Happened: The Twenty-Five Cent Opera


1. 25 Cent Opera calls South Slope’s Barbès home. 2. Poet and playwright Erica Rabkin, perfomer Joseph Silovsky, poet Jen Bervin, poet and artist Abe Nowitz.

Last Sunday was the seventh installment of the Twenty-Five Cent Opera of San Francisco. Don’t let that name trick you: these events do not cost twenty-five cents (suggested donation: $7), the group is not from San Francisco (they’re based in Brooklyn), and there’s no opera (yet, anyway). It’s Gertrude Stein that liked having fun this way, by going to the twenty-five cent opera.

The Opera is monthly and aims to establish a dialog between poetry and playwriting in an unpretentious place. For THE PLAYWRITING FIRM, whose members also include Misha Shulman, LaShea Delaney, and Ben Gassman, and which puts on the Twenty-Five Cent Opera, things like production, props, and actors drag down the content of a play, so they’ve created an outlet for the writing itself.

When playwriting is stripped down in this way, and when poetry is read aloud, the two genres have much more in common — “relating and becoming integral” to each other, said FIRM member Kristen Kosmas, and by the end of the show, we were fairly convinced.

Though at 7pm, the starting time of the Twenty-Five Cent Opera, the back room was still mostly empty, save for a few people and a couple of closely-placed rows of chairs, within ten minutes it was standing-room only, packed with poet/playwright hybrids like these.


1. Performer Joseph Silovsky with projection. 2. Perfomer Sybil Kempson on stage.

Curator Corina Copp introduced the first act, Joseph Silovsky, “an object-oriented performance artist.” His piece was titled Radio Gold. Next to an old-fashioned projector, Silovsky retrieved typed-up fliers from an oddly-shaped suitcase, first reading them, and then flinging them away.

Next was Sybil Kempson, with Crime or Emergency!, who warned us that her piece was going to be “very long and a little boring.” I thought she was joking. Still, there was beauty in her fairy tale-esque reading, especially when her words were accompanied by Kristen Kosmas’s words. And the rest of the crowd seemed to get it, because they put down their Stellas long enough to applaud appreciatively and enthusiastically.

The final act was three brief skits by comedic improv group New Excitement. It was at its best when the performance delved into the surreal, such as when actress Mary Grill climbed atop the shoulders of another and was addressed as a gigantic, lonely woman. This was the first time that improv factored into the Twenty-Five Cent Opera, and it fit nicely in this evening of diverse, genre-bending, and fun performances.

Catch the next Twenty-Five Cent Opera Sept. 26th.

–Julia Jackson is working on her MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College, and is a regular contributor for this blog.

Photos and captions by Curtis Jensen.

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