All posts filed under: Imagine

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Cross-Cultural Unity for Decent Housing

Lessons from fights past can stir us to continue pressing for housing rights. In the late 1990s, a mixed immigrant community banded together and won a lawsuit against an Oakland slumlord.  On Saturday, Locally Grown Docs at the New Parkway Theater screened Oak Park, a short film chronicling the struggles of largely Cambodian and Mexican tenants in Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood against extreme property negligence.  They won their suit in 2000, and the film wrapped in 2010. But the housing struggle in a landlord’s market resonates strongly today. Oak Park, named after the collapsing Oakland apartment complex, documents the abject conditions tenants fought to resolve. These included rot, infestation, leaks, mold and their ensuing health consequences. In multiple languages, tenants recount waking up in puddles of raw sewage. (The production required ample translation to capture voices from a microcosm of Oakland’s most diverse neighborhood). Watching the battle, I was both humbled and inspired that these tenants fought back in spite — or in the face — of traumas and fears from their different immigrant experiences. During …

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ReOrient: Middle East on the Bay

Our last post, a chat with journalist Jamal Dajani, questioned the line between news and entertainment when it comes to reporting on the Middle East. This week we offer an alternative to news and fully embrace entertainment, namely theater, as a means to see the region beyond the headlines. ReOrient 2015, a festival of plays and a discussion forum, comes our way every two years. It opens September 10, bringing two slates of plays to San Francisco.  Golden Thread Productions will stage eight short plays, plays written and performed by artists from Armenia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the U.S. Filming the designers, actors and directors during their first reading brought the scope of ReOrient home for me.  Participants came with a range of prior knowledge about the Middle East and a unified enthusiasm for learning and creating art. Between September 10 and October 4, ReOrient rolls out plays, talkbacks, panels, roundtable conversations, a family show, and an Arabic folk music recital.  Chosen from submissions from across the globe, …

Motti Lerner: I am trying to deal with fear

Motti Lerner is an Israeli playwright whose more recent plays have been rejected in Israel, and staged only in Europe and US for dealing with controversial political issues (including Coming Home, Pangs of the Messiah, The Murder of Isaac, and Benedictus). In SF Motti Lerner’s works have been produced by Golden Thread Productions and I had the honor of taking production photographs and observing the playwright at work. A couple of months ago, Motti held a three-day writer’s workshop at the Playwrights Foundation. I had the pleasure of meeting him again and chatting about literature, his plays, Chekhov’s influence on his work, love and life in general. G.B.  How would you describe the creative process? M.L. I never use the word creative process for it, but rather, hard work. Not because there’s no creativity but because it’s mostly hard work. In writing there’s a lot of research and learning involved. Of course there’s a moment when you start creating the characters and the creative ideas come from associations, but the hard work is to choose among all …

Interconnections that spark art & audience

Last year, London native Michael French launched Aluminous, a resident theater company at The Flight Deck in Oakland. He moved to the Bay Area after 12 years in New York and in Colorado. What brought you to the Bay Area? I’ve been here five years. I came here to start a theater company and to meet like-minded people, which I’d been struggling to do in Colorado.  I said to myself, I have to do this in San Francisco, it couldn’t be Oakland. So, I got here and I refused to look at Oakland. I just had blinkers on. I’d travel into SF (from where he lived Oakland), rent these spaces, and put on theater projects. Then, one day I remember I was standing by the MacArthur BART station and I was watching all the people go in, and I saw more people of color, more diversity in the 10-15 minutes that I was standing there than I did in the audience I was attracting in San Francisco. And, finally, I thought, what am I doing? …

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Love, Theft and Other Entanglements

An Interview with Rami Alayan, writer and co-creator of Love, Theft and Other Entanglements. Set in the West Bank, the film is about a car thief who backs into a crime much bigger than he expected. How is the film connected to the Bay Area? The first job I got out of college (in Boston) was in the Bay Area. I studied computer engineering. The minute I got the job and was set to move, I went to do what I really wanted to do, I signed up for my first screenwriting class at UC Berkeley Extension before I even landed in San Francisco. At the same time my brother, who is five years younger than me (Muayad) wanted to do film school – he wasn’t buying into the whole Palestinian family push for science and engineering. So he came here and started in San Francisco, he was doing film and I was doing screenwriting and that’s how it started. As Palestinians (we are from East Jerusalem) we wanted to do something that makes a …

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Hack the Hood’s Youth Coders

I got to know Susan Mernit’s technology bent when I shot occasional photos for Oakland Local’s urban planning stories. After wrapping short films for the online news site’s OakTech series, I began hearing about programs to help kids code. Susan and partners went on to found the lean startup Hack the Hood. The young initiative aims to train low-income youth of color in marketing and technology skills. Last summer, I filmed their graduation event at the Impact HUB in Oakland. Hackers had just completed a Boot Camp, building websites for small businesses in Oakland who could use the visibility. It was a party. Families, educators, techies, policymakers gathered together to learn and to cheer. Since then, Hack the Hood has expanded across campuses and cities from Oakland to Richmond, San Francisco and East Palo Alto. “We’re so thrilled to work with such amazing organizations who really know their community inside out the way we know Oakland. That is critically important for success,” said Zakiya Harris, Co-founder and Chief Education Officer of Hack the Hood. “Together …

Jazz, Art and Design from Harmony

David Allen was a kid at Havenscourt Middle School in East Oakland when his art teacher spotted the architect in him.  With his teacher’s encouragement he applied to a dedicated high school architecture program at Skyline High. When the superintendent asked him why she should approve his application, he answered, “I don’t want to miss any opportunities.” She signed without hesitation. He went on to earn a state prize for his work there. Fast forward. David Allen is at The Flightdeck, a performance space in downtown Oakland, speaking to a crowd about the Museum of Jazz and Art he aims to build in his hometown. With a vision of raising “awareness, importance and the preservation” of jazz, the museum will also be a space to nurture and spot the next generation of homegrown creative talent. Allen is the featured speaker at CreativeMornings Oakland, a free monthly talk where people gather over coffee and breakfast treats to hear talks on creativity. CreativeMornings take place in 117 cities around the world, and each CreativeMornings city presents on …

Emotions Are Louder Than Words

I’ve been a big fan of Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, principal dancers with San Francisco Ballet. At the beginning of every ballet season, I’m anxious to catch a performance with the couple in the leading roles, especially when the performance is a love story. The SF Ballet features phenomenal dancers, but it’s Vanessa and Davit’s one-of-a-kind connection on stage that takes the experience to another level. Seeing the couple perform Romeo and Juliet a few years ago (coincidentally, the same day he proposed to her on stage after the performance) was a life changing experience for me, and I believe for a lot of people in the audience. They told the beautiful story of two lovers without saying a word, but with their bodies connecting and emotions flowing. The audience felt a part of their passion, sadness, joy.  Their vulnerability had truly filled the theater. If you’re curious to learn a bit more about the life of a professional dancer and to hear them speak, view this super video by Mode.com about Vanessa Zahorian. (Photo …

Outsiders Find Home

Where is home for the outsider?  What would have happened if Duke Ellington’s right-hand man, the composer and lyricist Billy Strayhorn, went on a road trip to Isfahan with a popular Iranian actress? Golden Thread Productions joins forces with the African-American Shakespeare Company (AASC) to present the world premiere of Isfahan Blues, a new memory play from TorangeYeghiazarian inspired by Duke Ellington’s 1963 tour of Iran. With an original score from Marcus Shelby, Isfahan Blues is what might be called—to use a musical term often employed by Ellington —a “fantasia.” It aims to shed light on a little-known historical moment when a uniquely American art form inspired generations of young Iranian musicians. What would it be like for a black musician and lyricist, inspired by the life and character of Billy Strayhorn, to leave the tour and strike out on a road trip to the legendary city of Isfahan with Bella? And what was it like for an Iranian woman in the early sixties to touch a third rail in her own culture, by insisting …