San Francisco’s Fort Mason … the Cowell Theater, June 19, 2010Log Out
Ticket sales were disappointing, losing the Flying Karamazov Brothers hurt the chances of turning a profit in San Francisco. After seeing that in pre-sales, the decision to paper the house by inviting friends and friends of friends was a wise one and the room held an enthusiastic audience for the performers when we started. They were even more enthusiastic when they and we left the theater thinking good thoughts about the New Old Time Chautauqua.
Joannie and Harry had asked me to MC the show and I agreed. Several years ago, backstage at a show in Germany, a performer asked me what the English term was for the person who presents the acts. I told him that we called that person the MC and that the initials stood for Master of Ceremonies. He thought for a moment and a delightful look came over him as he asked “you call the show a ceremony? That’s so nice!”
David Ortiz started our ceremony by taking the stage at five minutes before the announced showtime and played quiet music as people in the audience and backstage settled. He played for five minutes and then spoke very briefly about the fact that American native peoples had lost land here and then he left them with the thought that some people, like those at KPFA radio had worked and continue to work to contain the damage. KPFA, community radio in the Bay Area, was one of the show’s sponsors and David’s words served in place of the planned KPFA show intro (their person didn’t show).
That cued the entry of the Fighting Instruments of Karma Marching Chamber Band/Orchestra and associated parade. They marched in playing, filled the stage, played the Chumleighland March and Teddy Bear’s Picnic. This opening to our shows is such a blatant display of vulnerability and power that people can’t help but laugh. How good was it to see Ray Sewell in the audience laughing and taking it in again. He tells me that they’ve identified his daughter Shine’s kidney as a match and they are proceeding with plans for a transplant. Just imagine.
I introduced Chautauqua with some help from the band leader, Eben Sprinsock, and occasional contributions from Nancy Levidow and other band voices. I did a soap bubble trick to introduce myself and then turned to the featured performer for the show … Faith Petric. I told them that she’s old and then joked around a bit.
Faith came out with her new hip and with Cici and Carl. Eben joined them at the mics at some point. Faith won the hearts of those who hadn’t already surrendered theirs to her. She sang three songs including Why Am I Painting the Livingroom? She used that Folkie approach to get them to warm themselves up by singing along with her … it sometimes looks forced but with Faith it seemed to be the most natural thing in the world. When she’d finished her set Faith left with the natural grace that we’ve all seen so often.
All of you on this email list have heard us refer to her as our “crone” but some of you might not have heard the story of her croning ceremony. Faith asked us to be the community that recognized her earned status … she, in effect, asked us to become conscious of the assumed stereotypes associated with old women and to look beyond it. Chautauqua responded. Separately and together people planned their part in the “traditional ceremony” that we would present on one of our tour’s “off-days”. Flowers were strewn, crowns were worn, bubbles were blown, words were spoken and music was played, fire was lit and torches were passed, . We seem able to simultaneously combine irony and genuine reverence in our individual and collective souls. That ability served us well then and now. We’ve all had a part in her status ever since … ceremony has power.
I won’t review each of the acts in that long show, with the band set up down stage right and Tim Furst moving mics on and off from stage left the backstage was an especially bad place to watch the show from so I missed a lot. But I followed the flow of energy from the audience as I entered, exited, and re-entered between acts. I felt their skepticism melt away, I felt them relax and their pleasure grow. The audience was delighted and the Cowell Theater’s tech crew was surprised at how smoothly the many elements in this unrehearsed show came together into one increasingly glorious thing … a show.
Islando and Shannon’s wonderful acrobatic dance
Alex Kelly’s beautiful cello solo and then Alex brought on his friend Mark Growden
Mark Growden sang with power and played accordion and bicycle handlebars … stunning.
Delirium, Petra and Cory from Portland, didn’t show (car trouble, I heard) and so they were replaced in the show order with the juggling team Foolio who presented their fabulous rap-juggle piece (June 19, 2010, the show’s date was also World Juggle Day).
Citizen’s Band played their brand of serious comedy anarcoustic music bringing added wit between the two first-half juggling teams and then …
Poetic Motion Machine from Arcata, California wowed them with precision juggling
We encouraged the audience to consider making donations when they went to the lobby for intermission and reminded them that such donations are tax deductable because Chautauqua is 501 (c-3)/orchestra
I presented Bubble Magic as the opening act of the second half.
The Bay Area poet’s group that was scheduled to perform in the second half but it was clear that the show was going to be a fun one but a long one so there was some relief backstage when they failed to show (I never heard, but I assume that they are okay and only spaced out the event).
So Kuddie wamed the room with his earthy music and charm. He also brought the name of Utah Phillips to the proceedings …
That was followed by the spacey presentation of Revolva, the Hula Hoopstress who’d come “to conquer the rings of Saturn” …
Dusty Rhodes and her Handsome Cowboys sung She Takes Her Shirt Off and the Bonanza theme … it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it, when Dusty takes her hat off to fan herself I always laugh along with the audience at the fact that her braids are connected to the hat. A flawless sight gag is a thing of beauty.
Shannon returned to present the show’s aerial piece and to give the people a chance to feel the tension and release of motion and stillness.
Bronkar Lee did that beatbox juggling kickass thing that he does … it was such a nice high energy high.
Cici … um … I mean Dusty Rhodes … came out to bring Faith back on stage for one more song. They were joined by other instruments and then by all of the voices of the cast as we gathered and sang with Faith and the audience Pleasure to Know You
Of course, the Fighting Instruments of Karma Marching Chamber Band/Orchestra kicked in with a closing stage-filling chaotic set while the audience left that happy scene.
After that the Chautauquans packed up and loaded up and headed to Sebastopol I suppose. I’m not going on the tour but it was a joy to be a part of the opening event and it is … a pleasure to know you.