Community

Transcription: 024: Albrey Brown: How a Bay Area Developer Fights for Minority Representation & Diversity in Tech

This week I talk to Albrey Brown, who is a programmer and community leader here in the Bay Area. He is currently working as an Enrollment and Diversity specialist at Hack Reactor which is a coding bootcamp based out of San Francisco. Albrey was a student at Hack Reactor and was brought on to the team after he graduated. After noticing the lack of diversity in the Hack Reactor family, he pitched an idea to the founders and founded his own branch of the school called Telegraph Academy that focuses on finding students from underreprestend minorities. Albrey was also recently invited to speak at the White House at the first ever Demo Day about his experience and his belief that industries, especially tech, need to be more diverse. We’ll also touch on his newest project, Progressive Patriotism.

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Transcription: 022: Karen Chiang: A Peace Corps Volunteer Experience & A Business Model that Transformed a Village

This week I talk to Karen Chiang, a former Peace Corps volunteer who was stationed for over two years in a small town in Senegal. Karen was a economics and international business major at UCLA and used her skills to help the community implement a business model that made their plastic waste into something profitable and sustainable. She talks about the culture, the people, and her overall experience as a Peace Corps volunteer.

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Transcription: 016: Jada & Sawyer: How Two Students Are Exploring Art & Activism in High School

This week I talk to Jada Baca and Sawyer Sverre-Harrell about life at their unique public charter high school. They are both passionate about art and activism and are involved in many programs in their community. Sawyer is a theater major and self-taught cosmetologist who loves making people feel beautiful in their own skin. Jada loves drawing and photography and enjoys capturing the beauty in things that other may have forgotten. Both are also working on documentaries which will be out soon!

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Transcription: 015: Eliza Lutz: Matron Records: How a Musician is Cultivating the DIY Scene in New Mexico

This week I talk to Eliza Lutz who recently started her own record label in Santa Fe, New Mexico called Matron Records. She is a singer, songwriter, and guitar player who has been preforming and touring since high school. Her business savvy and finance prowess have allowed her to be a mentor to many bands and she’s incredibly passionate about helping bands understand money so that that can fund their art. We talk about her two bands, Future Scars and GRYGRDNS and discuss how GRYGRDNS has changed her idea of what it means to be feminine in the music industry.

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Transcription: 013: Eamon Armstrong: Building Communities with Fest300, Psychelic First-Aid, & Personal Growth

This week I talk to Eamon Armstrong, Creative Director at Fest300. Fest300 is an online festival resource that brings together festival communities all over the world. Eamon is a master of building community through social media and travels all around the world meeting people at these diverse festivals, building the global festival community. We talk about so many fun things including the nature of a festival, psychedelic first-aid, and personal growth. Photo by Colin Shoff McDonald

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Transcription: 010: Hip Hop for Change: Why a GrassRoots Organization Fights to Get Hip Hop in Schools

This week I talk to Khafre and JP of Hip Hop For Change. Khafre is the founder and executive director and JP is the events coordinator. We discuss the inherent problems of corporate media promoting a singular narrative of hip hop and the reason why diversifying hip hop is important for kids in inner city communities. Hip Hop For Change teaches classes about the rich history of hip hop in Oakland schools as well as art classes that help kids deal with PTSD and trauma that they are suffering due to inner city violence. They also serve as a collective for artists. They have teamed up with local MCs, DJs, dancers, and graffiti artists and offer free and low cost studio recording services for artists in the Bay Area.

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Transcription: 009: Johnny5: How TURFInc Heals Trauma and Teaches Marketable Skills in Oakland

This week I talk to Johnny5, the founder and director of TURFInc, a company in Oakland that teaches kids turfing. Turfing is a style of street dance that came out of hyphy in the 90s. TURFInc gives them opportunities to make money and helps them stay off the street by learning marketable skills. Johnny5 has worked with tons of big name artists, he’s been featured and finds talent for Yak Films, the premiere dance film company in the world and he’s an all around awesome guy with lots of stories about Oakland.

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Transcription: 007: Sylvee Esquivel: Hella Vegan Eats: From Tamal Stand to Brick and Mortar

This episode, Sylvee Esquivel talks about her journey from Tamal stand to food truck to her brick and mortar restaurant called Hella Vegan Eats in Downtown Oakland. She discusses the exciting food they have on their menu and the her love of intense flavors. We talk about how her business has evolved, how Hella Vegan eats helped her transition, and finally, her music. Photo By An Hoang

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Transcription: 004: Tia Lebherz: Saving Water, the Fight to Ban Fracking, and the Trans Pacific Partnership

This episode, Tia Lebherz talks in depth about saving water and other threats to our environment. First, we talk about her work at WaterNow Alliance and how WaterNow is bringing together people to find innovative ways to save water on the West Coast. Then we’ll talk about her work for Food and Water Watch as the California organizer and the importance of banning fracking, specifically in California. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a discussion of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement signed in February that poses a serious threat to our access to safe food and water.

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[00:00:00]
[Narration begins]

Hi everyone, welcome to The Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. A show about young people doing awesome things. I’m your host Marissa Comstock. The show is located at theundefinedgen.com where you can find links to our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with episodes available through SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher. Thank you so much to everyone who’s been listening and contacting me. It’s been so cool to hear from people and know that you’re all checking out the show and website and most importantly having opinions about what you hear. It’s been super rad.

Also if anyone knows anyone that’s doing something awesome and who you think would be cool to have on the show. Totally send me an email at Marissa and undefinedgen.com. I would love to hear about your friends. This week, I talk to Tia Lebherz who besides being my beautiful kickass upstairs neighbor, is also an environmental activist. She currently works for WaterNow Alliance where she finds innovative ways to save water here on the West Coast. Before WaterNow Alliance, she worked as a state organizer for Food and Water watch focusing on banning fracking in California, and specifically did a lot of work in Monterey County. Tia also helped organize a massive event right here in Oakland last year called the March for Real Climate leadership, which was wildly successful. Over 8,000 people showed up to March. We’ll talk about that more later.

[00:01:25]
First, we’ll talk about Tia’s work at WaterNow Alliance and the drought. Then, we’ll talk about fracking and her work at Food and Water Watch. Finally we’ll get into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and get to Tia’s input on that. Can’t wait. Hope you like the show.

[Theme Music]

[00:02:05]
Marissa: All right. So I am here with Tia Lebherz who is a Communications and Outreach manager at Water Now Alliance. So to start, what is WaterNow Alliance and what is the mission of your organization?

[00:02:20]
Tia: Sure, so hey, good to be here.

Marissa: hey! Yeah. Oh hi.

[laughs]

Tia: I love the setup. Super excited. So I work for WaterNow Alliance where like a brand-new, my boss calls it a start-up nonprofit, which I think is like counterintuitive because we like don’t have Venture Capital funding [laughs] but we are. We’re a really small shop, of like, three people and we are working to bring more water innovation and like sustainable water solutions into communities across the west and we’re doing this by bringing together mayors and city council people and water district leaders. So like Utility Board leaders who have an interest in sustainability and building resilient communities in the face of drought and climate change and kind of groupthink working with them to figure out, you know, what are the barriers to bringing more of these solutions online? And then how can we leverage our collective power to break down those barriers in order to, you know, have this widespread adoption.

[00:03:20]
Marissa: And are these leaders from these places? Are they from the water companies? Are they from?

Tia: So it’s all public it. So how will they working with publicly controlled utilities? So for example, our steering committees, like the the former mayor of Boulder who’s now, it’s on the city council. The mayor Protem of Fort Collins, Colorado, a city council person from Mountain View, California, also director from the East Bay Municipal Utility District. East Bay MUD. Our district. Yeah, so it’s all, we only work with Public Utilities because there’s some there’s problematic private water issues that we don’t want to get into, so yeah.

Marissa: Yeah, I think actually before this interview I looked up because to me EBMUD seemed private or I had no, I actually didn’t know if it was public or private and it’s public but I am assuming yeah, that’s somewhere private and what issues?

[00:04:20]
Tia: so it’s crazy, right? This is what I worked on at Food and Water Watch a ton. And is actually one of the barriers that we’ve identified with these Mayors and city council people is that a lot of people, I would say the vast majority of people don’t actually know where their water comes from and don’t understand how water infrastructure works and how their rates are structured and kind of all these important aspects that really play into watershed health and you know affordability and access in those kinds of things. So yes, most public, most utilities in the United States are publicly controlled, so our tax dollars go to it. It’s a rate system. So we’re paying for the infrastructure, upkeep, the delivery. The actual water is like a smaller percentage of what were actually paying for when we pay our rates. But there are private companies also because believe it or not water is something that people feel like they can make a lot of money off of.

Marissa: yeah surprise.

[laughs]

Tia: it’s kind of essential to human life or whatever and so big companies like Suez and American Water buy water utilities. So they’ll like, you know, especially cities that are, so like when I lived in Detroit, for example, the city was almost bankrupt like had a ton of financial issues and so water companies were targeting them and saying hey, we’ll give you, you know, this many millions of dollars to buy your water company up right, out right and then we’ll take over the rates. And so but then the public utilities get the ability to set the rates so they can raise the rates because they’re just worried about profit essentially whereas public utilities, they’re not worried about shareholders, not worried about profits, what they’re worried about is like delivering the highest quality of service at the lowest possible rates.

Marissa: and then you guys are looking to find technology that private companies are working on and then you bring that to the public companies so they can save water. Can you give some examples?

[00:06:20]
Tia: Yeah. So a good example is like Leak Detection software. Okay. So in California, it’s estimated that we could save three to five million acre-feet of water that’s like 10 times the capacity of the Hetch Hetchy reservoir just by implementing the solutions that exist today. So that means, that and those are all efficiency. So we’re just super inefficient with how we manage and transport and use our water. And so these Solutions exist right a lot of them are being incubated in Silicon Valley. So there’s like awesome new software that helps, you know, it’s like a software app that will go on your phone so you can track your water usage so you can see if all the sudden your water usage shoots up and you’re like, that’s weird. I didn’t do anything different this month. Maybe I have a leak! And you can catch it quicker and save that water and so like Leak Detection software. Grey water systems, you know, water efficient landscaping. Just general software, bringing those things online.

[00:07:20]
So utilities, you know they’re businesses, too. They’re public but they still can like by these private inventions, essentially and implement them.

Marissa: What is something that would be keeping them from implementing these technologies? Like one thing I’m thinking is and I think you mentioned that at dinner one time, is that you know, where we have to curb our water consumption because we’re in a drought which essentially means less money for the water company. Does that mean less money for them to invest in these technologies?

Tia: Yeah. Yeah, and that’s a big thing from the consumer side, right? Is you and I we have similar water bills because we live in the same house, well different apartments but same structure. Yeah. So yeah, one of the big things that the our alliance members come to us and say is the drought is getting harder and people are conserving which is great. Right? We’ve seen like 25 percent reductions across California that also means that water districts have received 25 percent less money.

[00:08:20]
But water like I mentioned all the rates are going to upkeep of the infrastructure 80 percent of our water is fixed cost. So 80% of what we pay every month 80% of the money that they bring in goes to just like upkeep of the infrastructure Etc. And so when we use less and then they make less they be there is a deficit, just in the operating in general. So to then ask utilities to invest in these sustainable solutions is crazy because they’re already like well we’re running out of money And so how to pay for solutions, like the two big things that the alliance members talk to us about is they say are two problems are how do we pay for these Solutions? And how do we communicate to rate payers that they that we need to do this? Right? Like how do we communicate and or how do we figure out during a drought, you know, if we have to raise rates, then consumers are paying more for less. and that’s like opposite of capitalism. [laughs] The opposite of what we’ve been raised to believe. But for something like water it’s like kind of a necessity. So how do we like, I don’t know. How do we finesse that I think a big part of it is first talking about like people knowing where their water comes from.

Marissa: Yeah.

Tia: So we’re you know, we’re working on a couple of really wonky projects around that.

Marissa: Yeah. Can you can you talk about any of them?

Tia: Yeah I totally can.

[00:09:51]
Marissa: Yeah. I want to hear about a wonky water project.

Tia: Hopefully no one falls asleep. [laughs] All right, so there’s this thing called Gasby.

Marissa: I like the name.

Tia: Yea, it’s like Fitzgerald up in here.

Marissa: Oh, yeah.

Tia: It’s a fancy party. Yeah, it’s not.

Marissa: You already have me hooked then.

Tia: Great!

Marissa: Because I want to pay more for less water.

[00:10:22]
Tia: Perfect. Shut it down. I win. Okay, so essentially how we pay for these big infrastructure projects, reservoirs, dams, pumping stations is we float municipal bonds. So what this means is we essentially like take a loan out. Right and we’re able to amortize that over several years. We pay it back slowly. This makes money more accessible like this makes an upfront cost of fifty million dollars possible. But in order to float a bond, according to Gasby, which is the governmental Accounting Standards Board right now that he’s not a fancy party. So according to Gatsby you have to have an asset to show so that you can like, you know, so when you take out a bond or you take out a loan on something it’s like there’s an asset that’s attached to it so that it’s not just like free money flying everywhere. So for a lot of these like sustainable Innovation things. A lot of It is customer rebates and incentives is the way that you get people to actually put these things in their homes. And so it’s very hard to or I guess it just it’s some districts already do this and they’re able to float bonds in order to invest in sustainable Innovation, but some districts don’t feel like they own an asset. So what we’re doing is actually really cool and sexy. We are asking for a technical clarification on the law not even changing the law just a technical clarification. We just want to make it clear to utilities that they’re allowed to use bond financing to bring in sustainable Innovation because the water that is being saved is technically an asset. The water that’s still the reservoir the water that’s not being wasted is the asset and we I mean we’re working with some fancy lawyers and we’re working with, pro bono, non-profit life!

[00:12:05]
Yeah, we’re working with all these people who are like yeah. This is totally legit, but when your utilities See when you’re a public utility and your rate payers the like top things you want are like strong bond ratings. You want to clean budget sheet, you know, all your finances need to be in place or else people freak out. And so they don’t want to take the risk. If it’s not technically clarified that they’re allowed to so it’s super, it’s funny because I used to work on like anti-fracking and climate change and like big sexy things that like people totally like feeling, like GMOs, people like feel really passionate about it. And now I’m like we’re getting technical clarification from Gasby. [laughs] But the thing is it has the potential to unlock like hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and save millions of acre-feet of water. And so it’s actually like a huge impact. It’s just very, you know.

Marissa: So and you guys are reaching out to as many people as possible like company’s, leaders Etc. Do you have people who are coming to you who are interested in your organization?

Tia: Definitely, we are like today this really awesome shower head company joined our mailing list and reached out to us.

Marissa: Oh cool.

Tia: They have this great shower head that I honestly didn’t look into it that much. It was like right before I left the office but like Etc. [laughs]

Marissa: There’s one.

[00:12:00]
Tia: Right. There’s like there’s this great company called Water Smart Software that is doing really cool stuff and like they came to our last summit because okay. So in this big world, right, there’s all these innovators that are doing all the cool stuff and then there’s all these utility leaders who have the power to bring the cool stuff to scale but in California, right? There’s like over 400 separate utilities and the decision makers of all those utilities aren’t talking to each other yet. So if you have a cool invention, you have to go to every single damn utility individually while we’re trying to bring all those people together, so it’s just like right prime market so we have to that’s really exciting. But we also have to be kind of cagey because we don’t want people to feel like they’re just being put in a barrel to be pitched stuff too. So we cut it. We like to vet different innovators to make sure. And there’s a lot of really cool organizations that are already vetting them. They we can kind of latch onto.

Marissa: it’s funny because I remember at the family dinner that we had, you said there was 400 companies, but I think I remember four companies I but like seriously was so fascinating we were talking so I’ve been telling you I’m like, there’s four water companies even that surprised me. That there wasn’t just one like it’s all like a lot of it is the same water source. Is it? or it depends?

Tia: It depends. like San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy. SFPUC is all Hetch Hetchy. We are kind of all over the place.  

Marissa: like Sierra, Nevada,

[00:15:07]
Tia: Yea, Sierra Nevada, the Colorado River supplies a lot of California. So we do import water like Santa Clara Valley is largely groundwater, so they get their water write out the ground and then there’s big federal and state projects that you know, so yea. More facts. Two-thirds of California’s of water is on the Northern side of California, but two-thirds of California’s population is in the South. Okay and water is hard to move like it’s heavy it evaporates. It’s like it’s expensive to move but we as a state, you know, a hundred and fifty years ago built tons of this like crazy big infrastructure in order to ship the water down south and it goes through the Central Valley and all the farmers use it then it goes to LA. So water is like this, you know, it’s often called the like silent utility. We don’t know about it. It’s not sexy. It’s not something like

You know PG&E just kind of like runs everything in California. Right? But all these water utilities are different and so like Water Board elections are actually really important [laughs] like, you know, all these big statewide water schemes that cost tens of billions of dollars. Really important to pay attention to.

[00:16:20]
Marissa: Well speaking of that. Like we have the election coming up in November are there measures that we should be looking at that’s on that.

Tia: We did a big water Bond last November. So this November, I don’t think there’s anything that big.

Marissa: There’s like a ban on fracking in Monterey.

Tia: Yeah, fuck yea there is. It’s killer. I helped start that. That’s great. My parents my parents live in Monterey. Yeah, in Alameda County, we’re also working, Well, they now. found anywhere but there’s also a ban. Did you see that Oakland banned coal shipments. Yeah. I did no on it. Yeah so good. Yeah, we’re doing alright in the bay. Yeah. So yeah. But I don’t think Statewide there really isn’t anything. I mean people you should always look to see if your local water board is up for election.

Marissa: Oh! Ok. Another thing that was said at family dinner. This was an epic family dinner.

Tia: It was epic. What did we make that night? It was delicious.

Marissa: I cooked vegetables.

Tia: ohh! That was that massive family dinner where we had so much food.

Marissa: Yea there was mac and cheese.

Tia: Oh yea.

Marissa: I remember you saying, I’m sure these percentages are slightly off, but it was something like 15% of water consumption in California’s from households. And the rest is Corporate. Is that accurate?

Tia: Yeah.

[00:17:37]
Marissa: Yeah that blows my mind.

Tia: So 80% is AG.

Marissa: Okay. Oh agriculture.

Tia: Uh-huh. Okay, so that’s crazy.

Marissa: Yeah

Tia: And that’s what I used to work on. So. Like I had a big come-to-jesus moment when I went to work on the residential side because I’ve been running around being like fuck saving water. It’s agriculture’s fault like those assholes we could do something about them. Totally legit. I still stand by that but also I think that working on the the corporate side, you know, it’s mostly right. Ag. Ag is the biggest user. We’re shipping a ton of water down South for to grow stupid things like Alfalfa in the Imperial Valley like a desert and we’re shipping a lot of that Alfalfa to China. So we’re like literally just sending our water overseas in the form of alfalfa. We’re growing almonds on the west side of the Central Valley where the ground is so salty it takes four times as much water to grow almonds there than it does in normal almonds climates. So it takes like four gallons per almond.

Marissa: damn crazy.

[00:18:45]
Tia: Yeah, but I was working on that issue for super long and fracking like, I think not necessarily a huge amount of water, but it’s just like that water is permanently destroyed because it’s full of chemicals. So, but, but it’s hard. I don’t think. I feel like working with WaterNow Alliance is playing this long game of like people need to feel it first in their homes and in their taps and get it and understand where their water comes from and have a better, like, water world view before they’re gonna you know, get all hot and bothered about like corporate abuse of water.

Marissa: Yeah, definitely

Tia: That’s not to say that we shouldn’t also be working on it. But for me, I just felt like it was better to be on this residential piece and save a bunch of water here. But yes, yes. Water in California is crazy corporations use a ton of it.

[00:19:37]
Marissa: And even though I mean you’re working on like household water consumption right now, like just to talk about the corporate side of it. Like we were asked to curb so much of our water usage this last year. Even though we had like rain, I think they lifted a lot of the hmm restrictions, but our were corporations asked to make any restrictions to their water usage.

Tia: Hmm. So that’s the problem is that when you look at when you try to get like Ag to stop using so much water. What you’re saying and the political world is like follow your fields and lay off your farm workers and destroy local economies. And you know, so it’s like kind of its way harder.

Marissa: Definitely they allocated less water to farmers, but in California more fun disturbing facts about our water. Water, is, groundwater is considered private property. And so if you are on your own land, you can just drill down and pump as much water as you want out of the ground. That’s why the Central Valley is sinking. It’s called subsidence. So the Central Valley is actually like sinking I think a foot a year or something crazy like that. So even if Farmers got less water, they were pumping water like mad out of the ground and ground water takes so many years to replenish. Its like the most precious of things.

[Cut to Narration]  

[00:20:55]
This next clip is Tia at an event called the March for Real Climate Leadership. It’s an event that she was instrumental in organizing while she was up Food and Water Watch. The march to place right here in Oakland and over 8,000 people attended, making it the largest demonstration against fracking in US history. There’s so much life drum circles every group and ethnicity represented. People really came together to voice their opinion and say to Governor Jerry Brown that there’s no room for fracking in California. I think Tia is work is so inspiring and she did a phenomenal job with her team rallying people together.

[Cut to Recording of Tia yelling to marchers at March for Real Climate Leadership]

We are here today to stand up to big oil. To ban fracking, to move California beyond fossil fuel.

[Continue with Interview]

[00:22:00]
Marissa: So now let’s get into Food and Water Watch. You were the organizer for California and you were working to ban fracking in Monterey County. What are some of the companies that are fracking in Monterey County?

Tia: So Chevron is the biggest fracker.

Marissa: Fracker?

Tia: Yeah, but they’re, yes. There’s there was this company called Occidental them they sold and they became like California something. There’s all these Bad actors, but Chevron is one of them in Monterey County. He’s this, he [laughs] like I just associate evil with this penetrative, attractive looking like

Marissa: Totally

Tia: like he is a motherfucker [laughs] sorry. So fracking we see like fracking in California. It’s got its a mix of like a bunch of different extreme extraction techniques. So to back up we you know oil used to exist kind of in these like big ponds underground and you would just like poop. Like pop in a little well that was vertical. Could be 50 feet, could be 500 feet whatever and like oil would come up. Not the best because climate change is still real but it was like generally that’s how you got oil. As we started to deplete all those bigger pools. The industry was like well where the fuck we gotta find the oil now and so they started looking at alternative ways to get the oil out of the ground. So fracking is one of those so that’s mixing sand and water and chemicals and injecting it at super high levels deep underground in order to fracture the rock and then the oil flows up through the well. But in California, we also do this thing called acidizing which we just kind of group with fracking and acidizing is shooting hydrofluoric acid into the ground to dissolve the rock. So instead of breaking the rocks you dissolve the rocks with this super nasty chemical and then have the water, I mean the oil flow up and the other way is called cyclic steam and that is heading water up. really intense, high, high heat and injecting that in the ground to loosen up the oil in order to bring it back up.

[00:24:10]
There is kind of like this triplet situation of so extreme extraction is what we call it. They all have impacts right there all problematic. They’re all happening in different varying degrees and they’re all you know, as oil gets more expensive. It becomes more profitable to do these more like

Marissa: harmful methods.

Tia: Harmful methods. Yeah and these more like intensive methods yeah of extraction so it’s very interesting. But so in Monterey there hasn’t been too much fracking. But in Monterey, the weird thing is and the oil field, San Ardo oil field is in is on the southern part of the county and the Salinas river that runs up to Moss Landing, which is between Santa Cruz and Monterey. It is a North running River. So this River literally runs from the oil field through the underground river through the oil field and then like up and then goes into the Monterey Bay Sanctuary.

[00:25:15]
Marissa: Okay

Tia: And so for extreme extraction to be happening there and be putting that River at risk, it also flows through like the salad bowl of California where we grow, you know, ninety percent of the nation’s artichokes and strawberries and lettuce so it’s you know, it’s putting Ag and tourism and marine life all at risk. And so like two two and a half years ago. I guess it was I met with like five generally, they’re older white women who are awesome. That’s you generally started and we like met in the living room over tea. And they were like this bullshit. Let’s go to the Board of Supervisors. So we went to the Board of Supervisors and he had all the votes and then industry got wind of what we were doing and they hired like three full-time lobbyists to be in Monterey and they swung one of the votes over and we lost the county people the County Supervisors decided not to move forward with a moratorium or a ban. And that really pissed off everyone in Monterey because they were like what the hell! You know, we thought you were with us. This is clearly a toxic practice. Santa Cruz is already banned fracking. San Benito has banned fracking. Like the to two counties to either side of them. And so they were like, we’re putting this on the ballot, which is awesome big heavy lift. So since then my parents live in Monterey, so I’ve been able to keep up on it. But I haven’t been there. They let an all volunteer effort and got like 14,000 signatures.

Marissa: Wow.

Tia: We only needed seven thousand and they got it on the ballot. And so November they’ll be voting for a ban on fracking.

Marissa: Super exciting.

Tia: Pretty badass.

Marissa: Yeah, very badass.

Tia: Mm-hmm

[00:26:55]
Marissa: Going into that. Another thing is like Governor Jerry Brown has been touted as being an environmentalist but has not wanted and I like a ban on fracking.

Tia: No.

Marissa: Yeah, and I think his reasoning is that it wouldn’t decrease our oil dependency and we would just be importing oil from somewhere else and like of course there’s that argument but then it’s you know, it’s destroying water which is one of our most precious resources and also now like looking at Monterey County like agriculture Etc. Like how do you weigh economic concerns with environmental issues? Like what comes out on top?

Tia: Totally. I think it’s some point I mean climate change is undoubtably real and here. Right like it’s man-made and everyone, scientists. Yes science community agrees. Governor Brown agrees. And so to say no we need to keep doing this. No and not only in California. Are we doing it and places agriculture but like 90% of the fracking and oil extraction that’s happening is in low income communities of color. This is a huge justice issue in California we’re poisoning communities. And and so, you know, you can say well we’re just going to get it from somewhere else or you can say I’m the goddamn Governor. I’m going to do something to start to transition us to a renewable energy future more aggressively and I’m not only going to tout all these solutions which are great. Right? We love seeing Energy Efficiency goals. We love seeing renewable energy standards. We love seeing you know, solar subsidies and those kinds of things but you can’t just push solutions without addressing the supply side of things. We are, it fluctuates. But at any given day, we’re about the third largest oil producing state in the nation which people, I don’t think realize that. It’s Texas, North Dakota, Alaska and California like we are a oil-producing state. And you know, you can’t be a climage– and if you think about that. America is you one or two, top three or oil producing nations in the world. So that puts California very high on the list of oil producing regions in the world and you can’t be a climate leader while running one of the largest oil-producing regions in the world.

Like that just doesn’t work. You want it like you got us you gotta keep that shit in the ground. Like that is the way to stop climbing. We can’t necessarily stop climate change at this point. But like if we want to start to address climate change in a really meaningful way, we have to keep fossil fuels in the ground and this is something that people have been saying for years and everyone said people are crazy and then you know, I’m not not that into Federal politics, but like if nothing else, I think Bernie Sanders really helped legitimize a lot of these concerns on a national level and bring it to this International stage of saying what does keeping it in the ground look like? You know, how can we actually do this? Is it really possible and it is and there’s support for it it just and like it’s gonna be uncomfortable sometimes but is you know, the viability of a livable planet and justice for you know, all people regardless of income or you know, the color of their skin matter? Yeah, it does matter and all these fights are also intertwined.

[00:30:31]
It’s, I get really really angry.

Marissa: No, it’s great.

Tia: It’s funny too. Cause like in my in my role now it Water Now, you know, Governor Brown is actually pretty good about Residential Water stuff. Like he’s okay. He’s not the best have some some issues with him on some other things that he works. But he’s not my main target. On fracking he was like Governor Brown you’re climate loser! You son of a bitch! Yeah,  so it’s been like a weird transition. So talking about it. Now, I like getting all riled up again.

[laughs]

Marissa: Yeah totally

[Cut to Narration]

The next segment, Tia and I are going to talk about the Trans-Pacific partnership, which is the latest trade agreement signed by the U.S. Between eleven other Pacific Rim countries. One thing I love about Tia is her ability to make broad issues personal and local very quickly. The TPP was abstract thing to me and then I saw this video of Tia hitting the pavement and protesting and I was like damn. All right. I’ve got to pay attention to that. This next clip is Tia being her bad self.

[00:31:31]
Hi everybody. Thank you so much. Here today. My name is Tia Lebherz. I’m Northern California organizer with Food and Water Watch. We are a consumer advocacy watchdog organization out there every day to protect our food and water resources. The TPP means trouble for our food, our water, and our environment and even though we can’t see it, big oil, big gas, and 600 multinational corporations are writing it for us. Thanks to WikiLeaks. We now know some of the threats that will bring, so in general the TPP will equal less local food, more fracking, sketchy seafood imports, no GMO labeling, and more corporate control of our democracy. Earlier this month, we know Fast Track was introduced. We have to stop Fast Track. So we need everyone calling their representatives being out here today in the streets is a huge step. Thank you everyone for being out here. Please get on the phone call your representatives going to Pelosi’s office. Tell her to vote. No on Fast Track and oppose the TPP for the good of our food, our water, and our environment. Thank you everybody.

[Back to Interview]

[00:32:40]
Marissa: So this is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a trade agreement and documents about it were leaked on Wikileaks in 2015 and has since been signed. Mmm-hmm this year February 2016 by 12 countries in the Pacific Rim. Can you talk about what the TPP is?

Tia: So yeah. The TPP is like NAFTA on steroids. Okay. I’ll try to explain this right. So this is a trade agreement to free trade agreement between new countries. So we have this between like Canada and Mexico right free trade it’s easier. And so now we’re doing it among the Pacific Rim and so this is essentially it’s trying to encourage trade between the countries but it’s it’s problematic. I would say. Because you know, there’s this thing called harmonization within the trade agreement which is kind of bringing standards down to the lowest common denominator. So when we think about, you know working with or like trading with someone like Vietnam around seafood or looking at child labor laws or looking at you know other kind of GMO labeling, is another one. Right, like food labeling in general. if those can be seen as barriers to trade then they can be arguably like removed and just forgotten about so I worked on the TPP particularly looking at how it would increase fracking and extraction and how it would deal with food safety standards.

[00:34:16]
And so for fracking and extraction, so Japan is in the TPP agreement. Japan is like one of the largest users of natural gas one of the largest buyers importers. And so it opens up this incredible Market where natural gas exports would be deemed in the public good automatically there wouldn’t be any public review. You could just send send it off. So that’s hugely problematic because that would create a gigantic economic incentive for companies to frack and extract way more. And we know that even if you know, the oil or gas is being burned in Japan we all live on the same planet and so that would still be contributing to climate change. So that was a big a big deal and then I think

For food stuff, right? So I talked a little bit about food stamps safety standards, but you know our borders are already being our border inspection around like things like seafood are already overwhelmed. We already like can’t inspect everything coming in and so to open the floodgates with even more imports, with even lower standards. And then you know through the Free Trade Agreement kind of be able to ignore them. Is you know, it puts a lot of people in danger. [laughs] And so I think it’s yeah, it’s it’s a bummer. It’s like one of the things that I was like a big Obama supporter and I still like want to be as friend. I think he’s the coolest president that we’ve ever had. I think his wife is just the best.

Marissa: Yeah

[00:35:46]
Tia: But you know, he was on Jimmy Fallon the other day and he was doing an awesome, It was like a slow jams. Have you ever watched Jimmy Fallon? Yeah. And I was just like laughing and dying and then he went on about how great the TPP is and I was just kind of like that’s such a bummer. Can you not? Can you not?

Marissa: Yeah emotional roller coaster. Laughing one second. Sad the next.

Tia: Oh, Obama, you sweetie. Oh, you motherfucker. So, yeah, but again, it’s one of these things like corporate water use like climate change, but it’s like this massive gigantic thing that is so hard for us to be able to wrap our minds around and articulated figure out why it’s important and feel any power over that it’s yeah. It’s a it’s a challenge and unfortunately, we lost and the TPP was signed. So we will that will now exist. So we’ll see what happens. I mean, you know, we just have to keep fighting kind of the whatever fights we feel like we can control.

Marissa: Definitely I mean, how how does something like the TPP get passed because I know that a lot of the members of Congress were upset because a lot of the details weren’t even available to them in Congress. So that’s confusing. Like wow, how does that get through?

Tia: So the the TPP was made in secret. There about 600 corporations that were in on it. I mean, you would hear crazy stories. Like if a congressman wanted to look at the TPP, they had to go down a hallway and like, you know get could go on the room, but they couldn’t take any notes with them and they could just read it but it’s like thousands of pages long and so they..  There’s a thing called Fast Track Authority which essentially gives, so Congress votes and says like we’re going to give the up-or-down vote on the TPP as a whole and we’re going to say that we’re going to Grant fast-track authority to this which means that President Obama can just sign it or not. It means that we can’t negotiate like line items because if you’re Japan or another country, you don’t want the American Congress being able to line item vote on a treaty that you’re trying to get together. Yeah, whenever everyone knows that our Congress is broken. And so anyway, so there’s this thing called Fast Track Authority. So they voted to give President Obama Fast Track Authority.

Marissa: Okay

[00:38:10]
Tia: So they say like, yes, you can you got this. You have our best interest at heart. You can negotiate the whole thing.

Marissa: And the secrecy around it, you know, like of course they’re going to say something like well, like there’s a lot of things that we need to keep secret so that we can have the upper hand in negotiations things like that. But I mean is that accurate? Is it more to do with who’s involved?

Tia: It’s like a bit. All right, like it’s a bummer because we’re supposed to be a democracy right like representative democracy. Our representatives should at least be able to be involved in a more like I don’t know. I’m a big proponent of transparency. I think that it’s hard and it makes people uncomfortable but in general like the world would be a better place if processes were for transparent. And so, so yeah, like they can say that all they want but at the end of the day, this is something that’s going to impact at people’s everyday lives. And this is something that is happening on behalf of our government. And so we should have more say and we should have more insight into the process.

[00:39:10]
Marissa: Do do you think that these trade agreements are like fundamentally flawed. Like they’re pretty much always a bad thing or do you think in the future there is a way to get Grassroots movements and things to have more say in them.

Tia: I mean, how candid should I be? I mean, I think our system is broken.

Marissa: Yeah, right.

Tia: I think that as long as corporations are people and money is speech that we will not be able to govern the United States like I want to govern it. You know, I also have some qualms about capitalism in general that’s like economic model. And so I think that it’s a you know, I think that there’s a lot of really big overarching the fights think we need to keep fighting especially on like local and state levels. I think that that’s really where you can you get farther away from federal and I alluded to this earlier and I said, I don’t really like federal politics. I think as you get farther away from federal politics and more localized, you get more power, more people power. More individual empowerment over what’s happening. And so I think that that’s you know, that’s the power of Grassroots right? Like they are on the ground and their Community doing their thing. And so the goal is really to engage people on those local issues. I think the Tea Party did a really good job of this unfortunately. Right? That’s how they were able to elect all of those Congressional representatives and tip Congress into this like weirdo conservatives space.

Marissa: hole that we’ve gone into.

Tia: ya I’m like really divide the country even farther and create this like way more polarizing political scene, but it’s true. I mean, we just you know, like voter turnout is terrible.

Marissa: Yeah.

Tia: It was I think young people turned out like 13% for the Democratic primary.

Marissa: Really? Oh my God.

Tia: It’s something crazy low. Maybe it was 30.

Marissa: It was all just Facebook posts.

[00:41:17]
Tia: Exactly. Right? People are crazy. Get off your ass and vote.

Marissa: Yeah, yea.

Tia: It’s like the easiest thing you can do. We even have a mail in ballot.

[00:41:27]
Marissa: I don’t have a mail in ballot, I should look into that but I literally walked one block.

Tia: Yeah Taylor Methodist.

Marissa: It took 10 minutes to vote. Like to go in and come out.

Tia: Yea there’s no line. Girl. So when I lived in Detroit. I lived in Detroit, I lived in a low-income community of color. I was I mean, I should probably should not have been there but I was there and I went to vote for Obama in 2012 and I waited five hours in line to vote.

Marissa: Yea

Tia: Five hours in line to vote. And no one left the goddamn line because anytime someone wanted to leave we would start singing. Yeah and everyone be like, I don’t leave girl. You got this. All right. Yeah, here we go. I took me like two minutes to vote over here and people have no excuse. Just get out and vote. It’s like the easiest thing that you can possibly do.

Marissa: They give you a fucking sticker. You can do tag yourself on Facebook. There’s like [laughs]

Tia: check it out. There’s a sticker on my phone.

Marissa: Oh nice.

Tia: I know. It’s great.

Marissa: Yeah, like what is the best thing for people to do then. Because not everyone’s an activist. What would you suggest like signing petitions or like where

Tia: I mean figuring out like what you can bring to the table like if you. If you believe that some that there’s a cause that calls your name. Maybe it’s giving $5 a month to that cause that makes a big difference. It’s a cup of coffee a month. You can sustain an organization. You can help sustain an organization. Maybe it’s its voting and getting you know five of your friends to vote, too. Maybe, if you’re an artist it’s you know, figuring out how you can work with the local nonprofit to mutually benefit each other. But it’s you know, I think it’s more than anything. It’s like getting informed and I as an organizer I always got so mad at people like, public education has the answer. Well, no, it’s not like people can be educated and still sit on their ass, right.

[00:43:32]
So it’s like it’s about getting educated and then it’s about figuring out how you can best fit into whatever you want to see how best you can– how best you can create the future that you want to see because there is a role for everybody.

[Cut to narration]

[00:43:47]
So that wraps up this week’s episode of The Undefined: A Profile of a Generation. A show about young people doing awesome things. Check out the website at theundefinedgen.com with links and pictures of Tia out protesting and doing your thing. Hope you enjoyed learning about how water works in the west coast among many other things. Tia is fantastic and I can’t wait to see all the amazing things will do in the future. Next week. I’ll be talking to my friend Alex Vlahov. I was just in New York and I got to go to his performance. He performs for the New York Neo-futurist. He’s an actor writer and director. He’s been in a lot of interesting experimental theater pieces that focus on social dilemmas, and he’s currently working on a play about a priest that was murdered from our high school. Also I interviewed him in Brooklyn when it was pouring in the middle of summer. So you will get to hear New York Thunder and torrential rain in the background. Super raw. Thanks for listening and see you next week.

[Theme Music]

 

WHAT DID YOU THINK?

Transcription: 003: Eric Garcia: Drag, Detour Dance, and Exploring Identity

This episode, Eric Garcia talks about his drag performances and keeping a gritty low budget drag show in a changing San Francisco. We discuss his performance company, Detour Dance and their evolving mission and maturing body of work. We also talk about his work for Sean Dorsey, an acclaimed dancer and head of Fresh Meat Productions, a company devoted to transgender and queer arts. Finally, we get into identity and how Eric is using dance to explore himself as a person of color and as a gay man.

TRANSCRIPTION

[00:00:02]

[Narration begins]

Hi everyone! Welcome to the Undefined: A Profile of a Generation.

[Theme Music Begins]

I’m your host, Marissa Comstock. This show is located at the UndefinedGen.com, where you can find links to our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with episodes available through Soundcloud, Itunes, and now Stitcher. And again I’m still experimenting with format, sound quality, and also improving my own skills as an interviewer so please contact me with feedback, post on social media whatever! Any suggestion you may have, get at me.

[00:00:32]
This week I talk to my very good friend, Eric Garcia. We went to grade school together and we lived a few blocks away from each other in high school. I giggle a lot in this interview so I apologize. Eric is one of the funniest people in the world to me so it’s hard to keep it together. Eric is a dancer, he started his company Detour dance, his junior year of college with his friend Cat Cole. it’s been very successful, they put on a few performances a year with the help of grants and contributors just like you. Eric has danced with many other companies. 

[00:01:02]
He’s a program manager at Sean Dorsey’s critically acclaimed FreshMeat Productions which is a performance company devoted to transgender and queer arts. It is the first and only company of its kind in the United States and they do incredibly moving performances based on issues affected the Queer Community. They also do a film festival every year in June before Pride weekend. Eric also hosts these awesome niche, drag shows at a bar called the Rite Spot in San Francisco. I’ve had the pleasure of attending one of them and it was hilarious, gritty and raw. All the good things. So this interview, first we’re going to get balls deep in Eric’s Drag show. Then we’re going to talk about his company detour dance and it’s mission as a dance company and how that mission and their performances have evolved. Then we’ll discuss identity and some of the things that Eric is exploring in himself through his performances.

I have a lot of clips from his shows that I’ve added in so I hope you enjoy! Without further ado, let’s meet Eric!

[Theme Song]

[00:02:26]
Alright, so just to paint a picture, I have audio from Eric’s last drag performance which he did after the interview and cohosted with a woman who I believe is his roommate. Her name is El Be. It was a country themed drag show, fittingly called Drag the Ho Down. Eric looks stunning with the tussled, just-rolled-in-the-hay, blonde wig. Huge blag eyelashes, a pink country dress with a pink petty-coat underneath pull just high enough so you get a glimpse of his crotch with black panties. And then! Let’s not forget the fishnets and heels and beard. Here we go!

[Recording starts playing of Eric performing at his drag show]

[Laughing]

[Wooing and cheering]

[Claps]

[00:02:56]
Eric: Soooo [more claps] I’m doing a ball count in the corner and I’m 3 what about you guys? I’ve got 3. Testicle. Drag Show. So this next drag queen is hiding for their introduction. They don’t need an introduction actually because they’re my other half. Comeeee. So let’s give a big… Let’s give a big.. uhhh… ehhh.. what’s a country theme?

[Someone in audience yells Yeeeehawwwwww]

Eric: so we’re going to give a big yeeeehawww to Miss El MNOPRSTUV Q. One, Two, Three.

[Audience yells yeeeehawww]

[00:03:58]
Marissa: So Eric! Let’s talk about your drag show

Eric: It’s uhhhh we like to call it, like, a curated cabaret of people that are like interested in doing anything drag. Like, doesn’t have to be any of those things that what we think of drag. And like, there’s this already incredible drag scene in the city and I feel like, [laughs] I’m their like weirddd like zit on their back. [laughs] Like the drag scene in San Francisco is already alternative and they’re doing amazing stuff and I’m like yea, I’m part of it.’

I’ve been in this topic, actually, of nostalgia, um, nostalgia of San Francisco and being a young person and having moved to San Francisco in… hmm.. 2007, and being like, already have some feelings about how much it has changed. But really not knowing how much it really really has changed for my elders, or whoever has been living there longer than I have. And so, this idea of missing a city, missing a culture that I was never really apart of and so doing this event really make me feel, in this really tangible way, like this is like that thing that I love about San Francisco. It’s a free event, it’s fucking weird, like you’re walking down Folsom Street and you see a bunch of weirdos dressed in like horrid drag and making tons of people laugh and it’s like yea, it’s a sweet little gem. And we don’t like to advertise it much without.. minus facebook but we don’t get any news [laughs] and yea it’s like me struggling to hold on to something and being really nostalgic for this time that I wasn’t really apart of.

Marissa: yea!

[00:05:43]
Eric: And being inspired by what’s already happening in this city like I said, there’s like this already like amazing, robust, weird, drag scene, art scene, contemporary dance scene in the city and I’m just like, clearly so inspired by it.

Marissa: Wait what is the name of your persona?

Eric: So, it changes every show just because I can’t decide but it’s usually Schmeg Bundy [Laughs]. that’s what it usually is. But I haven’t landed on one. Last one was Taylor.

[pause]

Marissa: Just Taylor?

Eric: Yea, just Taylor. ummm. This one, I don’t know yet. I was thinking Gummy Lisp or something like that.

Marissa: Oh that’s good.

Eric: But just, you know, Country Themed. But yea, it’s going to be an evolving thing. We’ve done, this will be our 5th one.

Marissa: OK

[00:06:25]
Eric: Um. But we usually do, the very first one was because of my 25th birthday two years ago and it was fucking hilarious and like the turnout for that was incredible. They put a chair in the middle of the bar front row for me and I was just like… Melting off my seat because all my friends stepped up and they all don’t do drag. They’re all just regular performers that meant that they delivered [laughs] so well! They were like, highly choreographed, so theatrical.

[laughs]

Marissa: Because your brother I saw was like on the list.

[00:07:01]
Eric: Yea [laughs] yea, he totally showed up in drag. Having a gay brother in the city has been a blessing and we usually go see drag shows. Back in like 2011 to like 2014 we were like seeing drag shows every week. We were just like, going out and being hella gay together and now he’s doing drag numbers in my show when he can. It’s fucking hilarious. And so like our mom is in the front and she’s like ‘I love you. you’re so good at everything. [laughs] And I’m like what is happening while I’m in a jockstrap twirling tassels off my ass cheeks. It’s like the most seedy, underbelly of drag ever. Like, I keep my beard on. [laughs] It’s a bunch of hilarious people.

We did a Valentine’s Day show.

Marissa: I went to that one!

Eric: Oh Sweet! That’s right. And Mia came to that too!

Marissa: Really? This year? Oh! I went to the one last year

Eric: Yea we didn’t do a Valentine’s day show this year, this will be our first one for 2016. The theme is Ho Down.

Marissa: This next one?!

Eric: Yea, the full title is ‘Drag the Ho Down.’

Marissa: Drag the Ho Down [Laughs] That’s awesome.

Eric: It’s clever.

Marissa: I’m so slow. I had to say the whole sentence.

Eric: Write it down, get it.

Marissa: That is clever.

[00:08:18]
Eric: Yea, we’re hesitant to call it that but we already did. It’s a facebook event now. [laughs] We were like, this might stir up some people [laughs].

Marissa: Well your political career is totally over.

Eric: Shit. Well ya, know, it’ll be a safe space for people to explore whatever that is.

Marissa: You know what it is before you come.

[Laughs]

Eric: Yea, it’s at this like, amazing little gem, as you know, it’s at this straight, it’s not even a straight bar but it’s definitely not a gay identifying bar.

Marissa: There’s tablecloths.

Eric: There’s tablecloths and the people who own it are incredible. Her name is Annie and it’s called the Rite Spot on 17th and Folsom and she just like loves us and brings us back and is like ‘More, more’ and I’m like okkk.

Marissa: Well it packs the bar and you, like, the Valentine’s Day one, I invited everyone I knew and I’m not joking, 25 of my friends showed up and half of them couldn’t get in because it was so packed. and I was like “Awesome! Eric!”

Eric: Yea that was the first time that ever happened. Usually it’s like. We’ll get a bunch of randoms, going to get an after work whisky ginger.

Marissa: oh really?! yes.

[00:09:33]
Eric: And we’re just like those crazy queers [laughs] dancing on the piano and playing ragtime forever.

Marissa: I know, it’s so from the past but it’s perfect for drag.

Eric: That’s what made me fall in love with it and reach out and it’s across the street from the theater I perform at pretty frequently. It’s across the street from ODC in the Mission so we’d always go there for drinks after the show. For my birthday I was like wait! I want to do this amazing drag show and then I reached out to Annie and she was like fuck yes! So a bunch of my friends are not drag queens. I think we’ve had like two professional drag queens come and do it.

Marissa: Really?

Eric: Yea. And like, when they perform everyone is like “OH MY GOD!” and I’m like “I’m the host” and I go up there it’s like “cough.. cough.. cough.. clap.. clap” [laughs] like I can hear cars driving. It’s the worst.

Marissa: I was so moved by Pepto Bismal.

Eric: She’s coming back! Her theme is Pepto Bizmarquee. She’s a crowd fav.

[laughs]

Marissa: When she poured peptobismal over herself.. I felt things

Eric: While eating fried chicken

Marissa: yea!

Eric: Yea, no she’s a really good burlesque performer. Yea, she’s one of my favs

[Break to Marissa Narrating]

With that we’ll cut to the end of Pepto Bizmarquee’s permformance. She’s covered in blown-up balloons. She’s dancing around popping them, till only 4 are left. Two for her boobs and two for her ass cheeks and black tarp is on the ground covered in lunch meet.

[Recording of performance by Pepto Bizmarquee at Eric’s Drag Show]

Claps, Cheering, wooing

Eric: Pepto Bizmarquee!

[More Clapping and Cheering]

Eric: Chicken

[00:11:15]
El Bey: I was going say, In case you missed it, it was straight up lunch meat, not white chicken breast. Straight up lunch meat.

Eric: It was popcorn chicken.

El Bey: And Corn. So there is a reason that we no take an intermission after Pepto Bizmarquee. Tip you motherfucking bartender.

Eric: And your drag queens!

El Bey: Enjoy some drinks and food. We’ll be back in a fewwwww.

[Back to the Interview]

[00:11:45]
Marissa: Yea! Let’s talk Detour Dance.

Eric: yea!

Marissa: You started Detour Dance in 2009 with your friend

Eric: Cat

Marissa: yea

Eric: Yea, her name is Cat Cole. yea so we met in undergrad at USF. University of San Francisco. Um.. And I have so many mixed feelings about Detour Dance. It’s like my baby that’s now entered teenage years. It’s like pimply and ugly to look at and I’m what the fuck did I start?! And now it’s like asking me for money and I’m like fuckk I can’t pay for you. But I love the crap out of that company so hard. [laughs] and if feels like it’s really important and I just get rid of it. It’s too late. It’s grown up.

Marissa: you can’t abort it

Eric: Can’t abort it [laughs]. This company has changed a 100% since we first started it. The name alone, i’m just like, why? [laughs] Detour Dance was like my 19 year old brain being like ‘yea!” that is a great idea! And now at 27 I’m like there could have been other choices. Branding! Branding.

We first started it in 2009 as students. We were basically like, taking… She was one year above me in school and um… our professor was teaching us in separate classes and we both got cast in this piece that one of the faculty members was choreographing. through that process and through the teacher knowing us and the separate classes are like you guys should meet! You have a pretty similar aesthetic. and we were like sweet! And then like, pretty immediately they were like we have this cabaret. They’re called student cabaret which is like the school produces a student to make an evening length show. But yea, So they were like you should apply for this so we submitted an application and they were like, “yea you two, you’re accepted. Make it work!”

[00:13:48]
So the first piece was called inhabiting spaces and the idea of that was reframing the mundane and looking at really, otherwise boring day to day encounters or spaces and then like putting a new lens on it. And that concept turned into a 20 minute piece and that turned into our mission statement, for lack of a better word, for the company

Marissa: so transforming the mundane

Eric: yea so like, that was the structure for the piece and that ended up being what was really the motivating force or vision for our company that kind of idea of reframing the normal or the overlooked. And from that we made a bunch of works. We started a company. We got fiscal sponsorship which basically meant we could use their non profit status to apply for grants and to be eligible for a little bigger pockets of money like 2000 versus 4000 and they also managed our money. If we ever received a granted or if we wanted to pay somebody we we do that through that organization. It’s a pretty amazing partnership.

[Cut to Narration by Marissa]

This next recording is an excerpt from a performance by detour dance a couple years ago that I attended called Filaments

[Recording Begins. Two people stand on either side of the speaker throwing flour at her while she speaks.]

[00:15:18]
… Only he wasn’t really sleeping, oh no, he was pretending to sleep because he knows he looks like an angel when he’s sleeping and not like the anti christ he really is! And even though I knew he was faking. I went along with it. Call me crazy. I don’t know. Anyway. He started talking and he gave me some line about some old lady he lives with and he then asked if he could go back to my place. And I told him! I don’t invite strangers to my apartment and then he looked down at his crotch and then he looked back up at me. And then he said, “It’s big, it’s beautiful, and you’re going to love it” and I said ” Oh. Alright.” [breathy] [Laughs]. And as he walked me back to my apartment on that gay night of nights for a moment I felt like the luckiest drag queen in the world and I fantasized and I was like this is it! Oh yea. This is the man I’m going to marry! [Pause] I would be the one to show him the virtues of a loving a heart but you know what he did? He took that heart and he tossed it on the floor and with his little satan hooves he jumped! He jumped hard! The truth is, when we got back to my apartment, he grabbed me, threw off all of my clothes. Enough with the fucking flour! [laughs]

[Back to Interview]

[00:15:18]
Eric: A couple of years ago, the piece that you’re talking about filaments where this women is delivering this monologue, so this performer is named Erin and she’s been at this company for three years now. Four years. She was delivering this monologue about… [laughs] She was delivering this monologue from this movie called Tricks or Trick or something like that. And she is, it’s about a drag queen who may be in drag or not but is on a bus but across from them is this person they find really attractive. And this person is pretending to be asleep because they know they are really attractive when they are sleeping [laughs] so the drag queen is really taken by this person and so he like looks up to the drag queen and says, “yea this is my cock it looks good huh?” and they’re like yea. And they go home to hook up immediately [laughs] And then like, one thing leads to another and the drag queen gets cum in her eye.

[Cut back to recording from Filaments performance]

So I’m like licking his balls and then next thing I know, he cums in my eye and he’s out the door. Gone. You ever get cum in your eye? Hmmm? [Laughs] It burns. So there I am, lying in the middle of my bed, completely naked with an eye full of cum. and I’m thinking to myself, oh no. And the next morning when I called the number he’d given me earlier, it’s the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. And would you believe they’d never heard of a mark miranda? [pause] Am I bitter? Absolutely. They said, you’re just another phone number on another cocktail napkin shoved in the bottom of his pocket.

[Back to Interview]

Eric: So, while she’s delivering this really tragic monologue there’s like 6 performers around her pelting her on the face with corn starch

Marissa: yea! I remember that now!

[00:19:29]
Eric: And it’s really depressing

Marissa: It really burns. I feel like that’s real.

Eric: I wrote that. First account. [laughs] Once we made that piece and that, that was kind of like a huge shift for me just in terms of what kind of art I want to be making. Really thinking about aesthetic, really thinking about what, the design of the evening rather than like OK, I want to make, some abstracted contemporary dance to this one concept I was really excited about. Cool, I’m going to reframe the mundane. That happens already with modern dance or performance or like any visual art or music, that is what, this is kinda the epiphany I had. Art does that for you already. Having a mission statement that just does that isn’t interesting [laughs] I’m already stating the obvious.

[00:20:29]
That piece was just like, in terms of this whole drag identity and drag culture that I’ve peripherally been apart of. It’s like yea, I’m queer and I’m also brown and I’ve ignored those two parts of me very significantly and almost traumatically like my entire life and so maybe this could be a good time. And my collaborator Cat is also brown and queer so we were both kind of like, let’s tap into this and see what gold we find and that led to some serious restructuring on how we create work. and that filaments piece was like our first attempt to use text and really think about what the light source could do on stage and having music and song and all these different components to what performance could be rather than it just being like… fluid weird abstracted music that meant so much to me but inviting 100s of people to come and be like “good job, Eric” wasn’t enough. God bless all the people who said I was good because I look back at those work and I think Holy Shit! that was horrible!

It’s been a huge shift in the way I’m thinking about performance and so we don’t even call our company a dance company anymore. We call it a performance company because of the amount of skills and the types of um, the disciplines that we work in are not just movement. That feels pretty, like it’s we’re definitely heavily influenced by contemporary dance but there’s definitely a lot more at play. And so like I said we’re incorporating song and we have a sound designer and we have, like, a bunch of performers that play instrument.

[00:22:15]
We had a show since then in December and that piece was called beckon and that piece was like, really intense! And like you were saying, this idea of madness and it’s like, I think, It’s something that I, um, kind of have decided would be something that would be something I move forward with in terms of creating performance is this like relentless truth, truth-telling, and like balls to the wall, really absurd experience. Its going to be really loud, not in terms of volume but just in terms of opinion.

Our new mission statement for the company, I think it’s as simple as we create art that matters through performance in the film so that there’s this like, serious, like, serious questions being asked and providing an opportunity for the audience to come and really have a visceral response whether it’s like extreme discomfort or laughing or having a moment where they are like holy shit, i totally understand what they are talking about. Before for like 6 years, everyone was like “good job!, good job, good job” and it was like sweet! And then what? What are we doing with this art? Putting on dance shows is not cheap. yea it’s a lot of money. you’re dropping at least 20,000 dollars. That’s like the smallest little. You have to pay for performers and rental space, and rehearsals and all this stuff just like adds up. So like to drop like 1000s and 1000s of dollars for just like ‘good job’ is just like. And not that I’m making are for that validation but it’s like I’m getting older and my bank account is getting smaller. [laughs] so it’s like, if I’m going to invest in a performance project it’s going to stir some shit for people.

[Cut to Marissa narrating]

[00:24:15]
This next clip is from Detour Dance’s performance called Beckon which was done after the restructuring of the company. This excerpt features a woman walking around a man. Speaking about him like he’s a plate of food, using language that people use to exotify and stereotype.

[Recording from Beckon]

… We have a really fun dish for you today. I just love fusion food! It’s such an exciting mix between sweet and spicy. And it’s so exotic! And festive! And sassy! This organic meat can be hard to find. Most stores sell the ghetto, non-organic version of this meat. This one has probably been injecting himself with drugs or hanging out in the streets or doing donuts in an empty parking lot. No bueno! Pay the extra money and get the organic meat! Remember! Everyone! This is important. Brown on the outside! White on the inside! You don’t want it too dark though. Bleh! If it’s too dark and you’re chewing on a dark brown piece, just throw it up, spit it, and send it back to where you came from! You dirty piece of shit go back! This dish works well with a nice cabernet or if you’re feisty a shot of tequila. I mentioned earlier some fruity and sweet tones. They are a perfect balance to the spicy and hot-headed flavors in this dish. You don’t want it too fruity though. If it’s too fruity, I like to take a meat tenderizer and beat the fucking fruit out of him until the excess juices just ooze on out. Don’t be afraid to get messy. Just beat the fucking shit out of him.

[Continue with Interview]

[00:25:45]
Eric: And so this most recent piece was about being a latino. or being a person of color and being queer and then, all through the lens of like, um, like, what’s the word that we use? The piece was called Beckon and it was like unwanted attention and so like, catcalling or being fetishized or all these ways that people kind of come in and out of this desire. That’s the word! Desire. All these really complicated levels of what desire can be. The piece was structured like a domino effect and each person kind of like infested the other in these really insane ways. like there’s this one scene where this latino character is standing dead center on stage and this other performer is describing him like he’s a plate of food and she’s like ‘ew! He’s really spicy and hotheaded and like really festive and you might not tell that there’s oriental seasonings in here and just like going off oh he’s like a nice brown skin. when you cut open that skin it’s nice and white on the inside and just going on and on about how he’s not brown enough and super hot-headed. Like playing into these tropes of what it is to be brown and gay. By the end of it she’s like, maniacal, if there’s too much fruit juice in here just beat the fucking shit out it till it’s a bloody pulp and drag it behind your car and go home you faggot. She’s like screaming at this plate of food so it’s like really intense and like, the lights go out. and everyone is like ‘what is my reality?’ like that a majority of you don’t have to go on and experience that type of treatment or behavior or whatever. This performance is an opportunity for you to like get a little diss of what I feel. Its like obviously exaggerated and hyperbolic and over the top but that’s to like, I’m giving you your money’s worth. [laughs]

You know what I’m saying? You’re not coming to sit there and droop in your seat. Like I want to give you something to chew on and get upset about. Someone was like, ‘you’re racist!’ and I was like no. I’m not racist. and he was like ‘you hate white people.’ Like, no I don’t hate white people. This is just the story that you have never heard. This is my day to day story. This is your first time hearing this story. That doesn’t mean I’m anti white. It just means I’m brown. And yea it was like, so many people at the end of the show were like, ‘oh my god.’ my mom was like ‘are you ok?’ all like, and people were like ‘thank you for finally doing that.’ It was like such that type of conversation and like for months i’m still getting emails from people. Like ‘holy shit I’m still processing that work.” So this kinda of has been a signal to me that this really hyperbolic, really like magnified, highly like, crafted performance and like really polished kind of way of delivering this performance is, tells me I”m doing something right. Yea! it’s creating some sort of ripple.

[00:29:02]
Marissa: Yea what have been the performers response to that? Do they notice the change in like the projects?

Eric: Oh absolutely, um, and with each project there’s like a new cohort of people and it’s like a huge, along with this shift and vision with this mission being like more socially engaged, we’ve also been trying to work more as an ensemble. So I as a director, I’m interested in developing and maintaining and providing an awesome experience for my company members so that they want to stay because I can’t pay super well like most companies. Not most companies. There’s a few companies that pay pretty well. I can’t offer that but what I do offer is a chance for them to each have, or be a stakeholder in the company so like that means creating movement. And I give them, like this most recent project I gave them each 10 questions to answer. They were all really intense and personal and we all talked about it. [pause]

[00:30:04]
And we did these monthly workshops that are separate from any performance or project and we’re just all leading each other and try out ideas and just like, our most recent workshop I had them create a dance film in under 5 hours. Every five minutes the director was rotating and every 15 minutes the performers were rotating so it was designed to be an impossible task and it’s just like these situations that were like put in as an ensemble. It’s kind like team building but don’t tell them that [laughs] You know but like making them feel like we’re a little family and if they have to leave and they want to leave that’s cool and I support them. And then there’s like, you know, love forever but I want to have a group of people I’m making continual work with. So with me giving them really intense things, they step up and they’re like, there’s a level of trust that I try not to take advantage of or try not to ignore. I’ll, like, come in with like, a notebook full of random ass prompts. They’re like, I want you to stand there and like scream or whatever. I want you to eat this apple while dry humping. or whatever! Generally it’s like okkkk and they’ll do and it’s like really awkward why are we doing this?? and then we’ll have the conversation. And what’s the best case scenario is when a performer is like ‘hey, I have an idea’ like with that, I have this other spin off…

Marissa: oh that’s cool!

[00:31:34]
Eric: … Structure.. so I’m like, ok this tells me. And then, god bless them all, they’ll like tell me. Nope. No. [laughs] They’ll tell me they’re not doing that. [laughs] How is this serving the structure? How is this serving the piece?

Marissa: Mmhmm.

Eric: Yea, it’s like that to me is a really successful company because I’ve been apart of sooo many companies where the performers is just like, you get told what to do and like that hierarchy is like [pause] a really old model! And like you just do what the director says and there’s no input or like little to no input choreographically and you’re just spitting out these moves where you have no idea what you are doing and the audience is there and they’re like “good job”.

[00:32:19]
Also! I hand out free whisky before every show [laughs] and like please! drink. It will make this more digestible. [laughs]

I have like two bottles of like whisky on a table with tons of shot glasses and people as they’re walking in just take shot.

Marissa: that’s awesome

Eric: And just like sparkling water for those that… [laughs]

Marissa: so like, do you also, like, pull in the audience? Are you doing that more now too?

[00:32:49]
Eric: I have yet to do that. I did this piece on Valentine’s day actually, this February with my boyfriend. We got asked to do this piece together. To create a piece. And what I did was… so in this idea. in this vein of making a piece that really ignites something in the audience or makes them feel really invested. whether that’s through a visceral response or getting them up and moving. I had the audience get up on stage in a circle and the second I said, everyone get up! They were like ugghhhh. And I was like awesome! Sweet. I’m really nervous, too. You think this is fun?! [laughs] So i got everyone to sit on stage and like my boyfriend and I, the whole show was revolving around Valentine’s day so you have to have cheese. You have to be like super cheesy about it.

Marissa: yea

[00:33:49]
Eric: And so we each had a message for each other but we played a game of telephone with the audience so I went to one edge of the circle and told the audience like hey! this my message. And it was like, ‘I want to go to New Orleans with you’ or something like that. And Weily was like.. I don’t remember actually. And so like, and then we came together we did a duet. And while we were doing the duet they were passing the messages along. And then the audience, like when we finished our duo we went to the audience that had the message and they would like tell it to me and it was obviously way fucked up, mine was like ‘I want to take you to New Orleans’ and the person like, the whole group warped it into ‘will you marry me?’ [laughs] and so everyone thought I was purposing to my boyfriend. and I was like No!

Marissa: Rewind! Rewind!

Eric: Rewind!

Marissa: Get back in your seats!

Eric: Get back in your goddamn seats!

[laughs]

Eric: No, god no. and then we like turned back all the lights and brought out little camping lanterns and taught them a song in Spanish. It was based off of our little trip we took to Cuba a month prior. So yea! I’m definitely more interested in how performance can keep evolving if that means bringing people on stage. My next idea is for a a piece is taking people on a scavenger hunt through the city and giving them like these clues or prompts or meet me at certain places or like these happenings to occur. So it’s not at a theater, you’re interacting with the city, you’re interacting with people in order to keep progressing through this performance experience. And like, renting like, an example is like renting a conference room in the financial distract. As if I’m hosting a meeting and just bring up 10 people and deliver some sort of performance and then send them on their way to the next one.

Marissa: That sounds so fun!

[00:35:36]
Eric: Yea! That to me is where our company is heading. i’m getting some attention from funders. Some attention from different presenters and people who are interested in dancing in the company. So it definitely feels like a really supported shift.

Marissa: So you work with Sean Dorsey, he’s like incredible. He’s transgender and started Fresh Meat Productions. And it’s an acclaimed transgender and queer dance company.

[00:36:06]
Eric: Yea! So i got this job when I was in undergrad. I applied for this internship. So Sean Dorsey is the artist director of Fresh Meat Productions and Fresh Meat Productions is this non profit that does queer and transgender arts programming. So under that umbrella we have the San Francisco transgender film festival, we have Sean Dorsey Dance, which is the resident dance company, and then we also have this annual performance festival called Fresh Meat Festival.

So when I first saw his work, I was like blown away! Obsessed. I had just started entering the dance scene. And was coming out USF. And i was like totally weird and email him and was like ‘hey, hi.. [laughs] can I be your intern?’ but they kind of were just like, yea! Come on in. So like for a year, I just worked for free. Just like super jazzed. I was a sophomore or junior in college. Then after that they just offered me a job and I’ve been with them for like 6 years now.

[00:37:12]
That job has been, it has propelled my career so far forward it’s not even funny. Because they’re a non profit and my title is like production coordinator which is also synonymous with like programs director or like whatever or like production manager. So I basically help them with their three major productions every year and I help them with basic day to day admin stuff and I help them with like video editing and working on their grants with them and like support materials and I’ll work on their website. And all the stuff I was learning through fresh meat and Sean Dorsey was directly applicable to Detour dance.

So that’s how I was able to really develop my skills as not just a choreographer or artistic director but like, as a business person and as an executive director and just kind of.. [pause] and just like really propelling myself forward and also like, being a part of this amazing organization that put on these events that are sooo much fun and so powerful. And to talk about community, the people who show up for these events. you’re in this room and there’s like 3 or 400 people and you’re just like what? it’s just like buzzing and there’s so much love. I don’t know! It’s like back to that this is what San Francisco is. This is what I was really attracted to, this is that, like, thing that we all miss that thing we are all nostalgic about. It’s happening right now. We like, coming together and celebrating queerness and like, and so many different forms in film and dance.

[00:38:51]
It’s just like, yea, i feel so lucky to be apart of that community. This is all why I stick around in the city. I’m not doing it, i’m not rich. Fresh meat pays me fairly well. And i’m like yea! Paycheck to paycheck. certainly detour dance is not paying me! I get to pay my collaborators really humble stipends. All these things, um, drag, I’m a millionaire from drag!

[laughs]

Marissa: It’s your cash cow

[00:39:21]
Eric: I think we make collectively like $75. with all the drag. [laughs] yea! it’s this type of like contextualization. And like global perspective that makes, has been informing a lot of why I do the things I do. And just the word privilege just finds it’s way into the conversation of just like how privileged I am to be able to run a dance company and like be apart of this non profit and just like help anyway I can with anything I can with production management. And like I get to go to a straight bar and put on a dress [laughs] booby tassels for a bunch of people. What is my life?!

Marissa: It’s amazing!

Eric: It’s amazing! And it’s like definitely, its not like something that has fallen in my lap and I’ve worked my ass off to make that a sustainable way of living. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The alternative scares me! [laughs] Office job. I can’t. I just would be soulless. I could not imagine. I couldn’t imagine that. This way, this piecemeal job situation. The communities i’m involved with and networking and just the support systems and the like-minded weird aesthetic. it’s just so goddamn rich and so satisfying and so important and not to ramble forever.

[00:41:09]
It’s been interesting the last few years looking at identity. Looking at my identity. I mentioned this at the very beginning. I thought, I, I, If no one asked me or talked to me, I would have just gone through the world thinking I was white. And thinking that my gayness is just a secondary thing or my queerness rather. Um. [pause] because I am, I haven’t had to really look at it. Coming out was a big thing and that was really validating and scary and all these things. And all it meant to me at that time. Ok! I’m gay. cool I’m in San Francisco and I’m carving out my own life and that’s all I need from that. And now, sorting that all out has been huge in how I go through the world and how I make art and what communities I choose to be apart of. And what communities I can say hey! Not anymore! Thank you. I don’t nee that. It’s not fulfilling me anymore and what I found humorous or I found worthwhile in high school isn’t necessarily the case anymore. It’s formed my politics. It’s formed my self care. It’s formed who I choose to engage with and who I choose to love and um, who I choose to live with. It’s just like part of it now and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It feels like a much more informed lifestyle. A much more interesting lifestyle. yea, its being grateful for the privilege and opportunity to chew on it and then make art about it and have people be subject to that.

[Cut to Marissa narrating]

[00:42:54]
So that is the end of this weeks show. As always, thank you so much for listening. Visit our website at theundefinedgen.com for links to some of the things mentioned in the show. I absolutely love Eric and if you’re in the Bay Area, I highly recommend going to one of his shows. They’re interesting with beautiful music and amazing dance and you’ll be left with something to think about. Next week I talk to my neighbor, Tia Lebherz. She’s a communications and outreach manager at Water Now Alliance where they work between water companies, private companies with water saving technologies, and other activists to create conversation and then action to save water on the West Coast. She has also worked for Food and Water Watch where she worked to ban fracking in Monterey County and she will weigh in on the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement between 12 pacific rim countries that was signed this last February. So! Have a great week and tune in next time!

[theme music]

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