Sausalito's Antenna Theater has specialized in immersive walk-through
theater pieces with Walkman soundtracks since the early '80s.
Artistic director Chris Hardman went on to use some of the same
methods to create Walkman tours for museums and historic landmarks
packed with interview clips and appropriate audio ambiance.
Hardman's latest Antenna Theater piece, "Magic Bus," is also a tour
of sorts, but more experiential and free-associative than
educational. It's a multimedia trip aboard an actual bus in San
Francisco that revisits the psychedelic '60s by driving through
relevant neighborhoods with audio and video accompaniment of archival
footage, psychedelic visuals, testimonial interviews, sound effects
and perfectly chosen music by Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Bob
Dylan, Scott McKenzie, the Doors, the Who, the Kinks, Pink Floyd,
Country Joe and the Fish, Jimi Hendrix, "Hair," Simon and Garfunkel
and a whole lot of Beatles.
The bus arrives late for Friday's maiden voyage as part of the San
Francisco International Arts Festival, and early comers are met by
the anarchic spectacle of Critical Mass, a seemingly endless
procession of whooping and honking bicyclists filling Geary Street.
When Antenna's multicolored Magic Bus finally arrives at Union
Square, it would be hard to mistake it for the other tour buses
stopping alongside it.
Passengers sit along the center of the bus facing the side windows,
as videos are projected onto remote-controlled window shades.
From time to time the shades lift to show a relevant neighborhood.
The Haight and Golden Gate Park are obviously the centerpiece of the
trip, but first we pass through Chinatown hearing about the influx of
Eastern philosophies, rap about the Beat movement in North Beach, and
experience the Financial District embodying everything the hippies rejected.
The narrative is linked in loose thematic associations, weaving
together a tapestry of Beatles, Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, Ken Kesey
and Allen Ginsberg without really going into who they are. If you're
on the bus, you already know. It's an allusive, immersive flashback,
not a documentary. Golden Gate Park's Conservatory of Flowers is
described as a power station, "generating flower power" for San
Francisco. Vietnam is shown as a major bummer, but the antiwar
movement is skipped. Rosa Parks is mentioned as a contrast with the
Magic Bus, a bus for everybody.
First-person accounts of hallucinogenic experimentation are laced
with images of space travel while the bus climbs a steep, unseen
hill. Gravity and the videos conspire to give a physical sensation of
blasting off, accentuated by the hippie attendants giggling with
their backs pressed against the rear wall of the bus.
There isn't much of a live performance element to the piece, at least
as seen on the bus' first trip. Hippie flight attendants Rana
Kangas-Kent and Sarah David are on hand to usher people onto the bus
with far-out enthusiasm and hand out flowers or candy at appropriate
moments. When the soundtrack talks about drug busts, a red police
light flashes and a man in a huge Nixonesque mask designed by Hardman
silently shines a flashlight around from the back of the bus, but it
would be easy not to notice him depending on where you're sitting. If
another mask that's shown in press photos, Runaway Girl, is used at
all, nobody seems to have seen it.
Passengers are equipped with old-fashioned 3-D glasses that makes the
swirling art on the walls pulsate as you settle in for the trip. The
glasses don't make any difference when watching the films, but they
can have a psychedelic effect on the light outside the widows.
It really is a tour bus, but not for tourists. It's a trip back in
time for people who are already on the bus, in the know in the sense
that Ken Kesey meant when he said, "You're either on the bus or off the bus."
Regardless of one's investment in '60s culture, there is something
consciousness-altering about the ride. The barrage of stimuli affects
the way you see the world outside the bus.
People flash peace signs along the now commercialized Haight Street,
and when the audio track mentions people sitting on the grass waving
at passers-by, there really are people waving at the bus from the
lawn of Buena Vista Park. When it comes to putting people into an
altered space, this 90-minute-long, strange trip is certainly successful.
What: "Magic Bus"
Where: Departs from Union Square at Geary Street, San Francisco
When: Through Aug. 8; 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 6 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $20 to $25
Information: 332-8867, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/112659
Rating: Four out of five stars