In challenging times, it’s tales of resilience that resonate most. And the tellers of those tales shine all the brighter, as inspiring beacons against the gloom.
In San Francisco, some of our most consistently resilient performers are those who built their reputations not in the “traditional” performance spaces downtown, but in their own neighborhoods, creating work by, for, and of the communities that inspired them and called them their own. One neighborhood that's long been a bastion for these community-rooted artists is the Mission District, and two of its long-term survivors—Marga Gomez and Campo Santo—are not letting the pandemic slow them down.
One part comedian, one part solo performer, one part consummate host and all parts wholly original, Marga Gomez is resilience personified. Holding it down in a liminal space straddling the Castro and the Mission District since the early 1980s, her resume is a wild ride through some of San Francisco’s most memorable cultural highlights. From taking the stage at the first-ever Folsom Street Fair (then called “Megahood”) to working with the long-running San Francisco Mime Troupe, and then being pulled into the first incarnation of Latinx comedy supergroup Culture Clash by Rene Yanez, Gomez has continued to make her mark by always evolving her craft to fit the circumstances.
“A lot of my career has been accidents...opportunities...that I adapted to,” she admits with her signature, gap-toothed smile.
Even being shut down on opening night for her 13th solo show—The Spanking Machine, at Brava Theater Center—couldn’t dim Gomez’ creative spark. Within two weeks of the shutdown, Gomez had already launched the first of many virtual comedy shows, the format of which she's tweaked with each subsequent edition. First there were midday comedy brunches, then afternoon “high tea,” a Cinco de Mayo bash, a birthday party doubling as a political fundraiser, and, most recently, 30-minute “queer quickies” with co-host, the fabulous Jesús U. BettaWork. And finally, at long last, live-streamed performances of The Spanking Machine, running through July 25.
Reminiscing about her truncated run at Brava, Gomez ruefully recalls wishing that she wouldn’t “have to perform on Friday the 13th,” a wish that came all too true with the shutdown. Now scheduled as part of Dixon Place’s long-running LQBTQ+ HOT! Festival, Gomez takes the virtual stage from home. Combining clips from her invited dress rehearsal at Brava with live performance, telling a story of a long-lost friend, and a dark secret from the past. Like her other solo shows, it’s intensely personal, often hilarious, and paints a vivid picture of Gomez’ particular experience: an out-gay, Latinx comic, living a life brimming with equal measures of serendipity and struggle. And though she longs to perform in public spaces again, for the moment, Gomez is glad to be able to innovate from home.
“These projects are keeping me sane! I’ll do the show, and if the camera freezes for a minute, guess what? This is a pleasure, this is a respite,” she emphasizes. Resilience.