Starry Plough, a Berkeley landmark hosted another Berkeley landmark last Sunday afternoon--another political fundraiser. But this raucous event was, well, different.
Part agitprop, part political theater, part cabaret, part benefit to support the opposition to a sitting ban in business districts--part tomfoolery--the stage show was a musical, too, with its own pit-band and a cast exceeding twenty-five.
The Plough "with deep roots as an Irish Revolutionary watering hole,where the history of protest runs as deep today as it did when it opened three decades ago," according to the Plough's publicity--was like opening on Broadway.
Nearly fifty Berkeley activists participated, from the audience and the stage.
As the event organizer, Carol Denney said, in an email interview:
"I thought Mayor Bates' idea of making sitting down a crime was so ridiculous that as a comedy writer I just naturally rose to the challenge of topping it."
But was it agitprop, political satire, or political theater?
"This is a serious athletic event," said Denney, referring to her faux documentary, a spoof on the olympics, chair-sitting, and measure S, which would ban sitting on business district sidewalks from, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The show kicked off with a screening of the six-minute documentary, a chair-carrying, then sitting homage to Leni Riefenstahl.
As Denney tried to show--with a diagram--chair-sitting, and the Olympics, and the no-sitting on business district sidewalks were somehow related to the show.
Judges received Denny's satiric judging manual weeks before the Starry-Plough event. But the rules were ignored Sunday, yielding to improvisational audience and judge interactions, which Denney had encouraged in her preparation of judges.
You might have thought you were at a Starry Plough slam. At times the crowd was on the verge of rioting; comedically that is. The audience was part of the show.
Who said Berkeley politics can't be fun? Mike Diehl a paid community organizer, said Sunday, "I'm here to laugh; Radicals need to laugh, too."
Beware the chair, which according to Denney's script, "has its own agenda…it's cruel."
She might have called her musical, simply, "Chairs."
On a chair: Dr. Mozzarelli, a clown, dived into a cup of beer.
On a chair: Ambrose Muggs Muggles, who has the mellifluous voice of a radio announcer in a 50's beat-club, read Beware the Chair , which became Edgar-Allen-Poe-creepy. Beware the chair!
"a chair is vile – it will not smile
it will not speak or sing
it won’t lend you a dime and it
won’t spend a gosh-darned thing
it won’t help the economy
and heaven knows it should
why should it get a pass because
the darn thing’s made of wood?"
Lori, Queen of the Pool and champion of the warm pool promised by Measures O and N, a comedian, carried a chair to her pool.
Brandishing a chair: Andrea Pritchett, founder of Berkeley Cop-Watch, gave a truly scary martial arts demo using a chair, as if she were an animal trainer. Cops watch out.
Riffing on chairs: Wes "Scoop" Nisker, a Buddhist Father Sarducci, put Buddhist priests in lounge chairs, and turned on the massage feature.
Disappearing a chair: Osha Neumann, well known civil-liberties attorney and People's Park muralist, disappeared the chair.
Shooting a chair: that was Sheriff Billy who shot at the chair, but seemed to be aiming at Denney.
Solo to a chair: Eliza O'Malley's was from "Quando m'en vo," La Boheme, by Puccini, according to Becky O'malley.
Judges had been instructed to expect, and to take bribes, Denney's way to compensate them. Gary Hicks, speaking for the judges, said that the judging was corrupt. "You won't lose because you're no good," he said, encouraging a frenzy of bribes.
Bonnie Hughes, founder of the Berkeley Arts Festival, and Gary Hicks, an award winning slam poet, were corrupt judges. Hicks raked in thirteen dollars, he said sheepishly.
And the pit orchestra: Mitchell Hirsh provided live trombone sound effects, and Guido Ritmo provided live acoustic percussion on a central American drum box.
Dana Merriday was a British Petroleum cheerleader who brought a huge BP banner and made sure the corporate Olympic sponsors were satisfied with the show.
A late participant, a bagpipe troupe, closed, the show to the tune of Amazing Grace.
As with, Woodstock, where it is next to impossible to report what happened….