Aaahhhh, how can you tell if a performance was a success? Well, Saturday’s performance was the longest night in the two+ years of the Temescal series. And nobody left during the performance, which is probably a first in my forty years of doing performances. And when it was over, nobody wanted to leave. But that is usual. The audience was a real mix of straight and underground creatures in the full range. But everybody ended up nude, except for the former professor who had just been in the hospital. Even he said the performance loosened and opened him up. He provided the music for most of the night. A newspaper called the series a “variety.” I call that newspaper PSYCHIC because we even had a contortionist who did their [they didn’t liked the pronouns SHE and HER, preferring THEY /THEM] dance, which was actually one of the things I always have wanted in a performance. THEY actually danced twice… Once dressed… And then nude, pushing /risking THEMSELF while Nat sang and the professor played guitar. This risking dance rooted /anchored everything, made everything that came afterwards possible… Two Brothers rocking nude together for hours, the straight tree guy rocking nude on my lap… The whole room doing a very juicy explicit ritual of GESTURES [there are always surprises for me… Like I didn’t think LICK EACH OTHER’S EARS would be a controversial gesture, but what do I know?]… The whole room evolving into an explicit ritual of music making juicy fun dancing which all [including the corporate finance guy] melted into together. I pushed the explicit because the two booking women were there and I wanted to get everything out on the table so that we will have freedom to go even further in the future there. They loved it!
So how do you know when a performance is a success? Well maybe when at the end of the night somebody says: "I was comforted by the fact that I was uncomfortable. Lately I had been wondering if I'd ever be able to feel uncomfortable again, so it was great to be able to come up against some barriers again." Audience person, 7/23/11, UZOF
Now excuse me while I recover from doing three shows in four weeks!
Da Boyz & Erika:
Two performances in two weeks! And this was the second, the monthly Uncomfortable Zones of Fun performance at the Temescal Arts Center in Oakland. We were there a little earlier than usual, and found possibly even fewer lights available than last time! Good thing Frank had us bring extra clip lights! We got back into the groove, after a whole different set up at the Center for Sex & Culture … around 7pm, Nat arrived and helped us finish the set up, followed soon by Frank, Linda & Mikee. As it turned 8pm, no “audience” had arrived, and Linda said something like, “It might be one of ‘those’ nights!”
But as soon as she said that, a couple of people arrived almost at the same time, two girls … Frank invited them into the space as Linda and Mikee got him set up, and they started perusing the free totes of zines and small press books, fliers, stickers, CDs, etc.
Frank soon got talking to one of the girls. She had seen the flier on a pole in south Berkeley, and Frank asked her what attracted her to the performance. She said that she was interested in performance art, had done some performance art and wanted to see what this would be like … She said she is a recent transplant from NYC. When Frank asked her if she did performance, she talked about starting as a child actor in NY because her mom got her into it, and then getting into theater in high school, and then coming back to it after college, and performing with the Theater of the Oppressed in NYC for a time.
Then Frank turned to the other girl … she had seen the flier outside of the California Institute for Integral Studies in SF. She had been attracted to the sound of the performance, the uncomfortable and experimental and participatory aspect of it … We think Frank asked her what she does, and she talked about doing circus arts, such as nails in the head, eating fire, glass, contortion … Frank asked if she would do her act here, now? She said she did not have her kit with her … if she had known how participatory it was going to be she would have brought it, and would have warmed up! She said she could do a contortionist act, but she would need to warm up first. Frank suggested that she could warm up while we watched, and the girl from NY said she could warm up with her. So the two of them helped each other stretch …
Meanwhile, a middle-aged guy, who we later came to know as Doug, had come in and was sitting across the mat. Frank asked him how he had found out about the performance. He had also seen a flier. Almost the entire audience ended up having come from fliers! Frank asked him what he does. He said that he is an “environmental salesman”, basically that he plants trees for a living.
Frank and Linda told him the story of their neighbor who has had it out for the redwoods on their property, five huge beautiful redwood trees, which the neighbor has hacked away at, and hired people to go up into the trees and hack away huge sections of them with a hacksaw! At one point, Frank, Linda and Mikee found the hired hand up in the tree, without any safety gear, hacking away, and asked him to get down, but he wouldn’t, even at the threat of calling the police … so they called the police! And that seemed to quiet things down for a while. But we had to pay $900 that we didn’t have to clean up all the destruction to the trees. And then last weekend, when we were in SF doing the performance at Center for Sex & Culture, Frank, Linda and Mikee returned to find that she had hacked down more branches in our absence, and threw them down in their yard!! So, who knows what they will return to tonight!? Everyone was appalled to hear about this.
Over the next little bit, a number of other people arrived … another young woman who sat off to the side, a guy we later found out was in “finance”, a guy who came in with a guitar, two women who it turned out are 2 of the 3 managers of the space itself, a lanky young man who had gotten a text from the young woman, Alexi’s brother Yusef … and a professor who had been invited by a friend who, he remarked with chagrin looking around the room, was not actually there! Later in the performance, she did show up: Aurora.
Frank talked with each person more or less as they arrived. The young woman had seen a flier in north Oakland and had been attracted to the idea of “uncomfortable” and “fun”. Frank asked her, “How uncomfortable are you willing to be?” She said something like, “Enough …” and “We’ll see …”
When the guy told Frank that he was in “finance”, Frank asked him to get more specific, and we found out that he did the budget for a medical company. What had attracted him to the performance? We think he said that it seemed interesting, and different from what he normally does.
The young guy with the guitar had just now seen the flier outside on the sandwich boards, and decided to come in. He was a transplant from Colorado, just moved here, and said he followed a whim in coming into the performance. He was attracted by the “uncomfortable” “fun” part, because he has felt a lot of “uncomfortable” being new in the area, that “uncomfortable” was almost his normal since he has been here. Frank asked him if he always follows his whims, and he said he often does, and there always ends up being a reason for it. Frank asked him why he moved here from Colorado, and he said something about it being his path, and that he wanted to see more of the world …
Early on, Frank asked Nat to describe the last week’s performance at Center for Sex & Culture and then the first Uncomfortable Zones she had attended. She talked about the CSC performance as being different than her experience at the first performance at Temescal, and described everyone doing Gestures, and then talked about the Uncomfortable Zones performance on Frank’s birthday in June in fairly general terms. Frank asked her to get more and more detailed! So Nat ended up describing the dance she did with Linda and Frank, rubbing each other’s bodies nude all over, and that it was very “hot”! She said “hot” a lot! It was great, because it came before much had really happened in the performance, and yet it did not seem to scare anyone away.
At some point, Frank asked the contortionist if she was warmed-up yet. She said that she was … Frank asked if she would put on something from the costume piles to do her act in? She said yes, and came over to the costume area and started picking out items, and taking off some of her own clothes … Frank asked the gal from NY if she would put on costumes too, and then asked her if she would undress the cameraman, Corey? She said she would, if he consented …? Sure, Corey said! So she said that she would just finish putting on her costume and then would undress him. Soon Corey’s clothes were off, and the contortionist was ready to do her act.
The act was an amazing dance with very physically challenging contortions and poses and stretches throughout … Frank and Linda said after the performance that she really risked herself in many ways to do it. The “audience” cleared a big space for her, and she moved all over the mat, doing this intense gymnastic contortionist dance which was riveting and beautiful.
After she finished, people clapped, but Frank said “no clapping”, because clapping was as if something was over, whereas we were just moving into something different …
Now we think that Frank returned to talking to more of the people who had arrived. At first, Frank and Linda did not recognize Yusef, and Frank was asking him how he had found out about the performance? Well, it was Yusef, Alexi’s brother!
The lanky young man had gotten a text, we think from the young woman who he sat down next to, the one who had been attracted to the “uncomfortable fun”. He had gotten a text with a photo of the flier maybe only 5 hours before, and decided to come and check it out.
When Frank asked two young women who had come in together how they had heard about it, the two, Malinda and Isabelle, said that they manage the space, and have wanted to come for a long time. Frank asked them what they do, and they talked about their dance group. Frank asked Isabelle what kind of dance, and she described it as modern, and ballet and improvisational. Frank asked them how it was going so far, and they said they were enjoying it, and he asked, “Do I still have the space?” They said, “Yes, of course!” Frank and Linda talked about how great it was to have a space like this to do regular performances. That over the 40 years that Frank has been doing performances, they have always tried to have this. There was a period before they found Temescal, where they did not have a regular space … they looked to yoga studios as a possible place where they could do regular performances, and pay for the space. They even had someone who was interested, had looked at the website, and they had even written him a check, and then he called and said that he talked it over with the yoga teachers and thought about it, and they weren’t comfortable doing yoga on a Sunday morning, knowing that people had been nude in the space the evening before! Everyone gasped and laughed. Someone mentioned nude yoga, which is common. Right! So … it was really amazing to have the ongoing series at Temescal!
The older man who we later came to know as “the Professor”, came in later than the others … he was the one who had received an email from a friend, again with a photo of the flier, inviting him to come. She had actually sent it to a list of people, but he looked around the room, and did not see her there, or any of the others! “Some friend!” Frank said. When Frank asked him what he does, he said that when he made money, he was a professor, but now he breathes … He said he likes to play music, and sing, and just breathe, and go to things like this. It was not long before Frank asked him if he would play music, and he ended up borrowing the guitar that the guy from Colorado brought. Throughout the night, they both played music, taking turns with the guitar, keyboards, recorder and other instruments.
At some point earlier than later in the performance, Frank had the occasion to talk about the concept of “comfort zones” again, which has come up in the performances a lot. He said that “comfort zones” are fragile, and that you cannot really be comfortable in “comfort zones”.
Now followed a series of undressings … and a second version of the contortionist’s dance.
Frank asked the contortionist if she would undress Nat. She said sure, and soon Nat was nude … We are not sure the order of who was undressed when! But we think that Frank asked Yusef if Erika could undress him. He said yes, and Erika undressed him and he sat down again, nude. Frank asked the contortionist if Nat could undress her. She said yes.
We think that it was not long now before Frank asked if she would do her act/dance again, now nude. She had been sitting next to Nat, and showing Nat bruises on the backs of her thighs and elsewhere, and when she got up to prepare for the dance, Frank asked if her bruises were from her act? No, she said, they were from a lover … she had asked her lover to hit her with a nightstick repeatedly, and she enjoyed it!
Frank told the story now of the woman who had come to a performance who was into “caning”, and had brought her gear … But she had gotten very uptight when people in the performance start trying out the items … she was uptight about people touching her tools …
As she was warming up again, clearing the space to do her act, Frank made some reference to her as “she”, and she told Frank that she does not use the pronoun “she”. She said that she prefers “They”, and described how it seems odd because it seems to refer to plural, but in fact it is often used as a singular pronoun, and that it is because she does not identify with either gender exclusively, and feels that gender is a construct of society that she does not really identify with. Frank brought up the royal “we” as another example, and “They” said that one of her friends uses the term “one” instead of “I”, which is often very humorous. Somewhere in this exchange we think Frank asked They if They were English? We had all noticed her accent, and she said that she is often mistaken for being from a different country, when in fact it is a speech impediment. She said that she often goes along with whatever accent people think she has, Australian, English, French … and its fun. However, it backfired one time when a guy thought that she was from Scotland, and she went along with it, and he asked her where she was from, and she said, “Edinborough”. It turned out that he was actually from Edinborough, and began to ask her very specific questions about where she lived, etc.! And she had to come out with it!
So now They did the dance again, nude. And this time there was a musical accompaniment from the professor and Colorado. They explained that it was going to be different this time, because she could not ever do it exactly the same way each time. Frank said great! He assumed it would be.
The dance was amazing, and even more powerful than the first time, which everyone felt. Frank said this after she finished, and asked her, “Did you feel that?” They said, “Yes”, but that she had experienced the power coming also from the people watching her, and their response to her doing it nude …
Now, we think there was more undressing … Frank asked Yusef to undress his brother Alexi, and the two of them to rock together. Erika and Doug undressed each other. Colorado and the girl from NYC undressed each other, although she took a great liking to the costumes, and so could be seen throughout the night wearing different combinations of jewelry and costumes, otherwise nude. She really liked the new addition to the costume collection, Linda’s Frederick’s of Hollywood red velvet jacket! She even mentioned at one point that she really loved dressing up, but had decided not to really dress up that night for the performance … and yet she still got to dress up!!
Frank asked the Temescal pair, Isabelle and Malinda, to undress each other, Linda and the “uncomfortable fun” gal to undress each other, and the Finance guy and the lanky guy undressed each other. Frank asked Colorado if he, with Linda, would undress him, Frank. He agreed, and so now Frank was undressed too.
Frank now turned to the NYC gal, and asked her if she would do a performance? She said she would try … “If only she had brought her poetry!” she said. Frank suggested she could read his, and she said sure! He said she could read, “I Came to Play.” She said that she would pass the poetry around the room, but she would start, and would read it in a Russian accent. Her Russian accent had come up earlier in the context of They’s accent. She had said she loved to talk in a Russian accent, and Frank asked her to do it! So she said a few things with a Russian accent.
But now, she read, “I Came to Play” in a Russian accent, which was really funny and great! She didn’t finish the poem, but passed it to her right, to Doug, who read the rest of it, also in a Russian accent. Really goofy fun and a totally different experience of the poem!
Now everyone was nude except for the professor! Frank asked, “Who has always wanted to undress a professor?” But before anyone had a chance to say anything, he took the mic and said that he did not want to get undressed tonight. Frank asked him, “Why?” He said that he recently had a bunch of medical issues, and his experience with the medical people was traumatic, left him feeling very tight … he said it was going to take him some time … Frank and Linda told him briefly about Frank’s hospital stay a year ago, and how he ended up with tubes in him, etc., after only going in for a routine surgery. Frank turned to the audience and said, “That is why I have always wanted to undress a professor!”
Almost right as this was happening, the woman who had emailed the professor arrived, Aurora. She came in, exclaiming about how wonderful it was to be in this space, with everyone naked … she said things about growing up in the Haight Ashbury, feeling very at home in this kind of atmosphere, really loving it … When Frank asked her about how she found out about the performance, she said she had seen the flier on a pole, and took a picture of it, and sent it around to her friends …
Meanwhile, the reading of Frank’s poetry continued with “Art Is A Bitch”. The “uncomfortable fun” girl started reading it, and when she came to the question that starts it off, which Frank explained was a real question someone had asked him, she opened the question up to everyone else … “1. What were the THREE MOST IMPORTANT things you did to get a break and start moving toward recognition as a performance artist?” As it went around the room, it seemed that most everyone was really just talking about what they did to continue to be creative and inspired. And one comment occasioned Frank to say, “Creativity is like shitting. Everybody does it. Everybody needs to do it.” The words of his poem! Basically saying that creativity was something that everyone has, not special or exclusive.
After this question made the rounds, Frank asked her to finish the poem. She read more of it, and then passed it to the professor, who finished it.
Frank told everyone about Art of a Shaman at some point in here, and asked people to pass it around and check it out. He said, “They told me that if I just get the book in people’s hands, it will sell itself!” So this was his attempt! As it made its way around the room, and the performance continued, we saw that several people looked at it for a very long time, really taking it in … Isabelle for one.
We think it also may have been around this time that Frank asked Malinda and Isabelle, the Temescal managers, if they would do something from their dance work. And this may have also been when Frank asked them again about the space, saying, “Did I lose the space yet?” They said, “Oh no! We want more!” Frank said that he asks people who come to the performance to risk, so he has to risk too … he was risking losing the space! They said, “Oh no …” They were really liking the performance.
They said yes to the dancing, and moved to the “stage” area of the space, in front of Mikee’s big backdrop, and did this really neat dance with each other, feeding off each other improvisationally, creating a kind of story almost between the two of them. It was beautiful!
Now Frank asked the “uncomfortable fun” girl if she would read his poem, “Wrapping/Rocking”. She said yes, and came up and sat next to Frank, reading it. Then he turned to the NY girl, and asked her if she would rock with him on his lap? She said no, she didn’t feel comfortable doing that …
Frank then asked They. She would not do it either. Then Frank asked Colorado … he said “no” also, adding, “I’m not there yet …” So Frank asked if there was anyone who would rock with him? Doug said he would, so he came up and rocked on Frank’s lap while the Professor and Colorado played music.
There was also a point when Frank asked Nat to sing, and she sang a song in English that we didn’t recognize but that somehow seemed to fit what was going on at the time …
Frank also talked with Aurora. He asked her what she does, and she said that she works in ecology and architecture, and described her upbringing in the Bay Area by a mother who was a native plant and butterfly expert. Aurora started as an artist, doing large scale mosaic tile pieces, and then was inspired to integrate what she had learned from her mother into her tile work, and later into architecture, to create living walls, and roofs. She talked in some detail about all of this. Frank told her again the story about the neighbor hacking at the redwoods, and she said that it was sad that humans took out their emotional problems on the natural world, which is innocent. Frank asked if the gal from NYC could undress Aurora, and she said sure, but stopped her at the shirt & bra, leaving her pants on.
Now we think Frank said that we would do Gestures … he had Linda describe Gestures to everyone, and then pair people together. Frank said that Yusef and Alexi could stop rocking, and do Gestures. Linda paired Nat with They, Erika with Colorado, NY girl with Aurora, “uncomfortable fun” girl with Yusef, Alexi with the lanky guy, Malinda with the finance man, and Isabelle with Doug. The professor continued playing music, and Linda started reading gestures …
After only a few gestures, the “uncomfortable fun” girl excused herself from it, telling Linda, and sitting by herself on the mat. Linda paired Yusef with Aurora and the girl from NY. But soon after that, they also bowed out of several gestures in a row. Corey overheard them having issues with licking each other’s ears … heard, “you know, body fluids and such …” !! So Linda paired Yusef with Nat and They, where he stayed for the rest of the gestures. Right away, there was the gesture for touching each other’s genitals … and it came up again later. But there was a range! There were several gestures for sticking out your tongue and curling it up, and then there was exploring each other’s butts, rubbing chest to chest, laying on top of each other and moving slowly together, exploring each other’s body using your whole body … showing each other your bare calves … It was amazing to see almost everybody participate fully, and how gestures always deepens everything …
At a certain point, Frank said that he, Nat, Linda and Erika would dance together, and everyone else could play music … the lights were lowered, and the slides came on, people took up instruments and started playing, and Nat, Frank, Linda and Erika danced very erotically together, hot, deep and juicy … Then Frank had Linda, Nat and Erika go around the room and “get” the people playing music. Everyone really loved this … they would come up to each person, and dance into them, enclosing them, and then move on to the next …
Afterward, the lights came up, and Frank asked Colorado what he thought of the performance so far? He said that he felt more grounded than he had before, that he had been feeling light-headed, ungrounded since he moved here. Frank said, “Colorado is high …” The guy laughed and said, “Most of the time …” But Frank meant that the air was thinner, higher altitude, i.e. he was still coming down from that after moving. Colorado also said that it has been his dream since he was a kid to be in Berkeley with a room full of naked people! Frank said, “I deliver!” And Linda said that was his tag line when he ran for President.
Next was Erika. She said that it was a really amazing night, the dance and the gestures, and how everyone stayed and no one left!
The finance guy said that he wasn’t an artist and had never been to anything like this before, and he wouldn’t have imagined himself doing something like this, but that it was really great.
Nat talked about how great it was to do gestures and the dance, and how everyone stayed, and that she really enjoyed singing.
Yusef said that he didn’t really think very much, which felt good. More that he felt things… He said that rocking with Alexi, there was a flow of feelings and associations and joy, as opposed to thoughts, which was nice because he often thinks a lot, in preconceived patterns, but tonight he wasn’t doing that. Frank said, “A family trait.” Yusef said yes. He said that it has taken him a long time to come to a performance, but he was really glad that he did.
They said that she was really glad that Frank asked her to do her act, and then a second time nude. She said that Frank having her do the physical stuff right away put her into her body, not into her mind, which she felt was good, so she experienced things from that space. Frank said to They, “You are Us.”
Isabelle said that the performance was life-changing … she said that it would change her art, change how she related to people and how she looked at things. She said that she would try to bring it into her life and art … not try, but would incorporate into her life and art what she experienced in the performance. Frank said, “Wow …” He said, “Don’t artists live for this kind of feedback?” She said yes, but it was completely true, she wasn’t just saying it … Frank said, “It is fuel”. She said yes.
Malinda said that she felt good, and a little melancholy … but the impression we got was that it was from her experiencing a depth, going deeper. She also talked about bringing this experience into her life and art. She said that they did an improvisation there at Temescal the day before, and when they talked of going to this tonight, she had it in her head that it would be more formal … But it was not that way at all, and she was amazed and proud of all the different kinds of things that happen in this space, that this space can hold all of these things, and that she feels that the space keeps the feeling of all of this in it … Frank said yes, spaces hold energy, like the caves … Linda described how the tribes would do their magic rituals over years and years in the caves, building up the energy and magic.
The lanky guy said that he really had not known what to expect, and that he found himself jumping into his head at various points in the performance, wondering if he was uncomfortable, and not really being sure … Frank said, “If you have to ask if you are uncomfortable, then you’re not.”
His friend, the “uncomfortable fun” girl said, “I was comforted by the fact that I was uncomfortable. Lately I had been wondering if I'd ever be able to feel uncomfortable again, so it was great to be able to come up against some barriers again." Frank said that was a great quote, and Linda asked Alexi to remember it! Frank asked her, “Did you ever get comfortable in your uncomfortableness?” She said yes, she did, at the end.
Doug said some amazing things about his experience, which we are having trouble remembering. Our main experience was being impressed at how clearly he seemed to have processed the experience and how well he was able to communicate it. He said that it wasn’t at all what he thought it was going to be, and that he had enjoyed it a lot, and even felt comfortable … We think he talked about the experience of doing Gestures, and feeling intimate and close with other people in a deep way, and how Frank created a safe space to be with people in this way.
Aurora talked in vague terms about her experience … her response seemed to be focused on her unwillingness to do the Gestures. etc., but talking about it in positive terms, in the sense of how she did not feel pressured to do anything she did not want to do … that it was a safe environment … But you couldn’t help feeling that she was trying to justify her own holding back, to make it seem like a positive move for herself.
The girl from NY echoed Aurora to some extent in what she said, also justifying her decision to stop doing the gestures beyond a certain point as a signal of strength. And she also said that she had not felt that uncomfortable … Frank said, “Darn!” Frank asked her if she would use the performance in her own performances. She said, like Isabelle, that the performance was very inspiring to her, that this was the kind of performance that she wanted to do, and that she would integrate stuff from the performance into her performances. She went on to talk about creating a space like this where people could go past their boundaries, learn where their boundaries were … Frank cut in, “Not ‘learn’ their boundaries, but go beyond their boundaries …”
Frank said, “I see people, not their boundaries …. I don’t talk to their boundaries, but to them. The boundaries are not real.” Frank had Linda read his poem, “Boundaries Kill”. As the NY girl listened, you could see that she really liked the poem, which subverted her idea that you needed a strong sense of your own boundaries. In spite of herself, she couldn’t help but fall into what Frank was saying, because the poem was talking about all the things that inspired her, and that melting boundaries created.
The Professor said that until he came to this performance, he really wasn’t aware of how tight he had been … but that through the course of the performance, he felt like he really was able to loosen up, to shed some of that tightness that he had taken on, and now felt quite a bit looser than before. Frank said that this would just continue …
Frank asked Linda what she thought of the night, and she said that it was amazing, and that she thinks it may be the only performance where no one left!
Now Frank said that his book, Art of a Shaman, was a great guide for how to do this kind of art. “And with that shameless plug,” he said, “The End.”
This was the longest performance that we have done at Temescal, almost an hour longer than normal, and still it felt like it could have gone on … people did not want to leave … and some started talking about doing something to complete the performance in some way, to “close” it, some kind of ritual … They was one who really wanted to do something, and was saying that it would be shocking to move from this “body-space” to the normal reality, that there needed to be some closure to the performance, and asked Frank about having a group hug? Frank said, “No …” He said, “Leave it open.” Nat, who was sitting next to her, said that doing that would close it, wouldn’t let it continue into everyday life, which was what everyone wanted. Frank said this is why he made the warning sign, and had Linda read it. It exactly addressed what They was bringing up, and she really seemed to get what Frank was saying.
Frank said that there was a guy at the CSC performance who wanted to go around and hug everyone at the end of the performance too, and Frank said, “No!”
Now Frank said, “Go out for pizza!”
People talked with each other for quite a while afterward, exchanging numbers, making plans to go out and eat together … we started breaking down the set, and at some point Isabelle and Malinda and They helped us a bit too, since they were still there talking …
Yusef, Isabelle, They and others all came up to Frank and Linda to talk and say goodbye as we packed up.
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