Thursday, May 30, 2019

frost and fortitude

Wednesday was the postponed (due to rain) media event at the about to re-open Frost Amphitheater at Stanford, which I attended representing SFCV. A historical venue with many past speakers and performers from Dag Hammarskjöld to the Grateful Dead, Frost gradually fell into disuse because of its complete lack of facilities. Everything from tents to use as backstage to port-a-potties for the audience had to be hauled in for every show over the high berm that surrounds the venue.

So as part of rebranding this part of campus as an arts center - Frost is right next to Bing Concert Hall, though I'd always been vague on exactly where it was, as I'd never been in it and it's hidden from outside view by its berm - Stanford built a completely new and full stage facility. Outside, on the Memorial Way side, there's a sunken loading dock (so the truck's bed is at ground level), which leads directly to a short wide flat concrete tunnel that goes through the berm and puts you directly on the roof of the stage facility, right in front of, ta da, a large freight elevator. Anyone who used to work stage crew there will be green with envy at how easy this has become. Downstairs backstage there's dressing rooms and a green room, plus a barn-sized door for loading onstage through the large rock wall that backs the stage, forming both a tasteful view (against the berm and trees the audience will see around behind the stage facility) and a broadcast reflector of sound.

The seating area is still grass terraces with ancient chipped concrete frames, except that 1) several areas have been paved for ADA seating; 2) there's now also an audience entrance tunnel through the berm from Lasuen Street; 3) and some brand-new restroom facilities. For classical concerts, they say they'll load the lower seating area with full-height chairs for reserved seating; I hope so, as some of us classical-goers are too old to sit on blankets or those ground-level beach chairs people take to outdoor concerts.

The SF Symphony, which long ago abandoned its only South Bay venue, the extremely peculiar Flint Auditorium, has signed up to give two summer festival programs in July, MTT conducting an all-Tchaikovsky show with Gil Shaham sawing away on the Violin Concerto, and Beethoven's Ninth under new guest conductor Gemma New, the latter in both evening and late-afternoon shows. As for the acoustics, they'll find out on the day, but as with most outdoor venues, there'll be tasteful (one hopes) amplification.

Stanford has also signed up a pop concert promoter who'll be bringing in various acts including Lionel Richie, whom I cite because I've heard of him (I don't actually know who he is offhand, but the name's familiar).

That was noonish (and included a box lunch for all us media folks). For that evening, I had a ticket for a lecture in the City on a topic so trivial I'm not even going to tell you what it was, and which I knew I'd done the right thing in abandoning when I got an e-mail from the promoters burbling about how there'd be time for networking afterwards. Networking, très yuppie.

I abandoned it for an event near home so moving that I felt obliged to give it my support. You may have read that, just over a month ago, a car ran over some pedestrians at an intersection in my town, injuring 8, some severely. It further emerged that it was a deliberate attack and that the driver, who had mental issues, targeted this group because he thought they were Muslim. It just keeps getting more disturbing.

So the mayor and city council decided to hold a "unity gathering," an event for support of the injured and the community, for general healing and intercultural support. It was held in a community center meeting room that holds 300 and was packed to overflow. A few speeches, but the main event was a panel of people representing a large variety of ethnic and religious groups, to talk about their reactions to hate and how their groups fit into the community. It was interesting in itself to see a Jewish rabbi, an Islamic community leader, the Buddhist abbot of the local zen center, a Hindu lawyer, and a Sikh software engineer (two women, three men) sitting in a row onstage, and that was only some of them. When they were asked what they'd like people to know about the group they represented, the Buddhist abbot asked, "Have you ever had the experience of really being at peace with yourself?"

The event ended around 8.30 with a couple of the Muslims taking the podium to announce that sunset was arriving and it was time to break the Ramadan fast. They explained the religious purpose of Ramadan (which, though they compared it to Jewish fast days like Yom Kippur, sounded to me more akin to Shabbat in its intent to carve out a regular period of time away from the mundane world for reflection), chanted a prayer, and invited us all to the back of the room for a snack of samosas, dates, and strawberries. This was my first experience with an Islamic religious event and, simplified though it was, I'm glad to have had it.

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