Despite being a stage buff in a city like San Francisco, I find it's relatively easy to exhaust my dramatic options: period pieces full of fake British accents, updated Sturm und Drang routines, and the bewildering but obligatory performance art program. In the world of S.F. theater, there's nothing new under the sun, which is why I'm eagerly awaiting some good old-fashioned make-believe with the BATS Improv Long-Form Festival. BATS is an experimental improvisation troupe full of wacky kids creating unscripted, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-knickers theater, and its Long-Form Festival is a once-a-year chance to see the group create narrative work on the spot.
Improv generally leans toward comedy, full of clever ripostes and biting repartee, but the Long-Form Festival strives to develop complete narratives spanning every possible genre. This year's lineup, for example, includes formats like "disco romance," "comic film noir," and "Brechtian coming-of-age musical." The fest also features plays in a format called "choose your own adventure," in which audience members get to direct the action and (hopefully) save a show from viewer ennui or a protagonist's ill-advised choice of tragic flaw. Shy viewers may want to take note that many performances are heavily dependent on audience participation. Case in point: The Life Game, which uses interviews with spectators to generate a complete piece, equipped with characters and madcap plot points.
Prepare your dramatic crib notes, if you will, and check out the opening night at 8 this Friday (the fest continues through May 29) at the Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason, Building B, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $8-15; call 474-8935 or visit www.improv.org.
-- Nirmala Nataraj
Having followed the career of Los Dryheavers for a number of years, we can say for sure that in addition to being a Spanglish-mangling punk band bent on world domination (witness the rough 'n' tough full-length Hang Ups, Heartaches, and Hangovers) it's also a group with cojones. Keeping such an act together in tiny, Godforsaken Watsonville takes hard work. The five locos in Los Dryheavers would have you think that all they do is drink beer, but we know they recently toured Europe. The Hollow Points, the Lucky Stiffs, Running on Fumes, and the Fuzz share the stage at 8 p.m. at Thee Parkside, 1600 17th St. (at Wisconsin), S.F. Admission is $6; call 503-0393 or visit www.theeparkside.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
Making Luna tick
Performance art has a bad reputation: That is, it's reputed to be bad. But that's mostly because some of it is so beautiful and tells the truth so passionately that it inspires hordes of mediocre imitators. That's why we like The James Luna Project; when you get a chance to see smart, funny work that leaves cultural stereotypes in ribbons, you should take it.
In this case, Luna's performative installations pointedly consider what it means to be "Indian" in America. In the past, he's taken aim at both sides of the New Age shaman phenomenon, calling out the fetishizing white people who pay Native Americans for bogus wisdom and the Native Americans who take advantage of them, in a piece called Shameman. The show begins at 8 p.m. at Galería de la Raza, 2857 24th St. (at Bryant), S.F. Admission is free-$10; call 826-8009 or visit www.galeriadelaraza.org.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
What the Funk?
One transgendered nation under a groove
There are many more than two spots on the male-female gender continuum at the club night "Karma." We don't care if these folks call themselves drag queens, faux kings, or drag kings; all we know is that the jaw-droppingly pretty young things who strut around this queer and trans cabaret look damn good. MC Nafis wrangles the transgendered throngs in a costume contest inspired by this month's "What the Funk" theme, so expect lots of bodacious babes in gravity-defying Afros. Entertainment also includes drag king boy bands the Transformers and the Wood and homo-hopper JB Rap of DeepDiCkollective. Appropriate attire is strongly suggested for this participatory event, so break out the bell-bottoms and platform shoes. Panties optional. The evening begins at 10 at El Rio, 3158 Mission (at Cesar Chavez), S.F. Admission is $8; call 282-3325 or visit www.lovealchemist.com.
-- Jane Tunks
Dentists and kindergarten teachers have told us over and over that a Mars bar and a glass of milk do not equal a well-balanced meal. And even though he wrote an entire book about his obsession with obscure candies, author Steve Almond knows there's more to life than chocolate. For example, the quirky characters who populate his new collection of stories include a family that thinks it was abducted by aliens and a cultural studies professor who's obsessed with the color of Michael Jackson's penis (timely!). Tonight the creative writing professor and NPR commentator reads from The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories at 7 at the Booksmith, 1644 Haight (at Cole), S.F. Admission is free; call 863-8688 or visit www.booksmith.com.
-- Jane Tunks