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Behind The Scenes: ‘Street Art Prophets’

Circle Circle dot dot Focuses On Graffiti Artists

Circle Circle dot dot's new play

Credit: Katie Euphrat

Above: Circle Circle dot dot's new play "Street Art Prophets" is a collection of 5 separate pieces inspired by local graffiti and street artists. This one is "Big Block Letters."

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Behind the Scenes of 'Street Art Prophets'

KPBS arts reporter looks at the evolution of Circle Circle dot dot's "Street Art Prophets."

Circle Circle dot dot describes itself as community based theater. It kicks off its second season tonight by focusing on a community of artists often relegated to the fringes. Go behind the scenes for the evolution of "Street Art Prophets" (running November 29 through December 15 at 10th Avenue Theater).

Circle Circle dot dot describes itself as community based theater. It kicks off its second season tonight by focusing on a community of artists often relegated to the fringes. Go behind the scenes for the evolution of "Street Art Prophets" (running November 29 through December 15 at 10th Avenue Theater).

Imagine if every time you drove by a building or a massive wall on the freeway you saw a blank canvas that you were dying to paint but forbidden to touch. Graffiti art has its roots on the streets.

"Back in the day I would have to go out and paint illegally but nowadays there are places where you can paint under supervision or areas that are safe for kids to go to paint," says graffiti artist Sake (also known as Saratoga Sake).

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Katie Euphrat

Graffiti artist Sake explaining how large the lettering he does can be and how big (sometimes 8 feet by 60) his street "canvases" can be.

Sake is a self-taught artist who's been using a spray can -- and brushes -- to express himself for 3 decades. He says the biggest misconception people have about his art is that it's gang related.

"People treat graffiti art as vandalism but they are forgetting the art part because there's graffiti and then there's graffiti art. Two separate categories."

Even Katherine Harroff, artistic director of Circle Circle dot dot had that stereotype in the back of her mind as she began work on "Street Art Prophets."

"I think that maybe we were thinking this was going to be a little bit dangerous, that there was going to be a lot of elements of gang relation and hostility with the police and that sort of thing."

But as Harroff researched the street art community -- by interviewing artists like Sake -- she quickly saw that it had much more in common with her theater company than gangs. Both have to work quickly to create art that is transitory in nature.

"Circle was created because... I was hungry to be able to do all of the things I felt passionate about and I couldn't live day to day wondering when that was going to happen. And I feel like graffiti art is very similar in that way. That they paint where they are going to paint because they can't wait until they have a space to do it in."

It's all about being heard and finding your voice as an artist says Michael Mahaffey. He's another one of the artists serving as inspiration for Circle's "Street Art Prophets," a collection of 5 short theater pieces.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Katie Euphrat

Circle Circle dot dot's artistic director Katherine Harroff with artist Michael Mahaffey, who was one of the local street artists serving as inspiration for the new play "Street Art Prophets."

"I felt like I had ideas and thoughts I wanted to share with people and images I wanted to show people and if they weren't going to let me do it in a traditional fashion then I was going to have my show one way or another... even if there is somebody chasing after you with a flashlight and a gun it's just this extreme passion... to get your message out there come what may."

Over the years street art has moved more into the mainstream where it has gained respect and appreciation. Mahaffey says people need to change how they look at art.

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Michael Mahaffey

Michael Mahaffey's poster for "Street Art Prophets."

"If it's on a sidewalk instead of hanging on a wall somewhere, it's automatically bad so I would love for people to just be able to hold their judgment for just a minute, appreciate what's there in front of them and think maybe somebody thought I was having a bad day and they just wanted to give me something to smile at for a minute," says Mahaffey.

Harroff wants to make people look at street art as well as theater differently. She has great respect for Shakespeare and the classics but says a modern teenager may not readily connect with either

"There's something about community based theater that brings them in so you get the opportunity to come to the theater and see a reflection of today and people that you know," states Harroff.

Sake is grateful to see his style of graffiti art highlighted in "Street Art Prophets."

"I think it will definitely reach to maybe a different crowd of people that normally wouldn't think twice about graffiti."

Again artist Michael Mahaffey.: "It feels very gratifying and there's a sweetness to it too. It just sort of gives images and voices to people who have had frustrations trying get their own ideas out there."

And bottom line, that's all any artist has ever wanted -- to create something and to share his or her particular artistic vision with an audience.

"Street Art Prophets" opens tonight and runs through December 15th at the 10th Avenue Theater. Be watching for my video feature tomorrow night on Evening Edition.

Check out the videos of Sake putting up the mural at the San Diego Museum of Art and of him painting 20 years ago for a Fox promotional video.

And also see a video of Circle Circle dot dot's previous production, "Deconstruction of a Drag Queen."


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