perversion. I loved it so much I immediately read his earlier novels, Arctic Summer, Shy, and Bedrooms Have Windows, as well as his short story collection, Little Men. All terrific! (He published a lot of poetry too, which I’m told is also great.) It confused some people that Kevin was considered a queer author because he’d left his louche, homosex-y youth behind him and married a woman, but he and Dodie had transcended the constraints of such mundane, petty classifications.
Once I’d befriended Dodie and Kevin, I discovered a cultural milieu I hadn’t known existed. They and their friends were constantly rushing around between book release parties, poetry readings, and art openings. At such events one could always count on Kevin for a friendly smile, spicy gossip, or some delicious tidbit of information about Australian pop phenomenon, Kylie Minogue, with whom he was obsessed. Just the sight of Kevin, always ever so slightly disheveled with bangs falling boyishly over his forehead, was enough to raise my spirits.
Kevin was also prone to writing and producing hilariously wacky and absurdist plays for the Poets Theater using literary and musical celebrities as characters that he and his friends would play. I wasn’t alone in being mystified as to how Kevin, who worked a full-time office job, managed to regularly stage plays, attend seemingly all of his numerous his friends’ events, and still find time write.
More amazing yet, Kevin also found time to be a tireless promoter. He was forever introducing one to new authors, talking up someone’s latest work, and booking out-of-towners to read at some bookstore or gallery. As if that weren’t enough, he co-edited My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer and, along with Dodie, Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative Writing 1977 – 1997. He gave me a lovely blurb for my third novel and spoke of my writing in terms flattering enough I not only felt embarrassed, but tempted to question his sincerity. Kevin’s tireless championing of LGBTQ writers is justifiably the stuff of legend, and he (along with Dodie) acted like a social glue, bonding San Francisco’s more adventurous, if less commercially successful, writers into a community.
For all his myriad virtues, what I enjoyed most about Kevin was his mischievous sense of humor. For example, when he was recovering from a heart attack and too doped up to write, Kevin (at Dodie’s rather brilliant suggestion) tried to get back in the swing of it by penning Amazon reviews. These quickly progressed from a few words about books, music or movies to amusingly off-kilter mini-essays about random items like plaster pineapples or Lycra thongs. The reviews were eventually collected into a pair of zines that (who knows?) may well end up becoming the foundational texts of a new literary genre.
As the years rolled by, Kevin gradually began to get the recognition he’d always deserved. City Lights put out his hilarious collection of erotic short stories,Impossible Princess, which won a Lambda award, and Semiotext(e) reissued his out of print early works as an anthology titled “Fascination.” He got to quit his office job, began teaching creative writing, and started jetting off to attend panel discussions and symposia in distant cities.
Everyone was glad for him. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, came word came that Kevin, a mere 66 years old, had died. My Facebook feed instantly filled with more heartfelt tributes than I’ve ever seen, all of them extolling his talent, generosity, kindness, and good cheer. Kevin was, and I am being quite literal here, universally beloved.
In the days ahead, I see three duties for Kevin’s friends and fans. First, we must offer whatever support we can to Dodie. Let her know that the massive outpouring of love for Kevin belongs to her as well. Second, we simply must work to see that Kevin’s books are given their rightful place of honor in the queer literary canon. And third, we must try and be more like Kevin, allowing our lives to be guided by the love of writing and writers. None of these things will make up for the lack of Kevin in our lives, but they’re the least we can do to honor his memory.
Alvin Orloff’s memoir Disasterama: Adventure in the Queer Underground 1979-1997 comes out in October from Three Rooms Press. Learn more at www.alvinorloff.com