"Helping people get their groove back," says Punany Poets founder Jessica Holter, when asked about her group's purpose. To be perfectly clear, while the performance-art and spoken-word troupe is definitely eroticized, its stage show is as much an intellectual exercise as a sexual one. "When people think punany, they think pussy," she admits. But to her, the concept is just as mental as physical. Being onstage and acting out fantasies, desires, and fears is a form of therapy for both audience and performer, says Holter, who bravely reveals she is still grappling with her own rape and molestation issues. Meanwhile, Keno, the lone male Punany Poet, uses his stage time to show that it's okay for men to be in touch with their feminine side, even if society doesn't always promote that kind of awareness. "A lot of guys are like, 'Dude, how do you do that?'" he says with a laugh, adding, "You don't always have to be the strong-arm guy." And for singer and actress Kween, becoming a Punany Poet was a way for her to reconcile her own sexuality with her Afro-feminist consciousness. It's empowering, she says, for "women not to be ashamed of themselves as sexual beings."
The ensemble's mission has evolved since its humble beginnings in the mid-'90s, when rapper Eazy E's death from AIDS provided a wake-up call for the hip-hop generation. But as she's gotten older, Holter has come to realize that safe sex is about expanding the erotic comfort zone as well as preventing STDs. Preceding The Vagina Monologues by several years, the Oakland-based collective first gained national attention after an appearance on HBO's Real Sex program; their fan base currently includes bisexual, lesbian, gay, and straight singles and couples across the country. It's safe to say that people can't get enough Punany -- a DVD of their live show is selling briskly, and Holter proudly shows off some fan e-mails, full of gushing testimonials about how seeing the Poets perform "freed my mind to be a better lover."
The current Punany production, The Second Sin, coming to Berkeley's Black Repertory Theater this Saturday, has already played in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, and Houston. And though the troupe toured the Bible Belt, the only protest against its act came in, of all places, Denver. But while the show features adult entertainment actress Vanessa Blue, don't get it twisted: It's not porn. Granted, The Second Sin features "provocative content," Holter says. But she notes that women can "be sexy without being naked," adding, "not that I don't get naked; I just don't do it onstage." -- Eric K. Arnold
It's all right here
Coachella? Whatever. Forgive yourself for missing it by opening your mind beyond guitars, laptops, and downtown retreads. Save gas and ticket money, too -- the Berkeley World Music Weekend is on Telegraph Avenue between Bancroft Way and Parker Street, and there's no charge to check out the legendary North African and Indian beats of DJ Cheb I Sabbah, Balkan-electronic rock fusion by the Toids, and everything else from Sufi trance to North American blues, Celtic to Cajun, Venezuelan rhythms to klezmer frenzy. Noon-8 p.m. both days. Complete schedule and map at www.telegraphberkeley.org -- Stefanie Kalem
Your Turn to Burp Her
With its music by David Shire, lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr., and book by Sybille Pearson, Baby seems a typical frontloaded Broadway musical vehicle for a high concept -- in this case the travails of three male-female couples on a university campus dealing with parenthood for the first time. But the humorous universality of the story and its tunes have made it popular in the years since its relatively short 241-performance run on Broadway, circa 1983. Baby, directed by Lois Grandi, opens Thursday and plays through June 25 at Playhouse West at Lesher Center in Walnut Creek. For more information, visit PlayhouseWest.org -- Kelly Vance
It's rodeo season again -- time for cowboy poets. In honor of bull riders and bronc busters, the Century House Poetry Reading series in Pleasanton is hosting singing cowboy Mick Vernon, romantic versifier Susan Parker, and Lynn Owens -- all of them regulars on the cowboy poetry circuit -- for a reading this Sunday at 1 p.m. An open mic follows. Admission is $3. Century House is at 2401 Santa Rita Rd., 1.3 miles south of the Santa Rita exit off I-580, in Pleasanton. To learn more about the reading, call Pleasanton Poet Laureate Emeritus Kirk Ridgeway at 925-462-8061, or e-mail email@example.com -- Kelly Vance
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