The 2019 Fresh Meat Festival Is Feistier Than Ever

The dynamic Ah-Mer-Ah-Su is but one of the draws at 2019’s Fresh Meat Festival, a gathering of trans and queer performance.

(Left) Star Amerasu, (Top Right) Shawna Virago,(Bottom Right) Jahaira Fajardo and Angelica Medina. Courtesy of Fresh Meat Festival

That the Trump campaign chose to launch its 2020 re-election bid in Orlando during Pride month is no accident. There’s a conference taking place in that Central Florida city — home to Pulse, the gay club where a 2016 massacre caused the deaths of dozens of mostly Latinx people — at which a number of “Christian” pastors have advocated for LGBTQ people to be put to death.

Par for the course in 2019 America, but only if we allow ourselves to be desensitized to the horror and the insanity. Choreographer Sean Dorsey is not about to let that happen. The creator of the Fresh Meat Festival, a three-day celebration of trans and queer performance, Dorsey saw fit to act when he saw how mainstream dance and theater companies struggled with casting — or outright refused to cast — people who gracefully inhabit bodies different from the gender they were assigned at birth. (That would include Dorsey himself. He is an out and proud trans man.)

Years later, Fresh Meat remains a focal point of artistic resistance, presenting selections like “queer retro boy-band quartet” The Singing Bois, the always-mesmerizing world champion bachata duo Jahaira Fajardo and Angelica Medina, who are partners in life and work, and Oakland performer Ah-Mer-Ah-Su. Beyond simply centering the bodies of queer and trans people, some of them disabled and many of them people of color, Fresh Meat provides a template for other organizations and festivals to follow. Dorsey and his wife, singer-songwriter Shawna Virago, are adept at fighting for justice in the form of exposure, and they have a knack for getting it funded and produced.

SF Weekly caught Ah-Mer-Ah-Su — aka Star Amerasu — opening for Peaches at the Chapel a couple years ago, and we were transfixed by the combination of lyrical candor and a kinetic stage presence. She performed at Fresh Meat in 2014 and 2016, and returns this year with two new songs she’s written, straight after a three-city European mini-tour and an opening slot for Meghan Trainor on the main stage at L.A. Pride.

“They’re kind of deconstructed,” Amerasu says of her 2019 Fresh Meat offering. “I usually write things with a looper pedal, but for these songs I’ll have someone playing an acoustic guitar and someone playing cello while I will be singing. It’s a pared-down version of my indie-electronic thing that I usually do.”

It won’t be as peppy as some of her better-known songs, like “Klonopin,” for example. And on Aug. 28, Amerasu will release Incandescent Bodies, an orchestral reimagining of several of her songs, arranged by Magik*Magik Orchestra director Minna Choi with a grant from Women’s Audio Mission.

“I went into the studio and I got instrumentalists and rearranged six of my songs,” Amerasu says. “So I’ll be releasing those six along with six instrumentals.”

Apart from a performance at the Exploratorium on June 27, Fresh Meat 2019 may be one of the last few chances for Bay Area audiences to catch Ah-Mer-Ah-Su here, as she’s leaving to become “a fully bicoastal, bi-curious millennial, moving back and forth from New York and L.A.” As virtually any young artist knows, life in S.F. or Oakland is difficult and, in spite of our great wealth, institutional support is rare.

“The Bay Area has so much money in it, and yet so little money to offer artists — which I think is so odd,” Amerasu says. “But the arts organizations aren’t giving a lot of money. That’s what’s nice about Fresh Meat: They’re finding ways to engage the people who have been here and get them to care about that institutional coin so that we can keep creating art.”

Fresh Meat Festival, Thursday-Saturday, June 20-22, 8 p.m., at Z Space, 450 Florida St., $15-$50, freshmeatproductions.org

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