BLACKBIRD: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas

Seth Eisen at Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, June 24th – July 10th

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas is a full-length, musical pastiche of queer music, written and dynamically performed by solo artist Seth Eisen (from Keith Hennessy’s Circo Zero) depicting eccentric and inimitable gay performers from the 1930s to the present, who despite their outsider status, established innovative ways to be out, queer and vociferous. The themes in Blackbird unfold through Eisen’s nimble use of puppetry and a hybrid of live performance: dance, music, video, song and storytelling.

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SETH EISEN

Blackbird is an international history of 20th Century gay musical performance! Celebrated performers including Danny Kaye, Klaus Nomi, and Sylvester are brought to life by Eisen in addition to stealth performers, worthy of homage, including Issan Dorsey, Brazil’s Ney Matogroso, Bulgaria’s Azis and Jean Malin – Grandfather of the 1930’s Pansy Craze. Presented as a workshop production in November 2008, Blackbird returns to Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, this production directed by Bay Area’s Brian Freeman (Pomo Afro Homos). The musical director is Sean Feit who also starred in and wrote the score for Circo Zero’s 2007 award-winning show, Sol niger. Costumes are designed and constructed by Jack Davis. Video is designed by Alanna Simone.

Blackbird was inspired by the Native American Two-Spirit tradition that gave special status to those who failed to fit into gender roles defined by European social norms,” says Seth Eisen. “
In the past 20 years, the reintroduction of gender-variant traditions from diverse histories and cultures aided the queer community with liberating its gender expression. Blackbird illuminates the lives of characters who made astounding cultural and social contributions, with some remaining virtually unknown in their lifetimes. My research has unearthed the histories of these seven characters who ignited cultural and social revolutions through music and performance. Two of the seven were San Francisco celebrities who died of AIDS in the 1980s, establishing the City’s essential role in the international history of Twentieth Century gay musical performance.”

Eisen portrays the diverse characters of Blackbird, bringing new life to lost queer histories, giving image, voice and movement to the forgotten, 
the unspoken and the taboo. These musical characters include:

Jean Malin – He led the movement of gay acts in speakeasies and initiated the 1930’s cultural phenomenon called the Pansy Craze. Acting as Blackbird’s emcee, Malin, (played by Eisen), serenades his audience into a falsetto spell, stitching together songs about gender, race, economics and “gay love”.

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DANNY KAYE and SYLVESTER

Danny Kaye – The questionably gay stage and film star who rose from the Borscht-Belt to the silver screen of the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Sylvester – San Francisco’s own, was becoming the dazzling, international disco diva phenomenon in the 1970s, when rising political activist Harvey Milk reigned as the Mayor of Castro Street. Eisen reenacts Sylvester’s gospel rendition of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” that Sylvester performed at his historic 1979 concert at The SF War Memorial Opera House.

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KLAUS NOMI and NEY MATOGROSO

Klaus Nomi – the unparalleled German, New Wave operatic siren who took NYC and the world by storm in the 1980s.

Ney Matogroso – the flamboyant 1970s Brazilian rock star, who queered the music scene while living under a repressive military regime.

Azis – the outrageous Bulgarian pop star, known for his atypical gender expression in an uproarious gender-bending act brings us to the present day.

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ISSAN DORSEY

Issan Dorsey – the San Francisco drag queen phenomenon once known as Tommy Dee who became a Zen Abbot. Eisen transports the audience from the drag circuit of the 1950s to the founding MAITRI, the first Buddhist AIDS hospice in San Francisco’s Castro district.

Click here to purchase tickets on-line: Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas
June 24, 25, 26, 27, (Thurs. – Sun.)
July 1, 2, 3 (Thurs – Sat.)
July 8, 9, 10 (Thurs – Sat.)
All shows at 8:00 pm

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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