Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, which provides a safe, creative space for the city’s queer artists and activists to experiment with and investigate their pursuits, is going dark at the end of July.

After a recent fire marshal inspection, prompted by an anonymous tip, the MCVF building was deemed to have a lower venue capacity than the space has been used for. This limited number (49) isn’t large enough to support the kinds of programs that MCVF (and before it, Jon Sims Center for the Arts) needs to survive.

What: Alicia Oh’s when i die, i will be dead
Where: Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory, 1519 Mission Street, San Francisco
When: July 15-17 and 22-24, 8PM
Tickets: $15-20; online or, pending availability, at the door.

But MCVF isn’t dead and done! Spearheaded by Ernesto Sopprani, MCVF is actively looking for a new venue to continue its work, and the organization still aims to produce work while fundraising for the future. Sopprani says, “It’s a tragedy to lose this building, but things happen for a reason.” If this is true, then I hope a few fairy godfathers (and/or godmothers) come through with magic wands and pumpkin carriages in tow.

Before then, the venue’s last artist-in-resident, Alicia Ohs, in conjunction with Choyoh! Productions, presents her new evening-length work, when i die, i will be dead. Earlier this week, I had a chance to ask Ohs about her background and work.

Becca Hirschman: What drew you to dance and physical theatre? And San Francisco?

Alicia Ohs: I was a dancer from a young age and attended an arts high school in LA when I first started to make my own work. I attended NYU Tisch School of the Arts in the Experimental Theatre Wing, a program based in physical theatre and self-scripting. Run by folks that came out of the Judson Memorial Dance movement, that experience forever changed my view of art making. I never really create dance, and I never really create theatre.

San Francisco is a city where everyone in my family had lived but me. My grandparents once owned a store on Church St. It seemed like a natural step to live here at some point in my life.

You’ll be presenting two new works. “New York, I Love You! I Hate You… Now Dance!” offers a glimpse into an artist’s struggle with authenticity. Does the piece reflect your own artistic path through auditions and creating new work?

I think the work is most about an artist’s struggle to stay authentic to the self. To remember our histories and where we came from, honor those histories, and challenge ourselves to stay true to our artistic drives and our sense of self. Specifically within a larger dance audition scene, whether it’s Broadway or modern, there’s some abuse and a sense, at the beginning, that the dancer is worthless.

In my senior year in school, I spent a semester studying Shakespeare at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and the next semester creating an experimental evening length work in NY. When I got out of school, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to pursue Broadway, dance, or making my own work. I spent some time exploring, going to some auditions, doing some showings, and finally settling in on my community and aesthetic: postmodern “downtown dance” if I had to label it. Yes, I have been to some of those major auditions but it didn’t take me long to figure out I wanted something else.

The piece is also about privilege and inclusion. There are many artists who work very hard in NYC, some with little to no recognition. There are also artists who come from artistic families, or old school wealth, and barely lift a finger to get recognition.

And does the New York artist’s realm differ from San Francisco?

Absolutely, and in many ways. In SF, there is a stronger community around making your own work. If you want to create a piece, you put in an application, meet some people, do some showings, and get a residency. In NY, you might wait a year just to do a ten-minute showing. It’s harder to make work, it costs more, and the competition is greater for a smaller piece of the pie.

Is any artist–choreographer, dancer, painter, etc.–ever really authentic? Or do we all, in some way, borrow little bits and pieces of inspiration from our teachers and collaborators? When does homage cross the line into creative fraud?

I think it’s a little egotistical to think ideas are ever “ours.” Everything we’ve thought of, I think someone else has, too, maybe in another form, or without the means to manifest the idea. I think there’s just a collective consciousness. Like when you go see a piece of work and say “Hey, i was thinking of that same idea!”

I often reference other choreographers, other peoples’ ideas, so I do sometimes “steal,” but openly referencing where the ideas came from, in a playful way about what’s an “original choice.”

Alicia Ohs 001.jpg

Photo by Erin Siegal

Your other piece, “Dokuen,” delves into identity, pain, life, and death. These are highly emotional and intangible subjects. What motivated you in your movement exploration?

Well, the piece is about solos, and how we process grief, that each person has a different way, and in life, we do this dance around each others’ pain and history. Sometimes the dance is really smooth, sometimes we crash together. In this piece, each of the performers has created their own solo, based on their own experiences of grief and loss, in both dance and physical theatre. The solos interact and interrupt one another, just like how we bump up against one another in life.

The other half of the piece is about translating grief through art, specifically in dance: how choreographers try to express subjective experience, and then put it on someone else’s body. The dancer then learns the work and translates it onto their body and through their experience of grief, and the work changes. The piece is, in part, a commentary on what that process is like, for both the dancer and choreographer. It ends with Hana Erdman dancing a beautiful solo, that I’ve taught her, but that she has crafted into her own dance.

You’re the last artist-in-residence at Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory (at least for now)–did this affect your creative process at all? Or influence you in some way?

I think I’ve had the great benefit of working with a fantastic community of artists who want to continue to support work of queer people of color, and the work that Mama Calizo’s has focused on, for that support I am forever grateful. Ernesto Sopprani in particular has been hard at work. But where my residency was different was that I had no mentor. It was completely DIY in that way–I checked in with a few personal elders and friends, but other than that, I created the work without a formal mentorship.

Any plans for what’s next?

My partner, Yvette Choy, of Choyoh! Productions, and I leave for NY in August. Creating this work was really about trying on two new ideas and seeing where they could go. There’s a lot more work I’d like to do with “Dokuen”, and looking at our individual and collective ways to process grief. The next step, after taking a break, is to apply in NY and SF to continue the exploration of this work.

the author

Becca Klarin writes about dance. Her first stage role was at the age of four, where she dressed in a brightly colored bumble bee tutu and black patent leather taps shoes. She remembers bright lights and spinning in circles with her eleven other bees, but nothing more. Becca also has an affinity for things beginning with the letter "P", including Pizzetta 211, Fort Point, pilates, parsvakonasana, and plies.

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