The last performance of the year was an example of how nobody knows what a performance is doing. The audience doesn’t know how deep the experience can be if everybody is willing to play together deeper than the normal reasonable world allows. So they get filled up at the performance because a lot happens at the performance that doesn’t happen at the normal night out entertainment. But we performers know how deep it could get. So when it doesn’t go there, it feels to us like nothing much happened. I know I keep saying DON’T HAVE PICTURES! But…
So the performance was one of those! And at the end of the night, Linda, Erika and I danced erotic together nude just to get juicy sweaty rubbing reality, suck it all up so to subvert the surface social limits. Sometimes you just have to do that to make it all worthwhile! Then I came up with ideas how to punk up the flier to make it more scary!
Then on THE HUFFINGTON POST, we read a review of the performance saying how life supporting, uplifting, etc it was! Who am I to argue?
Da Boyz and Erika
There was some excitement to start off this month’s performance. The cellphone rang as we were setting up the space. It was Frank, Linda and Mikee calling to say that the van wouldn’t start! Carl and Linda and Smitty from next door were helping them, and they had also called AAA, and we should just keep setting up, and they would let us know …! Soon there was another call from them, Carl had gotten the van started, they were on the road, would be there soon! When they arrived, they told us about how Carl and Linda were like one of those car race pit stop teams, right on the scene! Before you knew what was happening, Linda had their van pulled up, jumper cables out … And Carl told them that if they had trouble starting the van on the way home, they could call him! Luckily, it started right up at the end of the night.
Despite all the delays, we were actually ready by just after 8pm … there were early arrivals, two women who Frank encouraged to look through the free stuff. Soon another person arrived, a young Asian woman, and Frank talked to her first. How had she heard about the performance? Online, she said … SFFunCheap was the website. What attracted her to it, Frank asked. She said she had been looking for a “show”, something fun and cheap … Frank asked her which meant more to her, “fun” or “cheap” … She said both, equally. Frank asked her what she does, and she talked about doing research at Children’s Hospital, and went into some technical detail about the specific research she does on HDL cholesterol and proteins and lipids and carriers for drugs … Frank asked her what she does for fun. She said she does the research for fun, but she also likes to play Frisbee, and to dance. “What kind of dance?” Frank asked. She talked about ballet, modern, really all kinds … she moves from one to the other. Frank asked her if she would dance for all of us, but she said no, she had pulled her quad …
Frank turned to the first two women who had come in. Meanwhile, others were arriving … a young man, and then a black mother and daughter …
The first of the two women had been seeing the flier for a long time, and had finally decided to come, with her friend. Frank asked her how long did it take her to come. She said that she has been seeing the flier for probably two years, and confirmed that we have actually been doing it that long. Yes, close to three years now. Frank asked her what drew her to the performance, and she said that it had always looked interesting … and she liked performance art. Frank asked her what kind of performance art has she seen, but she couldn’t really remember anything specifically. She said after thinking about it, that mainly she reads about performance art. Frank asked her what she does, and she said that she is a writer and also teaches English as a second language. “What do you write?” Frank asked.
She said that she writes fiction, novels. Frank pointed out that one of the things she had picked out of the free boxes was his novel, “The Inner Maze”. She picked it up and looked at it, and said she was looking forward to reading it, and liked the cover. Linda pointed out that the cover was a photo of the backdrop that was hanging up against the far wall. Frank asked her what kind of novels she writes, and she said, “literary fiction” … She said that she wrote a novel about a woman who has a baby with an alien, so she guessed that was a bit of science fiction thrown in …
Frank turned to her friend, and asked her, “Why did you let her drag you to this?” She said she had actually seen the flier around too, and when her friend invited her to come and attend, she thought it sounded interesting. She had always been impressed by the flier. Frank asked her to say why … She asked to see the flier again … Mikee went to get January’s flier … and Linda pointed out that Mikee is the one who designs it, and also who painted the backdrop … After looking at the flier, she said that it was a very well designed flier, very balanced. She said that she sees a lot of fliers up around, and this one really stands out, that there is a lot of care put into it. She mentioned that she used to do a zine herself, so she has an eye for this kind of thing. She said that there are a lot of fonts used in the flier, but they all work well together. And she said that she likes the title: “Uncomfortable Zones of Fun”. Frank asked her if she likes “uncomfortable”. She said no. Frank asked why. She said that being uncomfortable raises her stress level. Frank said, “And lowers it.” Frank explained, “It expands what is comfortable.” She seemed to get this … she added that she likes a little uncomfortable, like the “perfect stretch”, not too uncomfortable.
Frank asked her what she does. She said that she is also a writer, a nonfiction writer and a life coach. She said that most recently she has been working with people’s to-do lists, interviewing them about how the lists are created, and writing about it. She generally picks a subject that interests her to write about. Frank asked her, “Am I auditioning?” Laughter! She smiled and said, “Maybe so …”
Frank and Linda told her that we had done a zine for years called The Cherotic (r)Evolutionary, TC(r). Her zine was called “Cupsize”.
Now Frank turned to the young guy who had come in. He had actually seen the flier only that day, but wherever he went, “walking in circles around Berkeley”, he kept seeing it! And each time he saw it, he would read more bits of the flier. And at some point he realized, “hey, this is tonight!” So he decided to come. Frank said, “In other words, it pounded you over the head!” Frank said some people take two years, and others, one day! Frank asked him what he does. He said that he has actually been “circumnavigating the U.S.”, traveling from place to place. Frank asked him why he does that, and he said that it was cheaper than paying rent, and he gets to meet all kinds of interesting people.
Meanwhile some more people were coming in. A couple came in and sat down on the bench outside of the main space, in the shadows … Frank invited them to come in, and they came in, but walked all the way to the far side of the room, against the backdrop. Also, a guy who had attended October’s performance came in. He is the one who had talked with his wife about coming, but she had said she didn’t like the sound of “uncomfortable”, so he had come alone. But at the end of the performance, he had said that he would bring her the next time, that she would have liked it. So now he was back, alone! The first thing Frank asked him was, “Where is your wife?”
He said that she had to get up early to take BART to work, because their car was in the shop … but he did say that she had watched the video of the performance he had attended on vimeo.
Now Frank turned to the mother and daughter. They had seen the performance online at SFFunCheap also. The mother had been looking for something to do that was inexpensive because, as her grandmother would say, her pockets “are a little light right now”. It was also the mention of “improv” that attracted her because she has done comedy and acting on an “amateur” level in the past. Frank asked her if she does it now. She said no, and Frank asked why. She said that she was busy raising her family, working … Frank asked her if she would create an improv with him. She said ok! She set the scene … Frank is a therapist. She has a lot of anxiety in situations where she feels like she is on stage, and is coming to him to work it out. He will make her feel less anxiety and more comfortable.
Frank began, without a pause, “Come into my office.”
She moved forward, and they started talking. She said that she has a lot of anxiety in situations where she feels like she is on-stage or performing. Frank asked her if she feels that way now. She said, well, she has a mic in her hand, and there are lights, and a bunch of people looking at her! They went back and forth about performing, doing improv, and in the end it was clear that she liked the feeling of doing it. She had said that she just did it for fun. Frank said that he does everything for fun. This seemed to really make an impact on her, and you could feel it in the room. He asked her if it stopped being fun. She said no, it hadn’t stopped being fun, but she had the reasons for not doing it of being busy, raising her family, etc. In the end, Frank said his advice to her was to do more improv. She liked this.
Since the couple who Frank had invited to come in had not actually really joined the audience, but had remained way off to the back of the room, Frank turned to them again, and said, “Hi.” They did not say anything. She would make little bows with her hands together, like a prayer. Frank said to them, “Come into the light, or I will have to come to you.” No reply. Corey, of course, video’d the interaction back and forth. After it was clear that they were not moving, Frank was starting to turn to someone else, and the woman came up to Corey from behind and started jabbing him on the shoulder, yelling at him in a whisper, angrily “I did not want to be filmed! You knew I did not want to be filmed, and you did it anyway! I want you to delete it!” Frank and Linda turned to her, and she repeated it to them, “It should have been very clear that I did not want to be on the video! This is why I sat over here!” Frank said, “That makes sense, but you may end up hopping around all night to avoid the camera.” After he turned to someone else, she jabbed some parting blows to Corey’s shoulder again, saying, “I am offended, you did it on purpose! You knew I did not want to be filmed, and you did it on purpose!!” Corey mainly did not look at her, but was looking at Frank, following the action. All he said to her in reply was that he did not know that she didn’t want to be filmed. It wasn’t clear that she even heard that, she was so worked up. She stormed off to join her partner against the wall. But then the two of them stayed for quite a while afterward, and when they finally left, they left a donation of $11 on the flier table! We said later that we would like to think that she saw the error of her ways afterward, when she had a chance to see more of what this was about, and also the fact that Corey just videoed everything that happened, there was nothing selective about it.
Now, Frank asked the first writer if she would undress the cameraman. It so happened that both Corey and Mikee were in the same corner of the room, Corey videoing, and Mikee taking still shots. So she asked, “Which one??” Frank said, “Both.” She asked if they wanted to be undressed, and they both said, “Sure!” She said ok, and came over and undressed Corey and then Mikee …
Meanwhile, Frank turned to the daughter and asked her what she does. She said she used to be an ESL teacher, but now works at a chiropractor’s office, and interns at a farm. Frank asked which farm, and she said that it was a farm in Vacaville, where she will be doing a two-month internship next year raising goats, milking and making cheese. She said that it was ironic that it in Vacaville because the name of the town literally means, “Cow Town”, and she will be working with goats! Frank asked her what she does for fun, and she said that working on farms is what she does for fun.
Now Frank asked the first writer if she would read a chapter of her choosing from his novel, “The Inner Maze”. She got up and sat next to Frank, and read chapter 12. It was a fantastic reading, and Linda said later that it felt like somewhere in the middle she realized how nonlinear it could be, and just surrendered to it, and really enjoyed it. Afterward, Frank asked her what she thought of it. She said that it reminded her of writing poetry, that it was very poetic, and inspired her to be more poetic in her own writing, because she used to write poetry when she was younger. She said that often when you are reading something, you know how the sentence is going to end when you begin it. But in this, she realized that she had no idea where it was going, and she liked that feeling, and just going with that.
Frank asked the second writer what she thought, and she agreed with what her friend said, and said that there were points in the chapter that were very powerful.
Frank and Linda told them how Frank wrote it, with the word-prediction program Aurora. She said that this inspired her to write in that way, with more improv in her writing, more of the unexpected. Frank asked her, “How am I doing in the audition?” She said that she wasn’t sure how to categorize him, so she was filing it away for later. Frank asked her what are the categories. She listed a series of categories, “people who do fun”, “visionaries”, “zinesters”, and a few others that we can’t remember. Linda said that Frank really fit all of those!
Frank turned to the guy who had come two months ago, and asked him to tell everyone about the performance he had attended. He said that it had started out much like this one, Frank talking to different people. And he was extremely uncomfortable then like he is now. He said that he feels uncomfortable in a lot of social situations in life, and he was sitting down with his wife today and talking about how there are a lot of things in life that he would like to do, but that make him feel uncomfortable. But he thought that if he came to Frank’s performance again, he would feel “extreme uncomfort”, which would make the other things much less challenging. He could go into those uncomfortable situations, and remember the performance, and say, well, I’ve been through something much more uncomfortable than this!
Frank asked him, “What is extreme uncomfort?” He said that being around strangers, people he doesn’t know, who are not his friends. On the other hand, it is very pleasing to be at this performance, surrounded by beautiful art … “Did you do all of these?” he asked Frank. Linda pointed to the vinyls, saying that those were Frank’s paintings, and then the wall hangings and backdrop were by Mikee. Frank asked him at some point if 10 was the most uncomfortable, then how uncomfortable was he. He said he was at an 8!
Frank asked if Erika could undress him, and he said yes right away. He said that nudity did not actually make him uncomfortable.
At some point, Frank turned to the couple again against the wall, asking, “What attracted you to the performance?” She did the same smiling bowing hands together motion again, not saying a thing. Bizarre! Then Frank asked, “What do you do?” Again, no response.
Frank moved on. He asked if the Asian girl would undress Linda. She said no. Frank asked her why. She talked about it in terms of being filmed and said that because it was not something she would normally do without being asked, then the videoing of the act made the actions more final, because people would be able to access it. She also said it made the actions more concrete. Frank said that he likes concrete actions. She agreed, but continued to talk about it in terms of it not being something that she would normally think to do, or want to do herself, so that was a reason for her not to do it. The reasoning was: because it is being filmed, and because she would not have done this action on her own volition, but is being asked to do it, and it is not something she particularly wants to do, therefore she won’t do it. Frank asked her if it is something she does not want to do. No, she said, it wasn’t that she did not want to do it, but it wasn’t something she would think to do on her own, so that’s why she wouldn’t do it. Frank pointed out that the writer would not necessarily have read that chapter of Inner Maze aloud if she had not been asked to do it. But Frank did ask her, and she decided to do it. We think her response to this was to basically repeat what she had said, and basically to say that it wasn’t something she wanted to do.
At some point around this time, the first writer asked where the video of the performance would be shown, and Frank and Linda told her about Frank’s public access show in Berkeley.
So when Frank asked her next if she would undress Linda, she said no, because she didn’t want to be doing that on public access TV.
Frank then asked the improv mom if she would undress Linda. She also said no … she joked that she was joining “the club”. So Frank asked her if she would play music. She said ok … Linda described the instruments available, they were all set up on the side of the mats … She got up, and as she headed over she asked the Asian girl if she wanted to join her. They went over to the music area together, and she was saying, “it’s an all girl band!” Frank turned to her daughter, asking her the same question: “Would you undress Linda?” She also said no, saying that she was actually having her background checked by the FBI. Frank asked her why, and she said that it was for the Peace Corps.
Frank said that the FBI shut down the University Without Walls when he was doing his masters there in the 70s. He had to zip through the end of the program so that he could graduate before they shut it down. Someone asked why the FBI was investigating them. Frank said that it was part of the attack on the counterculture in the 70s.
So while the two women played music, Frank asked the second writer, who we now know as Sasha Cagen, if she would read a chapter from his other book, “Art of A Shaman”. Linda handed her a copy … She said ok, leafing through it, and then asked if she could just read one page, and see how it went … We don’t think Frank and Linda really answered, but Linda said she could sit up next to Frank to read it … She ended up reading the whole chapter. She picked chapter 3, “Art of Reshaping Reality”, which was a great chapter to describe the kind of art Frank does, and his approach, which they were all experiencing that night.
After she finished it, Frank said that everyone, except Linda and Erika, should join the musicians and play music. The band grew! Linda and Erika took off their clothes, and took off Frank clothes, and the lights lowered and the strobes and the slides came on. Frank, Linda and Erika danced, moved, rubbed together soft and erotic and for a long time. As soon as Linda and Erika’s clothes came off, the mother and daughter hustled out! And soon after, the Asian girl left too. After Frank, Linda and Erika had been dancing for a short time, the two writers left also. There were two who remained until the end, the young man, and the guy who had come before. They played music through the dance until it ended. Linda and Erika at the end went and “got” the two of them, holding each of them warmly while they played their instruments.
We saw that the two writers actually came back into the space after they had left. They were standing in the entrance talking with a couple of guys. We found out later, in Sasha’s review of the performance, that the guys had been getting pizza next door, and had heard the music and had come to check it out.
After the dance, the lights came up a little, and Frank talked to the young man, and the older returnee. He asked them both what they thought of the night. The guy who had come before said that it was great again, that it had made him very uncomfortable. Frank did it again! And said something along the lines of that Frank had made everyone uncomfortable, and wasn’t that the point or goal of the performance? Frank and Linda explained that the point was not to make people uncomfortable, but to move through the uncomfortable, to expand what is comfortable. They said that the “uncomfortable” was on the surface, so it was about going past that to what is there underneath.
The young man said that he really liked playing music, and noticed that it really only gelled when the rest of the people left, and it was just them two playing together. Frank and Linda said that it always starts that way, but usually gels together, no matter how many people are playing. Frank suggested that perhaps this time it did not because of the way the people were in the performance, the way that they were not fully committed to being there. The young man said that he really felt like he was a part of everything, and said that he was watching them dancing, and making the music to follow, to accompany the dance.
The young man also asked if having people get undressed and undress each other was the best way Frank found to make people uncomfortable. Frank said, “the easiest”. And Linda explained that it was a very intimate thing to undress someone that you don’t know, and it shows you how accessible intimacy is with another person, how it is right there to have, not something that is hard to get to.
And that was “The End”.
They said the next performance would be the first Saturday in January, and the guy who had come before said that was great, because his wife would have no excuse to not come to the Saturday night performance!
Frank encouraged the two of them to check out the free stuff before they left, and they both did. The young traveler took the other copy of Frank’s “Inner Maze”, and soon they had both left, the older guy calling out, “See you next time!”
We broke down the set, recounting the night … it seemed to be one in a series of recent performances where the audience did not really come open and willing to play, and Frank had to work really hard to make anything happen.
Linda said that she had felt so good when Frank said for her and Erika to take off their clothes, and then to dance together. It was like burning the sage! It felt so good to be together, limitless, one body … especially in the context of how there had been so much of a limited feeling in the performance up to that point. It burned and melted that away again, brought things “back home”.
December 17, 2011 by Sasha Cagen
My friend Jenny invited me; in an email and in the car on the way there, she warned me, “We can walk out early. I’m okay with that.” I didn’t read any of the links she sent in advance because I decided, “I want to do this blind.” Come what may. My social life in the Bay Area is a bit predictable. I am ready to be shocked and uncomfortable. And Jenny and I haven’t gotten to do enough fun stuff together lately.
The event was called “Uncomfortable Zones of Fun.” This monthly event has been going on for three years and it’s hosted by the legendary performance artist Frank Moore and his entourage of supporters over at the Temescal Arts Center in Oakland. Moore is most famous for being one of the NEA-funded artists targeted by Jesse Helms in the early 90s for making “obscene” art. Jenny and I walked in ten minutes early and we were the only ones there. I whispered, “Do you think we will be the only ones?” It would be higher stakes to walk out if we were the whole audience.
Slowly seven more people trickled in to sit with us on the padded floor. They were a motley bunch: a young guy who had been traveling North America for a year, an articulate young research scientist, a mother-daughter pair, and a guy wearing a San Francisco Drug Users Union t-shirt. Frank Moore sat up front assisted by a woman who seemed to be a longtime collaborator and assistant. She interpreted and spoke for him. Frank was born with cerebral palsy and he can’t walk or talk. He communicates with the audience using a laser-pointer perched on a headband around his head, and a board of letters, numbers, and commonly-used words.
The performance consisted mainly of him asking questions of the audience, putting them on the spot and making them uncomfortable. The questions were not so crazy, “What attracted you to come here?” “What do you do for fun?” “What do you do?” Jenny had whispered to me, “He is well-known for asking people to take off their clothes or to undress others.” He didn’t ask me to do either. My answer would be a definite no, especially because they film the whole thing for a Berkeley public access show.
The theory: By making ourselves uncomfortable, we expand our range of what we are capable of doing. Making ourselves uncomfortable makes us more alive. I’m a big believer that life begins outside of our comfort zone. I also believe in the perfect stretch–a bit outside the comfort zone, but not so much that it blows you out. I was amazed by how “normal” many of the audience members were and how willing they were to play. Only one (the guy in the Drug Users Union t-shirt) was game to take off his clothes, but they were willing to create improv situations on the spot and to play percussion instruments. Upon request, Jenny and I each read a chapter each of two of his books. I read a chapter that exhorted performance artists to not censor themselves.
My favorite part was how Moore challenged me with his appearance. The man is 65 and had huge gob of saliva clumped together and cascading through his beard. He quivered as he tried to communicate, and I could see, when I got up to sit next to him to read from his book, that his laser pointing never really was stable enough to rest on letters. I noticed how grossed out I felt by his appearance, and how he challenged my beliefs that only “attractive” human beings should be on stage. I felt uncomfortable and ashamed to judge. His delight in life was palpable, despite age, despite handicaps. The man has a harem of lovers and he does nothing if it is not fun. He is prolifically creative. He described his writing as “improv with a computer.” (I want my writing to feel like improv too. Something unexpected, words that cannot be predicted and are not agonized over.) He questions whether his cerebal palsy is a “handicap.” I love people who only do fun. Every so often I meet one of these characters and they remind me of what life is about. I would love to do a book of profiles about people who only do fun.
Though most would see Moore as deeply disabled he has created his own unique, deeply creative and bizarre life on his own terms and created his own version of freedom. I am in the midst of struggling with my own health limitations since being diagnosed with celiac disease and taking on a strict gluten-free diet that makes social situations and travel complicated. How can I even complain for a second when I look at someone like Moore who goes for life with such insane zest even though he has never been able to speak normally. I worry when my pinkie hurts, Will I be able to type and write? This man has somehow managed to write and create art despite the fact that he cannot control his limbs. We are capable of anything when we are resourceful.
With Frank as my odd inspiration, I undertake a new challenge for myself: living out loud, writing at least one blog post a day that will be like “improv with my computer.” Let’s see how this goes.
Jenny and I did walk out early, after most of the rest of the audience. I went to the bathroom and was surprised to walk out and find two of his harem slithering naked on top of him in his wheelchair. They were engaged in non-orgasmic eroplay designed to melt boundaries between human beings.
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Last modified December 20, 2011