'We Build Houses Here' — Detour's experiential extravaganza plays Oasis in May

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday April 25, 2023
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Cheetah Biscotti, Mudd and Saharia Vetsch in Detour Dance's 'We Build Houses Here' (photo: Robbie Sweeny)
Cheetah Biscotti, Mudd and Saharia Vetsch in Detour Dance's 'We Build Houses Here' (photo: Robbie Sweeny)

[To the tune of "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island"]

Just jump right in and enjoy the tale

The tale of a freaky ship

That capsizes on Folsom Street

And then begins to trip.

A shipwrecked gang of capsized queens

Washes up on Oasis' shore

Then you arrive and join this crew

On a site-specific tour, a site-specific tour.

Its burlesque and drag and modern dance

Immersive theater-ish

A courageous act of artistic risk

Sure to scratch your avant-itch, sure to scratch your


Detour Dance co-artistic directors Eric Garcia and Kat Gorospe Cole  

Hybrid creativity
"I started doing drag about eight years ago," said Eric Garcia, the director of "We Build Houses Here," the ambitiously multivalent castaway extravaganza that premieres at Oasis on Thursday, May 4.

In an interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Garcia explained that after years working with dance companies including Fresh Meat Productions, where he serves as managing director, and Detour, the QPOC-focused company he co-founded with Kat Gorospe Cole, he realized that the energy and engagement between drag performers and audience members gave him a thrill he wasn't getting from the shows he'd been involved with.

"In dance, I'd become really accustomed to creating proscenium-style shows," Garcia recalled. "My drag was much more interactive, but I'd been compartmentalizing it. It was something I did at clubs, very separate from my primary work."

With "We Build Houses Here," Garcia said, "I'm really excited about bringing drag aesthetics and collaborators from that world together with contemporary dance."

As if that particular combo plate wasn't challenging enough, the production also integrates Detour's commitment to devised theater (in which the work is collaboratively developed by writers, performers, directors, cast members and other creators over lengthy rehearsal periods) and Garcia's growing fascination with audience-immersive works such as New York's "Sleep No More" and San Francisco's sensational (now closed) "The Speakeasy."

Since last August, Garcia along with contributing directors Cornelius (aka VivvyAnne ForeverMORE), writer Brian Thorstenson (Z Space), and a formidable cast of 12 including drag impresario Lisa Frankenstein ("Princess") and Erin Mei-Ling Stuart (who recently co-directed Shotgun Players' "The Great Comet of 1812") have been building their complex, walk-through production, in which overlapping scenes take place in every room of Oasis.

Saharia Vetsch, Mudd and Cheetah Biscotti in Detour Dance's 'We Build Houses Here' (photo: Robbie Sweeny)  

The right stage
While glittery, glammy and wildly entertaining, "We Build Houses Here" has a resonant theme at its center.

"We're looking at the idea of sanctuary," explained Garcia, "how in the face of disaster, queer and BIPOC people have worked with our communities to build safe spaces. All of the performances and scenarios that audience members will experience are connected to the idea of surviving and getting through a disaster together. That's why I'm so excited to be doing this work at Oasis, which is itself that kind of safe space for gathering with my people. It ties to the themes of the work in a way that feels really beautiful."

Amidst all its glitter, gags and grand guignol, Garcia hopes that "We Build Houses Here" underscores the kind of hope and solidarity that can emerge in the aftermath of a metaphorical shipwreck, be it a pandemic, a mass shooting or a political attack on community values.

At each presentation, 75 audience members will be broken into smaller groups and guided by cast members through a selection of a dozen-plus distinct participatory and performance experiences.

Some scenes will be played to one person at a time; all of the scenes will never be seen by a single person over the course of a single night's show.

"I hope everyone leaves feeling a little bit of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), wondering what someone else got to see that they didn't," said Garcia, who uses spreadsheets to keep track of attendees' potential routes through the action. "The timing and cues and movement of subsets of the audience is incredibly nuanced. Elements of the show involve improvisation, but at a higher level, every little detail of the performance has been thought through."

'We Build Houses Here,' May 4-20. $30-$65. Oasis, 298 11th St. (415) 795-3180. www.detourdance.com

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