Language jockey" Erik Ehn has a flair for the unusual.
His latest work, Phrenic Crush, an original operatic play investigating the history of tuberculosis from the 1940's up to now, is a collaboration with both composer Lisa Bielawa, and epidemiologist Dr. Andrew Moss. Crush is being presented by The Creative Work Fund, running July 31-Aug. 2 at San Francisco State University, and Aug. 3 at the St. Boniface Church Theatre.
The idea for Crush was born when Moss, who met Ehn when they were both on the board of directors for the SF alternative arts organization, Intersection for the Arts, hired Ehn as an interviewer of TB patients for Moss' research. Ehn became so inspired by the stories of TB patients, that he decided to create a performance piece about it. Moss became a critical guide and collaborator with Ehn in the creation of Crush.
Phrenic Crush is one of five projects to have recently received grants from The Creative Work Fund, a foundation created in 1994 which supports partnerships between artists and organizations with the purpose of nourishing artistic growth in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Fund supports cross-disciplinary and formal explorations, artists who work with political, social and environmental issues, and artists who are creating work in a community setting.
Phrenic Crush, taking place in and around the single-room occupancy hotels of the poorer regions of San Francisco, explores TB and its modern history. Crush highlights TB's current resurgence and draws parallels between the older disease and the more recent AIDS epidemic. The play's title is derived from an early medical treatment for tuberculosis, in which the nerves of the patient's diaphragm were severed to inhibit breathing, in hopes of shutting down or "crushing" infected areas.
Erik Ehn is a member of New York City's New Dramatists, an organization dedicated to the development of up-and-coming playwrights. Receiving his BA and MFA degrees in playwrighting from Yale University, Ehn has written more than three dozen plays including Wolf at the Door, The Saint Plays, and Gravity's Drain.
Composer Bielawa received the 1996 Greg Millard Fellow in Music Composition and two ASCAP Young Composers Competition Awards. Her previous collaborations with Ehn include Ideas of Good and Evil and Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch's Accuser. Professor of Epidemiology Moss currently teaches at University of California at San Francisco.
Tickets to Phrenic Crush are free, but all donations collected at the SFSU performances will benefit Sixth Street Merchants and Residents Association, which operates a program that delivers medication and other assistance to tuberculosis patients. For more information (415) 338-7605.
--By Sean McGrath