Miranda July on Her Love For the Gilman and Growing Up In Berkeley

Polarizing screenwriter-actress-director-artist-novelist Miranda July was in town last night, talking about her new book, The First Bad Man, with Adam Savage at a City Arts and Lectures event at the Nourse Theater. 

In the course of conversation, July — who hails from Berkeley — mentioned that some her earliest performances were at a “punk club,” before stopping herself. 

[jump] “Well, it's here, I guess I don't have to be so formal about it — it was the Gilman,” she said, to whoops from the audience. “I would get up on stage to open for bands, and do pieces where I played different characters, talked in different voices. And it was really interesting to see people's reactions because mostly they just had no idea what I was doing. They would try to talk to me as if I was just up there as me, and it was like, 'Hey, I actually wrote this, and I'm trying to remember lines …' And then sometimes it was violent. Like, trying to sweep me off the stage. So normally I would find just one woman in the crowd who seemed like she was actually interested in what I was doing, usually the girlfriend of some tough guy who was there, and I would just do the whole performance for her, at her.”

Later, during the Q&A portion, an audience member asked about her upbringing in Berkeley, and how it shaped her worldview. Aside from the tunnel vision of being surrounded by artists and intellectuals, she said, there was something magical about the fact that “I would walk home from a party at 3 a.m., just all across Berkeley. And now that I'm living in L.A. and have my son, I'm thinking, oh, maybe we need to move to Berkeley just so he can do that.” Also: “I didn't like prep school in a lot of ways, and I rebelled and all that. But not everyone gets to stage that rebellion at the Gilman.”

Say what you will about July's work, but on that front: Amen, sister. 

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