Last Sunday was one of those perfect days where everything just felt right. Beautiful weather, great coffee, and a dose of art. I really believe that one of the keys to good art is to successfully avoid spoon-feeding. I don’t need to be told what to believe and which opinion is the best. I tend to think of myself as an educated person who can come to that conclusion on his own. What’s important for me is the journey. So the question becomes: how will the artist aid me in getting there? Will it be poignant? Will he or she paint beautiful images that will stay with me? Will I be able to contain my laughter?
Jump-Start Performance Company’s new work, “Tales of Lost Southtown,” delivers all that and more. This will be Jumpstart’s first main stage production since the company departed the Blue Star Arts Complex in January.
The new space at 710 Fredericksburg Rd. will not be ready for some time, so the performances will run March 21-23 and 28-30 at Urban 15, an organization that grew with Jumpstart some 30 years ago in the grassroots arts movement in San Antonio. Each performance promises a guest appearance by a different community artist.
It was on this perfect Sunday that I was able to attend a preview reading of “Tales of Lost Southtown,” created by Erik Bosse and directed by Laurie Dietrich, at Gemini Ink. Much of the prose that inspired the piece was actually developed through the free, monthly workshops that Gemini ink offers to writers, so the location was more than appropriate. As soon as the reading started I was thrown into a world filled with beautiful imagery and funky stories. The main character took me on a tour of his world and his motley crew of friends in Southtown.
He remembered doing mushrooms in the San Francisco metro and sardonically bemoaned his new position in life in San Antonio as he uttered, “I want Dionysian! But here I am on a porch with candy, waiting for kids.”
Candidian adventures unfolded before me as I was told tales of unhinged actresses and “Mr. Dempster” who swears there is a labyrinth of tunnels beneath Hemisfair Park. In Bosse’s world, the elevator operators at the Tower of the Americas have a high government security clearance and local Voodoo Bakeries may or may not be sacrificing cats. Sassy artist friends, overflowing with camp, flirt with undocumented Guatemalans in a “barbecue bacchanalia” and a filmmaker goes to the “ghost tracks” to get the perfect shot and gets more than what he bargained for – altars decorate the tracks the filmmaker visits, and in a way these pieces, filled with wisdom and nostalgia, feel like altars of the San Antonio that was.
I was fortunate enough to be able to sit down with Bosse and Dietrich after the reading and Dietrich assured me that, “it’s not a polemic, we’re not going to preach to you and talk about evil developers and corporate greed – it‘s just stories of this town … that is in danger of being – not lost – but changed.”
That is what I loved most about the piece. That Bosse successfully painted a portrait of gentrification in Southtown without literally talking about gentrification. He shows genuine concern about his neighborhood. “This is a very unique and open place and I don’t know if 10 years from now it will be the same,” Bosse said.
Bosse is not a Southtown native. He moved there 10 years ago as a filmmaker and decided to stay. “That is the problem with artists,” he said. “They move into a neighborhood and think they own that neighborhood and don’t realize that they might be the first wave of gentrification.”
It was refreshing to talk to someone who knew his place in the larger scheme of things and how, in turn, he should be reacting to the current stage of gentrification. Instead of taking on the struggle of others, as so many enjoy doing, Bosse recounts authentic and incisive stories.
“I don’t want to be someone who co-opts somebody else’s voice,” he said. And he doesn’t.
“He’s painting a portrait of a neighborhood at a particular moment in time and leaving it to the people to decide what’s valuable,” Dietrich said.
And this concept and performance is particularly meaningful for Jump-Start.
“I don’t speak for the organization,” she said when I asked how she felt about the the company’s departure from the Blue Start Arts Complex. I let her know that I was at their final wrecking ball party and that even though, at the time, I knew nothing about the company it still made me very emotional. The entire night was filled with nostalgia and loss but at the same time hope for the future. Dietrich was flattered and went on to say, “It’s a relief to be out from under there.”
The company is happy with the reception to its move into Beacon Hill. Nine members of the Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association went to the press conference announcing Jump-Start’s move. “They spread the word, came to meet us at our press conference, and we felt loved,” Bosse said.
Dietrich went on to say, “a lot of people are going to think that this (piece) is our response to the move, but it’s not.”
Actually, “Tales of Lost Southtown“ was in production before the move. It shows in the work – it is not a reactionary tale to leaving Blue Star or a condemnation of gentrification, rather a timely multi-media hybrid of film and live theater.
Mark your calendars and get your tickets for “Tales of Lost Southtown“ at Urban 15. Also, anticipate the big grand opening of Jump-Start’s new space at 710 Fredericksburg in July of with Dino Foxx’s Glam Bear that Dietrich will direct.