When artist Kolmel WithLove moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles, they noticed a missing niche in the local performance scene. No venue existed for queer performers to regularly share new work.
To fill this void, WithLove created a monthly performance event at SOMArts Cultural Center in 2012, calling it The News. Every first Tuesday of the month, queer artists show up to share just ten minutes of new and in-progress work, a risk-taking venture despite the brevity.
At The News, artists present everything from drag shows and punk performances to political strip-tease and Butoh. Sharing new work, WithLove says, not only benefits the performers, but the audience as well. “It’s nice to see someone be robust, sometimes earnest, and sometimes visibly, physically intimidated. Or reckless and on fire!”
I spoke to WithLove about the importance of creating a space for experimental queer performance in the Bay Area.
What inspired you to start The News?
I frequented a performance event called Queer Mondays at Highways in Santa Monica… I met interesting artists there, including people I might never meet in my own demographic.
I had the idea to make something like Queer Mondays in the Bay Area. At first it was completely egotistical: Where can I perform?… It was also a question of who can I connect with?… I wanted something accessible. It had to be five dollars or less, and it had to be new work. Those were the rules.
It’s always shocked me that SOMArts took me on… When I talked to [former executive director] Lex about needing something like Queer Mondays, SOMArts gave me a budget. Looking at it, I saw that we couldn’t possibly break even. Lex wanted to do it anyway, so we started in February 2012.
How does the process of getting on The News work?
You fill out a survey that takes about two minutes. That’s all you have to do to let us know you’re interested.
Is it under 10 minutes? Is it technically possible? And is it truly new? If I can answer all three, then yeah, you’re on stage. I also take “queer” to mean authorship or content in as wide a definition as that can include.
Too often, getting on stage as a performer takes a lot of paperwork and knowing the right people. It can feel intimidating as a performer to walk into a new space. I didn’t know people when I moved here. I wasn’t interested in paperwork. I like the idea that someone — anyone — can perform with us.
It used to cost $5, but now admission is free thanks to SOMArts. Now we can pay the artists directly through what the audience donates when we pass around the hat. Through that, performers are getting more than I hoped to give them initially.
How has The News evolved over the past three years?
Eventually I started getting guest hosts and curators. Although I wanted it to be a space where people could come back and perform, I understood the need to constantly get new performers. Sometimes the guest curators aren’t people who normally curate, but are simply people interested in putting together one of the shows, and who bring people they know.
For example, the guest curator for August’s The News is David Villegas, who I see at more art events than anybody… He asked if I had ever thought about doing a clown night. I said, “No, David, but you should curate for us.” He said, “Yeah, I’m going to do a clown version of The News.” So that is what is coming up next.
What’s your favorite thing about The News?
I always say, it’s only a ten minute performance, so if you hate it, suck it up. If you love it, that’s incredible, see that person perform again! And talk about it. So many times after the performances, somebody I talk to completely changes the way I think about something I saw.
Whether we admit it or not, we all have ideas of what “good” and “successful” looks like, which translates into aesthetics and pacing. Instead of constantly reinforcing those values of “good,” The News gives you something that constantly challenges those things.
And it’s queer performance. It’s supposed to be f**ked up and radical. We don’t necessarily live by the same standards other people use, and we shouldn’t judge art by those standards, either.
What is the future of The News?
I want more people to find out about it, and for more performers to find it as a venue for experimentation. I would like to help people put on full-length work, or to travel the show around and say, this is what we’re cookin’ in San Francisco! But at the end of the day, it’s a labor of love. You only have so many hours in the day.
When I started The News, I didn’t realize that at the time, queer spaces here were closing… Part of the lack of events I noticed was due to that. Places like Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory were closing. Three gay bars in the Mission just closed in the past two years. In the queer world, a lot of these events and spaces are held together by one person. One person who is barely making it, either financially or emotionally. I always tell my friends, events are like restaurants. They aren’t ideas. You go, or they close.