Hooray for amateurs -- the masses of people who exercise their creative muscles for the sheer heck of it and not for money or fame. If more of us spent our spare time learning to dance like Beyonce, writing novels in only a month, and taking improv classes, there’d probably be fewer wars.
Needless to say, the Bay Area is fairly bonkers with opportunities for artistic endeavor for residents and visitors of all ages, ethnicities and cultural interests. And during the holiday season, participation in everything from karaoke at the company Christmas party to the local orchestra’s Singalong Messiah, goes way up.
So I wanted to include in this week’s survey of performing arts events a couple of proudly amateur happenings alongside stuff that's more pro. It's the first of what I hope will be many nods to the everyday folks who get their kicks from all manner of artistic pastimes, as well as a couple of the institutions that help to make all this creativity possible for cultural hobbyists around the Bay.
Tuesday, Dec. 8 - Sunday, Dec. 13: San Francisco Opera presents The Fall of the House of Usher at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco. That Edgar Allan Poe’s spectral story about a mentally unstable brother, his physically unstable twin sister, and the craggy-decrepit fortress in which they live has captured the minds of opera creators for well over a century is no surprise: This supreme work of Gothic schlockery (on par with The Raven) is full of the stuff -- an unlikely plot, characters on the brink of death and madness, lightning -- that makes opera fans drool. French Impressionist Claude Debussy, American Minimalist Philip Glass and British prog rock songwriter Peter Hammill are among those who have excavated Poe’s story for the opera stage. The San Francisco Opera’s double-bill of short, Usher-inspired works combines Debussy’s La Chute de la Maison Usher and American composer Gordon Getty’s Usher House to create an evening of stormy music and imposing visuals. Both works star Brian Mulligan, who chilled Bay Area audiences’ bones in the role of Sweeney Todd at San Francisco Opera earlier this season and may do the same now as the emotionally volatile Roderick Usher.
Thursday, Dec. 10: Drag Queens on Ice at the Union Square holiday ice rink, San Francisco. Forget the imposing Christmas tree and the streams of sweating shoppers barging their way into Macy’s. You only truly know the holidays have arrived when a bunch of San Francisco’s most celebrated drag queens exchange their heels for ice skates and take to the rink in Union Square. Although the event feels a little like a publicity stunt for big business -- Safeway, Bank of the West and Alaska Airlines all have their names slapped on this icecapade -- performances in the great art of lip-synching by the likes of Mutha Chuka, Paju Munro, and BeBe Sweetbriar while careening across the ice will doubtless bring some much-needed lipstick, lamế and levity to the downtown holiday shopping scramble.
Thursday, Dec. 10: James Bond 007 Dance Party at Opal, Mountain View. Sometimes the best arts events are the ones you get to participate in yourself. And while it’s become commonplace for karaoke aficionados across the land to give their all to renditions of everything from Shirley Bassey’s Diamonds are Forever to Adele’s Skyfall, hitting the dance floor to express one’s love for all things 007 hasn’t quite yet become quite as run-of-the-mill. Opal, a well-appointed nightspot in Mountain View, is offering Bond fans the chance to sashay to the music that’s helped to make the long-running franchise one of the most revered in pop culture history. Whether you’re attired in Bond Girl chic, a bespoke tuxedo or your regular street clothes, this dance party is a great way to decompress after seeing the latest Bond flick, Spectre, showing just the down the road at the local Century 16.
Friday, Dec. 11 - Sunday, Dec. 20: California Revels presents Christmas Revels: A Venetian Masque at the Scottish Rite Theater, Oakland. For the past 30 years, the California Revels has injected a fat dose of folk culture into the local holiday season -- and has become as beloved a fixture as a favorite tree ornament in the process. This year’s event, which brings together pros like Jeff Raz and Robert Sicular with amateur performers from all over the community, takes its cue from the Commedia dell'Arte performance traditions of the early 17th century. The schtick revolves around a bunch of ragtag comedians as they attempt to sabotage a classy masque thrown by the Doge of Venice. Expect a riotous combustion of high and low art, voluminous costumes and plenty of audience participation.
Friday, Dec. 11 - Saturday, Dec. 19: FaultLine Theatre presents Dead Dog’s Bone at PianoFight, San Francisco. Cole Ferraiuolo, artistic director of FaultLine Theater, described his company’s latest production in an email to me as an “anti-Christmas, Christmas play.” It’s an astute description for the up-and-coming local dramatist Veronica Tjioe’s bleak comedy, which explores how a commitment-phobic twenty-something copes with the impending death of the family dog and her abhorrence of plastic Christmas trees. FaultLine was nominated for 15 Theater Bay Area Awards this year, and Dead Dog's Bone is the final show of the hardworking young company’s season.
And I can’t let you go without sharing a few more suggestions:
Now through Sunday, Dec. 13: 42nd Street Moon presents Scrooge in Love at the Eureka Theatre, San Francisco.
Now through Sunday, Dec. 20: TheatreFIRST presents The Seafarer at the Live Oak Theatre, Berkeley.
Now through Sunday, Dec. 13: EmSpace Dance and Detour Dance at NOHspace, San Francisco.