The Uncomfortable Zones Of Fun - December 2011
The Uncomfortable Zones Of Fun - December 2011

Frank Moore’s
The Uncomfortable Zones Of Fun
experiments in experience/participation performance

at Temescal Art Center, Oakland, California
Saturday, March 3, 2012


Saturday’s performance can be called THE INVASION OF THE NO PEOPLE.  They came, according to them, because of the possibilities of SEX, SHAMANISM, and NUDE DANCING GIRLS [a woman gave the last as the motivation for her coming].  They had watched videos of past performances.  So they knew what they were getting into.  But they were not willing to do anything, even helping Linda to undress me!  I have been getting people to undress me at performances for decades with no problem.  But now people have forgotten that you get what you are willing to give.  And if you want nude dancing girls, take your clothes off!  They didn’t get much from the performance AND THEY WERE SATISFIED WITH THAT!  This low expectation is extremely disturbing.  Even though they watched videos of past performances, they used my videoing the performance as their reason for their NOs.  Again I have been videoing the performances for decades with no problem.  Any bets that they would open up if I turned off the camera?  And I can’t let fear dictate the performance.  Two college guys said they could only stay until nine o’clock to get home safely!  After years of playing at punk clubs and performance spaces in the dangerous parts of town, we are performing in a good neighborhood.  You are in deep shit if you are in your twenties and are that afraid! 

At least Tomek played great music! 

Da Boyz and Erika

This would be the second performance after the new flier … last month had seemed very promising because of the kind of audience that came.  We had felt that the flier worked! 

There was one early bird who poked his head in while we were setting up, a guy who later came for the whole performance, a visitor from New York. 

We were putting the finishing touches on the set up, attaching the last light gels, as the first people came in.  The first to arrive were the guy from NY, and Lisa, a regular at Berkeley Natural Grocery, where Corey works.  He had just the week before given her a flier for the performance, and she had said she was going to look Frank up online.  And she had decided to come!

Soon after, a young couple arrived, and Frank encouraged all of them to look through the free stuff, and to come sit down on the mat.  There were also two young Asian guys … one of them asked as soon as he walked in if there were tickets for the performance.  Linda told him no, it was free.  But he needed a ticket for a class he was taking so that he could show that he had come to the performance.  Frank and Linda said that they could make him a ticket.  Frank would sign his broadside, and that would be the ticket.  But Frank asked him, “If I sign this, will you stay for the whole performance?”  The guy asked how long it was.  Linda told him, “3 hours.”  He was surprised!  He replied that he couldn't stay that long because he had to take the bus.  And he explained as Frank talked to him that it got more “dangerous” later, because it was Oakland, so he didn't want to stay that late.  This was also why he dragged his room-mate along with him.  Frank asked him, “What time do you turn into a pumpkin?”  Everyone laughed!  Linda explained the Cinderella reference because it wasn't clear that he got it.  He replied that he could stay until 9pm. 

Frank asked him what kind of class he was taking, and he said, “Music 27”.  He described it as a general introductory music class.  They were supposed to attend a number of “concerts” as part of the class.  When Frank asked him how he picked this performance, he said that the teacher had given them a list of possible concerts to attend, and our performance was one of them!  Frank asked him why he picked this one, and he said, “To be honest ...” Frank screamed and said, “NO, be dishonest!”  Everyone laughed, enjoying Frank.  The student went on to say, “To be honest” it was because it fit well into his schedule.   Frank asked him, “What is music?”  He didn't really have an answer …   Frank asked him if he played music, and he said that he plays piano in church.  Frank asked him if he would play music now, and Linda pointed out the keyboards set up in the music area.  He said ok.   Now Frank turned to his friend, who was crouched in the back of the room … “Why did you let him drag you to this?”  At first, the first guy started talking, “To be honest ...”   Frank screamed again to be dishonest!  The guy continued, saying that to be honest he forced his friend to come, and he came along because they are close …   Frank said, “Or were!” 

Frank asked his friend, “What do you do?”  He said that he studies linguistics.  Frank said, “Like when I asked, 'What is music?'”  He didn't seem to get what Frank was saying, and Linda tried to elaborate, that this was an example of a linguistic question.  The friend just answered with the specific linguistic field that he is studying, which none of us can remember.  Frank asked him if he would play music too.    He said that he didn't know how.   Frank replied that he plays piano.  He doesn't “know how” to play piano, but he plays piano.  Frank also said that he sings.  He doesn't “know how” to sing, but he sings.  This didn't really go anywhere with this guy, who did not end up playing any music. 

We think that Tomek came in at this point, and Frank turned to the music student and told him that he could start playing now, and that Tomek would play with him.  Around this time a guy with a ukulele and a young girl came in together.  They stayed for a little while, but left before Frank even had a chance to talk to them.  Also, a returnee, a big roly poly guy with a big beard, came in around this time too.  He had brought a small drum with him. 

Now, Frank turned to the young couple, asking the guy, who we later came to know as “Charlie”, how he had found out about the performance.  He had seen a flier in a coffeehouse.  What had attracted him to it, Frank asked.  He said that he liked the artwork, and said that some of the words had appealed to him, particularly “shaman” and “sexuality”, and it had made him curious.  Frank asked him, “Is it what you expected?”  He said he really didn't know what to expect, that he could not have imagined how those two things went together, he didn't have a context for picturing it.  But he also said something like that it was not what he might have imagined it would be … Frank replied, “Yet.”  

Frank asked his girlfriend now why she came.  She said that she was spending more time with Charlie, and wanted to come with him.  Frank asked them if they had talked together about the performance before coming.  She said, “No … we tried not to ...” Frank asked her why.   She said that Charlie didn't want to have any expectations … and she was busy.   Frank asked her what she does, and she said that she is a sociology student.  “And for fun?” Frank asked.  She said that she does ceramics, that she likes spinning bowls, mugs and vases … “practical things”.  Soon it came out that she had looked Frank up on YouTube, and watched some videos … She said she had seen Linda spelling Frank out, but didn't realize that he had a laser pointer from the video … and she had seen something from Sacramento, and said that it “looked like a lot of fun”. 

Meanwhile, the music student had started playing the keyboard … a never-ending loop of 70s pop chords, like elevator muzak!  Tomek played with him, and really made the most of it.  Later, he told Frank that he “tried playing with him”, “tried playing against him” … it was obviously a challenge!

Frank asked her, “How is it so far?”  She said it was good, and said, “I know why I am here.”  Frank asked, “Why?”  She said, “Because it feels good to be here … it is warm ...”   Frank asked her if she would do a ritual with him later that involves “shamanism” and “sexuality”.  She said it would depend on what it was … Frank turned to Charlie, and asked him if he would.  He said, “I can't give you an answer right now ...” He wanted to know what exactly Frank had in mind … He said, “Can I ask you what kind of ritual you are talking about?”  Frank said, “Ask away!” 

He asked something like, “What is an example of a ritual that would involve 'shaman' and 'sexuality'”.  Frank said, “Gestures”, and Linda described the ritual of gestures.  A couple came in right at this point, took off their coats and sat down.  When Linda described the range of gestures, and described, “Exploring each other's bodies, using every part of your body”, they put their coats back on and left!

But after Linda described Gestures, the girl who came with Charlie said that she would be open to doing that. 

At some point while Frank was talking with the two of them, a friend of theirs arrived, and Frank talked to her too.  She had heard about it from them, and she is a pre-school teacher.  Frank said, “A great job.”  Frank asked her what attracted her to the performance, and she said she was “curious” …  her friends had told her about it, mentioned “shamanism” and “sexuality”, and that her friend, who had seen the videos on YouTube, had also talked about “nude girls dancing”, and this attracted her to the performance also …

Now we think Frank turned to Lisa, and asked her how she had heard about the performance.  She said that Corey had invited her to it, and that she had then went and looked Frank up online.  Frank asked, “And you still wanted to come?!”  She said yes, she was curious to meet him, adding, “It is a rare moment of expansion for me, there aren't that many of them.”

Frank asked her what she does, and she said that she works in nursing homes as an assistant physical therapist, a “new career” for her, and added that it was very challenging.  Frank pointed out that Erika works at a nursing home, as an activities director.  Frank asked her if she would read a poem, “Out of Isolation”.  She said yes.  Frank said that he made a feature-length video of the poem.  Tomek and the music student played on, and Lisa came up to read “Out of Isolation”. 

I lie here in my universe of the mat, my bed. I always have been here lying in my universe forever, forever. My mat, my pillow, my sheet, my blanket...for countless force-fed meals, enemas, baths, shaves, haircuts, pissed-on sheets...many many harsh-lighted days, many, many semi-dark nights.

As she began to read these first few lines, she started crying.  She said, “I don't know if I can read this ...” But she continued, and finished the poem, at times looking like she was going to cry again.  Frank vocalized throughout the reading, basically playing “Jim's” part. 

When she sat back down again, Frank asked her how she felt.  She said that the poem got a little too close to home, and that working in nursing homes has been challenging for her.  Frank told her that he was “black and blue” after making the video of “Out of Isolation”, and Linda described the whole process of making it in L.A. with Linda Sibio, and how they did the whole piece all the way through each day for several days, so she was doing the rough exercises, rubbing ice and brushing hard on his skin, every day!  Lisa was curious where she could see that video (it is up on Vimeo) and she thanked Frank for having her read the poem.

Now Frank turned back to the young couple and asked them if they would undress each other and dress each other up in the costumes/jewelry.  Charlie replied, “I don't know if I want to do that on video ... if it was just here I probably would.”  Frank asked, “Why?”   He said that he didn't like the idea of people he has never seen before being able to see him.  Frank asked again, “Why?”  He said it was hard to explain.  Frank said that is why he Frank is here, “to ask the hard questions.”  Charlie replied, “That's good, I like it.”  He went on to explain that “they”, the people watching the video, are not sharing in what was there, are very removed.   Frank asked, “How do you know that?”   He said he guessed he didn't, but he knows from personal experience how people watch things online, clicking between windows, not really giving it their full attention, not really getting it … Frank asked Charlie's girlfriend if she watched the videos like that.  She said no.  Frank asked Lisa if she had looked him up like that.  She also said no, although she said that she could see where Charlie was coming from.  Then Lisa suggested turning the video camera off.

Frank said that this would deny possibilities, and Linda talked about our videos on vimeo.com, and how there are 5-6,000 plays each day, and how we have gotten responses from all over the world from people who could never attend a performance saying how much it meant for them to see them, and from people who look forward to seeing the next performances. 

Perhaps it was around this time that Ken Cheetham arrived, and a few others who sat toward the back.  Frank turned to the guy who had been the early bird, and we found out that he was traveling from New York City, that he does construction safety consulting, and is out here on a job, and that he came from seeing a flier on the street.  He was attracted to it because he likes performance art.  Frank asked him, “What is performance art?”  He said that to him it is the experience of seeing the artist create the art live, that it is happening right there in front of you.  He has always liked this kind of art.  Frank asked him what he does for fun, and he said that he liked the theater, and “I like to explore”.  He said he thought he would check this out.  Frank asked him if he would help Linda undress Frank.  He said, “I don't know if I want to get that involved yet with this show.”  Frank said, “Hey, the flier said 'audience participation.'”  The NY guy replied that this can mean a lot of things to a lot of people.  Frank asked him, “What does it mean to you?”  He talked in terms of how “we all have our boundaries”, what “we are comfortable with”, what is “appropriate” … He said he knows the point is pushing it, but everybody has a point where it is not appropriate.  Frank said like in “Out of Isolation”, “appropriate behavior”. 

The NY guy went on to talk about how one's idea of what is appropriate, the line that you don't want to cross, can come from upbringing, or morals, or the law … Frank asked, “Which is it for you?”  He replied that it was a combination...

Frank asked why helping Linda undress him crosses a line.  What boundary does it cross?  The NY guy said it was the way “it feels”, or “could be misconstrued”.  He talked about the public having different perceptions, and how people could use it the wrong way against you.  He said it was different for people who do it for a living as opposed to those who don't.

Frank said, “Mmmmmmmmm!”  Frank said that he pays to do these performances.

The guy replied that he didn't mean that the person had to make money at it, that there were a lot of people who act because it’s their thing, or jump out of airplanes, etc.  But if it’s “not your thing, not comfortable”, then you don't.  He said there are different perceptions … he likes discussing it, that's important.

Frank now asked the big guy to drum, and asked if the pre-school teacher would read his poem, “Boundaries Kill.”  She said no!  She said she would “rather just observe”.

The guy from NY volunteered to read, so he came up and read the poem. 

Now Frank turned to a guy who had recently come in.  He was a youngish guy with a black goatee, and when Frank started talking to him, it turned out that he was the son of “Chloe”, who had worked at Chihuahua clothing, a company which had started out of the workshops that Frank led in the late 70s.  He had been walking down the street and saw a flier, and brought it home and showed it to her, and she told him about Frank.  Frank asked him how she is, and he said that she is doing great, and has a loving family to take care of her.   Frank asked him what he knew about Frank from her, and he said, “Not a lot”, that he stays away from his family a lot, and travels a lot.  But he also said that she was happy that he was going to the performance.  When Frank asked him why, he said that it was because she had good memories of doing this kind of thing when she was young, and was glad to see him getting into the same things she was into.  He also said that he is a tattoo artist, and part of his traveling around is looking at images for tattoos. 

Frank asked him if he had any tattoos, and he showed them to everyone.  He had one on the inside of his lower lip that said, “FUCK”, and Japanese symbols on each finger of his left hand, from the “book of the 5 rings”, which represented the five elements.  He also had tattoos on his back, one on each shoulder blade, which he had drawn himself, which reminded us of images from the Mexican “day of the dead”.  Frank said, “Just like show and tell”, which was a reference to the preschool teacher.  And he asked if the lip tattoo had hurt.  The guy said, “Not as much as you might think,” and described how his anticipation was really more intense than the actual experience of it.  Linda described how people have always said Frank should get tattoos, but he has always said that he doesn't like pain!  And that it would be “overkill” because his body is already so much. 

Now Frank asked Ken to talk about the performances he has attended.  He talked about the unexpectedness of the performances, and how it was interesting to see the different reactions people had to the performances.  He said that sometimes it seems like nothing much is happening, and then other times, a lot.  He said, “I never know what to expect.”

Frank said, “Me either.”

Now Frank turned to a guy in the back with a beard.  It turned out that he is a vimeo video maker whose video Frank has liked and used for his public access show.  The guy described it as an erotic music video to a song called “Sugar”.  He said it was hundreds of pounds of sugar in a wind tunnel in a house.  Frank asked him if he had seen “In the Mess?”  He had not seen it, so Frank and Linda described it. 

After the description, the guy said, “You wouldn't be able to do that in my home town in Missouri!”

Frank asked him about how he made the video, and he talked about how there were a series of coincidences … they were able to get a great deal on hundreds of pounds of flour, which they used for the sugar, etc.  Frank and Linda told him how they had used flour the first time they did the human hot fudge sundae, but they couldn't get it out of Frank's hair, and they had to cut all his hair off!  The video maker talked about the flour becoming like cookie dough from any presence of moisture, and how his video camera was ruined, so it became an expensive decision. 

Frank said, “What we do for art!  And they think we make a living at this ...” Obviously directed at the guy from NY. 

Frank asked the video maker if he could talk about the videos he saw of Frank's.  He said that he watched one that was similar to this, which he said became “sensual artistic play”, “pushing boundaries with each other about touch”.  Frank asked him what he got from the videos, and he said that they made him curious.  He said, “Part of me wonders if I am that free ...”

Frank asked him if he had watched the whole video, and he said that he did watch most of it, he had to admit that he jumped around, but he watched a good portion. 

Frank said, “People think people don't watch long videos.”  Linda went on to describe our experience of how the longer videos are more popular.  Long performances that may contain short sections of nudity or erotic are much more popular than short excerpts that only have the nudity, etc. 

Frank asked Charlie what he made of this.  Charlie said that he didn't know what to make of it.

Frank and Linda said, “People want depth, that's what we make of it.”  And Linda expanded on that idea, saying that people liked seeing people being people without the extra stuff, “raw”, “vulnerable”.

Frank added, “Which is why I video.”

Frank asked the girl who came in with the video maker, a girl in a hoodie, how she heard about the performance.  He had shown her the flier online and some videos … she mentioned “girls dancing”.  Frank asked her what she does, and she said that she was traveling, trying to figure out where she wants to live.  Frank asked her where she is from, and she said, “Indiana”.  Frank said, “I understand.”  She also said that she likes to create art and give unconditional love to all beings.  Recently, she has been sewing hearts on all of her clothes, cutting out fabric hearts and passing them out to everyone she meets.  She wished that she had enough to give everyone there. 

Frank asked if the video maker and her would undress each other and dress up in the costumes.  She said she is personally not comfortable being in front of cameras.

Then Frank asked Lisa and Erika to talk for 5 minutes about working in nursing homes.  Lisa: talked about it being a life changing experience for her.  Frank asked her why she was crying when she read the poem.  She said that it was because what is in the poem are some of the things she sees everyday...

it made her think about the people she works within the nursing homes, and how she feels that many of them are “abandoned” by friends and family, and how it won't be long before that is her, or any of us … She talked about how the health care system is broken, and there needs to be a complete change to make it work for everyone, to take care of everyone.  She said people are living longer, so things need to evolve and change.  “Do you want to live to be 100, if this is the way it will be?” she asked. 

Frank asked her, “Do you have fun?”

She said that she has moments of meaningful connection, but she can't say that she is having fun yet, she is not having fun yet, but she would like to find a way to have fun.  Frank told her to ask Erika how to have fun.  Erika started talking about her experience, but Frank literally wanted Lisa to ask her!  Lisa asked Erika, “Erika, how can I have fun?!”

Erika talked about how dressing up, wearing colorful clothes, funny hats, etc. in her experience really works to open things up … Frank said that he told Erika to wear revealing clothes, sexy clothes … that was how to have fun, open things up.  And Linda told her all about Francine, our friend who is a long-time physical therapist, who has always worn sexy clothes, but practical.

Frank turned to Charlie's girlfriend, asking, “How is it so far?”  She said it was good, that she felt comfortable.  Frank said, “I will try harder!”  He asked her why she felt comfortable.  She said that it might be the music …   Frank said “the cool cat” playing the music was Tomek, and then he talked with Tomek for a bit about the gigs that he would be doing the next weekend, asking Tomek if he would play with him for them. 

Now he turned to the preschool teacher, and asked her the same question.  One thing that was very noticeable was how dramatically the facial expressions of Charlie, his girlfriend, and their friend the preschool teacher had changed through the course of the performance.  Basically, after they had all said, “no” to the things Frank asked them to do, their whole body language had turned from excitement and enjoyment to a deadened flatness.  It was extreme. 

The preschool teacher talked about the performance giving her “thoughts”.  Frank asked, “What thoughts?”  She said something like, “the potential for something like this to reframe peoples' ideas of sexuality.”  She said that she hadn't seen the videos that her friend had, so she was still a “little confused”, but she thought she was slowly piecing it together.

Frank said, “What is the door?  It is what you jump through, or did not jump through.”

“Do you like this?” he asked. 

She said, “I do.”

Frank said, “I can tell you it was just beginning.  So next time, jump.  Like your kids.  Would they play with the costumes?”

She said, “I'm sure they would love to … they are more open than I am in a lot of ways ...”

“Why?” Frank asked.

“Why they are so open, or why I am not as open …?” she asked.

“Both.” Frank said.

“I guess because they haven't fully internalized what is appropriate behavior yet,” she said.

Frank said, “Yes.  They just play.  Is not your job really to keep them from limits?” 

She said, “In some ways ...” 

Then Frank asked her if she would read his poem, “No Cannots”?  She did read it, and then sat back down.

Frank turned to Charlie, “How was it?”  Charlie replied flatly that it was “wonderful”.  He continued saying that he had enjoyed being part of it, learning about himself, hearing people come and talk openly, and enjoyed seeing the way Frank listens and expresses himself and hearing his poems.

Frank asked the guy from NY the same question, and he replied that he liked it a lot.  He said that it “shows a lot about us, that we want to express ourselves but feel confined by society”...   He said that we are all “victims” and “afraid more of what others think of us”.  He said that it has gotten a lot worse lately.  He said that you come to something like this and feel like you want to participate, but “we all fear losing our jobs or bad talk from people.”  He said the performance makes you think a lot, and “hopefully coming to something like this was a start for me ...” He said he was glad he came. 

Frank said, “To my knowledge, no one has ever lost their job by coming here and participating.”  In fact, he said, people have gotten jobs from being part of the performances.

This led into Frank and Linda talking about Erika and Corey at their jobs.  How Erika is the activities director for a skilled nursing home, and everyone knows what she does, knows about Frank, etc.!  And rather than it being something that endangers her job, it actually enhances people's feeling for Erika.  The common perception would be that for someone in her position, working closely with older people, that she should be “careful”, but it really is the opposite that is true!  And at the grocery store where Corey works, he tells everyone about the performances, hands out fliers, etc.  They all know what he does, fellow employees and customers too, and they like it!

So Frank turned to Lisa, one of those customers, and asked, giggling, “So will you undress Corey?”  There was lots of laughter, including from Lisa!  She said, “I need to know why … I need to know why it’s so important for people to get undressed.  What's the point …?  Someone chimed in, “Because it makes us uncomfortable?”

Frank said to Lisa that she can find out what the point is by doing it.  She asked if she undressed Corey, who was going to shoot the video.  Linda said, “His sidekick!”  Alexi.   So finally she said, “What the hell!  But he doesn't get to undress me, I undress Corey, right?”

Frank replied, “Never give me ideas!”

Then she started talking about needing Corey's permission … Frank just screamed, saying that wasn't Corey standing there, waiting for her to undress him, enough?

While Lisa awkwardly undressed Corey, leaving him with only his shoes and socks on, and holding the stack of clothes that she had neatly folded for him before bowing to the audience, Frank pointed out his paintings, both the large vinyl prints and on Corey's t-shirt. 

When Lisa sat back down, Frank asked her how it felt.  She said that it felt uncomfortable.  There was a short back and forth about whether it felt good however to have done it, and at one point in response to something Lisa said, Frank said “like physical therapy”.  “This is going to feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s good for you.”  Lisa started asking if that was the point, to feel uncomfortable, if that was good for her …   Frank asked her if it was getting less uncomfortable now.  She said she wasn't sure, that it was going to have to process it for a little bit, that it might take some time, possibly days …

Frank had Linda read the warning sign, which talks about exactly that phenomenon of “threatening your everyday reality” and “questioning the common morality” taking days to appear after the performance “ends”. 

Now Frank talked with the tattoo artist about his experience of the night.  He said he found it “very enjoyable.”  It was very different from other things that he has attended.  He enjoyed watching everyone's expressions.  For instance, he said Lisa seemed very uncomfortable even though she was fully clothed whereas Corey looked comfortable and he was the naked one!

Frank pointed out, “But Corey has been doing this for 18 years.”  Linda added that this might be why he was comfortable!

He went on to say that he was very comfortable with his body … but he would be very uncomfortable helping an elderly person with their diaper or doing physical training like Lisa does … Frank asked him why, and he said that he thinks it is because he can see what he might become, and that would make him uncomfortable.

Frank said, “Hey, I was heckled by a 90 year old!”  At the Chaparral House poetry reading, Raisa heckled Frank and called him “stupid”!  Frank said she made the punk hecklers look “lightweight”!   Linda said that Frank has had his hecklers over the years, and Raisa was way up there.  Frank said, “She is alive.” 

And that was The End.  But Frank did try to see some copies of “Art of a Shaman”, putting it in the hands of Lisa, and Charlie!  Some people stayed a bit after this.  Lisa stayed for a while talking with Erika and Ken.  Erika said later that she was talking a lot about her fear of being “old and alone”, and Erika told her about Betty! 

We talked for the rest of the night, and for days afterward about the performance, looking at how the people who came so completely limited their experience and the possibilities, and the flawed logic they used to rationalize this, and how Frank kept going even when it seemed so dismal because of all of the “no’s”.  It was perhaps the first time in this series where Frank and Linda spelled out so directly what the audience was doing by not “jumping”, and also really driving home what the videoing of the performances is about, and blowing apart the “fear” pictures and stories that people used to avoid jumping in and participating, using our own lives as examples.

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