From Tenderloin to Balboa Theatre, political art in and around the Bay Area

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The Bay Area has always been a hub of political art. Here are some of the shows happening around the Bay over the next few months that are working to uplift marginalized voices and stories, often to the benefit of causes the artists believe in. Whether it be a political action or the premiere of a play wrestling with hot button issues, the Bay is the perfect home for art that pushes boundaries. 

Skywatchers is a group of artists who work in the Tenderloin District and bring residents of the Tenderloin in conjunction with working artists to create performances both community-based and site-specific. Skywatchers, a collaboration between Anne Bluethenthal and Dancers (ABD) and Community Housing Project (CHP) have two upcoming works of political performance taking place in San Francisco in early December. “Came Here to Live: Resilience and Resistance in the Containment Zone was created and performed both by Tenderloin residents and ABD artists and will be playing from Nov. 22-24. On Dec. 19, ABD Productions will also be holding “The Vigil: Annual Homeless Persons Memorial” for those who died while living on the streets in San Francisco over the past year. 

Z Space will be showing a multidisciplinary performance called “Rock & Mortar.” The show features all female cast members who share their stories of “gender, ancestry, religion and politics.” The theater describes the show as full of “intimate vignettes and sensory installations,” as the artists mix elements of theater, song and dance. “Rock & Mortar” was inspired by Epiphany Dance Theater founder and artistic director Kim Epifano after a trip to her family’s home in Abruzzo, Italy. Epifano said of the project, “As an artist, I see myself as a builder of another kind, supporting community through the creation of live performance.” The show is scheduled to take place from Dec. 4-8.

Dec. 7 will see the East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest. Located at Omni Commons in Oakland, this will mark the 10th anniversary for the festival. Zines have long had a reputation as a space perfect for political art and the event also gives attendees a chance to fund local artists in a way both direct and meaningful. Similarly, from Dec. 5-8, Max’s Garage Press will be hosting the East Bay Print Sale.

On Dec. 23, the Coalition on Homelessness is screening “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” directed by Joe Talbot. The award-winning film follows Jimmie Fails on his quest to reclaim the old Victorian home built by his grandfather in San Francisco. The film tackles themes of gentrification and identity, both especially poignant topics for the Coalition on Homelessness’ mission to start “program and policy changes led by poor and homeless San Franciscans that result in the creation of exits from poverty.“  The film will be screened at the Balboa Theatre in San Francisco and will be followed by a panel discussion of the film. 

Custom Made Theatre will be premiering the regional premiere of the Sarah Ruhl play “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage” as a part of its 21st season. The play, which will be directed by Custom Made’s literary manager Adam Sussman, takes place during a dinner party where three couples discuss polyamory and explore the boundaries of monogamy. A review in Entertainment Weekly upon the show’s New York premiere reads, “Amid a wealth of terrific, clever, laugh-out-loud dialogue … are moments of total realness and others of supernatural wildness.” The show will run from Jan. 17-Feb. 9.

On Jan. 16 and Jan. 20, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive will be screening “Workingman’s Death,” an Eastern European film directed by Michael Glawogger depicting portraits of manual laborers from the illegal coal mines in Ukraine’s Donets Basin to sulfur workers in Kawah Ijen, Indonesia. The film focuses on the life-threatening work done by laborers without a second thought, grueling and entirely fearless. 

Throughout the next few months, there will be dozens of works of political theater and art popping up around the area. While art with political motivations often has less money to put into advertising and funding, it is still an immovable fixture of Bay Area culture.

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected]. Tweet her at @katetinney.