POOR correspondent - Posted on 15 June 2010

Marlon Crum In 2006, Tony Robles, co-editor of POOR Magazine, began HOTEL VOICES as a newsletter for SRO tenants to have their voices heard. POOR's philosophy is partly that writing is fighting. Having just survived the S.F.P.D. believing I was a "person of interest" of color they were looking for at the All Star Hotel, at 16th and Folsom Streets in San Francisco's Mission District, at the time, I was thrilled to write my own story of what had happened to me. This began my journey with POOR Magazine/PNN. The fall of 2009, something even more exciting happened. I learned that this project would now become a play! Much has been said about the living conditions and character of people who live in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotels: Filth, crime, former felons, violence, pests, etc, etc. There are few positive things said about the artists, writers, survivors, thrivers, working class poverty scholars, etc., who want what everyone wants and do what everyone does--the best they can with what they have. Sunday, January 17th, 2010, began the creation of a new version of Hotel Voices, a collaboration between Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Tony Robles, Tiny Gray-Garcia, and other POOR Magazine regulars (and people new to POOR), and Bindlestiff Theatre. POOR regulars included Tiny and Tony, "Bad News" Bruce Allison, Ruyata Akil McGlothin (a.k.a. "RAM At POOR Magazine"), Joseph Bolden, Charles Pitts, Marlon Crump, Vivian Hain, and Thornton Kimes. Several people new to POOR, but not all new to performing, joined in: Robert Weber, Nightmare Joey, David Elliott Lewis, Victor Nelson, and Catalina Dean. Willie, a friend of POOR and a man who embodies the Do It Yourself ethos of Punk Music, helped make HOTEL VOICES work, with lights and computer-controlled sounds (the Final Jeopardy theme music to the long-running game show, and other horribly appropriate things). Allan Manalo, of Bindlestiff Studio, helped us stay loose (and sane), and gave very good advice about acting for those of us without a lot of experience, for months of rehearsal. The Jefferson Hotel, a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) building on Eddy Street between Leavenworth and Hyde in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, hosted the first performance of the play in its basement. The hotel, once a Prohibition-era brothel and speakeasy, was perfect for us in several ways--as the symbolic ground of our stories, and as a not-friendly-to-the-differently-abled space (folks in wheelchairs would have to come to our next performance, which would be in accessible space…) that so many SRO’s actually are. Tiny and Tony welcomed the crowd and explained the history of HOTEL VOICES, Tiny dressed as the character “Super-Tenant”. Super-Tenant and Charles Pitts, as “El Bedbug”, were opponents in the play, fighting for control (or the freedom) of the inhabitants of the SRO hotel rooms of the mind—and experience of the cast. Nightmare Joey, a man recently released from a lifetime of prison time, started things off after Super-Tenant and El Bedbug squared off for the first time. Joey plays a mean harmonica, and packed a powerful verbal punch with an opening monologue about life as a young troublemaker, life in prison, not knowing exactly what to do about being a violent man in a violent world--except that poetry and music are life-saving things to him. Joey had another scene, set in his room of the SRO hotel (The All-Star, at 16th and Folsom Streets, a few blocks from POOR Magazine) where we both live. Most of us were in more than one scene, including encounters with police officers at the All-Star and another hotel, one scene unrelenting in its seriousness (something that happened to me, performed elsewhere, before Hotel Voices), the other a dramadey of errors started by a SRO tenant with a knife. Encounters with bureaucracy, bureaucrats, bedbugs, cockroaches, how to survive and thrive when the world doesn’t seem to want you to do so, the death of acquaintances and friends also living in SRO’s; it was all there and then some. The song “Funeral For A Friend” played as the entire cast honored the dead, calling out the names of people passed from the ranks of the living in SRO’s in the past year or two. Robert Weber, the focus of our circle, spoke directly to the audience about how many people die without acknowledgement, though this is changing. David Elliott Lewis portrayed a man of Christian beliefs, part of an outreach organization that feeding the poor. His quest to feed the needy is challenged by a woman, a recent immigrant from Nigeria (Catalina), at the Hotel Iroquois. She demands much from him. The woman not only demands more food, she forces him to question why he is there. The incident the scene was based on was actually more intense, and violent. "Street fighters, ready, set, FIGHT!" (Nightmare Joey, in the darkness off-stage) This scene ("Night At The Panama") was unusual. Two characters (Charles and Thornton) portrayed a couple of video game players; while Muteado Silencio and I played video game characters of “Streetfighter.” One game player sought to keep the video game going, by any means necessary except earning more money, improving his life with a better job, a career--borrowing money while the other man goes to school to get a new skill set and a new career. The Streetfighters weren't impressed! A poem presented by Ruyata Akio McClothin (a.k.a "RAM At POOR Magazine"), called "Police Raid Day" is a stark recitation of the strength of a poor mother defending her children, her home, and herself as best she can defying a po-lice officer's attack on her dignity as a human being, as a woman. "F--you, pig! Take me to jail!", she shouted, in her son's voice. After RAM’s poem, El Bedbug and SuperTenant ended the play with a final confrontation, and the cast assembled to introduce themselves to the audience. The entire amazing experience, from day 1 to performance day, was sometimes frustrating, sometimes scary--but Robert Weber said he had POOR Magazine has a way of pulling solid gold out of chaos. He was right.



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