Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 38 / 21 September 2017
 

Viva Variety

Nightlife

Performerama's eclectic mix


Marga Gomez performs an excerpt from her show-in-progress, Pound, at the first Performerama. photo: Gareth Gooch
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Marga Gomez has a new show to work on, so, she thought aloud, and to me, why not workshop once a month at SoMa's fabulous new nightclub Oasis, on a slow night?

And why not invite other friends to perform new or polished works, be they storytellers, comics, magicians, drag performers or singers?

That's pretty much the basis of Performerama, Gomez' new monthly variety show. At its first incarnation, Baruch Porraz-Hernandez told a whimsical yet touching story of his own childhood Rainbow Brite birthday party, while Dhaya Lakshminarayanan performed an excerpt from a solo show-in-progress about dating tech nerds.

Gomez shared a raw yet still hilarious excerpt of her new show-in-progress, Pound , a parody of lesbian cinema roles.

For the next Performerama on Monday, March 9, Gomez will share another excerpt of Pound , and welcome the diverse talents of magician Christian Cagigal, journalist Barry Walters, drag performer Persia, and comics Roman Rimer and Laurie Bushman. I talked with Gomez and three of the upcoming performers about the new event.

Marga, charming

"Pound is inspired by the film Bound, which I think is the most satisfying depiction of lesbians in cinema," said Gomez with a combination of sincerity and sarcasm. "And that is really in thanks to the actresses, but also Suzie Bright's intervention; she was a lesbian sex coach in the movie."

Yes, 1990s cinema needed lesbian advisors. Up to then, queer women had been portrayed as one stereotype or another. Some recall the 1992 Oscar protests over Basic Instinct .

Gomez said that her show-in-progress "moves from Bound to many lesbian characters I saw in movies, and how in spite of these characterizations, I became a lesbian," said Gomez. "The story is that we still became lesbians in spite of the depressing depictions in movies like The Children's Hour. There is so little for lesbians in mainstream or even independent movies. Because there's such a scarcity of out lesbians in the business, we end up with 'bi-curious' lesbians, like the Twin Peaks scene. It's two women who, out of the blue, make out, then weep, because apparently that's how lesbians in Hollywood come."

Gomez hopes to skewer these odd depictions with her comic flair, while sharing inside jokes with queers fans and a bit of Lesbian 101 for unschooled audience members.

Marga Gomez performs an excerpt from her show-in-progress, Pound at the first Performerama. photo: Gareth Gooch

"I went to Catholic school, so I had problems from the beginning. Mädchen in Uniform was all we had then; naughty schoolgirls in a German boarding school. That was our go-to lesbian sex flick."

Gomez may also take some potshots at contemporary 'inclusive' lesbian movie characters, as in The Kids are Alright, which starred Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple.

"The only sex that happens is with Mark Ruffalo. We've gone from sex-crazed stereotypes to, 'Oh, well; at least they have children.'"

As with many of her comic shows, Gomez' outward targets are also autobiographical.

"I'm frustrated in my own life because I'm not getting laid anymore," she said. "It's been years! Basically, I take whatever I can get."

Hopefully, Gomez will get lucky in New York this summer, where she's been commissioned to premiere the finished version of Pound at Dixon Place.

"What I pitched to them is markedly more sex-fueled than the kind of solo performance I've been doing at The Marsh; it's different," said Gomez. "I had to find someplace else to do it. When Oasis opened, I thought, 'What if I create a monthly showcase to bring out stuff, where performers are able to fail?' Although I felt confident that other performers can deliver, I want the audience to be part of the adventure of creating a piece."

Gomez said she hopes to bring "a mix of emerging solo performers, and tried and true professionals who just need a cool place to perform," she said. "We're not taking this too seriously. This process of creating performance is fun, because that's what it's supposed to be. I want it to be a variety show in the sense of different talents being shared."

Comics may do a bit more storytelling, while singers may branch out with a new style.

"I just want innovation in this," said Gomez, "with you, the audience, as part of the experiment."

In keeping with her desire to reach new frontiers, Gomez mentioned that she is now an ordained minister. And while weddings may not be part of any new shows, she has one new thrill.

"They give you a parking placard!"

Journalist Barry Walters.

When Barry met Whitney

Interviews can be strange or wonderful, as longtime journalist Barry Walters will prove in his part of Performerama.

As a feature writer for The San Francisco Examiner, Rolling Stone, Spin and many other publications, Walters has interviewed hundreds of celebrities, most often with a music focus. But nothing compared to his strange interview for Out magazine with the late Whitney Houston.

"This was in 2000, and Whitney had done very few interviews," said Walters. "I think because she was not really the person that she had projected at the start of her career. So I had no idea what the person would be like who I'd actually be speaking to."

Walters' entire experience was different than most other interviews.

"They told me to fly to Los Angeles, sit in my hotel room, and wait for a call from a limo driver who would pick me up and take me to an undisclosed time at an undisclosed place," he said.

He compared this mysterious introduction to other, famous subjects.

"I've interviewed Madonna, and she drove herself to the cafe and just walked in. So this was a very different station."

In his Out feature, Walters described some of what took place, "but given the fact that she has died, there's a poignancy to it that wasn't there when she was still living. She'd never spoken to the gay press; it was her first time."

At the time, numerous rumors of Houston being a closeted lesbian made the rounds in print media.

"She had addressed them to the tabloids, but it's a different thing to explain it to a gay person," said Walters. "I dealt with that very straight-forwardly."

In his upcoming talk, Walters will contextualize the moment and its significance in a succinct ten-minute piece.

"Whitney did not have a very easy time with the press, and told it in a way that was endearing and gave me insight into how someone with a lot of talent finds herself in the middle of a media machine. They have little control over how they end up portraying themselves. As someone who's been writing for the gay press for decades, and who is gay, dealing with performers who are in the closet, or are at different levels of outness; it's always a touchy subject. But it's gotten easier."

Walters said he's looking forward to sharing his tale onstage.

"It's great to have one place where we can do different stuff. It's not just about anything, it's all of those."

Drag performer Persia.

Persia's Mission

While not consciously working to become a sort of zeitgeist icon for the disruption and cultural upheaval in San Francisco, particularly in queer and displaced communities, Persia recently captured the collective angst in the satirical music video "Google Google, Apps Apps."

The once-regular drag performer at the now-closed Mission bar Esta Noche had hit a breaking point that led to creativity.

"When we did that video, we were not thinking about the politics of that moment," said Persia of the song that pokes fun at the tech industry, economic disparity in San Francisco, and the ever-rising rate of evictions.

"We were just going through a really hard time," said Persia. "My friend was couch-surfing because he got evicted. Another friend got his work hours cut. Our landlord was trying to kick us out, and at Esta Noche, things were going crazy. It's about our experience, a whirlwind at that time. It was a struggle; it was our lives. It just happened to be political. Now we see it, but at the moment, I was just 'I'm fuckin' pissed off! And this is what we're gonna do!'

Along the way, the performer has grown into the performance scene, stepping beyond lip-synching drag.

"In the past few years, Marga pushed me out of my shell," said Persia. "At the Esta Noche comedy night, Marga kind of forced me to do stand-up, or to find a way of doing storytelling. Every time I went out, I just did it. The fact that she thinks I can do something if I want to is a big compliment," said the Mission resident, who moved here with his boyfriend ten years ago.

By day Socrates Parra (Persia's self-described "male name") is an after-school arts program teaching assistant at a grade school. Even there, he said, "the kids have all these nicknames for me; Soccer Toes, Soccer Tease."

"It's been really interesting to work with children, being as super gay as I am," said Parra. "Working in a school in San Francisco, looking the way that I look, I wouldn't be able to get away with that anywhere else. And that's pretty awesome. In my act, I'm gonna talk about being super-gay in a school setting, where they don't really care, as long as I'm a positive role model."

Fans can enjoy Persia's hosting talents at the weekly Wednesday Bottoms Up Bingo night at Hi Tops (2247 Market Street).

"Sometimes I do Bingo at our school, too," said Parra. "At school, I once channeled [nightlife hostess] Laurie Bushman, when she says, "Where she stops, nobody knows!"

The impersonation left us both chuckling, until Parra summarized, with a few more giggles, "During the day I work with little kids, and at night I work with big kids. My worlds are colliding."

Christian Cagigal, magician and storyteller.

Magic Christian

In his enchanting stage shows, Christian Cagical blends storytelling and sleight of hand with the artfulness of a professional in both theatre and magic. His is an act where there may not be room for improvisation. But his performances retain a personable quality.

"I had a magic book in first grade, and came back to it in fourth grade," said Cagical of his early inspiration. "Around age 12, something clicked with me. For whatever reason, I seemed to have a knack, so I bought more beginner magic books."

At his youthful performances, "All the grown-ups would gasp or cheer," said Cagigal. "I don't know if they were being nice or if I was any good! Most magicians think they're competent at a young age. Whether or not they are competent is a different story."

Growing up in Daly City and Colma, Cagigal mused that the nearby cities' foggy micro-climates may have aided his introspection and interest in magic. "An old joke is that we're holding all the fog for the Bay Area," said Cagigal of his home town.

While he performs with charm, his technique also requires hours spent alone learning card tricks. His full shows include narratives that show his sleight of hand on a projected screen (Obscura , his Aurora Theatre work), the haunting nature of childhood toys (The Pandora Experiment) and about his own relationship with his father (Now and at the Hour).

For that project, Cagigal worked with fellow Colma survivor and film director H.P. Mendoza, whose droll musical films Colma the Musical and Fruit Fly have charmed audiences (Cagigal's also in Fruit Fly).

"I was ready to retire that very personal show," said Cagigal, who stopped performing Now and at the Hour, about his dad's post-Vietnam troubles, after it was filmed. "I don't want to be going into my forties with daddy issues."

Asked about the coordination of personal story and sleight of hand, Gagigal said, "I still don't have a formula for it. I love magic and storytelling, and I do the best I can to blend them together. Some start with the magic trick first, because that's what they know, and then they try and find reasons to justify the effect; maybe change the props to be more relevant to a modern audience. The story can grow out of the props. But it can be limiting. The opposite is to write the story first and then as you develop it, go find an effect or create one that can help illustrate that."

Gagigal compared it to songwriting or composing a musical; some compose and do –or don't– write the book/story. He finds magic tricks that fit a story, like a singer looking for songs to interpret.

Asked about the fraternity of magicians, the self-taught Cagigal dismissed the element of mystery and secret handshakes, explaining that it's much more low-key.

"Magic isn't that secretive, if you're another magician," he said. "Everybody's happy to hang out and talk shop. There really isn't a mysterious tradition of one magician getting old, and handing down his legacy; there's nothing like that. If I meet a kid who likes my work, we talk and share some stuff. There are magic clubs that will have younger people and we share stuff. But there comes a point where you take off on your own."

So, is it possible to improvise a card trick? Wasn't card slight of hand derived from cheating at cards?

Cagigal chuckled while admitting that, yes, card sleight of hand has roots in gambling and con artistry, but a modern show isn't the same.

"My stuff is very thought-out; even when conversational, those moments are worked out," he said. "There's an A, B and C point in the effect I have to hit, otherwise it's not clear what happened. It's hard for me to take risks onstage, but I do leave room. With really great skills, when you're watching someone who's trained for hours, it looks like they're improvising."

So whether you're a fan of comedy, magic, drag or storytelling, Performerama's the newest and most eclectic variety show in town.

 

Performerama's second show includes a new excerpt from Marga Gomez' 'Pound,' plus Persia, magician Christian Cagigal, journalist Barry Walters, and comics Roman Rimer and presenter/comic Laurie Bushman. Partial proceeds benefit medical expenses for the late Cookie Dough (aka Eddie Bell)'s partner Michael Chu. $8-$10. Monday March 9. 8pm. Oasis, 298 11th St. at Folsom. 795-3180. www.sfoasis.com






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