Friday, January 30, 2009

In Case You Missed It: A reading report from Ariel Goldberg

A Mummer's Play, by Vanessa Place, directed by Yedda Morrison, was perhaps the funniest play of the night with extravagant gender baffling costumes accessorized with plastic toy sword knives that must have been hoarded, with incredibly foresight back in October 0h eight from the Halloween superstore. A theme of all the plays though, thanks to the aura of PoetsTheater as a place to see your friends or friend's friends on stage or seeing, forgivable via charm, scripts in actor's hands, I enjoyed a clear recognition of the audience by the actors. This wall between performer and viewer that the pros build so stoically and only destabilize in the most post modern moments was virtually mocked when Samantha Giles as actor, not ED, turned away from her fellow actors to wave to the audience in her grand entrance as an honest to be your swindler doctor. The actors in a Mummer's Play, when "offstage," walked in some creepy circle ritual, as if to tell the spotlight, I can hear you over there so don't talk smack too loud now. The plot thickened accordingly with duels and teeth pulling, mutually exclusive. When the hollow Chinese weaponry got a little bulky, all-star player of the Poets Theater, Jocelyn Saidenberg initiated a pencil fight, complete with a strobe light. Writers got fiest! Cinematically hailing the kid scissor aesthetic of sprouting tree dioramas meets pillory for some minor offense, Jocelyn's head inside a tree and fake money being exchanged, or was it real money, was a most pleasing ending. Apologies for more plot details being excluded. The visuals were too intoxicating.

The News from Zimbabwe: a re-enactment, "conducted" by David Buuck brought not only the events of playwrights tortured in Zimbabwe in 2007 to our San Francisco consciousness, but challenged the role of citizen as spectator. How does censorship and torture happen I often wonder, however decontextualized? Why, by the participation of the audience as non participators, of course. Buuck casted the audience as the lead of this play, under the influence of our lights out look forward to the stage costume, rendering our predictable passivity, individually, greatly disturbing. What would have happened if I, unplanted, ripped off the duct tape from Buuck's stomach before he was scheduled to bow? It would have looked planted. Unlike the distance the perpetrators of torture rationalize, with the "I was just following orders" explanation, as the Abu Ghraib photos continue to loom over this warring superpower I share a nationality with, this play took people we recognize, it took our local artists and put them into the task of horrific events, of too many plays within plays. Buuck’s knee jerk joke at the U.S. of repetition of "Mugabe, Zimbabwe" (it's Harare, stupid Americans, not the 29 year and counting president). Or can we put people as place names? And then say something? For the board of Dateline producers and the routine of a new staff member walking into the room to repeat the script of "following orders" resulted in escalated abuse onto the Poets Theater organizer, by far the most haunting pivotal role in this piece were the narrator, Lara Durback. She was positioned center stage as gatekeeper between the News media evil doers drinking their booze and the caged playwrights. Durback stood over kitchen appliances like a Martha Rosler reincarnate, hailing semiotics of the kitchen ( as a model for the execution of our everyday objects as having potential harmful uses. Durback condoned the torture repeatedly with "I don't see anyone stopping you." I was struck with how Buuck's piece helped me understand the hot in the art world re-enactor Mark Tribe who says the goal of his re-staging of famous protest speeches is to point out "how much has changed, yet how much has stayed the same." Tribe hires actors to create replicas. After volunteering as a (film) photographer for his Loretta Scott King speech, he asked me if I think he should get more famous people do the re-enactments. I was baffled at the time. Because Tribe's crowds don't have a personal connection, either with a local arts community or with the actors themselves, it seems he is barely attacking the passivity we as audience members are capable of. Buuck was not afraid to do this.

We were back from intermission with Flow — Winged Crocodile by Leslie Scalapino, where stepping up on low to the ground furniture to rub rhino dung off balanced out palpable lines of poetry. The Patty Hearst character seemed to mock the hyphenated air pauses of Scalapino's verse with a blow up gun only blowing away the tilt of her beret. The minimal activity on the stage made every gesture powerful, particularly the slow-it-down-running man movements of M. Mara-Ann, whose somersault, in full bubble wrap, was hilarious.

Coming to the end of the night, I was thinking: What's more funny in Poets Theater, when an actor laughs on stage or the play executes a joke, literally written into the script? Only the Money is Real, by Raymond Pettibon and directed by Kevin Killian had plenty of put on your making fun of art school hat jokes. Monet got confused with Manet in the cloud of a faux joint and gays were the real playas, as the womanizing hetero professor laments. The backdrop at the beginning, middle and end of this play's first act debut were Pettibon drawings that set some mysterious linking at work. How does one manage a cross-genre regiment? Much needed playfulness set up dialogues between business and art, the authority of academics, and the farce of authenticating artwork. Suzanne Stein gave a vigorous defense of Joyce Carol Oates at folding chair dinner table of rich people before throwing down her napkin. She was the only cast member graced with a napkin to throw. Dodie Bellamy moderated awkward conversations with complete precision of notifying the professor of his inappropriateness, yet tolerating it, with intrigue, at the same time.

I have to say, I love this stuff. Every moment of it. I can't wait for more and more.

Monday, January 26, 2009

This Friday 1/30: Poets Theater Inter-Media Night!


Please join us Friday Jan 30th for the last night of PT09, with several inter-media works from local & national writers, artists, musicians, & filmmakers, along with our huge raffle & other festivities! Program includes:

Karla Milosevich: "My Past Life" & "29 Palms" (video)
two new videos by Bay Area arts legend & Poets Theater starlet!

Amanda Davidson & Cassie Riger: "A-Verbal" (video & performance)
The Doctors Feelings present preliminary research on the emerging averbal condition.
( see the preview at )

Paolo Javier: "FYEO" (text & images), performed by Dennis Somera
live cross-cultural de(tour)nement & comix!

Linh Dinh: "A Smooth Life" (video)
The unconscious of online visual culture whispers its (per)verses into our ears.

Ariana Reines: "Your Mother & I" (audio & performance)
"Now son, you know we are not perverse individuals..."

Heriberto Yépez: "Voice Exchange Rates" (video)
What happens when our machines begin to translate us back into the feedback loop.

Bill Luoma: "The Concept of Ass" (speech & video)
baseball bloopers meet diamond gem poetics...

Henry Hills: "Money" (film)
a classic cut-up featuring John Zorn, Abby Child, Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Sally Silvers, and dozens more....

Dillon Westbrook: "pan(Oa)ic(k)land" (video, text & live music)
A multi-media investigation of Oakland & its hidden rhythms.

Claudia Rankine & John Lucas: "Provenance" (video essay)
On the head-butt heard 'round the world...

Konrad Steiner: "Suite for Face" (video & live music)
Improvising movie musicians pull the masks of actors into new affective directions.

Friday 1/30, 730 pm. $10 donation.
Timken Hall, CCA
1111 8th Street, San Francisco

Saturday, January 24, 2009

From the Blogosphere

A great take on Poets Theater from Robin Tremblay-McGraw at X Poetics here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Poets Theater Night 1 Photos

click here and here and here for more photos

In Case You Missed It Last Week: A Poets Theater Report from Brandon Brown

Ah, Poets Theater at Small Press Traffic. There’s really nothing like it, socially or otherwise, that happens in the Bay Area all year. The first clues and cues a sudden decrease in social availability on weeknights, given over to rehearsal, and before you know it it’s opening night in Timkin, the room afroth with strange (and beautiful, don’t worry) faces, more of them than usual, and a buzz that this commentator found a little overstimulating. What makes Poets Theater (Alli reminded me: no apostrophe) different from regular Theater? Ostensibly the plays (such as they are) are written by poets (but this isn’t hard and fast) and played by poets (though this is even less hard and fast). What seems to me to be the fundamental difference is that the adding of POETS to THEATER entails a redrawing of the rules of the spectacle. Fourth wall? Why yes, please, and I’m working on my fifth. And before the spectacle can even commence onstage, it’s buzzing outside the doors. Players are vacillating between the theater and the crowd, half in costume half out, sometimes wielding un- or semiwieldy props; small camps might be crouching on their haunches for one last, desperate rehearsal, or just as likely passing a flask in the dim hallway behind the stage (just kidding, no drinks in Timkin!). I suppose what I suggest by this is that the performance starts as soon as you break the seal that leads to the hall, and this was overscored by David Buuck’s amazing vaudeville introduction, sung to a recorded track on his IPOD, even as he wore Joy Division eyeliner and did his best Fred Astaire.

The program on Opening Night 2009 was pretty representative of Poets Theaters past. You had your world premieres written by contemporary extra-Bay Area poets with strong Bay Area ties (Stan Apps’ Elsa In Berlin, Bhanu Kapil’s Rabbit Butoh, Bunny Butoh), your local talent new to PT (Tetra Balestri’s Perverted Virtue), your veteran PT alumna (Wendy Kramer’s Trademark Girls), and the reprise of neglected Russian avant garde plays translated by Matvei Yankelevich (er…three short plays by Danii Kharms).

If there was any trope common to this very diverse program of plays, it might be the (very broad) one of desire thwarted by the interference of an other (the Spinozan definition of jealousy—a comment on poets writing poets theater?). But specifically for the plays Friday, the interfering other often took the form of a more or less arbitrary orneriness rather than a hubristic challenge or fatalistic intervention. Take Elsa in Elsa In Berlin, a role brilliantly delivered by Erika Staiti. Victor Shlovsky loves Elsa, and sends her the “genius” but overtly insulting “love letters” to prove it—the crisis in the play is not the one you might expect, according to Aristotelian categories, that Elsa fails to recognize the genius of Shlovksy, thereby spurning him for a lesser intelligence. Rather, Elsa recognizes Shlovsky’s genius perfectly—and this becomes the reason for her disavowal. Aristotle’s like WTF? Similar interferences are run by the steroid-dealing, mouse-befriending housewife in Perverted Virtue, the medical stenographer or perhaps the Pepsi machine in Rabbit Butoh, Gogol and Pushkin in Kharms—if such a blatant figure fails to appear in Trademark Girls, let that not imply that the desires of the trademark girls are fulfilled necessarily (though their story might be the most redemptive of the night, and thus served as an appropriate closer).

If the plays express frustrated desire, the activities at the intermission express frustration’s opposite. For there not only could one drink plentifully, for free, but Lindsey Boldt’s Human Jukebox provided song, my Dessert Storm provided dessert, raffles provided prizes, and I leave it other commenters to chime in on Lara Durback and Ariel Goldberg’s intermezzo performances as I was occupied sweetening cream and whipping it with air, thus creating a colloid roughly doubly the volume of the original cream, as air bubbles are captured in a network of fat droplets.

To close, I would like to start a partial list of the terrific outfits everyone was wearing and impart some miscellaneous highlights.

The outfit list is necessarily partial, as there were so many well-dressed strangers to me, and also I had like a thousand drinks and can’t possibly recall what, say…okay, to be honest I can’t remember what anyone was wearing except for Stephanie Young’s amazing boots and Alli Warren was wearing suspenders, Erika Staiti was in drag, Brent Cunningham was in a salmon blazer that I loaned him a year ago and need to recover, Brent, just so you know, Lara Durback was in drag, Stan Apps was wearing his “Bill Luoma” shirt, Bill Luoma was wearing his “Stan Apps” shirt, just kidding, he was wearing his candy color blazer, David Buuck was wearing eyeliner, Taylor Brady was wearing an Executive Director blazer and then became Lil Debbie, Rob Halpern was wearing clothes for a while.

Miscellaneous highlights: Sasha Berkman Tupac Spahr is a born Poets Theater participant, and also his outfit was spectacular. Massive rabbit head on Lara Durback’s neck during Bunny Butoh and then in people’s hands and arms for photo taking. Fake blood. Stas Feldman emerging from a bed in Elsa in Berlin. Oh, and at the end we all threw our shoes at David Buuck.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Poet's Theater, Part the 2nd: This Friday Jan 23rd!

Please join us for night two of Small Press Traffic's annual Poets Theater Fest & fundraiser - this Friday Jan 23rd, at 730pm.

Flow — Winged Crocodile
by Leslie Scalapino

Only the Money is Real
by Raymond Pettibon
directed by Kevin Killian

A Mummer's Play
by Vanessa Place
directed by Yedda Morrison

The News from Zimbabwe: a re-enactment
conducted by David Buuck

and come again the following Friday 1/30 for video & intermedia works by Linh Dinh, Ariana Reines, Heriberto Yépez, Konrad Steiner, Henry Hills, Paolo Javier & Dennis Somera, Dillon Westbrook, Karla Milosevich, Cassie Riger & Amanda Davidson, Bill Luoma, Claudia Rankine, & more!

and look to this blog soon for a Poet's Theater Night One Reading Report by Brandon Brown!

Small Press Traffic's Poets Theater 09, night 2
Friday Jan 23, 7pm.$10-20 donation
- refreshments will be served

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Please join us for a full night of theater, performance, and other delights, at the first night of our annual Poets Theater Fest fundraiser. Featuring:


"Elsa in Berlin" by Stan Apps (directed by David Brazil)

"Perverted Virtue" by Tetra Balestri (directed by Milenko Skoknic)

"Rabbit Butoh, Bunny Butoh" by Bhanu Kapil (directed by Erin Morrill)

"Trademark Girls" by Wendy Kramer (directed by the author)

* three short plays by Daniil Kharms, trans. Matvei Yankelevich (directed by Brent Cunningham)
* intermission performances by Lindsey Boldt, Ariel Goldberg, Brandon Brown, Lara Durbeck, & others
* as well as a huge raffle, with artworks, signed broadsides and more, from a variety of poets, artists, and presses.
* wine & refreshments will be served.

And: come back on the 23rd for longer plays by Leslie Scalapino, Raymond Pettibon, Vanessa Place & more, & again on the 30th for inter-media & video works by Linh Dinh, Heriberto Yépez, Konrad Steiner, Henry Hills, Paolo Javier & Dennis Somera, Ariana Reines, Dillon Westbrook, Karla Milosevich, Cassie Riger & Amanda Davidson, Bill Luoma, Claudia Rankine, & more!

see you then & there!
Show starts promptly at 730pm. $10
Timken Hall, California College of the Arts
1111 8th St., San Francisco

Photos from SPT's offsite MLA reading

from top: Bill Luoma, Steve Farmer, Xochiquetzal Candelaria, Scott Ignuito, Rob Halpern, Oscar Bermeo, Alli Warren, Erika Staiti, Stacy Doris, Chet Weiner, Alan Bernheimer & Brandon Brown. Thanks for coming out to the Hotel Utah for a great event. & check out some video at Oscar Bermeo's blog (thanks Oscar!)

Photos from Bev Dahlen Tribute

above: Bev with outgoing ED Dana Teen Lomax. below: Dana with Kathleen Fraser.
Keep an eye on this space, as we will have presenters' statements, as well as a link to the audio recording of the talks and Bev's reading over at PENNSOUND soon!

Ron Silliman on Bev (12/08)
Bruce Boone on Bev (12/08)