MAY 1-JUN 15, 2014, FRI-SAT at 8PM, SUN at 7:30PM
Seth Eisen (Artistic Director) is a San Francisco-based artist creating a hybrid of live performance and visual media as a vehicle to broaden human perspectives and effect social change. He performed as a member of the Butoh companies Harupin–Ha and Ink Boat from 1994-99. From 2000-10 he toured with Keith Hennessy and Circo Zero across the US and Europe. His solo performances and installation projects have been featured in the San Francisco Bay Area at The Oakland Museum of California, Yerba Buena Center, as well as being presented in art spaces on both coasts. For the past 20 years, Eisen staged performance pieces, street spectacles and installations and appeared in a number of collaborative productions created with other Bay Area artists. In 2007, Eisen founded Eye Zen Presents, a theater company that promotes social change by linking Queer history and aesthetics to contemporary Queer culture. The company’s productions have focused on recovering the lost history of Queer ancestors whose lives have been erased from the historical record. The work engenders an aesthetic that communicates across multiple genres and frameworks, blurring boundaries and expanding the dialogue between theater and visual art.
Eye Zen Presents: Mission, Vision and History
Eye Zen Presents promotes social change by employing the arts to reclaim the history, stories and traditions of Queer culture. Founded by Seth Eisen in 2007, Eye Zen creates visually dynamic, interdisciplinary devised theater productions that promote community dialogues on a wide-range of LGBTQ historical, social and political issues. All of Eye Zen’s productions have resonated deeply with LGBT audiences because they artistically examine periods when social and political repression erased most of the evidence of the nation’s LGBT community from the pages of history. In addition to artistically expressing and recapturing our community’s little-known past, our productions have explored the many self-protective disguises queer people have worn to conceal their private lives from the public.
Artistic Director Seth Eisen began creating original work in 1994 and, in 2007, Eisen founded Eye Zen Presents to raise funds to support the production of Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas, and became a fiscally sponsored client of San Francisco’s CounterPULSE. This production examined the lives of seven culturally diverse Queer artists of the 20th century such as disco diva Sylvester, New Wave operatic siren Klaus Nomi, film and stage star Danny Kaye and Brazil’s Ney Matogrosso, whose work subverted their era’s prevailing cultural norms by inventing innovative ways to be out, queer and vocal. Blackbird premiered at the 2010 National Queer Arts Festival and was subsequently staged 11 times in San Francisco.
In 2011-12, Eye Zen originated Buffet Flats: Queering Slow Food, a series of 5 sold-out performance events that took place in individual homes and at community sites. A racially diverse creative team of Queer actors, musicians, performance artists, chefs, farmers and ecology specialists worked with Eye Zen to stage these events. Part Queer history cabaret, part dinner theater and part environmental education program, they informed the audience about the Pansy Craze of the 1920s, Gay history, local food sources and diverse culinary traditions within the LGBT community.
About Homo File
Homo File, a multidisciplinary theatrical production chronicling the life of Samuel Steward (1909-1993). Steward was a college professor, a prolific author of homoerotic fiction, an influential tattoo artist, and a sexual rebel who lived in the Bay Area for 30 years before dying at age 84, nearly forgotten. Homo File was developed at CounterPULSE as work-in-progress through the ARC program where we created the work during our residency (May-September 2012). In September 2012 we staged eight sold-out performances at CounterPULSE of a 40-minute work-in progress. Since then the creative team has been developing a 90-minute production that will premiere in May 2014.
Since 2007, our productions have told the stories of little known and under-recognized LGBT people whose lives contributed to the formation of contemporary Queer culture. Our current production, Homo File, presents Samuel Steward’s complex life through a devised theater piece incorporating, puppetry, live and recorded music, visual projections and other multi-media forms. It is the first full-length performance about this unique pre-Stonewall pioneer who was connected to many gay luminaries but not widely known.
Homo File’s chronological narrative structure highlights the key moments of Samuel Steward’s life, as he evolves over the course of the Twentieth Century through his friendships with author Gertrude Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas, revolutionary sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, playwright Thornton Wilder, renowned gay photographer George Platt Lynes and numerous other LGBTQ luminaries. Steward’s life story reflects the experiences of many Queer ancestors whose lives have been erased from the historical record. His writings provide a window into the life of a gay man who accepted his sexual orientation and examined his sexual impulses as sources of self-knowledge and artistic vision. Steward’s writings are a testament to how difficult it was for earlier generations of LGBTQ men and women to pursue self-empowerment and achieve self-acceptance while living inside a homophobic culture defined by prejudice and intolerance. By refusing to submit to social oppression, Steward paved the way for future generations of LGBTQ Civil Rights advocates and contemporary Queer culture.
Books By Samuel Steward (Phil Andros)
As Samuel M. Steward:
- Pan and the fire-bird (1930; short stories)
- Angels on the Bough (1936)
- Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1977, ed.)
- Parisian Lives (1984; novel)
- Chapters from an autobiography (1981; memoir)
- Murder Is Murder Is Murder (1985; Gertrude Stein-Alice B. Toklas Mystery)
- The Caravaggio Shawl (1989; Gertrude Stein-Alice B. Toklas Mystery)
- Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos: a Social History of the Tattoo with Gangs, Sailors, and Street-Corner Punks, 1950-1965 (1990)
- Understanding the Male Hustler (1991)
- Pair of Roses (1993)
As Phil Andros:
- The Motorcyclist (1953)
- $tud (1966)
- The Joy Spot (1969)
- My Brother, the Hustler (1970; later published as My Brother, My Self)
- San Francisco Hustler (1970; later published as The Boys in Blue)
- When in Rome (1971; later published as Roman Conquests)
- Renegade Hustler (1972; later published as Shuttlecock)
- Below the Belt and Other Stories (1975)
- The Greek Way (1975; later published as Greek Ways)
- Different Strokes: Stories (1984)
Books about Samuel Steward:
- An Obscene Diary: The Visual World of Sam Steward, Justin Spring
- Sexual Inversion (1897), Havelock Ellis (with J.A. Symonds)
Seth Eisen and Eye Zen Art
Seth Eisen’s work is a hybrid of visual art and live performance expanding the dialogue between various disciplines. In 1994 he developed the company Eye Zen Art as an umbrella for curating exhibits, producing performance, visual art projects and installations featured at The Oakland Museum of California, Theater Artaud, Zeum, Yerba Buena Center, SOMARTS, Theater of Yugen, and CounterPulse. He performed with Butoh companies Harupin–Ha and Ink Boat from 1994-1999 and from 2000-2010 with Keith Hennessy and Circo Zero touring in the US and Europe. Seth’s critically acclaimed solo show, Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas, sold out two San Francisco runs and received funding from Zellerbach Family Foundation, San Francisco Arts Commission (IAC) and numerous individual donors.
Eye Zen Art investigates the transgressive traditions of Queer history, Queer space and Queer culture. Through the expansion of LGBT self-awareness our work fosters the evolution of more inclusive conceptions of gender identities and sexual preferences. By harnessing and reclaiming the spirit, stories and traditions of historic and contemporary Queer culture, Eye Zen Arts creates hybrid works that combine live performance and visual media that broaden human perspectives and promote social change. Eye Zen Arts current project, Buffet Flats: Queering Slow Food, is a traveling dinner-salon that combines wild cabaret acts, a live cooking show and ecology talks at Bay Area homes and gardens. Info: buffetflats.org
Eye Zen Art is a fiscally sponsored project of CounterPULSE.
Press for Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas (2010)
“Only a few moments into Seth Eisen’s exceptional one-man cabaret and the place is alive and kicking: doleful aspects of the decor making ample room for a sly, vigorous, soulful performer and a completely unexpected journey through some vibrant underground queer history … A multifaceted performer with quick tongue, nimble steps, and hearty voice, Eisen uses drag, dance, puppetry, and performance art techniques to give flight to worthy exotic blackbirds known and forgotten… a rollicking and poignant act of resurrection, insurrection, and homage.”
— Robert Avila, SF Bay Guardian
“Long before Antony warbled in the indie-rock spotlight, there was the lipsticked, harlequin-stylized Klaus Nomi, singing beside David Bowie on “Saturday Night Live.” Decades before Joel Grey scored an Oscar for his turn at androgynous Master of Ceremonies, there was Jean Malin, the drag emcee of the “Pansy Craze” of the early ‘30s. Those are two of the singer–some shimmering with renown and others sadly lost, and still others languishing in obscurity–that Eisen portrays in Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas.”
— Kimberly Chun, San Francisco Chronicle
“Eisen ingeniously morphs into his characters telling their stories not only in song and poetry but also with shadow theater, puppetry and video. His characterizations are nothing short of mesmerizing and his instinct for the theatrical make Blackbird a performance piece full of wonder.”
— Leslie Katz, The San Francisco Examiner