Sea Witch Productions heads Lauren Espina and Haley Scofield have one simple request regarding their upcoming show: Men, sit this one out.
It’s a request the pair has never made before, although they’ve been toying for some time with the idea of presenting a show exclusively for women and for non-binary and femme-identifying people. But when they decided to try and make it happen, landing a show billed specifically as a safe space proved difficult.
“We pitched this idea to four or five venues and everyone responded with positive feedback, but no one wanted to touch it,” says Espina. “They were too scared.”
Then, in a pleasantly surprising turn of events, Thee Parkside offered an enthusiastic yes, going so far as to make sure the venue staff would be primarily female-identifying.
It was a watershed moment for the pair, who have been producing live music events in the Bay Area since 2015 with an emphasis on social justice-minded benefit shows, including Let It Bleed, their annual rock show-slash-tampon drive for the homeless. Outwardly feminist from the start, Sea Witch’s brand has grown increasingly intersectional and vocal over the past year. This show felt like the natural next step in their mission to make live music spaces safer for women and non-binary people.
“What we’re trying to do is reconcile these sides of Sea Witch, which is a curator in a scene and a platform for social justice,” says Espina.
But in the process of trying to find a venue, Espina and Scofield expanded beyond being curators of just live music. Inspired by their idea, Amber Schadewald, the host of cheetle radio on local independent radio station BFF.fm, offered to collaborate and present a live and on-air panel featuring women and gender non-conforming music industry professionals. (Again, men were asked to stay home.)
Schadewald also knew of an all-women art show presented by BFF.fm happening at The Galallery, and brought the idea of bringing the show into the fold to station chief Amanda Guest. Guest agreed, and the series came together.
“It was an amazing testament to what happens when you open your world up and collaborate with women,” says Espina. “That’s the way this entire community we work in has always worked.”
In seemingly record time, Espina and Scofield’s one-off show had turned into a bona fide miniature festival. They decided to call it No Apologies Fest after the title of a documentary currently being made by local filmmaker Nicole Salmeri — and in honor of how, as women, they’re done apologizing.
“It’s selfish. We like that. A lot of people are not selfish enough,” Espina says. “They feel like they have to prove their worth to take up space. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.”
“It’s not anti-men,” Scofield says. “It’s just for us.”
So far, the pair hasn’t faced any backlash over the show, something they credit to the progressive strides the local rock community has taken in recent years. It’s a change Espina and Scofield themselves helped facilitate through their commitment to booking bills not dominated by white male musicians, not to mention their company’s vocal feminist and anti-racist position.
Legally speaking, Sea Witch can’t bar men from showing up, buying a ticket, and spending the evening in the venue. Nor are they interested in playing gender police (or asking venue security to do so).
“The one cis man that shows up, that’s one less space for a woman or non-binary of female-identifying person to have a good time,” says Scofield.
Headlining the show is Oakland-based performer Ah Mer Ah Su, a black trans woman whose artful R&B-flecked art-pop takes on addiction, race, gender, and mental health with nuance and vulnerability. Her most popular cut, “Klonopin,” off last year’s Rebecca, is an unhurried but nonetheless rhythmic trip with shades of Mykki Blanco and Frank Ocean.
She was also Sea Witch’s dream headliner for this show. Espina and Scofield reached out on social media and were elated when she accepted. The pair told her about their plans to donate a portion of proceeds to a bipartisan initiative dedicated to restoring human rights in women’s prisons. She responded with a request for an additional $100 to donate to TGI Justice Project, an organization dedicated to ending human rights violations against transgender, genderqueer, and intersex people in prisons.
Realizing their initial charity excluded trans women due to penal regulations that put trans woman in men’s prisons, Espina and Scofield made amends by changing the entire show to benefit TGI Justice Project.
“I was like, ‘I’m so sorry we didn’t think about that. Thank you so much for letting us know about this organization,’ ” says Scofield.
“It was a huge learning moment for us,” adds Espina. “This is one day of having her involved and we had this huge a-ha moment. This is what people with different experiences and backgrounds have to offer: a different point of view. This is why it’s so important to be inclusive.”
This time, they’re being as inclusive as possible to people with identities that have never felt completely safe in live music spaces — which means asking the group of people who have always felt safest to find something else to do.
“We’re really just hoping that men are smart enough to respect our night because that’s all it’s about,” says Scofield. “And how uncomfortable would you be if you were that guy?”
Ah Mer Ah Su, Dirty Denim, and more play No Apologies Fest on Thursday, March 29, at Thee Parkside. $8, theeparkside.com