Avante Garde Nostalgia
June 9, 2016 9:12 PM   Subscribe

The 1980s in San Francisco was fertile ground for a new type of theater, involving not only performance art but graphics, sculptural artists and musicians. Some astonishing productions were staged every year, each being a collaboration between the various disciplines. After each show had its run it dissolved into memory as only through those specific contributors could the production be realized. This was different than a standard play which existed on paper and could be performed ad infinitum by any number of theater companies. These "multi-media" shows existed only as long as the collaborators worked together. One sensed a specialness to each production, knowing that it would most likely never be staged again. posted by GospelofWesleyWillis (10 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
A great read. I worked for George Coates from '90 to around '94. I was backstage for all of Architecture of Catastrophic Change, and took a show to Japan with him. I learned a lot in that theater, and still have friends I made there.
The article made me quite nostalgic. For all-nighters getting a show ready. The beautiful music of Zulu Spear and Mark Reem. The ceiling busting a sprinkler pipe days before a massive opening, and us working knee deep in water in a half finished theater for hours.
The peculiar props. The spirit of experimentation.
sigh.

Anyway, great post!
posted by asavage at 9:36 PM on June 9, 2016 [13 favorites]


Anyway, great post!

Agreed. These shows, especially Actual Sho are among my best memories of the 80s. I took friends to see them and have been rarely more knocked flat by theater work since.

Hats off to George.
posted by uraniumwilly at 8:26 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember going to the omnicircus around 97. A lot of WTFery going around, but I certainly still remember it vividly. Wish I could have seen more of these in their prime. I wonder how much of the energy that once went into these theatre groups now gets diverted into burning man.
posted by benzenedream at 9:10 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Saw Rare Area and loved it. I've occasionally looked for a recording but have never been able to locate one. I have vague memories of cassettes (!) being sold so I suspect it exists.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 10:32 AM on June 10, 2016


This was a great read, and brings back so much. I saw Box Conspiracy and Twisted Pairs; both productions were fantastic. The sets were really striking - I still have vivid memories of two actors singing and walking "downhill" together through a projected 3D field in Twisted Pairs. GCPW created very immersive environments that felt way ahead of their time.
posted by Otherwise at 6:07 PM on June 10, 2016


Saw a couple of antenna theater performances back in the 90's,the experience was very immediate as you were often in the middle of the performance.

Burning man really did suck the life out of a few things, many people I knew stopped doing things in SF so they could plan/get stuff together for BM , and that was when the event was only 3 days.

The writer of this article (Steve Mobia) has been a friend and co worker for the last 25+ yrs. Has made a few avant guard movies (he and I did Sunny Snails) among other things he was a active member of the Suicide Club and Cacophony.

Something in the art scene really changed in SF in the late 90's and it was not one thing, everything from paranoia about the unibomber and "terrorism" to many artists losing work spaces and venues due to the dot com boom in the late 90's.
posted by boilermonster at 11:40 PM on June 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


I figured Burning Man was the new outlet. Since I'm constitutionally allergic to sandstorms and techno, I don't go, but I figured that was a likely avenue. I wish the new techies could back this kind of theater, although boilermonster, you're right, the old SF art scene is just gone (with exception of a few holdouts like ATA). People got priced out and I was just lucky to live here when there was just such a crazy amount of talent and imagination in this town. Sure there was some crap too but wow, there was innovation and creativity everywhere. Like Steve Mobia, I was shocked to see so little record of it on the web.

I got to see GCPW's Invisible Site, Right Mind and Up Your Ass. I feel so lucky. Also Antenna Theater's Ettiquette of the Underclass (Which one reviewer called "Mr Toad's Wild HOmeless Ride") and Euphorium, plus Soon 3 and a couple of Elbows Akimbo shows. I especially loved the visuals; GCPW's visuals were unparallelled.

Thank you for your stories; I miss this stuff so, so much. It was just magic and yes, my best memories of the 80s and 90s.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:30 PM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Burning man was the outlet for awhile, but the gloss was off by the late 90's even though lot of stuff is still going on out there ,but much is lost in the EDM dick-waving that goes on.
Even though I was heavily involved for years it turned into a job and less of a creative outlet for myself and other people.
I hooked up with Survival Research Labs in 1990 and never looked back, I have gotten a lot out of that, possibly more than anything else I have done.

Some other things that are gone
Ace Auto
The Shipyard
,and some that have the spirit or still carry on,
Obtainum Works
FLUX

To be fair these are just some of many , and I am talking about groups I know well or have worked with. Many have dissolved as spaces were lost or people moved out of the area.
posted by boilermonster at 12:43 PM on June 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


cool! You got to work with SRL? Wow. That's awesome. Although it wasn't an 80s thing I don't think, I also miss Recombinant Labs quite a bit.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:38 PM on June 14, 2016


And thanks for the other links. Since I'm a homebody and not a burner, I'm not too tuned in to whatever is left of our arts scene. I know stuff must be out there, I just don't want to go to BM to see it.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:41 PM on June 14, 2016


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