The Performant

The Performant: Love bites

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Celebrating romance with power ballads, Spandex leggings, fancy panties

Although there are about 364 days of the year when I can do without it—one day of the year seems custom-made to celebrate the ignoble rise of hair metal and its greatest contribution to the musical landscape -- the power ballad. From “Love Bites” to “Is This Love,” “(I Can’t Live Without) Your Love and Affection,” to “The Power of Love” -- all the saccharine sentiment of brooding, pouty millionaires in ripped jeans, tight leather, and all those glorious manes -- power ballads can and probably should form the soundtrack to Saint Valentine’s Day now and forever. They so perfectly tap into both the cynicism of the single person facing “the dread VD” alone, as well as offering a soaring guitar-solo boost to the cuddly nostalgia of the happily coupled.

While innamorati for hundreds of years have used February 14 as a date to shower their beloved in flowers and cards, Jeff Ross and the SF IndieFest team have used it as another excuse to party, with an annual Power Ballad Sing-along at the Roxie Theatre. Just three years after its San Francisco debut (a similar party tears it up each year in Brooklyn), PBS pours its sugar and motors through the packed house, screening subtitled MTV videos turned up to 11 of all the best bands you’d love to forget to a theatre full of eager inebriates, cutting loose in a veritable bacchanalia of communal song.

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The Performant: Playing in the Sandbox

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SF Playhouse’s Sandbox Series puts play back into playwriting

It’s getting harder each year to determine when exactly the “off-season” is in terms of things to do in the City, considering that this past, random weekend in February alone saw collisions of three major festivals -- SF Sketchfest, SF Indie Fest, and SF Beer Week -- on top of all the usual openings and closings and goings on. In fact, it’s been so hectic (albeit muy divertido) that the Performant is going to break protocol and look ahead to an event lingering just on the horizon, to ensure it doesn’t get lost in the onslaught of events to come.

Founded in 2010, SF Playhouse’s Sandbox Series is a play series (beginning Feb. 27) that inhabits a region somewhere between staged reading and full production -- offering new plays a full run and technical support, without breaking the bank on design and promotion.

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The shape of stage to come, part two

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Training with foolsFURY for the stage and for life

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a round-up of some of the theatre companies in the Bay Area who offer classes and actor trainings for professionals and non-professionals alike, but since there are far more companies than I had word count with which to cover them, I could only feature a representative few, and therefore focused mainly on smaller, more underground companies specializing in one or two specific disciplines or techniques.

One company I regretted not having space for was foolsFURY, whose devotion to training their own actors has given rise to an extensive schedule of workshops open to the public since 2006. I finally caught up with associate artistic director Debórah Eliezer to get the details.

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The Performant: Sexcapades, no ice

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"SPANK!" and "Sex and the City: Live!" heat things up a little

The Regency Ballroom is awash in estrogen and vodka martinis, overrun by neatly-coifed former sorority sisters sheathed in tasteful rayon suits and drop earrings. The few men in attendance fall into two distinct camps—balding bruisers wrestled into button-down shirts, and fidgety-looking younger men who know they have just been dragged into the theatrical equivalent of a chick flick. One only hopes that a reciprocal arrangement involving the Super Bowl or some racy bedroom activity was reached earlier on, the latter being the most appropriate to the occasion -- an evening of E.L. James-inspired comedy, “SPANK! The Fifty Shades parody.”

Apparently not to be confused with “50 Shades! The Musical,” nor “Fifty Shades of Grey: a XXX Adaptation,” “Spank!” bills itself as a musical review, and features just three performers as writer E.B. Janet (Amanda Barker), “smoldering” anti-hero Hugh Hanson (Drew Moerlein) and the painfully two-dimensional ingénue Tasha Woode (Michelle Vezilj).

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The Performant: Manic pixies

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'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' and 'The Witch House' roil with fantastickal energies

It was only a matter of time before the familiar genre of the comic book movie migrated to the stage. But don’t expect any muscle-bound jocks in colorful spandex roaming the aisles of A.C.T.’s intimate mid-Market venue, The Costume Shop. Not only is the titular “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” of their current production not a superhero with mutant powers bestowed upon her by a quirk of DNA or gamma rays, but in a twist, the comic book involved actually originates from the play -- not the other way around.

The play centers mainly around a youthfully shiftless, struggling painter Tallman (Joshua Roberts), whose dire straits and afternoon drinking habits lead to a chance encounter with one of cinematic fiction’s most enduring tropes, the Nathan Rabin-dubbed MPDG Lilly (Lyndsy Kail), a woman who “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventure.”

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The Performant: Books and beats

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Starting the New Year off right with Clown Foolery and Los Rakas

It’s a Friday night and the Booksmith is full of clowns. Seriously, it’s like a clown convention in here. Fully half the oddience are off-duty clowns, and the rest of us just kind of look like we should be. We’ve gathered together for the monthly clown jam/variety show Literary Clown Foolery, the first of the year, appropriately themed New Year’s Resolutions.

True, the free beer and cheese puffs at the door seem to run slightly counter to the kinds of resolutions that get a lot of attention around this time of year. But they are the perfect accompaniment to loosening up any natural inhibitions one might otherwise feel when seated within spitting distance of a whole passel of unpredictable clowns, so no one’s complaining.

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The Performant: Music men

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Mark Growden's solo show and variations on a theme with Hand to Mouth 

There’s something so charmingly unassuming about the Red Poppy Art House -- a by-now venerable institution on the Mission District’s quirk-centric music scene -- it makes you want to invite it home for a Hangtown Fry and mimosas. From the mismatched chairs to the frayed curtains, the whitewashed walls to the cramped toilet, the Red Poppy’s overall ambiance is that of a sort of ramshackle country parlor, right down to the upright piano.

Though you’d never mistake him for a church lady, Bay Area bard Mark Growden does exude a touch of the rustic — a down-home demeanor rooted in his rural Northern California upbringing. From the moment he opened his set on Friday night at the Red Poppy with a haunting, desert lament played ingeniously on his signature set of bicycle handlebars, it was as if he were unfolding a map of the hidden pockets of America and inviting us on an introspective journey through them.

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The Performant: One for the road

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Baxtalo Drom's happy trails -- and the Performant's faves of 2012

With 2012 finally behind us, apocalypse thwarted, we have to get back to the business of preparing for a future we were told not to expect. Stretched out before us, a ribbon of Alfred Noyes moonlight looping the landscape of possibility, the road of the future beckons us onward, final destination unknown. What lies ahead, nobody knows for sure. But at least we know that for the moment there *is* an ahead.

During both the best and worst of times, the heady mystique of the open road is always in fashion, imbued with an undeniable glamour that monthly “gypsy punk cabaret” Baxtalo Drom is all too happy to exploit. Baxtalo Drom translates to “Lucky Road” -- happy trails, if you like -- and it plays out very much like a quick-and-dirty variety show performed by a high-spirited caravan-load of traveling players. A showcase for pretty girls, hobo bands, and eclectic DJ’s, Baxtalo Drom’s shabby chic and Balkan streak make it a perfect fit for Amnesia’s convivial ramshackle allure, its dark corners and hardwood floors.

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The Performant: How Grinches save Christmas

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Jeff Garrett and Will Franken overcome holiday saccharine.

Is that a collective sigh of relief in the air as another frenzied holiday season winds down to its usual end and whatever apocalypse was scheduled to go down seems to have spared at least our physical reality?

As we drift back into the routines of our regularly scheduled lives, the brief illumination of whatever lessons we were meant to be learning on the eve of our potential destruction and the supposed birthday of our salvation, flickers out without so much as a whimper. It’s a bit of a stretch anyhow, to weight a single stretch of calendar with so much cosmic significance, yet we do it year after year, grasping superstitiously at the shimmering notion of redemption, the hidden catalyst underlying our frantic excess.

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The Performant: Unsilent is the night

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Ring the bells

Observant or not, there’s no escaping the Festivus Chrismakwanzakah season, and while you might be grinching it alone with the holiday spirit best known as Kentucky Bourbon, you can’t entirely avoid the pervasive influence that is holiday music. Music, after all, is one of our best tools for communicating intangibles such as emotion, faith, and belief in supernatural beings, and there’s hardly anyone sentient who could fail to be momentarily moved by a rendition of the haunting “Coventry Carol” or Handel’s “Messiah”. Read more »