Accessibly Special: A New Program is Packing Performance into Summer

By Julie Phelps


There is work bursting from the seams of the Bay Area right now–it is impossible to ignore. CounterPULSE presents a small cross section of this work as part of our new Summer Special season. As Program Manager and designer/curator of this program I was eager to find a way to support the current generative energy while instigating its scrappy spirit. As a working artist, independent producer, and long-time arts non-profiteer I always appreciate seeing people pulling together to create opportunities for one another. Summer Special is an experiment in offering radically affordable and accessible performance opportunities to an invited group of performance-makers. In the same spirit of similar programming at other venues–such as The Garage’s AIRspace, Kunst-Stoff’s festivals and classes, Dance Mission’s Down and Dirty series, and SOMArts’ work with SQUART/THEOFFCENTER–Summer Special is another example of community-based venues working side-by-side with artists to sustain fringe work while fostering connections within the performance community.

This program is intended to broaden our support by offering a series of co-productions that rely on festival-like efficiency, and the cross-pollination and resource-sharing made possible by organizing artists into a distinct cohort. During July and August (with one slipped into June), Summer Special presents eleven lead artists in nine weeks of contemporary dance, experimental theater, multimedia performance, unconventional drag and more; and it’s all within a co-production model that allows projects to be successfully produced on slim resources. With Summer Special we are able to offer highly subsidized rates in hopes that artists can earn enough income to pay for their projects, and hopefully bank some for the next!

Summer Special is specifically designed to support an artist’s ability to generate earned income and attract new audiences, because we believe that these are invaluable in accessing and realizing new artistic possibilities. Earned income is remarkably important for emerging artists, particularly those trying to bridge the gap from home-spun DIY projects to funded (or even semi-supported) productions. It is in programs like Summer Special that future leaders and innovators cut their teeth. By explicitly mapping financial and audience goals, while nurturing a cohort of artists to work together and challenge one another, we hope that artists will walk away with funds for their next undertaking and the audience to support it, plus be all the wiser, better equipped, and connected.

It’s thrilling to offer Summer Special during what is usually the performance “off season.” Placing value on ensuring that artists, regardless of funding, have the support they need to produce new works and successful events, our hope is that this can become a twice-annual tradition–especially during these trying times, when options and resources are severely limited. At second thought, mentioning ‘trying times’ seems paradoxical and most appropriate given the current atmosphere of the Bay Area performance scene–the times are trying but the artists and small venues are trying harder.

The Summer Special shows continue through August. Ranging from raw experiments to polished premieres, this summer is full of new performance at CounterPULSE. Featuring: Front Line Theater, Maryam Farnaz Rostami, Samantha Giron Dance, VivvyAnne ForeverMORE, Raya Light, Erika Tsimbrovsky, Collage Theater, and a shared evening between Finley Coyl and Mary Franck with Tessa Wills. The Winter Special application deadline is September 14, 2011.

This article appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of In Dance.

Julie Phelps, born in a small town with the Mississippi River running through. She studies/contemplates/practices performance, holds a BA in psychology from Macalester (MN), and lives in San Francisco. She has studied with Sara Shelton Mann and Keith Hennessy - serving as provocateur for Hennessy's new work Turbulence. She works as a performer, curator, and producer: Program Manager at CounterPULSE; director of Too Much! a queer marathon; co-founder/member of THEOFFCENTER; member of Jesse Hewit's Strong Behavior; and has performed in Meg Stewart's Auf Den Tisch. Julie has a strange tendency to be fiercely in-between, refusing singular personal functions/roles by preserving an intentional imprecision and multi-missioned agenda.