On Wednesdays some may wear pink but last Wednesday, my roommates and I decided to switch it up and spend an evening with Lemony Snicket, Cecile Richards, and some other fascinating figures at Zellerbach Hall.
The event was part of a unique event series called ‘Front Row’ hosted by Cal Performances. ‘Front Row’ was designed to be a performance series that represented three traits of the Cal student community: “innovation, freedom of expression, and diversity”. With these three core themes in mind, Cal Performances wanted to invite a local and culturally significant person to help curate the show – enter Daniel Handler, otherwise known as Lemony Snicket, the author of the beloved children’s books ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’ and other novels. Together, Daniel and the crew of Cal Performances put together a whimsical and insightful evening with guests that Daniel invited he believed to represent passion, activism, and social justice.
At approximately 7:30 pm, we entered the striking auditorium at Zellerbach, one of Cal’s main performance halls which sports over 2,000 seats, and were greeted by a curious set-up: red plush couches and a portable cocktail bar on the stage. The night started off with a startling yet oddly mesmerizing and catchy musical performance by the band ‘The Get Down Stay Down’ which featured vocals from San Francisco local Thao Nguyen. Afterwards, she and Daniel spoke about her work with the California Coalition for Women’s Prisoners in which she provides mentoring and counsel to female inmates in California prisons and how those experiences have shaped the inspiration for some of her songwriting.
The next guest was Yosh Ha, a perfumer and scent artist, whose scents have been used among businesses and museums alike. She entered the stage with a perfume cart which almost looked akin to a Harry Potter Potions class – there were numerous large vials which she mixed and had Daniel smell in order to create his own, unique perfume scent. After the perfume-making session, we heard a poetry reading by Matthew Zapruder (also a Cal grad!) and a conversation about music-making with John Vanderslice, the founder of a Bay Area recording studio called Tiny Telephone. The last guest of the night was also one of the most highly anticipated: Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. Daniel made cocktails for the both of them and they sat sipping their drinks and conversing on the red couches about Cecile’s activist involvement starting from her upbringing in Dallas. Cecile commented on how exciting it was to be at the UC Berkeley campus with its reputation for social activism and encouraged young people to get involved and continue that legacy.
The night ended with a last performance by the Get Down Low Down, in which Thao invited spectators to join her on stage – and that we did! A small crowd of students, including my roommates and I, clambered up onto the stage and danced just a few feet away from Daniel Handler who was jamming out on the keyboard and a smiling, clapping Cecile Richards. It was my first time in Zellerbach Hall, so it was a definite treat to have gotten to see it from both the perspective in the audience as well as from the stage!
Having gotten our fill of photos and Snapchat videos, we filed out of Zellerbach laughing and munching on the snacks that were waiting outside of the auditorium. All in all, probably one of the best $5 I’ve spent as an otherwise normal and chilly Wednesday evening became one of the most memorable and entertaining experiences to date. Kudos to Cal Performances for putting together such a great show!