Hey, I seem to recall mentioning something in Friday's blog about last night's super cheap 22nd anniversary “performance party” at Jump-Start. The place was packed, and with the exception of performers I knew (or knew of), I didn't see any familiar faces in the audience.
It was pretty impressive. Over 25 performances of music, comedy, theater, dance, film, and the uncategorizable. It must have gone on for about 4 hours. And there was a free buffet.
I attended with my friend Alston. She had told my to keep her informed if I were going to any plays. Well, tonight didn't exactly fit the bill. But she was one of the first to run on stage when Urban-15, for their last number, began pulling audience members on stage to dance with them. I don't normally succumb to these sorts of frivolities, but when Catherine Cisneros (the co-founder (along with her husband George) of this dance and drum troupe) made her way into the audience and took my hand, how could I argue. Catherine and George are two of my favorite people. Soon, it was over half the audience on stage in a dense dance party. Take in to account that Jump-Start, a smallish black box space, holds maybe 175 to 200 people, and thats a whole lotta stompin goin on. If you haven't seen Urban 15 really get down — and I mean in a closed space, and not all those parades they perform in — you're really missing out: imagine Test Department (before they got all techno) hammering an industrial percussive pulse while women in flowery dresses dance like some Busby Berkeley number of idealized Polynesian women working themselves up into choreographed abandon … and you're thinking that before the night's over some girl's going to get tossed into a volcano. Yeah, I guess it's something like that.
Comedia A Go-Go did a wonderfully surreal piece that ended with two members of the comedy troupe shot dead. Afterwards I asked Alston if she realized that in the tumult, a guitar got crushed. “The neck was snapped. That's why JoEl was apologizing.” “Was he the guy with the camel-toe?” she asked. Indeed. He was the guy with a pair of tight short pants pulled so high, so snug to his crouch, that the cuffs of his tartan boxers were peeking out at mid-thigh.
I don't know who or what Babycakes is, but their performance was sublime. When the lights came up, head honcho Daniel Jackson was standing on a couple of barstools, but the stools were hidden under a huge sequined dress he had on, making him into a gigantic glam queen. His left arm cradled a long bouquet of flowers. And with his right hand, he was flashing around one of those ribbons on a stick like gymnastic dancers use. I don't even know what music was playing over the sound system. I was simply mesmerized by the three “dancers:” two women and a man moving around haltingly like kindergartners who have gotten into mom's mescaline stash, their perplexed grins added to this effect. But why did they have their mid-sections stuffed with padding like oompa loompas? When this low-key insanity was about to collapse into the bathos of its own weird sluggishness, the music pumped up, and the tubby dancers began clawing at the enormous glam queen, causing “her” to obligingly remove fistfuls of candies from an over-stuffed bra. Soon candy was flying all over the place. It was very nearly brilliant. I know I was laughing until it hurt.
We got a sample of the Church Theater's upcoming production of the Vagina Monologues. Dos Generaciones gave us two or three pristine conjunto numbers. The East Side Boys & Girls Club treated us to an historical account of the Brazilian martial arts, Capoeira. There was fire eating, belly dancing, and S. T. Shimi did an arial dance piece where she climbed up, wrapped herself around, and rolled back down two hanging pieces of drapery — beautiful.
And, of course, the Methane Sisters. Until tonight, I knew them only through Sam Lerma's incredible music video. He was supposed to make a piece for the stage show Monessa Esquivel and Annele Spector have been working on, to show the Methane Sisters at the height of their fame in the '80s. This allowed Sam to use all the cheesy video transitions that he'd never use otherwise. But after seeing Monessa and Annele tonight (they MC'ed the third act), I'm a convert. Monessa was slugging back a nearly empty bottle of Jose Cuervo and Annele was more sedate (back from rehab, it seemed), but they were in character of washed up pop stars of that past where the sun shone brightest on brittle Euro-disco and designer drugs. Monessa, searching the audience from behind her sunglasses: “This is the worst fucking awards show I've ever hosted.” Annele: “The gift bags they're offering just suck.” Monessa: “Back stage they have these little Prada bags with puppies and shit in them.” Annele: “Prada and puppies, that's so so last year.”
I'll be there for the Methane Sisters in As Filthy As It Gets, Jump-Start Performance Space, January 19th to 28th. I'm anticipating something along the lines of Hedwig. We'll see.
I don't give Jump-Start enough credit, really. It's occurred to me recently how much talent there is in this town, but how little good theater there is. Jump-Start is the only serious performance space left. Until the Guadalupe regains its footing (if it ever does), this city must deal with the occasional flashes of innovation in a sea of vomitous musicals and proven money-makers like that Nunsense franchise. Theater is exciting, vibrant, and alive. Even when I sit through Larry Shue's The Foreigner for the umpteenth time, I can enjoy actors' performances — especially if they are people I know and have worked with before. Don't get me wrong, I love farce. But I want variety. I want to be challenged, fucked with. Christ, Beckett would play in San Antonio as avant grade, and the poor bastard's been dead since 1989. I remember when Samuel Beckett died. I was living in a 6,000 square foot loft in the Deep Ellum area of Dallas. At the time theater was exciting in Dallas. Even the boring theater companies would take chances once or twice a year. But luckily I was within walking distance of the two most exciting theaters in Dallas. The Undermain Theatre and the Deep Ellum Theatre Garage. You never knew what was going to happen. That was back when the most watchable local actor was Matthew Posey, and the greatest local playwright was Octavio Solis, and Raphael Perry was making waves as actor, director, and impresario. San Antonio? We are currently at a cultural nadir. We just ride it through. But when the artistic winds really begin to pick up, they well come from Jump-Start, seemingly the only place where performance as art dwells in this city.
My sister is the only person I can trust to buy me a book or a CD. She's said that I'm the easiest person to shop for, because I have so many interests. I'd go a bit further. I have some many interests that she understands well enough to make a judgment call.
One of the things I received from her for Christmas is a trade paperback (hey, Paula, did this ever come out in hardback?) from Texas A & M University Press. It's by Rob Johnson, entitled: The Lost Years of William S. Burroughs, Beats in South Texas.
No surprise she'd get me this. Burroughs is on of my favorite writers. Anyway, it's a recent book, so she can be pretty sure my poverty has kept me from buying it. But, hell, I didn't even know it existed.
Sure, I knew Burroughs spent time in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. He was, in a very half-assed manner, trying to be a gentleman farmer. This was in 1949, before he'd become a writer. He was a 35 year old drugged-out trust-fund baby trying to find his way in the world. What makes this book work is two things. First, Johnson lives in the valley, so he has the resources to try and track down primary sources who remember Willy El Puto of Pharr, Texas. Also, this is the life of Bill Burroughs before he became an icon. He was just this asshole that drank too much, got stoned, and tried to pick up cab drivers in Reynosa. (“So, why aren't there any boys in Boys Town?”) Honesty, free of glamour.
But beyond its humanizing of Burroughs, this is also a great book to open up the history of the Rio Grande Valley.
Check it out. It's in paperback. And if that's still too pricey (and I hear you), try the library. If they don't have it, raise hell. Willy El Puto would have.