Joshua A. Norton, a British businessman late of Cape of Good Hope who lost a fortune trying to corner the rice market in early San Francisco, seemed to have also lost his marbles and proclaimed himself Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico, in 1859. Significant other proclamations by Norton, duly published in contemporary newspapers, included abolishing Congress, firing Abraham Lincoln, and commanding that a suspension bridge be built from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island and then to the Farallones ("also for a tunnel"). Fancying himself arbiter of language as well, Norton decreed that "Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word 'Frisco,' which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor." The fine for violating this commendable fiat was $25, pretty high for 1872. Norton never had to pay for a drink or a meal or a show, but he dropped dead penniless in the gutter at California and Grant streets at the age of 61.Sure, some of these anecdotes have been declared hoaxes by reputable historians, but they're all part of Emperor Norton's legend. That legend will undergo the impropera treatment on Wednesday at 21 Grand, when local composer and percussionist Gino Robair presents I, Norton: Excerpts from an Impropera. The evening's performance is of excerpts from Robair's work-in-progress and features an ensemble of forty musicians.
Exactly what is impropera? Thanks to the Internet, this cultural ignoramus learned that, yup, it's improvised opera, "a unique event in which anything from baroque choruses and solo scenes or arias to complete full-length operas are created spontaneously onstage, based upon suggestions provided by the audience." Maybe it's not too much second-guessing to infer that Robair chose Emperor Norton because he was the master improviser of Bay Area history, spontaneously creating a new self from the wreckage of the old and capturing the imagination of his audience. Certainly Wednesday's audience should help keep the Emperor Norton legend alive.
I, Norton plays Wednesday at 8 p.m. (tickets $10, but nobody turned away for lack of funds). 449-B 23rd St. (between Broadway and Telegraph), in Oakland. For more info: 21Grand.org or 510-444-7263. -- Frako Loden
Heavy hitting in Berkeley
If the streets around the UC Berkeley campus seem to be vibrating Saturday night, don't bother hiding in a doorway. Get yourself to Zellerbach Hall for the 2003 International Taiko Festival to celebrate the San Francisco Taiko Dojo's 35th anniversary, and Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka's recent Foreign Minister's Commendation. There will be drummers from around the world, playing gargantuan drums in various taiko styles, plus butoh dance, a unique celebration of the three remaining historic Japantowns in the US (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Jose), and more. Call 510-642-9988 or visit TaikoDojo.org for tickets and information. -- Stefanie Kalem
Everything's coming up flamenco at Ashkenaz (1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley) during the Flamenco Open Stage (right). The showcase for young practitioners of the Andalusian Gypsy dance is an all-ages event, and this incarnation features guest artists Stephanie Neira and El Grupo Sabores de España("the flavors of Spain group"), with singer Regena Elmore. Call Honora at 510-530-0991 if you want to schedule a performance time, show up in costume to join in a Sevillinas dance contest, or just peruse the costume exhibition and vendors selling flamenco paraphernalia. Beer, wine, snacks, and soft drinks will be available. The party starts at 7:30 p.m. -- Stefanie Kalem
Everyone in the world has at least one story to tell. But the nationally known spoken-word performers in Stagebridge Theater's Tellabration are up to their eyeballs in tall tales, exaggerations, embroidered facts, and pithy anecdotes -- and it's your job to sort it all out this Sunday at 3 p.m. at Arts First Oakland, 27th and Harrison streets. Join such celebrated talkers as Gay Ducey, Marijo, Masako Banda, Ruth Halpern, and Minnie Moore. ... I mean, many more, as they engage in a storytelling concert for multiple voices. For more information, ring Stagebridge at 510-444-4755 or visit Stagebridge.org -- Kelly Vance
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