Bay Area artists and arts leaders reflect on the pandemic’s first two years Chronicle Staff March 13


There were Ipass cash loans first clues and whispers international headlines, pessimists’ worst-case predictions. Then international tourism slowed, and the NBA and Broadway started canceling shows. But, we reasoned, the impossible couldn’t happen here.

Then the world came to a loan halt, and time became a vast, thick soup, never moving forward but aging us by a decade every day.

We all assumed it would only be a few weeks. However, two weeks has turned into two years.

With the second anniversary of the Bay Area’s historic shelter-in-place order approaching, The Chronicle attempted to look back at those 24 months, at what can feel like an undifferentiated mass of grief and helplessness, and with the help of local artists focus on individual moments of the pandemic and honor lending how they changed us.

We may reckon with them by defining them. We can move forward by counting.

“Some Enchanted Evenings” by Christina Augello will be performed at Exit Theatre.

Richard (Livingston, managing director) started in March 2020, “I think we should terminate everything.” The cast of “Never the Sinner” was on their way down from Tahoe. I didn’t want to cancel, but it seemed the only option. We assumed we were going to close loans for a few weeks or a month at the time. We were on the verge of a lot of things. Then, suddenly, it felt like being gagged and unable to breathe. It didn’t appear that I was closing the theater door. I planned to return next week, but you’re not open over the Christmas season.

(Then, by late March, it became genuine when I became concerned that the theater was empty and boarded up the windows.) “We’re there, but we’re not there,” I told Richard. It made me feel vulnerable. It would help if you took care of the environment; it is, in some ways, a living entity. The paranoia set in. “Who would look after my child?” It felt safer to board up the windows so no one could enter my sacred place. We hung posters for the Fringe Festival to make them seem friendly. Everyone on Market Street was beginning to board up their windows. It was like putting on a coat in the middle of a snowstorm.

November 2020: As an older lady attempting to figure out how to live on Social Security, I decided that I needed to make a financial move for my future. Arcata (Humboldt County) had price, culture, and climate. “You’re going up there, and you have a two-bedroom condo?” Richard asked. “I’ll be there as well.” “How about doing a theater there?” he said. I noticed this space on Craigslist.” We agreed to sign the lease.

March 2022: “Taking Our Life: Suicide, Ecocide, and Daring to Live,” a show that was going to be in our 2020 Fringe, will be our first public performance. Because we don’t have anyone up here, Richard will have to be the technician, as he is the only one who knows how it works.

“Taking Our Life: Suicide, Ecocide, and Daring to Live”: Sunday, March 13, 3 p.m. $12. Exit Theatre Arcata is located at 890 G St. in Arcata.

Sarah Cahill, pictured above performing as part of the San Francisco Symphony’s “Lineage” performance, will be one of the leading performers at the Hear | Together daylong piano festival on May 9.

March 2020: I had the opportunity to collaborate with filmmaker Veronica Selver and composer Todd Boekelheide on the score for Veronica’s film “Irmi,” along with several other musicians. In Berkeley, we were in a bit of a recording studio. We all began to wonder if we were too close together during that week of recording. Someone just coughed? Can we say our good-bys? Shouldn’t we eat from the same plate?

I’ll never forget how the anxiety crept up on me that week.

August 2020: I didn’t know what to do with my grandmother’s old spinet piano, so we took it out to Albany Bulb, where I played music for a tiny masked audience under a great pine tree directly on the bay. I considered leaving the piano at Albany Bulb, but Alvaro’s wonderful young man volunteered to take it home with him, so he and his buddies moved it down the hill on a bit of dolly and onto a truck.

March 2022: I’m traveling a lot and performing concerts, but there’s a whole other stress level now: staying healthy for performances. I’m obsessed with wearing masks, taking vitamins, and eating meals outside or in my hotel room. It’s stressful, but it’s essential right now. It’s hard to imagine we ever sat in crowded concert halls together and didn’t mind if someone coughed.

In 2016, Mama Celeste performed during “Daughter” at the Oasis in San Francisco. During the epidemic, digital performances were an essential feature of drag acts.

Mama Celeste is a drag performer and the organizer of the Oaklash festival.

I remember the night everything went down because I was scheduled to be playing at Oasis for a show called “Media Meltdown” in March 2020. Some of the performers continued with the concert as planned and joined forces to perform for a virtual audience on Twitch as far as I know, the first digital drag show, at least in San Francisco, but possibly elsewhere

I chose to stay at home because I didn’t know anything about COVID at the time and had perhaps seen too many zombie movies. But I was still eager to perform. The subject of that night’s concert was supposed to be “Claymation,” so I dressed up in a full-body Gumby Halloween costume, a neon-green imitation Catherine D’Lish dressing gown, turned on my phone’s ring light, and did a burlesque tease to the Muppets’ “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” The bars were closed, but that didn’t stop any of us from flying our freak flag.

Digital performance has proven to be an intriguing new option for drag. To present our art, we were all forced to learn various new techniques, including filming and editing, animation and special effects, streaming, and OBS (Open Broadcast Software). It was a steep learning curve, but it also compelled us to go on a sort of renaissance. Suddenly, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” wasn’t the only drag show you could watch from the comfort of your own home – everyone had their performance!

Our first digital Oaklash in September 2020 was an artistic achievement but a technological nightmare. Because we were forced to postpone our event until September, our main event which was concurrently live-streamed from both 7th West in Oakland and Oasis in San Francisco fell on the warmest day of the year and the start of the fire season in upstate California. Remember the day when the entire sky turned orange? That was the next day Our laptops were overheated, our internet connection was continuously down, and, worst of all, my brows melted off! It was, without a doubt, one of the most stressful days of my life.

Nonetheless, after that weekend, over 250,000 people worldwide had tuned in to our broadcast, and we had received rave reviews for the range of acts that had been included. We knew this technology wasn’t going away for a bit of festival that usually draws a few thousand people in a day if we’re lucky. And it enabled us to make our programs more accessible to a wide range of people, including those with disabilities, hearing impairments, or who did not want to leave their sofa.

We had mastered the art of putting on a drag show online by 2021 when we conducted a 54-hour continuous feed of drag entertainment over three days. It was a marathon, but we made it look easy.

March 2022: As we approach the festival this year, we are prepared for everything. Oaklash 2022 will be a hybrid online and in-person event culminating with our first-ever block party on Saturday, May 28. We’re more devoted than ever to making our show accessible to all audiences, and we’re now better positioned to do so because of the time we had during the pandemic.

Doing events in person again is terrifying in one way there’s always the lurking dread that everything you’ve worked for might need to be shut down at a moment’s notice to keep your community safe but it’s also tremendously important to what we do. Drag as an art form is all about showcasing and celebrating the characteristics that make each of us unique and bringing individuals together who might otherwise be isolated. We haven’t had someplace to go for the last two years, so we’re putting in so much effort to make it bigger and better than before.


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