First of all: Poor Alexis Blair Penney. His show last night was a classic Works misfire, and it really wasn't his fault.
Penney is an Oakland-based drag performer probably best known for the song "Lonely Sea." The songs he played last night were melodramatic and urgent, and he had real presence, as he stalked the stage in high heels and makeup, head bare. A live feed projected images of Penney and his band on screens behind them, and if we'd been in a small crowded club it would've turned into a sweaty dance show, no question. But we weren't in a crowded club, we were in a cavernous high-school auditorium, with theater seats where the dance floor should've been. Penney was clearly aware that the room was mostly empty, and that a theater-crowd audience was watching with arms crossed. "Know what it's called when you take this kind of thing seriously? Art, apparently," he said at one point, which is my favorite quote of the festival so far. A few diehards danced in the aisles, but otherwise the poor dude just didn't have much to work with. This would've been a different show in a different venue. Like say... the beer garden? <—SEGUE ALERT
After Penney's show, outside in the beer garden, a drag performer led an enthusiastic crowd in a routine of sorts—I wasn't paying too much attention, but there was definitely jumping, wiggling, and gyrating. What did this experience have that Penney's didn't? It was the right size for its venue. Also, it had a whiff of the types of "public engagement" projects that TBA used to feature more prominently, the lack of which I bet has contributed to what feels like a decline in the fest's visibility this year.
[Weird "Seen at TBA" last night: A slightly tense showdown between a dude who was determined to climb a tree in the beer garden, and a security guard who was equally determined to get him down. The guard was straight up threatening, while tree-dude pulled the "I'm just climbing a tree, bro, what's the harm" routine. I have to admit, I was a tiny bit disappointed when PICA staffer swooped in to defuse the situation—I wanted to see the security guard try to climb the tree. But anyway, it was a total callback to Keith Hennessy's show, when he pointed to the fest's security as reminder that though they do good work, PICA is beholden to The Man in many ways.]