Lively Foundation goes batty 

Bats, the beady-eyed critters that take flight in the night, aren’t the bloody-thirsty menace that horror movies and popular folklore make them out to be.

For the past 13 years, Leslie Friedman, artistic director of the Lively Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that supports the performing arts, has been the force behind "Bat Tales," a hour-and-a-half variety show that celebrates the mystery and beauty of the world’s only flying mammal.

All of the songs, dances and stories featured in "Bat Tales" are based on folklore — OK, so Friedman admits to making up a few of the stories — and aim to shed some much needed light on these misunderstood creatures.

"The imagination can be more powerful than fact for humans," says Friedman, a self-professed bat crusader.

"The only way to defeat the ridiculousness of these stories is with something that’s both funny and positive and appeals to your imagination. You can say all that scientific stuff until you’re blue in the face and it won’t get the message across as well as satire."

This year’s production, "Bat Tales: That Old Bat Magic," takes flight at Fort Mason Center’s Cowell Theater Sunday with a program of both new and old performances. The title of this year’s show, "That Old Bat Magic," shares its name with the premiere of Friedman’s newest work, which is a jazz ballet featuring dancers Kai Davis and Ari Sorrentino performing to a musical collage of the jazz standard "That Old Black Magic."

Another new piece, the cautionary tale "Mine Bat," is set against the backdrop of electronic music by British composer Jonathan Harvey and warns of the animal’s habitat destruction.

"In American the natural habitat is disappearing and bats have taken to living in abandoned mines. Unfortunately, sometimes these mines get walled up and the bats are trapped or people go into the mines and for fun light firecrackers and torture the bats," says Friedman.

While "Mine Bat" is certainly a serious piece, there’s plenty of lighter fare for audiences to enjoy — such as the outrageous chicken costume featured in "You Are What You Eat," to "Vote for Me," a tale about the Chiropteran — that’s the scientific name for bat — Party’s bid for re-election.

"My hope is that the show is rich enough in texture that it affects people in a personal and emotional way," says Friedman. "They may not appreciate the same things, but they’ll come out having a heightened experience from being a part of it and that’s really what my goal is."

Proceeds from the show will benefit the Lively Foundation’s programs for families in need, seniors and schoolchildren.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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