Pride Month in San Francisco this year continues to shapeshift as more events either altogether cancel or adopt entirely online programs. One creative adjustment to the current times is Eye Zen's performance-driven, queer history tour of SOMA — “South of The Slot,” as it was once known by — that's set to digitally debut in June.
By now, odds are you're acutely aware SF Pride — like September’s leather-cladded Folsom Street Fair — is moving to a virtual celebration for 2020 amid the pandemic. SF's Pride's planning committee this week released its quilt work of virtual events to honor SF Pride's 50th anniversary, which now includes a collage of Zoom-platformed panel discussions, live and pre-recorded drag queen performances, a televised program that gives a nod to our city's rich LGBTQI+ past, and more. In a like-modified way, Eye Zen Presents' OUT of Site: SOMA Goes Virtual showcase is paying homage to past LGBTQ heroes and queer landmarks in SOMA and the now Leather District through a series of live-streamed tours.
Thank you San Francisco, for embracing OUT of Site: SOMA. It's been such a joy to bring these queer and radical histories and streets to life for you. Watch for our fall dates (coming soon), and happy Pride! #outofsitesoma #eyezenpresents (Photo by Edward Schlesinger) pic.twitter.com/BMHZ19Tgds— Eye Zen Presents (@eyezenpresents) June 17, 2019
Produced by Eye Zen Presents, a local theater company with a specific bend toward creating queer showcases, OUT of Site: SOMA Goes Virtual is an exploration in both the familiar and foreign, shedding a new light on to well-known SF LGBTQI+ personages and institutions. Split into six episodes — each of which will be live-streamed on Zoom — a cast of commendable performers (Leigh Crow, Ryan Hayes, and Hector Zavala) will rediscover the former "South of the Slot," with audiences meeting founders of the Folsom Street Fair, lesbian auto-mechanics, labor and social activists, dockworkers, and drag queens as they travel (through pixels) from Ringold Alley to the Toolbox and The Stud bars, as well as the Bay Brick Inn, among several other places of historical importance.
“This project asserts that it’s impossible to move forward without knowing where we came from," says Eye Zen Founder and Artistic Director Seth Eisen in a press release. “With stories of queer resistance and resilience, it reminds us of how we can get through these challenging times."
But Eisen's production is as much of an exercise in malleable creativity as it is posturing against gentrification.
"We commemorate the stories of those individuals and businesses that have been displaced [by gentrification] in the last 10 to 25 years," Eisen adds about the production. "We also tell the stories of people taken by the AIDS epidemic and those who survived, stories from the birth of SoMa’s modern-day leather community in the 1950s and 60s in the wake of the urban renewal movement, and farther back still to when the neighborhood was a ramshackle plot of homes for factory workers and tent villages for gold miners within an area of sand dunes.”
Depending on how well this novel theater display is perceived by audiences, OUT of Site: SOMA Goes Virtual may serve as a blueprint for future productions in this era of social distancing.
"We’re interested in generating new ways of developing, distributing and experiencing cultural production,” says Eye Zen Co-Founder Claudia Alick in the same release, waxing on the use of certain "tools" needed to bring live-drama to laptop and smartphone screens: “Behind the scenes, we’re doing something we’ve never done before drawing on tools including Zoom, Wirecast, Google Earth, and Qlab — to make live theater without conventional theater.”
OUT of Site: SOMA Goes Virtual will start streaming Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 7 p.m. PDT from June 19 through 28; tickets ($25) are available on Eventbrite and Eye Zen Presents, and the appropriate Zoom channel to join will be shared with purchasers.
Image: Courtesy of Eye Zen Presents