On Sunday, siren Star Amerasu heard the news about the mass shooting victims in Orlando and wrote a new song to perform at this week’s Fresh Meat Festival.
“I felt really touched by the idea of banding together. We have to be there for each other because we’re not supported in the government, we’re not supported in other communities,” says the musician, appearing on the bill of the trailblazing transgender and queer performance festival.
Now celebrating its 15th anniversary, the three-day festival — a cornucopia of acts including vogue dancers, a storyteller, circus artists and more — opens today at Z Space in The City.
Amerasu also will perform “Little Bird,” an original song that sprouted when she found a brightly-feathered body on a sidewalk and gave it “a proper burial” with her friend.
It reminded her of the dangers trans people face, even in San Francisco, where three brutal attacks on trans women made the news last year: Samantha Hulsey suffered two violent assaults and Taja Gabrielle DeJesus was stabbed to death on Feb. 1.
“As a trans woman of color, life is so precious and the odds are stacked against us,” says Amerasu, who counts Feist, Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse as influences, and who has been compared to Lauryn Hill and Antony and the Johnsons’ Anohni.
Festival director Sean Dorsey’s dance company will perform an excerpt from his original work “The Missing Generation,” which is based on a year’s worth of interviews with trans and queer people across the country about the AIDS crisis.
“It’s very intense, very full-throttle dance,” says choreographer Dorsey. “It’s a highly physical and emotional work I call dance theater.”
Queer bachata dancers Jahaira Fajardo and Angelica Medina, who took first place in the “Latin ladies amateur couple” category for their performance of the Dominican Republic style at the 2015 World Latin Dance Cup in Miami, are also in the lineup, as well as modern dancers of Oakland-based AXIS Dance Company, who, Dorsey says, “are changing the face of dance and disability.”
The Singing Bois gender-bending boy band, which performs “everything from doo-wop to barbershop to contemporary pop hits with gorgeous harmonies,” Dorsey says, appears on Saturday only.
Folk-punk singer-songwriter Shawna Virago, appearing in the festival for her 15th time, will perform her best two new songs.
Virago, the general manager (and board member) of Fresh Meat Productions who has been out as a gender-variant person and performer since 1985, says, “I would play bars filled with straight people, I would play lesbian or gay bars, but playing at Fresh Meat was my first time playing in front of trans or gender-variant people. For the first time my gender was not on stage. I could just be an artist,” Virago says.
“The other thing about Fresh Meat has been creating an opportunity for artists who don’t normally get to have professional theater experience. For me there were few options, practically no options. I think there are few options still,” she says.
Dorsey thought the first Fresh Meat festival in 2002 would be a one-time thing. He says, “It was absolutely historic. There were no organizations that were supporting trans artists. That first show at ODC Theater was packed to the rafters.”
The chance to perform in a real venue was a far cry from what trans and queer artists often faced: “Normally we were put in the corner of the bar or the corner of the cafe with the espresso machine going off. … It’s still true that high production-value opportunities for LGBT artists are few and far between. The bottom line is we still are a transgender organization and we still face challenges. We still have to prove ourselves — non-trans organizations don’t have to,” Dorsey says.
More than 100 anti-LGBT bills are currently pending in 22 states, Dorsey says. “It’s a very intelligently, systematically-organized campaign by many religious and anti-LGBT organizations. All the more reason it’s important, more than ever before, for us to gather together in community. To celebrate the importance of gathering together in public declaring our lives, and our stories, and our bodies as valuable,” Dorsey says.
The festival, which he coordinates with two staffers and many dedicated, close-knit volunteers, has sold out shows every year.
“To have a packed 13,000-square-foot theater that is full of transgender, LGBT and straight allies is so special and powerful,” Dorsey says. “You see a coming together of so many different communities sitting shoulder to shoulder.”
IF YOU GO
Fresh Meat Festival
Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. June 16-18
Tickets: $15 to $27
Note: All three nights include an after-party, and Saturday’s show offers a gala reception.