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Sister Spit on stage in Oakland tomorrow

on October 6, 2009

Sister Spit: The Next Generation, a collaboration of spoken-word performances by local “queer” writers, poets, artists, and a comedienne kicked off their 2009 national tour at the Lab Wednesday night.

The closest they get to the Bay Area again is Oct. 7 at the Oakland Metro Operahouse in downtown Oakland.

Presented by local literary nonprofit Radar Productions, it was a return to roots for many of the performers including local celebrity Michelle Tea, founder of Sister Spit. Tea made her first big mark in the literary world with her second novel Valencia, a story about the underbelly of the Mission District’s queer community.

“Sister Spit started in the Mission,” said Tea. “Almost all of our writers are from here, and nobody wants to leave. We’re on Mission lock like everyone else who lives here, ya know?”

Michelle Tea at the Lab.

Michelle Tea at the Lab.

Tea, 38, said she started the original Sister Spit, a biweekly all-girl open-mike night, in the early ’90s during the heyday of San Francisco’s spoken word, poetry slam scene. Two years and a few tours later, she and the rest of the troupe abandoned the project to pursue other interests. Tea resurrected the show in 2007 under a new name, Sister Spit: The Next Generation.

“I just realized that here was this new generation of queer, feminist, weirdo writers and performance artists that needed to be heard,” said Tea, who recently returned from a Sister Spit European tour. “Now we’re doing the American tour because it’s beneficial to the performers and to the rest of the country.”

Judging by the hundreds of young women gathered at the Lab for the kickoff, Tea is on to something.

Ginger Robinson said she’s been following Sister Spit since it started. “I just love to see all these women coming together and loving and supporting each other,” she said. “There was nothing like this before Sister Spit.”

Another group of fans — Hannah Karen, Carrie Cola and Ricky Lake — came to the show because they had seen Sister Spit in Europe and wanted more.

“The show’s just amazing,” said Cola. “It’s forward and raunchy and everything in between.”

Indeed. The performers at Wednesday’s  show shared stories about family travel, angry vaginas, depression, anxiety, strip clubs, and finally rectal displacement — Tea’s personal contribution to the evening.

But it’s not sheer raunchiness that keeps the Sister Spit’s fanbase thriving; it’s the sense of community.

Tea’s story about a mother and daughter on the phone discussing fallen-out rectums is a good example of how Sister Spit makes raunch-meets-substance work.

Though the subject matter had the audience cringing, what emerged was a story of a successful-but-confused writer who oh-so-reluctantly realizes she admires her mother. No matter how strange the details, Tea’s story was a classic tale of female bonding.

Other highlights of the night included a piece by local poet and writer Kirya Traber, who spoke of the difficulties inherent in being mixed race and “queer.”

Then there was transgendered performance artist Ben McCoy, who taunted the audience with a brief semi-striptease before launching into an experimental performance piece about being a stripper on the East Coast. “The tranny chaser who wants a serious relationship is rare,” she said.

Ben McCoy relaxing after the show.

Ben McCoy relaxing after the show.

Other performers included poet Ali Liebegott, stand-up duo Tara Jepsen and Beth Lisick, and graphic artist Ariel Schrag.   Photographer/novelist Rhiannon Argo read excerpts from one of her books while projected slides from her latest photo exhibit, The Popsicle Project: 45 Queers and 43 Creamsicles, looped on the wall behind her.

The show ended with a long standing ovation.

“I’ve always loved Michelle Tea’s work and she’s just a great curator,” Michael De Long, publicity and development manager of the Lab, after the show.

Sister Spit will tour the country through October.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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