Gina Harris’ “The Magic of Ordinary Things” in The City on Oct. 30 and Nov. 1-2 is part of Reimagine End of Life programs throughout the Bay Area. (Courtesy David Hake)

Gina Harris dreams up a musical memoir

Singer’s show stems from efforts to find comfort after her parents’ deaths

For Bay Area jazz singer and composer Gina Harris, creating “The Magic of Ordinary Things” wasn’t a matter of choice.

“The songs turned around and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘We’re a show,’” says Harris, who brings it to San Francisco’s Phoenix Theater next week as part of Reimagine End of Life, a 10-day event beginning Thursday with nearly 200 programs exploring connections between celebrating life and considering death.

It took Harris several years to develop the hour-long solo piece, a “musical memoir,” she calls it, inspired by three important people in her life.

After her mother, father and singing teacher died, she says, “I was lost. It was a weird, baffling, mysterious time. I didn’t know what to do, so I started started writing music to comfort myself.”

Later, after sharing the songs with people who liked them, the notion of putting them into a show came to her in a dream.

Although the project stems from a time when Harris thought she’d “never fundamentally be happy again,” she says the show, which includes spoken word as well as music, covers a whole spectrum of emotions, with humor, and tells the story of her finding a home again in the wake of loss.

Comparing the format to John Leguizamo’s semi-autobiographical one-man show “Freak,” Harris says, “I’m my mother, I’m my father, I’m all of the characters. I put myself on trial as a daughter,” adding that everything that happens in it is “real.”

For example, the tune “The Invisible Moon” is about visiting her Western-loving father (who had dementia) in the hospital, when she read him the book “Lonesome Dove.” She says, “It’s a lovely moment with my dad. It may be the heart of the show.”

But other songs touch on difficult emotions, from Harris’ memories of her “fierce, tiger mother with a capital T,” to feeling like she let her dad down.

Although “The Magic of Ordinary Things” is billed as a solo event, Harris has excellent collaborators, including director Michael French (of “The Speakeasy”), stage manager Sigrid Yang and lighting designer Dylan Feldman.

On the music side, Jason Martineau directs and plays piano, while the band includes drummer Kelly Park and bassist Sascha Jacobsen.

Harris also is investigating performing the show at The Marsh, The City’s premier theater for solo performance.


Reimagine End of Life

When: Oct. 24-Nov. 3

Where: Many sites in San Francisco, Marin, Alameda and San Mateo counties

Tickets: $5 to $200; most events free with RSVP



Opening Night: Author Anne Lamott speaks with Anna Sale of “Death, Sex & Money.” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24. $39-$200 (VIP). Sydney Goldstein Theater, 275 Hayes St., S.F.

A Beginnner’s Guide to the End: Dr. BJ Miller, who practices palliative medicine, and end of life experts Shoshana Berger and Lucy Kalanithi answer questions about how to cope with the invitabliliy of death. 7 p.m. Oct. 27. $30. Jwish Community Center, 3200 California St., S.F.

Being Mortal: Institute on Aging screens the PBS Frontline film which explores terminal illness and final choices, accompanied by a talk by Patrick Arbore, founder of The Friendship Line. 6 p.m., $5-$10. 3575 Geary Blvd., S.F.

Disney Filmmaking-Reimagined: Walt Disney Family Museum staff offer instruction for seniors in stop-action filmmaking with a theme of celebration of life. 1 p.m. Oct. 29. Free. Aquatic Park Center, 890 Beach St., S.F.

Good Grief: Standup comics Mikey Walz, Sandra Risser, Joe Klocek, Ronn Vigh, Anica Cihla, Andrew Orolfo, Dara Kosberg and John Ross take on death and loss in the themed show. 8 p.m., Oct. 29. $22. Punch Line, 444 Battery St., S.F.

The Magic of Ordinary Things: Gina Harris appears in her solo musical memoir. 8 p.m. Oct. 30 and Nov. 1-2. $20. Phoenix Theater, 414 Mason St., sixth floor, S.F.

Death of a Cabbage: Kelly McVicker, founder of McVicker Pickles, hosts a “hands-on fermentation experience” and exploration on how cycles of microbial life, and death, transform food. 4 p.m. Nov. 26. $26. The Ruby 23rd and Bryant streets, RSVP required.

Intergenerational Dance Party and Street Fair: Daybreaker dance parties hosts the morning, with yoga and dancing, coffee, snacks and retro tunes, followed by a fair with art, food, conversation and performances. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 3. $10-$20. Outside City Hall, 149-199 Fulton St., S.F.

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