Culture Clash at the Oakland Museum of California

Culture Clash rocked it last night at the Oakland Museum. True theater artists, they didn’t let the fact that only two of the three troupe members were present (Richard Montoya wasn’t able to make the show) or that their new book, Oh, Wild West!: Three New Plays, wasn’t ready for sale keep them from delivering a great show for the standing-room-only James Moore Theater.

Giving us a sample of previous work, Culture Clash explored what it is to be an American living in Miami (Radio Mambo), San Diego (Bordertown) and Washington D.C. (Anthems). Each story coming from a new perspective of what the “ideal” America is and then that perspective shifting within the stories. Noe, a Salvadorian immigrant living in D.C., wonders what happened to the America from Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley and why he’s living in the America of Good Times and The Jeffersons. wonders why he didn’t learn more English back home and why his (presumably American born) son is speaking in a whole different language (“Chill out, playah, I’m hangin in da crib.”) that is nothing like the English Noe sees on TV. We all know Noe, the put down immigrant who wants America to return to the status-quo of his imagination, refusing social change because he can’t find a place for himself and his family in that re-imagined America, this is why social reform in the community is an up-hill battle and Culture Clash gets to the heart of it in a three minute comedy skit. It’s only comedy cuz it’s true.

From those early stories, Culture Clash moved toward newer work that breaks from the modular structure and interview reliant personas to more fictional plays that take a deeper look into history. Tackling the birth of Dodger Stadium and displacement of local residents in Chavez Ravine and deconstructing the world’s most famous fictional Mexican, Zorro, with Zorro in Hell. They closed out with a cover of the classic Abbot and Costello routine, Who’s on First, a spot-on homage (Ric Salinas even working in Lou’s ticks and Herb Siguenza rigid as a flagpole as the straight man Bud) that seamlessly became ¿Quien es en Primer Base?

The Q&A afterwards gravitated towards Culture Clash being completely open to sharing their work with new theater companies and hoping new dramatists expand on their previous work by updating it with new language, current political situations and new urgency. (“We don’t consider our writing sacred.” “We think theater should be of the now”) Their was also curiosity about all Spanish work that could reach audiences in Mexico and beyond but Culture Clash doesn’t buy into the homogenization of Spanish speakers and prefers to focus on the Latino who grew up with Spanish but is more of a mixed language citizen. (“Our target audiences isn’t pure Spanish speakers.” “Univision and TeleMundo is so foreign to us.”) The temptation to have a broad Spanish distributor would also take away from Culture Clash’s commitment to be pioneers, to bring the stereotypes of Latinos and explore them through satire in the communities where those stereotypes are born, places that talk smack about Latinos cuz they’ve never really met Latinos. Much less a Latino theater troupe that is ready to bring all those misconceptions out into the center stage. (“We get it out of the universities and bring it to the lily-white theaters because that’s the people who need to hear it.”)

Scenes from Evolution of a Sacred Space: Días de los Muertos Community Celebration

The Oakland Museum was jam packed yesterday for the Días de los Muertos Community Celebration. I like how the Oakland Museum is able to loosen up and create a space like this where entry to the grounds and some great exhibitions was completely free and open to the public while the awesome temporary exhibitions was discounted to half off. The best part? The community taking advantage of that generosity and coming out in great numbers.

I wish I could have taken pics of the Evolution of a Sacred Space exhibit which has some amazing altars celebrating the spirits of women artists who have passed on with a figure of La Muerte in an amazing ball gown surrounded by the hand written names of past sister artists. A little girl on seeing the display yelled out, “I see Emily Dickinson!” as I’m looking at this brilliant depiction of death.

Another altar combined leather, suede, and horsehair to capture the ascension of a father lost to sea. Another one honored a friend lost in a mountain climbing expedition, the body was never found but a sculpture takes that place dangling on a gurney, wrapped in climbing ropes, with maps for skin, to help finish the climb. A jarring display of silhouettes honored the women taken away by domestic violence. The grandest altar showed the intersections of Mexican and Chinese traditions for the dead.

On the flip side, local high school students put the symbols of their lives on display with personal totems to celebrate their identity. This is the second display at the Museum I’ve seen that highlights Oakland teen arts in a manner that doesn’t talk down youth experience in that bullshit “This is SO cute that kids are doing this” tone but really pushes the artists to make museum quality art.

I’ll be sure to hit the museum up again soon to also soak more in from the LA Paint exhibit that was equal parts challenging (the faux-naive work of Esther Pearl Watson), outrageous (the psycho comix stylings of Robert Williams), disappointing (I really wanted to like Loren Holland’s work but couldn’t), and deeply satisfying (I love the installations from the Date Farmers!).

Rest in Paradise

Oakland Museum Garden

Somos Familia

In memory of Gwen Amber Rose Araujo

The Occupation of Iraq: Altar of the Dead

In Honor of Artists and Activists

Complete Flickr photoset can be found here.

Back to life, back to reality

Raphael Cohen hosting the Eastlake Sessions' Story CircleMad props to Raphael Cohen and all the organizers over at connectingarts for letting me feature with DeWayne Dickerson at the Eastlake Sessions.

It’s been way too long between features for me and I was really excited about this chance to share work from the Palimpsest series with an audience that really didn’t know any of my work.

As you can see from the pics, the vibe was very chill and communal but definitely for grown folks thanks to the dope layout of the loft, great art all around, view to Laney College/E 8th Street/the 880, still-motion photo setup, good food (I contributed a lemon-feta pasta with baby spinach- yum!), and fly music.

DeWayne DickersonDeWayne’s set was all kinds of fly as he read stuff from his forthcoming book. His poems highlight the ridiculous contradictions of public/personal policy when it comes to issues of blackness/gayness in a time of war economy with a poetic speaker who is unafraid to put those contradictions out in the open. DeWayne’s craft comes in his ability to stay true to that voice’s genuine pain without resorting to sermons-to-the-choir or Wikipedia history lessons.

I was up next and came through with this set-list:

• Palimpsest: B-Boy Prayer
• A Bodega on Anywhere Avenue
• Palimpsest: Ghazal
• Fire Escape
#3, from The Wooden Horse by Clemente Soto Vélez
• Psalm for Public Housing
• Palimpsest: The Break

Oscar Bermeo at the Eastlake Sessions' Story CircleLight on banter, and almost no explanations in this set but I still felt like I was connecting with the room (about 40 folks in a nice size space).

Notes on my performance:
• I still get nervous before a reading. Like really nervous and real edgy.
My voice was shaking for the first poem.
• “Fire Escape” is a brand new poem written after Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Hidden Door.” Still have to actually finish the poem as I was still writing it about three hours before I actually performed it.

With all that said, my true reality is that I have to get started on revising the Palimpsest poems so that I can get a new chapbook out there in the world, and (hopefully) get more readings.

Eastlake Sessions III


chapter three- summer heat!

a loft party for the people-
food, film, poetry, song, and a proper dose of booty shakin’ too

7 PM on …

1018 4th Ave
Unit 305
Oakland, CA

(cross street, east 10th-
facing Laney College’s football field,
a five minute walk from Lake Merritt BART)

you and yours are cordially invited
to an evening of arts, culture, and family vibez
as we celebrate summer’s onset
and welcome you to the Town’s newest arts space and event



(Feel free to bring a dish or some drinks, to add to the night’s potluck mix, or simply come through with your own appetite ready …)


(Hosted by Raphael Cohen, of Play In The Margins Press, this portion of the evening’s an opportunity for storytellers of various mediums to share their work. We’ll be featuring several special guest poets to start (DeWayne Dickerson, Aimee Suzara, and Oscar Bermeo), then opening the floor for folks in the space to speak, sing, strum, etc. Whether you’re a seasoned performer on the spoken word and music scene, or whether you’re an emerging artist, sharing your work for one of the first times, come through to test out your material in front of an intimate, supportive audience. Collaboration and experimentation encouraged.)

10 PM- ON & POPPIN’!!!

(DJs Diet and Snacks take over the wheels of steel, bumpin’ a summertime assortment to get you shakin’ your ass. Expect everything from hip-hop to afrobeat, classic funk to deep house. Accompanied by visual installations from DG Gonzalez, photographer extraordinaire. Do yourself a favor, and make sure you’re here by then.)

Free admission!

7 PM on …

1018 4th Ave
Unit 305
Oakland, CA

eastlake sessions 3


20040902 De Lauer’s
Originally uploaded by Tom Spaulding

Today started with a bummer of a headline: 101-year-old Oakland newsstand to close tonight.

Coupled with the news that Cody’s closed down, and I was feeling real down on the future of print here in the East Bay.

Yeah, I was all set to grab the camera and go down to De Lauer’s to take some last minute pics to document the passing of another landmark… but keep hope alive, said the man, and hope responds back.

Oakland newsstand to stay open, for now, after support pours in
Nice! I still plan on taking some pics of the still-alive-n-kickin’ De Laurer’s and buy something. I’m not sure what, but at least a little sumthin’ sumthin’.