The return of the SF International Arts Fest
âIn the future, we will all be caramels and homosexuals. “
So goes Ilana’s prophecy from Comedy Central Wide city. Again, “prophecy” may be too strong a word. The suggestion that whites will soon be in the minority leaves this journalist with pearls firmly open.
It’s not even news. Black Flag’s “White Minority” predicted it in ’81. Greg Ginn, who wrote this aria, points out that it was sung by Puerto Rican Ron Reynes, and added “The idea behind it is to take [a white supremacist] and make them look as outrageously stupid as possible.
In a statement, the SF International Arts Festival, which has been in existence for nearly 20 years, asks a more interesting question about the new majority: “Will they inherit the same levels of lethargic law and consumerism that characterize many other Americans?” “
If there is a risk, the SFIAF aims to combat it in a preventive manner; the festival is an indoor-outdoor, online-offline, multi-cultured and multimedia extravaganza scheduled for October 20-24 at Fort Mason. According to executive director Andrew Wood: âThis is the theme of the festival in recent years, among the main topics – the idea that the United States will become a white minority. What are the implications? It could be crucial, could be the same old, the same old. Will the newcomers beat the drums and wave the flag, or use this moment to reflect on politics and what democracy means? ”
Over a century ago, floods of immigrants arrived on the American coasts; commentators and politicians viewed each wave as a foreign threat before the newcomers were absorbed into the mainstream.
What is different this time? “Many of these countries mentioned were not the subject of US foreign policy, nor did they come from places affected by it,” Wood said. At the height of those early years of immigration, the United States was not the world power it is today.
Wood continues, âIf you are from Bangladesh or other sinking parts of the world, you are aware of the rising waters. How is the United States doing, better than in the past, based on these experiences? “
As with last year’s SFIAF, this year’s festival features a lineup of outdoor shows, including a small music stage. Naturally, the festival is still grappling with COVID-19 security protocols.
“I think by trying to reappear, wavering, as a society, we’re going to make people feel comfortable being together again and re-engaging … at a respectable distance,” Wood says. âWe do our best to bring the audience back to the artists. They haven’t seen each other for a long time.
In addition to concerns over COVID, visas have been an issue. Immigration problems forced the cancellation of a play Bon Tempos Theater Co. in Mexico City, Gaddafi’s cook – a fictional story of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s personal leader. A visa tie-up with a Russian troupe means director Semion Aleksandrovskiy will direct a performance on Zoom in his own time zone of St. Petersburg, where he’s 10 hours ahead.
One of the highlights of the festival is the Aleksandrovskiy show YYaD.FHRMCMAal.oH (please forgive me if I dropped a consonant). This word salad is the acronym of a poem by Leo Tolstoy, written in chalk on a card table for the love of his life, Sophia Bers. (This was long before things turned sour between the seminal realist author and his future wife.) The title corresponds to the phrase “your youth and the need for happiness are a cruel reminder of my old age and the impossibility of happiness.” “. Tolstoy later used a variant of this thought in Anna karenina.
On the Great Meadow in Fort Mason, an audience of 40 will split into two sections to walk with actors Megan Trout and Caleb Cabrera from the Shotgun Theater as they perform the play in different corners of the prairie. âWe don’t know how busy Great Meadow will be this weekend,â adds Wood. âThat’s part of the charm of it, dodging the part of the crowd that isn’t the audience, with your audience.
âIt’s easy to do the actual rehearsals because everyone is used to Zoom now. However, working with Russian directors is not for everyone. “Russians are theater fanatics, and theater directors are treated there like the great figures of sport are here,” says Wood. âWe have to find people who can stand up to Russian directors! Our manager Phil Lowery is like a boxing referee. He is very detail-oriented and keeps a record of instructions in the event of a dispute. But they’re all very professional people. Respect grows throughout the process, even if they are distant.
ACT’s Mark Jackson helped cast this play; he played in Russia, and Trout went to school there. Flash mobbing and public performances are part of contemporary Russian theater. Wood recounted how a group was kicked out of a theater because authorities mistakenly thought the players were talking about Putin like a cockroach.
âPop-up theater is therefore a form of theater that takes place without government subsidies or, hopefully, with police interest, in site-specific spaces such as bars,â Wood notes. Passing the hat keeps some of these artists alive. âYou can live on earned income, pretty much. The margins are thin, but it can be done.
On the evening of October 23, at the Fort Mason parade ground, SFIAF hosted Larry Reed’s ShadowLight Productions. It’s a one hour show of ‘wayang’ – Balinese shadow puppets with a live gamelan ensemble. Indonesia’s jangly / tinkly music is hammered on brass. A single lamp illuminates a 15ft by 30ft screen from behind as Reed wields his puppets and plays the voice in English, one of the many languages ââhe speaks.
Founded in San Francisco, ShadowLight is almost 50 years old. No one seems sure how ancient the wayang was, but this Balinese puppetry art certainly dates back to 900 CE. Over the centuries, puppeteers have performed tales of Hindu epics, in the open air, midnight to dawn entertainment occasioned by everything from political events to rituals. Wayang is considered to be rich in sacred meaning, suggestive as it is of the performances we all organize every day.
Among the more than 60 performances of the SFIAF, there is everything from capoeira to body percussion. On site, Jenay âShinobiJaxxâ Anolin and female hip-hop ensemble Mixd Ingrdnts by Samara Atkins, and Latin street musicians Los Nadies (âThe Nobodiesâ). There is a set of Brazilian-inspired music by Homenagem Brasileira, as well as a list of online films curated by Nola Mariano, interspersed with poetry curated by Kimi Sugioka.
This year, New Orleans-Oakland musician Michelle Jacques and her band Chelle! and friends preview a work in progress. Jacques is working on an upcoming project called “Daughters of the Delta”. These are the forgotten women of blues and jazz: performers whose music accompanied the mass movement of blacks from the rural south to the cities of the north and west in the 1920s and beyond.
Among Jacques’ subjects is Louis Armstrong’s wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, musician and conductor. This Memphis Music Hall of Famer passed away 50 years ago last August. She was working on a memoir, but it disappeared after her death. Hardin Armstrong also composed her husband’s first hit, “Struttin ‘to Some Barbecue”.
âShe helped create the image of Louis Armstrongâ¦ making this man what he was,â says Wood.
SFIAF is experienced with the issues and opportunities of live broadcasting. Last year, the SFIAF’s cover was described by Wood as “a single camera held by a man lying on the ground”. Yet 2,500 have watched, somewhere in cyberspace. “By doing this dimension, we can go back from being online to living in the field.”
I wondered if SFIAF had anything in common with this performance nexus, the Edinburgh International Festival which lasted almost a month, the world’s largest gathering for performance art, theater and music. . One difference: âOurs is an organized festival – it’s small and motley, which makes it feel like Edinburgh,â said Wood.
âThe festival was born because the United States is sort of an island place, even though all types of culture exist there. The difficulty with my job is trying to bring to a city that has so many artists things that they have never seen before. I have to stay one step ahead of the public, âhe said.
There is a tension between San Francisco’s view of itself as a city of refuge that welcomes the world and the issue of its introverted qualities. On the one hand, it is the best city in the country. On the other hand, it’s a place that tends to look in the mirror. âWhat is true of the United States is true of SF: we are sometimes islanders,â says Wood. “But when something new and different is brought in from the outside, people welcome it.”
And he’s proud of the festival as a forecaster, so to speak; he mentions a play for two from Syria by the Al Khareef theater company in 2010, entitled “The Solitary”. Wood notes that this play anticipated the Arab Spring, the wave of rebellions against authoritarian regimes that erupted from Cairo to Damascus.
For decades, Wood’s stay in San Francisco has been devoted to activism and performance. He protested the United States’ First Choice War in the Middle East in 1991 and participated in the anti-Columbus Day rally at the Mission in 1992 titled â500 Years of Resistanceâ. In the 90s he worked at Crystal Pistol at 842 Valencia, which was previously a chic restaurant called Fickle Fox, popular with the gay crowd emerging from the shadows. (Today it’s La Ruche.)
The Crystal Gun was one of the hosts of Klubstitute, a moving club nights party. Wood also worked at the Life on the Water Theater in Fort Mason, where live performances were held Thursday through Sunday. On weeks when there was no technical rehearsal, he presented queer theater on Monday and Tuesday evenings. From there he worked with the Ethnic Dance Festival and the ODC.
âThat’s when I started traveling to see other parts of the world and realized how few artists came here,â he says. “It’s a dirty secret, but international artists will come here for a fraction of their cost, just to come to San Francisco.”
Originally from England, Wood says his trips back home reminded him of something pretty special about San Francisco.
In London, “you have the money, or you go,” he said. âBut here in San Francisco, there is resistance because of the rent control, and because we fought for every block. No one knows what the future holds, but here there is always a sense of activism and holding the torch. And there’s just an energy that you get when we’re all in the same room together. We can do it here, we can inspire others.
International SF Arts Festival
October 20-24, $ 36 +
Fort Mason, San Francisco