Eye Zen Presents is a San Francisco-based transdisciplinary ensemble theater company founded by Seth Eisen in 2007. Eye Zen creates live theater that protects and promotes LGBTQ history through rigorous research, trans-disciplinary performance, and community-building events in San Francisco that unearth and elevate queer ancestors, illuminating the life stories of unsung queer heroes.
The organization artistically recaptures LGBTQ stories and traditions erased from historical records to create a lasting body of evidence and to disseminate these vital legacies for future generations. Eye Zen’s productions engender an aesthetic that experimentally blends performative and visual disciplines: puppetry and live-drawing is fused with contemporary dance, drag, live music, physical theater and video.
Artistic Director Seth Eisen began creating original work in 1994: his first full-length performance, Two- Fold/One Kind (1994) blended Drag Balls and Voguing with Two-Spirit Native American traditions. For the next 15 years, Eisen staged performance pieces, street spectacles and installations at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, ’Zeum and The Oakland Museum and appeared in a number of productions he created in collaboration with other Bay Area artists. The 2007 National Queer Arts Festival presented Fagala, Eisen’s production exploring gay self-loathing and the reclamation of the queer body; that year he staged A Hishi Musical at the 2007 Puppet Love Festival.
In 2007, Eisen founded Eye Zen Presents to support the creation and production of Blackbird: Honoring a Century of Pansy Divas, and became a fiscally sponsored project of CounterPulse where we are now a House Artist. Blackbird was developed over two separate residencies at Mama Calizo’s Voice Factory in 2008 and 2010. Through puppetry and visual media this original solo performance piece explored the lives of seven culturally diverse Twentieth Century queer performers, who coped with discrimination by inventing innovative ways to be out, queer and vocal despite their outsider status. This critically acclaimed piece premiered to sold-out audiences at the 2010 National Queer Arts Festival.
In 2011-12, Eye Zen Presents produced Buffet Flats: Queering Slow Food, a series of five sold-out performance art events that took place in individual homes and at community sites such as the 509 Cultural Center’s Tenderloin National Forest. A racially diverse creative team of queer actors, musicians, performance artists, chefs, farmers, and ecology specialists staged these events. Part queer cabaret, part dinner theater, and part environmental education program, they informed the audience about the Pansy Craze of the 1920s, queer history, local food sources, and diverse culinary traditions.
In 2012, Eye Zen Presents became the artist-in-residence at CounterPulse and developed Homo File: Chronicling the Life of Samuel Steward (1929-1993). The show fused bunraku puppetry, shadow puppetry, aerial dance, live music, live drawing, and theater to tell the story of Samuel Steward, a English professor, tattoo artist, and queer rebel. After selling out the run during the work-in-progress showings and receiving a San Francisco Arts Commission Grant, Eye Zen went on to develop Homo File into an evening-length premiere. It went on to complete a sold out 3 week run, bridged multiple marginalized communities, and had critics saying: “[A] multi-media and cross-disciplinary show [Homo File] sports a formidable narrative arc and aesthetic vision as it explores the life of Samuel Steward (1909–1993), an amazingly well connected English professor, writer of homoerotic fiction, famous tattoo artist, and sexual rebel. . . . Eisen and his winning cast place Steward in a mise-en-scène equally as promiscuous, ranging over dramatic scenes, aerial acrobatics, shadow puppetry, and even a hilariously lewd application of the old teacher’s standby, the overhead projector.” – Rob Avila, San Francisco Bay Guardian
In the style and tradition of The Buffet Flats programs offered in 2011-2012, we created three Homo File Salons in 2013-2014 dedicated to present excerpts of Homo File and our research on Sam Steward to intimate audiences with dinner, art exhibits and performances.
Our 2016 work, Rainbow Logic: Arm in Arm with Remy Charlip, was a trans-disciplinary work of ensemble theater examining the life and legacy of gay Jewish San Francisco choreographer and children’s book author, Remy Charlip. Charlip worked in New York’s post-war, avant-garde art scene as a founding member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, collaborating with luminaries John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Lou Harrison. Artistically, Rainbow Logic was our most successful project to date on every level. Eisen worked together with performers, puppeteers, fabricators, a choreographer, a composer, visual and video artists in various groupings to devise and develop the project from extensive research materials. Rainbow Logic premiered November 2016 at CounterPulse in San Francisco with sold-out houses for the three-week run, receiving tremendous audience praise and media coverage, supporting 20 artists and reaching nearly 1100 audiences.
Our current project OUT of Site is a multi-year walking tour project that places audiences in physical sites of LGBTQ ancestry in various San Francisco neighborhoods.
For all press inquiries contact John Hill at email@example.com
♥♥ This site is a work-in-progress with additional information to be added including our Charlip Project blog, Seth Eisen's visual art, The Eye Zen Presents performance archive, and individual photo credits for our amazing photographers Gary Ivanek, Mark McBeth, Kwai Lam, Danny Nicoletta, and Phillip Ringler