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Performance Anxiety: Popcorn Theater's blurring of performers and audience has caused more than one stranger to blush.

Popcorn Theater's Magical Mystery Tour

By Michelle Goldberg

I have no idea why I fell for it, but I did. Maybe because I was sleep deprived, or because I'm preposterously gullible--or perhaps Popcorn Theater itself is so fantastical that it makes such serendipitous accidents seem plausible.

It was several Sunday nights ago on the Popcorn Bus, and though the evening had just begun, I was already a bit delirious from eating two of the jumbo Pixy Stix that the Pop Tarts--surreal stewardesses-cum-magicians' assistants--had handed out. We, the audience, were on board for Popcorn Theater, a demented monthly vaudeville field trip during which participants are driven all over the city for a show that unfolds in the San Francisco streets.

The bus pulled up on the corner of 17th and Harrison. Our MC, Louie Petite Chien Fou, told us we were going to see a mural, but when we disembarked, only a square foot or so remained of what had once been a huge painting.

Louie led us around the side of the building--a fairly hideous loft development. A man with a knit ski cap pulled low over his forehead was sitting hunched against the wall, writing in a notebook. "What happened to this mural?" Louie asked. "Fucking yuppie fucks," the man replied.

Louie asked him what was in the notebook, and he said it was poetry about the Mission. "Will you read it for us?" Louie requested, to cheers from the crowd. "Who are you people?" the startled-looking man asked as he was handed a microphone. He proceeded to read a very funny, very angry piece about gentrification.

Why I didn't know right away that he was part of the show I have no idea, but for a few minutes I thought we were seeing some kind of low-rent art miracle. Or maybe I just secretly believe that San Francisco is full of geniuses scribbling in notebooks, and if you cruise around town in a luxury bus you'll surely run into a few of them. Anyway, it was humiliating to have been so easily tricked, but I was elated too.

Our next stop was an open-air game show called "Gay or German Tourist?" The host picked one contestant from the crowd and then looked down the street to see Louie hitting on a zaftig black-clad hooker with a thick Spanish accent.

"Who wants to see the whore play?" asked the host. Then he looked behind him, where a homeless wino in a construction hat and a trench coat was sleeping on the grass. He was recruited as the third guest. When he stood up and his trench coat opened, he was naked but for a pair of sheer nylons.

"It's like the sun, don't look directly at it," the host advised. "See, I told you there would be nudity!" an audience member shouted to her friend. At one point, the host picked on my boyfriend, asking the contestants to determine whether he was a homosexual or a Deutschlander. "He no gay," said the whore with a wink. But she was wrong, said the host. "Actually, he takes it up the ass for money." Matt laughed uncomfortably.

There was also entertainment on the bus, including comedy acts, a band playing Mexican music, $6 all-you-can-drink Red Hook and $2 tequila shots. At 19th Street and Indiana, we watched Homeless Theater, in which three actors emerged from what looked like a homeless encampment to perform weak magic tricks and sing a Charles Manson song.

Then we were led to a park for a rock concert, where a lithe tranny with a guitar did a punk cover of Sinatra's "All the Way" and a rousing version of the Modern Lovers' "Pablo Picasso." The singing was cut short by the arrival of the cops, who briefly pulled over the bus but let us go after a sage nod from our very respectable-seeming driver.

Our final stop was, surprisingly, at the Werepad, where Jacques Boyreau sang (he's got a voice like a young Lou Reed) and strummed a guitar, a man in a black suit played the theremin and Vikki Vaden performed wonderful clogging routines. Theater of the absurd, yes, but Popcorn is also the most moving show in town.


Popcorn usually takes place on the last Sunday and Monday of the month. For more information, call 415/695-9100.

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From the February 15, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.




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