This week we feature the premiere of a new play from Oakland’s Lower Bottom Playaz, but there’s another scrappy little theater company making amazing work as it closes out its 2016 season. The Shotgun Players in Berkeley are doing five shows in repertory, each one a winner. But their Hamlet is a work of daredevil brilliance, with cast members learning which character they’ll play just before each performance. Catch them before the season ends on Jan. 15th.
Jan. 9–11: Rock ‘n’ roll lost some great performers this past year, but others are still going strong, like Midge Ure, formerly of Thin Lizzy, Rich Kids, and Ultravox. He’s also one of the masterminds, with Bob Geldof, of Live Aid, and the co-writer of “Do They Know it’s Christmas” — a rock ‘n’ roll Zelig. His charity work earned him an Order of the British Empire, and we’re grateful he keeps performing, despite some serious hearing issues. Ure’s shows in the Bay Area include Jan. 9 at Harlow’s in Sacramento (details here); Jan. 10 at Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre (details here); and Jan. 11 at the Social Hall in San Francisco (details here).
Jan. 12–29: The Lower Bottom Playaz is one of the groups keeping theater — and theater training — alive in Oakland (along with the Ubuntu Theater Project and Gritty City Repertory). In keeping with their mission to critically examine the lives of people in the inner city, the Playaz are staging an insightful world premiere by founder and company director Ayodele Nzinga. Mama at Twilight: Death by Love is a play about HIV, incarceration and health care, just in time for the Republican-controlled Congress to show us how much health care, or its absence, matters in America today. Details for the play at Oakland’s Flight Deck are here.
Jan. 6: Eleonor Sandresky is on the cutting edge of the avant-garde. She’s a New York-based pianist who’s trying on some new ideas in music and clothing, with what she calls her “Wonder Suit.” This is wearable tech that does more than just track your footsteps. The suit, as you can see in the video above, lets Sandresky integrate live electronics with her movements. Okay, so the Bay Area’s Pamela Z and Derrique McGee have been playing with these ideas for years. But Sandresky brings her New York sensibility to a new work in which she integrates live piano with recorded space sounds from NASA, taking us, we hope, to a deep listening space. Details for her show at the Center for New Music are here.
Jan. 12–14: The FOG Design+Art Fair is back at Fort Mason for the fourth year. This is a design and art showcase for the whole west coast, and a Bay Area response to the boom in art fairs around the world. This one is carefully curated, with just a few dozen exhibitors from the worlds of art and design. Among the programs is Designing a Legacy: Female Game Changers in Art and Culture, a panel including Cheryl Haines of the For-Site Foundation and Stephanie Hanor from the Mills College Museum; a conversation with artist and designer Tomás Saraceno, and much more. Details for the fair (tickets are $20 in advance) at Fort Mason are here.
Jan. 12–29: Sketchfest is back, just in time to bring some humor and comedy to this dark time of year. We’ve got Patton Oswalt coming to town, closeup magician Ricky Jay (who is astonishingly weird and good), tributes to Tig Notaro (David put One Mississippi, her new show on Amazon, on his 10 Best List), and more. There’s even a couple of shows aimed at the President-elect, with comedian Moshe Kahser doing a live podcast called Planning a Non-Violent Revolution in the Age of Trump.
Sketchfest also features an evening of vaudeville hosted by Tony-winning clown Bill Irwin, who performs with his old clowning partner Geoff Hoyle and guitarist Bill Frisell. Irwin is also in San Francisco for a one-man show at the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) about playwright Samuel Beckett. Irwin told me by phone that the two shows are deeply connected, because Beckett’s plays were a kind of metaphysical vaudeville. “He and his family went to the variety theater, watching music hall and vaudeville comics,” Irwin said. “He seemed to be, even in his most avant-garde work, alluding to a kind of circus and music hall and vaudeville tradition. And he asked for bowler hats and baggy pants (for the characters of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot).” Details for Sketchfest are here, and for Irwin’s ACT performance see here.
Jan. 7: A lot of people are still hurting as a result of the Ghost Ship Fire, and Sarah Sexton is producing a benefit concert at the Starline Social Club featuring Rituals of Mine, Wax Idols, Kool A.D. and others. There will be an altar at the event for offerings from audience members that will later be moved to the site of the fire in Fruitvale. Details for the benefit are here.
Jan. 19: Here’s a heads up for a show that will quickly sell out: The Dodos play a benefit for booker Annie Southworth at Bottom of the Hill. Let’s call it a CHEAP THRILL, $20 in advance for a good cause and a rare chance to see Meric Long and Logan Kroeber play amazing rock ‘n’ roll. Details here.