Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TSP and the U2 Moment

In 1996, my taquero status was pretty low on the totem pole. The organization of readings was left to the better connected folks in the crew, and their networks sustained 40 readings the first year, so who was I to complain? As a newbie with some ambition though I had a specific intent to bring TSP to untapped audiences that the OG organizers hadn't reached out to previously.

That said, it was a potential reading at SDSU that triggered the whole joint. I having done my time as a San Diego State Mechista and a member of the Associated Students governing council for the College of Arts and Letters certainly felt like this was my terrain. So I turned to the loosely organized social service "brotherhood" of La Sociedad de Joaquín (named for Joaquín Murrieta) for some support. They held campus honors for hand-to-hand flyer distribution titles on a level that had gotten a grip of student leaders (myself included) elected. The reading put their skills to the test.

As chief graphic designer for the TSP (which was never given to me as a title. I just had the best Mac, Macromedia Freehand software, and the bent to make graphic products as my contribution to the group) I hooked up the group's first 11"x17" poster and entrusted the propaganda to the LSJ who, as expected, had the pieces up in every classroom, hallway, campus cafe and restroom all over Montezuma Mesa. On my part I had put the call out to every Chicana/Chicano Studies, English and Comparative Lit. professor in a personal email inviting them to an imaginary reception with the artists at the campus meeting center Scripps Cottage. Who knew how many would show? The strategy was "over-invite better than under-attend".

On the day of, the LSJ did their part to hook up the 200 seat Experimental Theater, the campus black box. The TSP crew quietly lost our collective minds as we contemplated performing inside an actual performance space as opposed to a taco shop, and we struggled to maintain composure during our usual sound checking. Around this time one of the LSJ dudes ( I think it was either Memo Mayer or Miguel Contreras) came in to say under his breath to me, "Hey...Tomás, uh...when can we open the doors?"

I told him it was at least 30 minutes until doors (this according to the flyer I had personally designed), and he said something along the lines of, "Then we got a problem bro... Can somebody talk to these people outside?"

I wasn't prepared to speak, but went outside nonetheless. Mind you I had been a Taquero for about a year, and 25 people was a crowd to me. I slid out the theater door, made my way around the building toward the entrance, and was absolutely floored by what I saw. A crowd some 15' wide by 300' long had formed at the entrance. More students were walking up as I made mental count until there were more college kids than concrete, as far as I could see.

I scaled a railing to stand upon a 4' divider wall along the entry path. With help I shimmied a light post just to get a few feet higher (there were now HUNDREDS of people in line). Hanging some 12 feet off the ground I shouted that the doors would open in about 15 minutes. The show's capacity had obviously been exceeded. Actually, as I recall, I said, "YO! WE WILL OPEN THESE DOORS IN ABOUT 15 MINUTES! YOU KNOW IT"S A 200 SEAT SPACE! SOME OF YOU WON"T GET IN, AND WE'RE VERY SORRY ABOUT THAT! WE'LL SEE YOU IN 15 MINUTES!"

Immediately kids started asking me to stamp their syllabi, essays, notebooks, etc. as some professor had offered them the performance as extra credit. But for a second prior, climbing the light post I saw the U2 video...more people than we expected, more than we'd ever imagined. It was phenomenally validating as we encountered, for the first time, a sold-out audience for a TSP event.

Relatively speaking, (I think I actually made the joke that night) this was our U2 moment, and it was beautiful to see. Imagine the masses lining up for poetry...on that night...that's what we saw.