Saturday, July 11, 2009


San Francisco’s Tenderloin district is a complex area. Although the neighborhood is rich in culture and history, the common observer will often solely take note of the area’s urban decay. The neighborhood is indeed fraught with drugs, prostitution, pornography and violence; however, the Tenderloin also contains the city’s major hotels and reputable theater houses and music halls. Initially, one might say that there is a strong contrast between the street life and these pillars of culture and art. Conversely, there is an inherent connection between this urban blight and the various forms of theater found in the Tenderloin. This connection is of great interest to our team.

The history of the Tenderloin as the city’s theater district, the range of theaters, and the theatricality of the area’s streets, struck each member of our group. The Tenderloin has a history of vaudevillian theater, jazz and performances by people of alternative sexual preference and gender identity. Today, all forms of theater can be found in the neighborhood, from the Recovery Theater, the Golden Gate Theater, the Warfield Theater concert hall, to strip clubs and peep shows. However, the theater does not end at the steps of these halls of entertainment: The human expression and interaction that takes place on the streets of the Tenderloin is a theater within itself, depicting human drama in extremely raw form.

Our investigation of the Tenderloin began by documenting the rich tapestry of social constructs that exist within this urban landscape. Our research revealed a host of melodramatic behaviors common to urban vagabonds. Individuals often emote or “perform” dramatic gestures. These token actions can take the form of dance, vocalization, or some brand of ebullient revelry. In most cases inebriation induces these behaviors.

Under further scrutiny a startling socio-psychological pattern is revealed: Invariably, when human beings are pushed to the breaking point, a theatrical outburst often transpires. These cathartic displays are both ironic and deeply poignant. This supposition underlies the formulation of our site work.

The neighborhood contains numerous transients who often sleep on the streets and wrap themselves and their belongings in many forms. To abstract and represent this phenomenon we chose the sleeping bag as the iconic object of this difficult existence. The cocoon-like swathe is often encountered in the Tenderloin and entertains a variety of references. The cocoon can symbolize the shell for protection, the process of incubation, and the potential for metamorphosis and rebirth.

Our installation will utilize this form and materiality for purposes of social representation and change. Our vision will be realized by creating a tableau of abstracted figures that are wrapped in theatrically stylized sleeping bags. The suitably costumed models, carefully posed and stage-lit will emote the haunting “performance” that is at the heart of our conceptual foundation. The characters will be installed in the five small balconies on the Golden Gate’s south, exterior wall. We intend these forms to be playful and contemplative, haunting and elated. They will represent the contradictory nature that is inherent within the San Francisco Tenderloin’s complicated theater district.

In our installation, we bring focus to the life on the streets of the Tenderloin, allowing the spectacle of the street to take center stage. Consequently, the Golden Gate Theater is brought closer to the streets by featuring a “show” that is available to all pedestrians and habitants of the neighborhood. cocoon-like figures allude to the cathartic experience of performance; they also remind the audience of the struggles of those who make the streets their bed.

Our goal is to prompt the audience to consider these individuals, as well as the Tenderloin’s history as a theater district, and to question the connection between these physical structures of entertainment and the stark reality of the area’s streets. In conclusion, we aim to highlight the Tenderloin’s unique tapestry of social complexities and drama, blurring the lines between theater and street, performance and life, and perceptions and reality.

1 comment:

  1. I can't imagine what you're thinking. "Invariably, when human beings are pushed to the breaking point, a theatrical outburst often transpires. These cathartic displays are both ironic and deeply poignant." It seems both arrogant and heartless to assume homelessness, poverty, addiction, and other marginalizzed acts are performative acts, or that your intervention of motorized sleeping bags will somehow make it so. Is the Tenderloin a place only of tragedy? No. Are there not local businesses that thrive in the area? I find it strange that you selectively see this as a site of "acting out" -- and rather than engage the neighborhood as something other than a bastion of criminality and inebriation, you present it, invariably, as a site of spectacle, an extension of theater. No dears, this is life. Just as war is not fought in a theater, so too, homelessness is no place for simple spectatorship.