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Choirs’ Joyous Crowds Outnumber Anti-Gay Protesters in Alabama


October 11, 2017

Members of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus reflect on the experience of
crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir received a police escort through the city of Selma, Alabama. 

It was the second day of a week-long tour that took the singers through Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. The six blue buses bearing some 250 singers and around 50 family members, organizers, reporters, a documentary team, and various other hangers on, swept importantly into the quiet town on an overcast Monday afternoon. 

Cops stopped cars at a few intersections. The locals didn’t seem otherwise inconvenienced. Except for two individuals. 

Read on here



Bay Area Choruses Sing Out in Mississippi Against Anti-Gay Bill


October 8, 2017

Around 200 members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, together with some 50 singers from the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, gathered on the steps of the State Capitol Building in Jackson, MS to sing a message of love and unity on Sunday.

The gesture kicked off a concert and outreach tour of five southern states — Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina — and was intended as a powerful message to state legislators just days before a controversial law, House Bill 1523, takes effect across the state.

Read more and listen to the story here



How San Francisco’s Drag Royalty Does Good, While Looking Fierce


October 5, 2017

Members of the Imperial Court pose at the Oakland Museum of California
(Photo: Courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California)

San Francisco has always been the sort of place where people come to reinvent themselves in a big way. The trend goes back to Joshua Norton, the eccentric wheeler-dealer who declared himself emperor of the United States in 1859.

When San Francisco drag queen and political activist José Sarria declared himself the "Empress José I, The Widow Norton," in 1965, he wasn't just having fun with Norton's legacy.

As the founder of The Imperial Court, Sarria launched and presided over an entire movement that would not only support LGBTQ causes in a profound way over the more than five decades of its existence to date, but would also do it with lashings of bejeweled and sequined flair.

Learn about The Imperial Court in this episode of Bay Curious.

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VIDEO: Taylor Mac & Machine Dazzle Turn U.S. History into a Catwalk
KQED Newsroom

September 15, 2017

The Stockton-born, New York-based performance artist Taylor Mac and his costume designer Machine Dazzle are no ordinary historians. In A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, their 24-hour romp through American history from 1776 to the present day, Mac, Dazzle and their vast team of collaborators use the pop hits of the ages, commentary, and off-the-wall fashions to share a unique vision of this country’s story. 

KQED’s senior arts editor Chloe Veltman sat down with Mac and Dazzle in the costume-strewn basement of San Francisco’s Curran Theater when the artists were prepping for a run of their show.

Click on the link above to watch the video or follow this link



Bay Area to Protest Far-Right Rallies with Clowning, Dance, Song

August 24, 2017

Visit the original page where this story was published at and listen to the audio here
Many in the Bay Area are planning to express their feelings about this weekend’s rallies in San Francisco and Berkeley -- organized by the Patriot Prayer organization, which typically attracts white supremacists and far-right groups to its events -- by marching and waving signs.
But some are choosing to take more offbeat and artistic approaches to protest.
The organizers of the LovedUp Mobile Dance Rally, a freeform dance party scheduled to wend its way from Dolores Park to Civic Center, expect around 1,000 people to show up on the afternoon Saturday, Aug. 26. Participants plan a political stand by boogieing to songs like “Celebration” by Kool & The Gang and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power."
Organizer Daveed Walzer Panadero came up with the idea of a dance protest because he neither wanted to ignore the Patriot Prayer event, nor feed into what he sees as its aim of inciting violence and generating media publicity.
"The goal was to respond with a better alternative -- one that's bigger, brighter, and more inclusive," Walzer Panadero says. "And hopefully draws more people who might not normally come to a political protest or march."
Michael Franti is one of several Bay Area artists scheduled to perform at a public event at Civic Center on Saturday, Aug. 26 to protest a nationalist gathering at Crissy Field.
Michael Franti is one of several Bay Area artists scheduled to perform at a public event at Civic Center on Saturday, Aug. 26 to protest a nationalist gathering at Crissy Field.
Walzer Panadero and his team are asking participants to bring FM radios and boom boxes, as they plan to use an FM transmitter to share music as well as communicate with the crowd.
He believes dance is the perfect medium for protest because it's so universal. "Not knowing the language, not knowing the culture, you can participate," Walzer Panadero says.

Many creative approaches

The dance gathering is just one of many ways in which Bay Area residents are using the arts to protest the far-right rallies.
Michael Franti & Spearhead, Brothers Comatose, comedian Marga Gomez and other Bay Area artists are among those scheduled to perform at a Saturday afternoon “Peace, Music and Laughter” concert at the Civic Center. 
And a group of clowns plans to convene at Crissy Field, the site of Saturday's controversial rally, with balloons, red noses and other accoutrements of their craft. The intention, as the organizers put it on their Facebook event page, is “to mercilessly ridicule any neo-nazis, white supremacists, or alt-right trolls who dare show their face in San Francisco.”
The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers all dressed up for a city sponsored Summer of Love concert
The San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers all dressed up for a city-sponsored Summer of Love concert.
Meanwhile, on a less confrontational front, the bucolic San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers is the backdrop for The Cutest Lil Counter Protest, a family-friendly event on Saturday morning involving a kids' costume parade and a group photo in front of the DeYoung Museum's Summer of Love Wall.

Changing minds unlikely

It's unlikely that these creative forms of counter-protest will win over people from the other side, especially since most of the artistic activities are scheduled to happen in locations several miles away from the sites of the rallies they're reacting to.
Concerns over public safety have caused the organizers of some acivities, like the mobile dance rally, to change their plans. Walzer Panadero says his group's original intention was to convene at Marina Green in close proximity to the Patriot Prayer rally. Now the dancing will be happening further afield.
"I don’t have any illusions that our protest is going to draw them over and change their minds," Walzer Panadero says of Patriot Prayer's followers. "I would not be surprised if select people have a genuine interest in having conversations. But I’d be very wary of interactions on the day of the event. Our interest at this point is maintaining a safe space and distance."

Power of art to make change

Sometimes these sorts of mass protests involving art can bring about actual change.
One of the most famous examples is what came to be popularly known as "The Singing Revolution," where the mass public singing of patriotic songs in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to independence in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Closer to home and on a more modest scale, groups like the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have used their art to draw impressive crowds and media attention for various political causes.
The Gay Men's Chorus has adopted the Holly Near song “Singing for Our Lives” as a sort of protest anthem. Near wrote the song the night Harvey Milk and George Moscone were assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978. Ever since, the Gay Men’s Chorus has performed it at rallies, such as a 2009 Prop 8 gathering to fight for equal marriage rights.

Gay Men’s Chorus executive director Chris Verdugo says the ensemble is considering whether to join the anti-Patriot Prayer rally protests over the weekend. "Given the opportunity to sing some white supremacists down, I think we would be up for that," Verdugo says. "We'll surround them with love and with song."

Bay Area approach to protest

The Bay Area has long been a hotbed for unconventional protests involving art. "There doesn’t seem to be anything more San Franciscan than coming out in bright colors, with joy and expression as a form of protest, and tie that expression into effective action," says Walzer Panadero, a fourth generation San Francisco native.
The tradition has its roots in the 1960s, with notable actions like The San Francisco Mime Troupe’s 1967 tour of university campuses.
San Francisco Mime Troupe, c. 1966.
San Francisco Mime Troupe, c. 1966.
The San Francisco-based agit prop theater company performed an anti-Vietnam war satire at the same time the Dow Chemical Company, the manufacturer of napalm, was scouting around the same campuses looking for recruits. The Mime Troupe formed a marching band to energize anti-Dow, anti-war demonstrations and gained national attention and awards for its efforts.
For his part, Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer, welcomes artistic approaches to protest.
"These are the people that I want to see, that I want to connect with," Gibson says. "These people are coming in with a positive message, right? It’s so much better than these gangs that dress up in all black, cover their faces, and they try to intimidate, try to use fear and violence and hatred."
Gibson is calling his event a "free speech" rally and is making a concerted effort to distance Patriot Prayer from white supremacist groups, even though Gibson's rallies have attracted militiamen and white nationalists in the past.
He points out that several hip-hop artists of color like Work Dirty and The Gatlin will perform at his event, and says his team wants to give voice to those that oppose his viewpoint. "We might have an open mike so protesters can speak," he says.
"The fact that people are willing to come in and have dance-offs and stuff like that, that’s awesome and I respect them," Gibson says. "And I hope they have an opportunity to hear what we have to say and hear some of our speeches, because they’ll learn that we actually have a lot in common."
You can find a list of many of the events going on in protest against this weekend's Patriot Prayer rallies in the Bay Area here

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VIDEO: Why French Artist Sophie Calle Bought a Burial Plot in Bolinas
KQED Newsroom

July 28, 2017

Sophie Calle has been a regular visitor to in the sleepy coastal town of Bolinas ever since she launched her professional career there, producing a series of photographs of gravestones in the late 1970s.

Recently, the famous French conceptual artist made the unusual move of buying herself a grave plot in Bolinas cemetery. KQED’s senior arts editor Chloe Veltman caught up with Calle among the gravestones while the 63-year-old artist was in the Bay Area for the opening of a major exhibition of her work at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture in San Francisco.

Curated by Ars Citizen, Sophie Calle’s exhibition, Missing, is on view at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture in San Francisco through Sunday, Aug. 20. Entry is free.

This segment originally aired on Friday, Jul. 28 on KQED Newsroom. To watch the full show, click here. To view the segment at KQED Arts, click here

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'Nobody has one button': Steve Jobs opera sings Apple founder's praises – and flaws
The Guardian

July 25, 2017

Edward Parks as Steve Jobs in the new opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (Photo: Ken Howard/Santa Fe Opera)

Read the original story in The Guardian here.

When San Francisco bay area-based composer and electronic music DJ Mason Bates recently visited the childhood home of Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Jobs, he was in awe.

“It all started in that garage,” Bates said in a hushed, reverent voice, as we pulled up in the composer’s 1970s Alfa Romeo outside the nondescript bungalow at 2066 Crist Drive in Los Altos. Located on an un-trafficked suburban street, the building’s only distinguishing feature was the “no trespassing” sign on the austere patch of lawn out front. “That’s where he built the early Apple computers,” Bates said, hesitant to get out of the car to take a closer look, lest we disturb the occupants. “That’s where the world’s most valuable company began. In that little garage.”

The fabled garage was designated a historical landmark in 2013. It’s been eulogized in films like Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999) and Jobs (2013), as well as books such as Walter Isaacson’s expansive 2011 biography of the Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

And now that garage has found its way on to the stage in a new opera about Jobs, with music by Bates and libretto by Mark Campbell. The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs opens this weekend at the Santa Fe Opera, a major international festival that unfolds each summer in an open-air amphitheatre, dramatically perched in the desert just north of the New Mexico capital.

The opera careens backwards and forwards between episodes in Jobs’s life. In one scene, he’s launching the iPhone at MacWorld 2007. Then it’s 1974, and he’s dropping acid in an orchard with his girlfriend. Then we’re in 1980, watching Jobs berate his employees at Apple’s corporate headquarters.

The garage is a linking motif through all of this. It’s where the opening scene, circa 1965, between a young Jobs and his adoptive father, Paul, takes place. And it’s a fundamental part of the set design: the garage walls fly apart after the first scene and reform periodically to create different backdrops for the drama as it unfolds.

For Bates that garage, Jobs’s career and Silicon Valley as a whole represent “a place where technology and creativity intersect”. The 40-year-old composer himself has made a career at this intersection. Bates often uses digital technology in his orchestral works. He’s written pieces that make integral use of electronic sounds for top-tier arts institutions such as the San Francisco Symphony and the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

And he’s often seen sitting in the middle of the orchestra, playing the laptop part in performances of his compositions. In The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, Bates commands two laptops and an electronic drum pad alongside the other musicians in the pit.

Appropriately, the composer has created a sound world for his new opera’s protagonist that features quicksilver electronics. It includes beeps, pops and whizzes from actual vintage Apple gear, such as the Mac Plus, released in 1986. That particular noise is a prominent feature of the overture. “While you might not be able to pick out exactly that’s a spinning hard drive of an Apple I, a Power Mac or Mac Plus key click, I think the accumulation of those sounds does lend an authenticity to the sound world,” Bates said.

But it takes more than an authentic sound world to make sense of Jobs’s epic life story on stage. The man ran three major companies: Apple, NeXT and Pixar, where he oversaw the release of many wildly successful products and movies such as the iPhone and Toy Story.

Jobs also had a complicated personal life. He was adopted as a baby; he refused for years to publicly acknowledge his first child, Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the daughter he had out of wedlock in his early twenties with his then girlfriend Chrisann Brennan; and he died young of cancer, at age 56, in 2011. 

“He was such a complex individual, I cannot even imagine how you’d capture Steve’s life in an opera,” said Andy Cunningham, who worked closely with Jobs as a publicist during the early years of his three companies. Cunningham witnessed the ups and down of the entrepreneur’s career – and erratic temperament – firsthand.

She said Jobs hired and fired her several times, and once demanded calla lilies for his hotel room at midnight. “Steve was a very emotional person, and he was driven largely by his emotions,” she said. 

Other individuals and organizations have also questioned the idea of transforming Jobs’s story into opera.

The San Francisco Opera turned down the opportunity to host the world premiere when Bates and his early collaborator on the project, University of Berkeley arts presenter Cal Performances, approached the opera’s leadership in 2013. (Since the project was workshopped in San Francisco in 2015 and 2016, the organization has come around and will be producing the work in its 2019-2020 season.) 

Apple Inc and the Estate of Steve Jobs have not endorsed the opera, and the creators behind The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs take ample liberties with their source material.

This includes radically simplifying Jobs’s story in some ways, to make it fit into two hours of stage time. For instance, it ignores the title character’s significant contribution to the animation industry through Pixar and his years in exile at NeXT, the short-lived computer company Jobs founded after being ousted from Apple in 1985.

But Bates and his collaborators get at the complexity and emotionality of their subject in other ways. “I was fascinated with the tension that is at the center of Jobs’s life: how do you create these sleek and beautiful devices that miniaturize our communication when people are so messy?” Bates said. “People are so complicated. Nobody has one button.”

To reflect this complexity, the composer weaves together intricate theme tunes for each individual character. There’s jazzy brass music for Steve Wozniak, Jobs’s partner in the formative years of Apple; lush strings signify Jobs’s eternally patient and grounded wife, Laurene; and Jobs’s spiritual adviser, Kobun Chino Otogawa, appears against a backdrop of prayer bowls and gongs.

As usual with opera, there’s plenty of drama. But librettist Campbell injects some fun. My favorite example is a garage scene in which Wozniak proudly shows off the circuit board of his brand-new creation, the Apple I computer.
“She sure is ugly,” sings Jobs.
“An interface only a motherboard could love,” Wozniak responds.

And while operatic heroes are usually played by tenors, this one’s a baritone – a darker, more nuanced voice. The American singer Edward Parks plays Jobs in the world premiere production. Equally tall but more heavyset than the emaciated Jobs, the performer cuts an imposing, intense figure on stage.

Dressed throughout in the entrepreneur’s signature uniform of black turtleneck, jeans and sneakers – according to Isaacson’s biography, Jobs ordered more than 100 of those turtlenecks from Japanese designer Issey Miyake – Parks, like a true baritone, isn’t afraid to embrace Jobs’s dark side.

“I’m mostly drawn to his flaws,” Parks said. “The arc of his life is grand. There’s a lot of betrayal, there’s a lot of anger towards people, and there’s a lot of love as well.”