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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

Footloose Productions and Shotwell Studios: a model for incubating theater, dance, music and more

In Behind the Scenes on July 15, 2009 at 4:09 pm

by Phil Gravitt

Footloose's Lenora Lee & Sebastian Grubb, photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang

Footloose's Lenora Lee & Sebastian Grubb, photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – After 35 years in theater and dance, Mary Alice Fry of Footloose Productions in San Francisco says, “Success has nothing to do with luck.  It’s perseverance, putting one foot in front of the other.”

Fry is the Artistic and Executive Director of Footloose, providing rehearsal, class and performance space to performing arts teachers and artists at Shotwell Studios since 1989.  Shotwell hosts theater, dance, music, spoken word, comedy and multi-media, including Footloose’s own productions and collaborations.

By keeping ticket and studio rental prices reasonable, Footloose gets good box office support for its shows.  Footloose also has several long term studio rental tenants, and support and funding from foundations, SF Hotel Tax Fund Grants for the Arts, individual contributors and corporate sponsors.

Each year, Fry sponsors, aids, supports and encourages four to five performing artists or small groups in a three-tier process to help the artists move their work to the next level professionally.   The process begins with the artist in residence program, called AIM: Artists in Motion. “I’m looking for original work and original voices,” says Fry.  The residencies last from two to four months and culminate in a work in progress showing at Shotwell.

AIM grew out of an earlier program at Venue 9 called Women’s Work from 1996 through 2004 where artists would share the stage one night a week with other women each doing 10 to 15 minutes.  Fry saw that some of them were really good, and with help and more work, could grow into full performances and realized “I think we’ve got something.”   That is when Fry got the idea to do the Women on the Way (WOW) Festival, so the artists could show full-length work and share audiences.  The annual festival at Venue 9 was immediately successful securing its longevity and is gearing up for its tenth anniversary.

The festival is held on three weekends each January.  “Since there are no other festivals in January,” explains Fry, “the performers often get reviews from several media sources. This helps the performers get grants and build their audiences.”

While AIM and the work in progress shows are open to all genders, WOW, as the name implies is for women only, although men are often involved on the production and performing ends and make up a large portion of the audience.

“Since many performance mediums have a narrow audience, at WOW I mix dance, theater, music, clowns, spoken word, and multi-media.   People show up and see something they had no idea was out there,” says Fry.

If a WOW show is well received, Fry will schedule a full theatrical run at Shotwell.    Recently, a musical by the Tietjen sisters, titled ‘A Murmured Tale,” sold out four shows online even before the box office opened.  It was honed and incubated through the AIM program and is being readied for a professional production in the Tenth Annual WOW Festival at ODC Dance Commons in January 2010 and a subsequent full run at a venue to be announced.

AIM and WOW artists are offered free rehearsal space, along with technical and administrative support, mentoring on how to self-produce, and direction on how to gear up for bigger productions. Help and guidance on publicity, marketing, designing and producing post cards, and creating online visibility are also provided.

There are challenges for artists as well as producers like Fry. “Performers sometimes tire of a piece, and quickly move to the next thing,” says Fry.  “To help them, I need them to focus on one project. Or the writer/performer isn’t up to their material, but they won’t let it go. Then I encourage them to find an actor who can handle the part if it’s a good show.  In some cases, like with Amanda Moody and composer Jay Cloidt, they made an album of the music from ‘D’Arc: woman on fire’ which was one of our hit shows and it lives on that way.  Tina D’Elia made a film from her popular show, ‘Groucho’ and many dance artists build their repertory with pieces created here.”

Participants are encouraged to self produce, perform at fringe festivals, or apply for residencies and festivals at bigger venues like the 125-seat Dance Mission Theater, the 110-seat ODC Dance Commons or the ODC Theater currently being renovated, or even  Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

“My dream is to have a traveling circuit for performers, with five to ten cities, and trading artists with international studios,” adds Fry. “Then the performers would get a feel for being on the road.”

Phil Gravitt is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, the Noe Valley Voice & other San Francisco neighborhood newspapers, and the Bay Area Visual Arts Blog

Additional articles by Phil Gravitt include:


Ledoh: coloring the world-body-space of America with butoh

In Artist Spotlight on February 15, 2009 at 4:21 pm

by Ray Sikorski

Ledoh in Colormeamerica, photo by Katherine Balasingham

Ledoh in Colormeamerica, photo by Katherine Balasingham

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – When put to the task of writing an article about Ledoh, a practitioner of the performing art known as butoh, a question that naturally came up was, “What is butoh?”

“Well, you’re gonna ask ten different butoh performers, and you’re gonna get ten different answers,” Ledoh said.

I knew butoh to be a sort of dance form, although Ledoh disliked the usage of both “dance” and “form” when it came to butoh. He considered it a “movement,” akin to a literary or political movement. I knew it often involved white body makeup and incredibly slow movements… although neither of these are essential. Butoh appeared to be wide open to the performer’s interpretation.

I recalled a Thelonious Monk quote: “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” So it is with butoh. To experience it is to know… but even that would only offer insight into Ledoh’s own take on it.

Alas, what we have at our disposal are mere words – words about Ledoh’s journey from a refugee of the Karen hill tribe, who escaped from Burma with his family at age 11. Transplanted in the northeastern United States, Ledoh felt out of place, and had an itch to roam. Throughout his 20s he traveled, notably to Japan. There, he encountered butoh in the land where it was created – and not so long ago, a product of post-WWII dissatisfaction with defeat, occupation, devastation, and humiliation.  Ledoh had never danced before, but something about butoh resonated with him… was it a sense of kinship to the persecution placed upon his own people? Ledoh said it was an emptying of the body, a seeing of himself, for the first time, as a blank slate. And perhaps the two are related.

“My take on art, and my take on butoh, is from the angle or perspective of an indigenous person maneuvering through this world, and doing time in this body, and doing time in this space,” he said.

“It’s not just the movement is slow; it’s something else in it. It’s about participating in, and being interested in the movement. Of course, you have to condition and train our bodies in order to do movement, but once you’re performing and sharing with the audience, I have to be fully honest with myself. And I have to be interested in my movement. I cannot think about what they’re thinking. I cannot see myself from their perspective, seeing this person, me, moving. Because I have to see it from within me, and I cannot use my mind to do that. I have to be present, fully, in order to be interested in it.”

Since learning butoh in Japan, Ledoh, now 47, has taken it back to the United States. He and his Salt Farm Butoh Dance Company have performed throughout the U.S. as well as abroad, most recently in the nation of Georgia in the fall of 2008.

“Even the smallest, silliest gesture – I have to envelop myself in it,” he said. “And I have to fully be interested, of course. And then, there will be interest by the audience.”

Like dancing about the architecture of the Self.

More about Ledoh and his Salt Farm Butoh Dance Company can be found at

Ray Sikorski wrote and directed his first one-act play in 1988, and his second 20 years later. He is a freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana.

Additional articles by Ray Sikorski incude:

The Mountain Play’s Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre

In Places and Spaces on January 1, 2009 at 12:13 am

by Kim Taylor

The Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre on opening day of the Mountain Play’s 2004 production of “My Fair Lady.”  Photo by Kim Taylor

The Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre on opening day of the Mountain Play’s production of “My Fair Lady.” Photo by Kim Taylor

MARIN COUNTY, CA – The Bay Area’s highest theatrical experience can be found at the Sidney B. Cushing Amphitheatre located a top Mount Tamalpais in Mill Valley. Home venue for the Mountain Play Association, this beautiful outdoor amphitheater is located approximately 2,500 feet overlooking the Golden Gate and San Francisco skyline.

Since its official opening day on May 4, 1913, thousands have trekked up Mount Tamalpais for an afternoon of theatrical entertainment featuring jaw dropping surprises and special elements and effects including horses, stagecoaches, World War II planes and even the Wicked Witch flying overhead.

The location’s theatrical life began when San Francisco lawyer John C. Catlin, U.C. Berkeley drama professor Garnet Holme and experienced Mt. Tam hiker “Dad” O’Rourke were hiking on Mt. Tam and paused to take in the view.  Holme saw what he said later was “the perfect place for an outdoor theater.”

The three made plans to produce and present a play. Catlin advanced the money, O’Rourke got the support of hiking clubs and Holme recruited a cast from his drama classes for a production of Abraham and Isaac. Twelve hundred people attended the opening performance, some hiking from Mill Valley and others riding the mountain railroad known as the “crookedest railway in the world.”

In 1914, The Mountain Play Association was established and a year later Congressman William Kent deeded the theater to the Mountain Play Association. The Cushing Memorial Theater was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The natural-stone amphitheater seats 3,750 people.

American playwright Dan Totheroh, who performed in Mountain Play productions as early as 1915, wrote Tamalpa which was presented in 1921. Totheroh eventually became director of the Mountain Plays and helped shape the destiny of the organization. Attendance had grown to the point that the 1961 production Robin Hood was presented on two successive Sundays; the first time a show had been performed in the mountain top venue more than once.
The sizable audience attendance was welcome, but it presented parking dilemma. In the 1970s members of the Mountain Play Association decided it was time for major changes for accommodating larger audiences and presenting more professional, profitable productions.

In 1977, Marilyn Smith was named producer. Smith transformed the Mountain Play Association establishing its annual outdoor presentation into a popular tradition by instituting shuttle bus service and presentations of popular and beloved Broadway musicals. In addition, Smith hired James Dunn, head of the College of Marin’s respected Drama Department, as Artistic Director. Production values improved and performances were presented over five week runs in late spring.

As it moves towards its 100th Anniversary, the Mountain Play Association is today an award-winning theater company featuring the Bay Area’s finest talent; dazzling sets, costumes, choreography and dramatic special effects and hosting 10,000 to 20,000 theatergoers each year.

The Cushing Memorial Amphitheatre is a Bay Area landmark where audiences of all ages enjoy memorable outdoor presentations of lavish Broadway shows in a beautiful outdoor setting.

A former entertainment calendar editor and features writer at the Marin Independent Journal, Kim Taylor, combined her media experience and appreciation for arts and entertainment and established herself as a successful and award-winning publicist.