The People: San Francisco

Braving what turned out to be a typical San Francisco evening (cold and windy), a few hundred people gathered in front of the ZSpace building on Florida Street last night to witness the unfolding of Big Art Group's The People: San Francisco, the fourth version an event which has previously been staged in Italy, Germany and Austria. New York gets its turn next month. The production involves a live video transmission broadcast onto the side of a building while the audience watches what's taking place inside from the street outside- or from inside the building if they wish. The live feed is inter-cut with previously filmed interviews of locals discussing topics like justice, democracy, terrorism and their personal histories. The interviews take the form of a Greek chorus, commenting on the live action, which is a loose re-enactment of Aeschylus' Oresteia. It works remarkably well.

Sprayed across the large paned windows of the ZSpace building in five large blocks,  the images are distorted in a way that sometimes made the footage seem surreal and unsettling, such as when Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon, while during others it made me wish they were using a flat wall so the details were clearer. I'm not sure if that was the desired effect or if the Big Art Group was forced to work with the space they were given - a large, flat, windowless building might have worked much better visually.  From a block away the images were clear, but the audio was difficult to make out. Still, it works- the cumulative result seen from the street creates an effect which blurs the lines for the viewer, as if we're watching a documentary one can't quite trust, not because of the content, but because of how its being presented. It's Greek tragedy presented as a combination of cinema verite, reality television, and Errol Morris documentary.

Done with a cast of locals, some of whom really stand out (especially the women who portray Clytemnestra, Elektra and Iphigenia), The People: San Francisco presents a local view of how members of this community feel and think about current political and personal issues. Big Art Group's editors juxtapose this contemporary local view with the Oresteia story to illustrate the timelessness, or universality, of conflict and disorder. An off-screen director can be heard cutting off the actors and making humorous comments, keeping the production from lapsing into the didactic.

The people interviewed range from the youthful to the elderly and across racial lines, creating a true sense of community taking part in the whole and that same variety was visible in the audience as well- lots of seniors and girls in mini-skirts milled about the crowd along with the usual hipsters, aging and not, everyone freezing it seemed, but engaged in what turned to be a contemporary agora, complete with food trucks and lattes.

It happens again tonight at 8. 450 Florida Street between 17th and Mariposa. Parking is pretty easy. Tickets are $10. Presented by YBCA and ZSpace. Food and drinks begin at 6:00 PM and the performance ended at 9:20. Dress warmly.