Echoes, a spoken word chamber opera, is a meditation on, interrogation of, and ode to San Francisco: the magical, troubling, and overwhelmingly complicated place all of the artists on the stage tonight call home. The work was was born of a desire to use the medium of the opera as a canvas for voices that deserve the platform and gravitas the operatic tradition can provide. The Living Earth Show is honored to join forces with two of San Francisco’s most influential arts organizations to bring this work to life. Kronos Quartet has spent over four decades redefining what classical music can be and aggressively redefining who granted the privilege to use the medium of classical music as a tool for creative expression. Youth Speaks, a force for good in San Francisco’s cultural life since its inception, represents an almost impossibly influential and impactful synthesis of artistic creation, education, and activism, and has been. The composer of the score, Danny Clay, is one of the most talented composers of his generation, serving simultaneously as composer steeped in the classical tradition and facilitator who provides a space for others to use the classical tradition to further their own forms of artistic expression.
For more than 40 years, San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet – David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello) – has pursued a singular artistic vision, combining a spirit of fearless exploration with a commitment to continually reimagine the string quartet experience. In the process, Kronos has become one of the most celebrated and influential groups of our time, performing thousands of concerts worldwide, releasing more than 60 recordings of extraordinary breadth and creativity, collaborating with many of the world’s most intriguing and accomplished composers and performers, and commissioning more than 950 works and arrangements for string quartet. Kronos has received over 40 awards, including both the Polar Music and Avery Fisher Prize, two of the most prestigious awards given to musicians, a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance (2004) and “Musicians of the Year” (2003) from Musical America.
Founded in 1996 in San Francisco, Youth Speaks has long championed a local, national, and increasingly global movement of young people picking up pens and stepping proudly onto stages, declaring themselves present. We believe that literacy is aneed, not a want. One of the world’s leading presenters of spoken word performance, education and youth, Youth Speaks produces local and national youth poetry slams, festivals, and reading series, alongside a comprehensive slate of arts-in-education programs during the school day, in the after-school hours and on weekends. In addition, we create internationally recognized theater and digital programming, and have helped launch a national network of over 70 programs that believe in the power of young people.
Gabriel Cortez is a poet and teaching artist. His work has been featured by KQED, Upworthy and the Huffington Post and performed in such venues as the Oracle Arena, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the Nourse Theater and Zellerbach Auditorium. Gabriel is a Lead Artist with Youth Speaks. Gabriel is also a founding member of Ghostlines, The Root Slam, and the Write Home Project.
Ashley Smiley obtained her B.A in Performing Arts and Social Justice from the University of San Francisco and her M.A. in Drama from San Francisco State University. Ashley acted as the Assistant Director for Campo Santo’s world premiere production of H.O.M.E. (Hookers On Mars Eventually), written by Star Finch and directed by Sean San José. Ashley continues to work as a core member of Campo Santo, and is in the process of writing two original works.
Michael Wayne Turner III
Michael Wayne Turner III is an award winning writer, poet, spoken word artist, actor, dancer, emcee, and choreographer. Michael is currently touring Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s reincarnation of WORD BECOMES FLESH (a five man sixty minute hip-hop theatrical). As an educator and facilitator of the art-education, Michael has developed a framework for engaging young people with his art through an educational lens, enabling the personal narrative to have a voice. Michael lives to provide this service to the world.
Tassiana Willis is one of the inaugural Emerging Arts Fellows at Youth Speaks. She is an accomplished writer, actress, and singer and has been a leader in Youth Speaks programs such as SPOKES Youth Advisory Board, Brave New Voices Team Bay Area, and Future Corp. She was chosen by the Emerging Arts Professionals SF/Bay as one of their Fellows, and was a facilitator at Berkeley Rep for the community engagement process for Anna Deveare Smith’s Notes from the Field.
Aimee Suzara is a Filipino-American poet, playwright, and performer whose mission is to create poetic and theatrical work about race, gender, and the body to provoke dialogue and social change. Her first full-length book, SOUVENIR, was released in February 2014 (WordTech Editions) and was a Willa Award Finalist in 2015. Her plays A HISTORY OF THE BODY and TINY FIRES were selected as Finalists for the Bay Area Playwright’s Festival. She has collaborated with Amara Tabor Smith and Deep Waters Dance Theater for the food-justice themed dance theater piece, Our Daily Bread. Her poems appear in numerous journals and anthologies such as Kartika Review, 580 Split, Lantern Review and Walang Hiya: Literature Taking Risks Toward Liberatory Practice, Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets and Emcees and Poets (Lit Noire Press) and her chapbooks, the space between and Finding the Bones (Finishing Line Press). She’s been featured as a spoken word artist nationally, including at Stanford, Mt. Holyoke College, Portland State University, University of Miami and UC Santa Cruz. An advocate for the intersection of arts and literacy, she is currently on the faculty at De Anza College and leads workshops in poetry and performance for youth and adults.
Sean San José
Sean San José is a director, writer, performer and Co-Founder of Campo Santo, a new performances group founded in 1996 that gives voice to untold stories of people of color through new performance premieres created in long-term processes. For 15 years San José was the Program Director of the Performance Program at Intersection for the Arts. San José was the Creator and Project Director of Alma Delfina Group-Teatro Contra el SIDA (1994–2002) and Pieces of the Quilt, a collection of more than 50 short plays confronting AIDS.
Danny Clay is a composer whose work is deeply rooted in curiosity, collaboration, and the sheer joy of making things with people of all ages and levels of artistic experience. Working closely with artists, students, and community members alike, he builds worlds of inquiry, play, and perpetual discovery that integrate elements of sound, movement, theater, and visual design. Children’s games, speculative systems, cognitive puzzles, invented notation, found objects, imaginary archives, repurposed media, micro-improvisations, and happy accidents all make frequent appearances in his projects. He has been commissioned by Kronos Quartet, Third Coast Percussion, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the city of Berkeley, Volti, Sarah Cahill, and Phyllis Chen, among others. His work has been performed by the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Eighth Blackbird, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP), and has been presented by San Francisco Performances, the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts at the Minnesota Street Project, the Grey Area Foundation for the Arts, the Meaney Center for the Arts in Seattle, and university programs throughout the United States.