Artsy Goings-On in My ‘Hood

Finally my paycheck from the auction house in Dallas cleared through my bank. I paid my CPS bill and returned the money I borrowed from my mother (a loan which I needed to pay other bills earlier in the month). I also decided to buy something for myself. I needed some comfortable shows for walking and hiking. My Doc Martins are falling apart. Converse All Stars might look cool, but they’re useless for a two or three mile hike. And my pair of generic sports shoes, which I paid good money for three years ago, have been dropping the tread like a lizard shedding his skin. So, last week I made a morning visit to the Academy sporting good store on the south side and bought a pricey pair of Merrell light hiking shoes. They look like jogging shoes, but a bit chunkier. I wore them on a bike ride today. They are light enough for biking. And I even got off and walked the mile stretch of Villamain from the Ghosts Tracks to Mission San Juan. Very comfortable. I can easily see myself hiking ten miles or more with no problem. Now I just need to walk those ten miles, and often. I’m become horribly out of shape.

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A while back I received an email from the San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs for an event they were sponsoring. And so, last Wednesday I attended a speech by Randy Cohen, Vice President of “local arts advancement” at Americans for the Arts (a Washington-based government arts organization). He discussed the Americans for the Arts National Arts Index, which is sort of like a censes report for this nation’s arts organizations. It was at the downtown library. Ten AM.

And so on that day I motored by Eddie’s Tacos for a couple of tacos and made it to the library with five minutes to spare.

There were about thirty-five people there, mostly representing local non-profit arts and cultural organizations. I didn’t know them all, but some of my favorite people were there (and I’m not sure all these San Antonio cultural icons even know who I am, but I know them). Malena, Graciela, Steven, Shirlene, Steve, Kellen, Marisela, Diane, Shimi, George, Catherine, Felix, Rafe, and Linsey. I always like going to these sorts of functions. But, really, why do I do this? I don’t run an art / cultural non-profit. True, I sit on the board of the San Antonio chapter of NALIP (a film non-profit); I’m on the steering committee for Luminaria (an arts nonprofit); and I have been head of media programs (more or less) for URBAN-15 (an arts non-profit) for four years. So, on paper I seem to be a legitimate member of any group which would embrace all these great people. But, really, I’m just some guy who helps out. And, truth be told, if there was an idiot-proof and streamlined way to set up a successful non-profit arts organization, I’d probably dive in. But it’s a tough world.

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Thursday I made it a point to check out the Gregg Barrios tribute at Krazy Vatos Emporium on S. Presa. It was held in “la yarda,” the gravel area in back. I first met Gregg a couple of years back. I had signed up for some Gemini Ink class which embraced the concept of November being National Novel Writing Month. The guy running the class, a local published genera writer, had apparently taken a look at my writing sample, and decided I wasn’t good enough to pay for his mentorship. What was up with that? I mean I’m a pretty good writer. Perhaps I shouldn’t gripe–Gregg Barrios was also denied (and he’s better than a pretty good writer). So what did Gregg do? He contacted Gemini Ink and had them contact all the folks who were turned down. If they wanted to get together as a group–for FREE–contact Gregg. And so I did. A group of about seven people met weekly for all of November to share our progress. That’s when I learned that Gregg Barrios is a great guy. And over the months following that November, I have seen him create new and well-reviewed work. Also, I have learned about the important body of work he’s created over the decades. And Thursday at Krazy Vatos it all came together.

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Gloria Sanchez

Seven poets and actors read selected poems written by Gregg. And later Gregg took the stage and read some of his new work. Here is a list of the guest readers: Carmen Tafolla, Danny De La Paz (DDLP!), Anthony Flores (AKA, Anthony the Poet), Gloria Sanchez, Greg Hinojosa, Trey Moore, and Ben Olguin.

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Gregg Barrios

It was a very nice evening.

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Friday night I headed over to the black box theater at Say Si. It was the final night of the play “Padre: The Story of Hildalgo’s Revolution.” I went because my friend Seme Jatib had been asked to provide some interpretive dance pieces as interstitial devices between acts. I was intrigued when Seme told be about this. Joel Settles’ name came up. I knew that he ran a student theater program with the parks department. I thought this is what the performance was. But now, with program in hand, I’m not completely sure who was sponsoring the event. It looks like this is a new theater program coming out of Say Si. If so, this is great. But they need to more clear in the program. In fact, I believe Joel wrote the play, but an author is not mentioned in the program. Oh well….

What I most enjoyed (beyond Seme’s excellent choreography/dancing (peppered a bit with some Isadora Duncan)) was to finally see Joel Settles do something other than comedy. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a brilliant actor doing comedy. But I was able to see him do a straight drama piece, playing Padre Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.

It was a good play with some very strong performances. And if this is a taste of more work to come out of a new Say Si theater program, I’m certainly looking forward to future productions.

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Saturday I finally made it to Lisa Suarez’s play, “I’ll Remember For You.” Now I should point out that I don’t know Lisa. But, truly, I know her quite well. I’ve seen her performance a few times at the Jump-Start Performance Company, where she works. But because I’ve “friended” her on FaceBook, I’ve managed to learn quite a bit about her. She’s made no move to hide the fact that she’s the primary care-giver for her mother who’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In fact, her social media postings can be seen as potent advocacy for Alzheimer’s education. She, on occasion, gives unflinching and honest accounts of her daily life–though always tempered with love and humor.

She wrote this autobiographical play about her relationship with her mother. But instead of portraying herself, she chose to take on the role of her mother. Veronica Rogers, an actress I’ve never seen before, did a great job with the “Lisa” role. But, damn, Lisa, as “Mama,” was amazing. I know that there are the occasional yearly awards which are concerned with the San Antonio theater scene. And if these groups really take the craft seriously, Lisa Suarez should sweep the awards. Best performance. Best writing. Those two, for starters, are the no-brainers.

I was afraid that the piece would be pretty gritty and painful and absolutely heartbreaking. And it was. But it was also damn funny. And I consider myself lucky that I went on the night which Lisa’s mom was in the audience. I guess I had a privileged position. I knew Lisa’s story, and because of FaceBook I’d seen photos of her mom and thus was able to know, during intermission, that I was witnessing a very deep and multilayered performance. There was not one iota of the whiff of exploitation. This was all about tribute, honor, love. Lisa bared her soul to not just the audience, but also to her mother. The fact that her mom might not be understanding that much of the piece,and probably won’t remember the evening, this all falls away when, after the final applause, Lisa finally breaks character and asks her mother to stand up. When her mother stands she tells her how much she loves her. All the frustrations, the bullshit, the sacrifices which have been made for a parent slipping into dementia are pushed aside–for the moment at least–and an unapologetic expression of intimacy and love is made.

This show really hammered home my assessment that the best theater in San Antonio happens at Jump-Start.

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