The Tenderloin yGroup was created in San Francisco in 1996. For almost 10 years we met once a week for 3-4 hour sessions at the Faithful Fools Street Ministry near Turk and Eddy in The City. Founders Carmen Barsody and the late Kay Jorgensen were hosts to our experiments in relaxation, concentration and emotional experience in a process I call Direct Action. This is an amalgam of techniques learned in the practice of yoga, karate, Reichian work and improvisational cinema. It’s a program anyone can do, and the idea was to do it with those who showed up. And after some weeks or months of emotional practice and backstory character development, we went out and shot the 9 @ Night Film Cycle, 9 feature films about 40-50 fictional characters on society’s rough edges. Our players were from the streets, all walks of life, Tenderloin residents and all comers. Most had never acted before but established actors such as Robert Viharo and David Fine played regular roles. We even had Ron Perlman for one day in Stroke. 14 ½ hours of completed feature film and about ten years of cooperative work.
Founders Carmen Barsody and Kay Jorgensen were OG street warriors in a battle against the isolation and despair, poverty, addiction, bad luck, and poor choices bring to everyday people. They were there to meet a need. It might be a bed for a night. It might be medical or psychiatric care. Help to kick an addiction. A willing ear to listen. Meditation. It might be a 50-cent stamp for a letter back home. Whatever it was, the Fools tried to provide, or to teach provision as a life art.
Kay was a Unitarian-Universalist minister and Carmen is a member of the Franciscan Order. But this wasn’t a pray now and eat later arm twist. Now with Kay gone, Fools continue to accept human mendacity at the same time they fight against it. They use compassion and laughter. They are proponents of paradox. They don’t preach, they learn. They are seekers, not knowers, and “the seeker teaches the knower” is one of their mantras. To them, care, empathy, and a little humility are potent weapons against the peregrinations of politicians, world leaders and demagogues run amuck.
Carmen and the old guard, including Sam Dennison, and a new group of Fools are still down at 234 Hyde, looking to see what’s needed. Their programs include education, research, advocacy, and accompaniment. They take people on Street Retreats. Many who may have never walked in an alley, slept in alleys, eaten what street people eat, hung out on the streets, talked with homeless, houseless, addicts, sages and saints, teaching a knowledge everyone instinctively knows anyway. We’re basically all the same. Circumstance may divide us but sharing a ham sandwich unites us.
Walking all day and observing the haves having and the have nots not having is a lesson no one wants or needs… to their peril. We do need to take that walk because no one is safe from the unexpected disaster, personal or nationwide, which suddenly cuts us loose from everything we’ve counted on. We’re all homeless or houseless, five minutes from now. Or maybe in five days, or months, or years. But it could happen, and we should all know the people it’s happened to and walk in their shoes for a block or so. Or make some films about it like the 9 @ Night Films back then or, today, the Nomad Trilogy we are currently working on still inspired by Carmen and Kay and the Faithful Fools Street Ministry. If you’re interested in supporting their work you can reach them at: 234 Hyde St., San Francisco, CA 94102, or phone them at 415-474-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.