In the Age of Enlightenment during 17th and 18th century Europe, the salon emerged as a social gathering hosted by a refined lady in her drawing room, to recite poetry, play music, exchange ideas, engage in healthy debate and generally amuse and, yes, enlighten one another.
If you’ve been to either of the Octopus Literary Salon’s pop-up events in the last two months, you might have found that they stayed true to the original format: held in what passes for a modern-day drawing room at the historic Borax Smith’s Red House, the salons featured curated performances that were by turns celebratory, haunting, elegiac and hilarious.
The Octopus’ inaugural July salon welcomed over 60 people and showcased local musicians and readers who followed the theme “Songs and Stories of the Sea,” befitting of the tentacled namesake. In August, the “Parlor Games” theme allowed for a more raucous salon that included a ping-pong tournament, a theatrical piece and a reportedly near-impossible pub quiz.
This month, the Octopus Literary Salon teams up with Mills College’s Poetry for Scientists club (whom Oakland Social previously covered here) to present a synchronicity-themed salon; and next month, the Octopus will continue to gain science-related traction with a Sinful Science Salon (think intellectual and sensory explorations of chocolate, wine and comfort food) at Chabot Space and Science Center.
Rebecca Grove, the creator of Octopus Literary Salon, says she’s excited about the many possibilities for future salon themes and for the infinite possibilities of performance lineups therein. “If people want to suggest themes to us, that’s great,” she said. “We’re getting the ball rolling, but we want the salon to be grassroots — we want ideas to grow.”
In fact, one of the main ways in which Grove plans to grow the Octopus Literary Salon concept is by establishing a brick-and-mortar cafe/bookstore/venue space that will serve as the salon’s home base. It’s a venture on which Grove has been hard at work full-time for the past year; the pop-up salons, which she hosts at her residence in Borax Smith’s Red House, serve as both fundraisers and publicity for what will be the Octopus Literary Salon’s physical storefront.
Grove, formerly a public school English teacher and development director, has written a thorough business plan, developed financial projections and raised over $13,000 via an indiegogo fundraising campaign. She is currently securing a loan and a space in Uptown Oakland, where she hopes to open the doors by February of 2014.
Grove’s co-conspirators in the project are Chris Bloomfield, a special ed teacher at Skyline High School and founding manager of Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece; and Mike Linn, an Oakland-based pediatrician and music blogger. Together, the three envision a dynamic, multi-purpose space that will function simultaneously as a coffee shop, specialty bookstore and performance venue.
“We’d been talking about the need for a ‘third space,’ which I guess is the term used these days for ‘I’m done with work but I don’t want to go home,’” Bloomfield said. “When you go to a bar, you’re usually talking with the people that you came with or you’re trying to hook up with somebody, and that’s not really a social experience. If you go to a coffee shop these days, you’re gonna see people buried in their computers. Bookshops now, my favorite one doesn’t have a single chair in it; there are some stools, but they don’t really encourage you to sit down and it’s not really a social atmosphere. We’d been talking about the need to have some sort of physical space where all those functions came together in a social space.”
Their vision for the Octopus Literary Salon is ambitious, filled with sprawling, enthusiastic plans that reflect their individual and intersecting interests: A beer and wine license. A bookstore carrying a handpicked selection of books ranging from sketchpads to obscure poetry to used tomes culled from estate sales. Old-school writing desks for those seeking a quiet space to drink coffee and send emails. Vinyl records for sale, with an accompanying listening station. A variety of daily programming, including readings, trivia, open mics, comedy, ping-pong and parlor games, book discussions, music showcases on Saturdays and children’s programming and book-making on Sundays.
Linn, whose soft-spoken Midwestern measuredness belies a passionate music geekery à la High Fidelity (he has a particular fondness for vinyl and cassette tapes), said that the project “was something I was really interested in helping out with, especially in terms of selecting bands and trying to combine types of bands with types of literature or theme ideas — things that have been absent from what is otherwise a pretty good music scene around here.
“It tends to just be, ‘Three bands — go!’, and the idea of putting it together with a theme or reading or poetry or literature sounded really exciting to me.”
IF YOU GO:
The Octopus Literary Salon hosts Synchronicity Salon
WHEN: TONIGHT, September 27, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
WHERE: Borax Smith’s Red House, 817 East 24th St., Oakland
MORE INFO: oaklandoctopus.org
Oakland Social is a weekly arts and culture column devoted to upcoming events, new places, and narratives about going out in Oakland. Have ideas for what to cover? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.