Artists, Theaters, and Communities Making Change

Artist-Investigator Project

Ten Artist-Investigators are exploring new ways to collaborate with communities, perform in surprising places, and change who’s participating in theater-making.


Videographer Wanted!

Videographer wanted to be a part of Artist-Investigator Michelle Wilson‘s Project, Carbon Corpus! Document and edit a series of interviews and a dinner event for a contemporary artist’s project. Looking for the final product—a short video documentation that will accompany the rest of the project—to clearly tell a story in a simple and visually striking way. Experience with contemporary documentary work or higher-quality Kickstarter videos may be helpful. Project must be completed by the end of this calendar year, so interviews and dinner shoot (all on one night) will occur by early December and editing should be complete by year end.

Person must have own equipment, be reliable and a good communicator. This is a paid position. For more information, please contact Michelle Wilson, michelle [at] michellewilson [dot] com. Please include a link to an online portfolio or Youtube/Vimeo channel.

Chris Black: Week 5 — Earthquake!

Artist-Investigator Chris Black is collaborating with 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students from Marshall Elementary School to develop a dance-based, site specific performance that explores the students’ relationships to the physical and cultural environment they inhabit daily at the school.


This week we had to jump around a lot, thematically, as some classes had to get caught up on train movement while other classes moved on to earthquake material.

The earthquake stuff, predictably, was fun. We explained (verrrrry broadly) the different types of seismic waves and built material from that.

Some gestures grew out of: recreating these waves with hands/arms, “passing” a type of shaking from one person to another, holding hands and snaking arms to represent S waves, traveling back and forth like 2 tectonic plates and jumping to imitate a compression wave reaching the surface.

And of course they did a lot of falling down.

It is looking more likely that we will have a showing with all three grades on Tuesday, 11/5. Fingers crossed…

Chris Black: Week 4 — the Railroad that cut through the Mission in the 1860s

Artist-Investigator Chris Black is collaborating with 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students from Marshall Elementary School to develop a dance-based, site specific performance that explores the students’ relationships to the physical and cultural environment they inhabit daily at the school.

5th Grade
This week we finally hit our stride with the fifth graders. We spent the beginning of our time setting the spatial arrangements for each group’s Mission Creek material and that seemed to help everyone focus.

We then made group choreography having to do with the San Francisco-San Jose Railroad, which was cut through the Mission on Harrison Street back in the late 1800s. It was really fun to see what each group did. Six of my kids laid down parallel with one another and then rolled into the space between the other four, creating a grid of tracks. Another group staged a train robbery, complete with passengers, a driver and thieves.

We have also added Melissa Martinez to our crew of adults, so we’ll now have four facilitators instead of just three… it will help to be less outnumbered.

3rd and 4th Grades
We only met with one third grade class due to a field trip, but the ones we did see made some fantastic train material. The longer we work with them, the more they are branching out into more complicated spatial relationships. Groups are traveling, changing levels and staying more in sync. And they’re collaborating better, incorporating one another’s ideas. Totally satisfying.

Because of another field trip last week, the fourth graders are a week behind the rest of the students, so we went back and did Woodward’s Garden material with them. I had thought that generating movement having to do with the hot air balloon and animals would be the most fun and interesting for all of us but that hasn’t been the case. It seems like the relative familiarity of this source material leads to less creative choices. It may also be that the way I structured making this movement — each kid has a frozen position, a move and a second frozen position — limited things too much.


Solo vs group rehearsals

Kegan Marling and his collaborators explore how to make a piece at a bar that looks at community (or lack thereof) among generations of gay men

August 22, 2013

I’ve now been visiting the space regularly on my own – occasionally trying out movement phrases, but mostly to talk with people. There has a been a distinct shift that I want to acknowledge. Because my time is not constricted by managing others or achieving specific daily goals, I’m able to be more present for conversations and to allow them to meander in unexpected directions. I’ve always appreciated projects that have a soft deadline – the flexibility allows for way more exploration. This has given me a great deal more useful information for understanding the space and the dynamics of the community here. I’m certainly starting to feel the urge for moving the work forward into a generative phase, but that impulse is coming because I feel I’ve gathered enough information rather than because I need to meet a particular deadline. Very energizing.


Chris Black: Week 3 — the aquarium/zoo/gardens/museum at Mission and 15th Streets

Artist-Investigator Chris Black is collaborating with 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students from Marshall Elementary School to develop a dance-based, site specific performance that explores the students’ relationships to the physical and cultural environment they inhabit daily at the school.

This was Woodward’s Gardens week. Woodward’s Gardens was open from 1866-1891 and was located on Mission Street between 13th and 15th Streets (more info here).

Each kid picked their favorite from a list of some of the attractions that were featured there:
roller rink
hot air balloon
boat ride
animals: ostriches, deer, flamingos, bears, camels, seals, goats, parrots, eagles

They all made a frozen pose, a move and a second frozen pose based on the thing they picked. We then played variations on freeze tag or duck duck goose to cue individual kids to do their choreography. One of Rowena’s third grade groups did a terrific sequence together, complete with working with partners to make seals sitting on rocks and a parrot that looked like a snow angel.

We continue to learn what works (and what doesn’t) as we return to each class. For instance, having each group show the others what they’ve worked on really gets the kids to focus and perform. I’m pleased and impressed by how well the students are remembering material from the previous weeks. They need some cueing but they’re really doing a great job. I’m also excited to have Colin Epstein along as an additional adult dancer/helper on Tuesdays with the fifth grade. He’s going to fill in when others are gone and then be an extra hand when we’re all present.

Next week we may just start shaping some of the material we already have. I’m trying to pace things so we don’t get overwhelmed with material and I need to figure out how to link the different movement sections together. And the fourth graders were away on a field trip this week so we will need to get them caught up.

The project is changing, as I knew it would, adapting to the skills and needs of our performers and the features and needs of the school site. We will almost certainly limit showings to the yard, and while I’m sad to let go of the idea of traveling through the school, I’m excited to try to get all 6 classes together in one place in November to show what they’ve created.

Read more about Chris Black’s project on her blog.

Steven Sanchez- IMG_0774

The Anastasio Project Update

The Anastasio Project grows out of NAKA’s longtime interest in investigating social and environmental issues. Artist-Investigators/NAKA Dance Theater artists José Navarrete and Debby Kajiyama collaborate with young performers Nate Armstrong, Mike Turner, Ricardo Ceja, and Hector Torres to unearth stories from their lives about violence and racism.

When the graphic imagery of young Anastasio Hernandez ­Rojas was shown on public television, it instantly recalled the brutal beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. “The public killings of Hernandez­Rojas, Rodney King, Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin have brought violence right into our living rooms, oftentimes leaving us overwhelmed with emotions of outrage, sadness, helplessness, and increasingly, desensitization. The Anastasio Project shares an indignation about the brutality of these crimes, and creates work that allows the audience to address these issues and our multifaceted reactions when confronted with these deaths,” notes Elena Serrano, co­presenter of the work at Eastside Arts Alliance,

The Saturday performance interventions begin at NAKA’s “home base,” Eastside Cultural Center (2277 International @ 23rd, Oakland). The Sunday performances begin at Josie de la Cruz Park, (1637 Fruitvale Avenue, Oakland.) The hope is to make these performances accessible and engaging to the local community by bringing them to public spaces and creating opportunities to discuss issues of race, immigration, and police brutality.

NAKA will also be working with video and animation artist Steven Sanchez to create animation sequences using elements of a mural by Leslie Lopez for the Saturday night performances.

Performing in this installment of The Anastasio Project are Dancers Nathaniel Armstrong, Michael Turner Jr, Hector Torres, Ricardo Ceja, Debby Kajiyama, Jose Navarrete and Amara Tabor Smith.

Muralist Leslie Lopez, and video artist Seven Sanchez will oversee the visual art component of the offering while music composer David Molina will present original work also created for the piece.

Saturdays and Sundays, October 26­/27 and November 2­/3, 2013

Saturdays at 7pm outside Eastside Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd., Oakland Sundays at 3pm Josie de la Cruz Park, 1637 Fruitvale Avenue, Oakland 

Photo credit: Steven Sanchez


Kegan Marling and his collaborators explore how to make a piece at a bar that looks at community (or lack thereof) among generations of gay men

August 7, 2013

Considering some of the exploitation issues I’ve been thinking about – particularly because the work is being more and more drawn towards exploring effeminacy within the gay community – I’ve been really looking at the mediums we might work with. Our experiences with effeminate gestures really inflamed some of the patrons, which is not of particular interest for this project. I don’t care to provoke people (in that way) when making site-specific work in their private community space. So I need to break this up and figure out what caused the provocation. Was it the gestures, or that we were dancing in the patio space in the middle of the day, or that we are twinks in a bear bar? Most likely a combination.

Yet as I’ve spent more time in the bar, I’m less convinced the ‘twink’ aspect played much into things. I’ve now been there hundreds of times and I don’t recall a single encounter where I felt my body shape was an issue for anyone. And conversations with patrons about my struggle with this topic often seem to steer back towards primarily the exploration of effeminacy as being the main taboo aspect. I think the performative aspect didn’t help, but I think that was secondary to the faggy gestures.

That said, performance is still feeling less and less relevant to the project. Partly because it doesn’t feel like it adds to the experience people are already having in the space – but also because I’m not sure how I feel about presenting a public event at a private space. The primary reasons men come to this bar (and I say men because 99.5% of the patrons are men) are for socializing with other men, potential romantic and/or sexual flirtation, being around men who are similar (size in particular). It is for culture, but not to interact with cultural artifacts. Does live performance have a role here? From the beginning this project has been about making work for the Lonestar community, but a public performance also means that many people from outside of the community will likely be interested. So it goes back a bit to my question of who does this support – the bar owners? the patrons? myself? non-patrons curious about bear culture?

On to other mediums… photography is a touchy area too. Many men are processing body and attraction insecurities and the camera can immediately triggers shitty reactions. However, buy in from the community is easier to address as this is a one-on-one conversation with anyone who I might photograph. Dialogue is simple because I’m not engaging an entire community at one time – I’m just directly interacting with a single person. And the experience can be tailored to that person, so that the image can focus on areas that they are comfortable exploring.

Watching a drag show here was disappointing.

Watching an interactive trivia night was slightly invigorating.

Watching popular tv shows here was fun.

Discussing artwork with clear messaging or playful dynamics felt ‘successful’ – art that challenged and/or felt esoteric was ‘unsuccessful’.

Installations work well in the space.

Text/speech – works in conversation and perhaps in small chunks as written material, but nothing too long and I’d have a hard time seeing performative text working well.

Games – yes! If I had a big budget, I would love to develop a phone app about social engagement at the bar… belly rubs, beard appreciation, and compliments on piercings will earn you a free beer.