Last year, as part of our effort to foster deep artist/community collaborations, Cal Shakes supported four Community Network Projects: work already being created outside our doors by local community-based artists and cultural workers. We wanted to discover, in what specific, discrete ways could we, as a regional arts institution, add to these projects to broaden capacity and deepen impact?
Dr. Ayodele Nzinga/The Lower Bottom Playaz, Red Beans, Rice, Honey Buttermilk Cornbread, & Discussions about Race
The Lower Bottom Playaz held performance/fundraisers exploring race, place, and belonging called Red Beans, Rice, Honey Buttermilk Cornbread, & Discussions About Race. Talkbacks after the events offered the audience, guest speakers, writers, artists, and community-based organizations space for candid discussion about race, gentrification, incarceration, and more, and for finding common ground for building intentional community.
To support the production of two readings in the series, which featured Dr. Nzinga’s Artist-Investigator project Beyond the Bars: Growing Home, developed with men recently released from San Quentin State Prison, Cal Shakes aided with performer stipends, venue costs, and our stock of chairs and music stands. The series was filmed to inform a larger work about race & place in North America.
NAKA Dance Theater, The Anastasio Project
Created by former Cal Shakes Artist-Investigators Jose Navarrete and Debby Kajiyama of NAKA Dance Theater, in collaboration with Susanne Takehara/EastSide Arts Alliance, The Anastasio Project is a multidisciplinary public performance work that investigates racial profiling and state brutality in the streets of Oakland and at the US-Mexico border. The piece uses the story of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas, a Mexican national murdered by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents in 2010, as its point of departure.
Cal Shakes first supported The Anastasio Project in 2013 with funds to create a roving, tricycle-mounted video projector that allowed the performance to move through the streets outside EastSide Arts Alliance. For the 2015 remount, Cal Shakes supported with funds for an outreach coordinator, who increased access to the work, including three supplementary dialogues on police brutality, among folks in the surrounding neighborhood.
RYSE Center, Bag Ladies’ Butterfly Blues: A Multimedia Production by Richmond Youth
Young people in the RYSE Center’s Media, Arts, and Culture program weaved together poetry, theater, film, dance, and music to create Bag Ladies’ Butterfly Blues: RYSE’s first-ever theatrical production following 16-year-old emcee Natia as she learns about life, love, and womanhood from neighbors in her apartment building. The production created a safe space for Richmond youth to share their stories, pain, joy, and dreams; explore gender roles that can confine women and men of color; and envision a future where relationships are rooted in respect and healthy communication.
Cal Shakes supported RYSE with educational workshops from professional visiting artists Margo Hall, Dan Wolfe, and Rebecca Novick, who worked with youth on acting technique, crafting monologues from community interviews, and more, and by helping stipend the production’s director/dramaturg. The play had tremendous community impact: the youth artists reported feeling like “family” after the often emotional process of creating and rehearsing the piece, and almost all audience members rated it a 5/5 on post-performance surveys, writing that it was a healing experience.
BAY-Peace, Peer-Led Arts-Based Resistance for Formerly and Currently Incarcerated Youth
BAY-Peace supports and empowers Bay Area youth to confront violence through youth organizing and artistic resistance, cultivating creativity, critical thinking, and understanding among working-class students of color. Their model is to train young people to lead workshops to teach other young people tools and information to resist militarism, racial profiling, police brutality, gentrification, and other structural violence.
To support an expansion of their intergenerational leadership model of arts-based youth organizing, Cal Shakes provided funds to pay a BAY-Peace youth to co-facilitate Theater of the Oppressed classes alongside organizer Tatiana Chaterji in the juvenile detention facility at Camp Wilmont Sweeney in San Leandro. (In addition to training youth with BAY-Peace, Chaterji worked as a performing artist and facilitator with the Cal Shakes-backed project Love Balm for My SpiritChild, a testimonial theater process honoring women who have lost children to violence, and more recently as the moderator for our Actualizing Women’s Empowerment Civic Dialogue.)
Unfortunately, BAY-Peace’s youth arts facilitator faced obstacles in gaining clearance to work within the detention center, and the program inside Camp Sweeney went forward with a single adult facilitator. Cal Shakes’ funding then shifted to supporting intergenerational arts-based leadership outside of Camp Sweeney, by providing stipends and meals to support the youth taking BAY-Peace classes within the facility to participate in a peer-led workshop upon their release. The series, which served formerly incarcerated youth, culminated in a performance at EastSide Arts Alliance as part of BAY-Peace’s Oakland’s Geography of Resistance, which mapped different ways young people resist institutional violence through the arts, with a focus on criminalization, incarceration, and the school-to-prison pipeline.