At 76, Tom Brady (not that Tom Brady) finds demanding performance art ‘intensifies the joy’

Choreographer and performance artist Tom Brady
Choreographer and performance artist Tom Brady has enjoyed a long career in dance, but at 76, he’s embarking on a new path in Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

As he puts his latest work on display at his Westside Santa Cruz art space this First Friday, Tom Brady says he’s in the moment in a career that once went dormant for two decades. “There’s a level of understanding and urgency about who I am as a person and about this work that I didn’t have 20 years ago,” he says.

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Before Tom Brady the quarterback was even born, Tom Brady the performance artist was already at work in what has become a lifetime pursuit in dance, acrobatics, choreography, design, photography and theater.

For many years, Brady was a well-known figure in St. Louis as a performance artist. But now, he’s staking a claim in Santa Cruz, hoping to establish himself locally with a kind of introductory performance through his new workshop and artistic space.

At 76, Brady is doing taxing body work in the name of art. He’ll showcase his latest performance Friday, at his Satori studio on the Westside of Santa Cruz. It involves intricate choreography that requires him to drape his body on walls and climb around like a semi-aerialist (let’s see the world’s most famous QB do that).

Brady first moved to Santa Cruz in 2014, but is only now stepping out in the local arts scene. After earning degrees at the University of Kansas and Rutgers University in the late 1960s, Brady produced and performed various art pieces running the dance company Anaya Arts in St. Louis.

He came to Santa Cruz partly because he fell in love with the region after being stationed at Fort Ord, near Monterey, in the 1960s. He spent much of his mid-life out of the performance loop. For about 20 years, he dealt with a painful family situation involving one of his children. Around 2000, he said, “somewhere along the line, I decided I was going to take my life back.”

Choreographer and performance artist Tom Brady
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

In his 50s, Brady sought to jumpstart a performance career that had been dormant for more than two decades. His largest struggle was quieting his inner critic. “I kept telling myself, ‘Look at your age. Do the math. It’s unrealistic,’” he said. “The inner critic was telling me, ‘No can do. It’s just too big, too late. The ship has left the port.’”

Then came an epiphany on a monotonous four-hour drive: “I thought, wait a minute. I don’t have to go back 20 years. I just need to take one step forward.”

Since then, he has been mounting ambitious projects such as “Man in a Box,” a piece he debuted in San Francisco and which he hopes to mount in Santa Cruz later this year. The only thing that will stop him, he said, will be the physical demands.

Choreographer and performance artist Tom Brady
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Performing in Chicago last year, someone in the audience asked him after his performance, “How do you do this?”

“I said, ‘Well, understand, it’s genetics, luck. I eat right and try to exercise and move as much as possible.” Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis five years ago, Brady works hard to maintain the body autonomy that his chosen artform demands.

“I’m old enough now, with enough medical issues to know that at any given moment, this might be it,” he said. “Yeah, I may be able to do ‘Man in a Box’ in October. Or, I may not be able to do it. It just depends. But I have to tell you that knowing all that intensifies the joy. There’s a level of understanding and urgency about who I am as a person and about this work that I didn’t have 20 years ago.”

Tom Brady’s performance “Gone” takes place Friday at Satori, 815 Almar Ave., Unit 9, in Santa Cruz. Doors open at 6 p.m. A formal talk follows at 7:30 p.m. and the performance is at 8:30 p.m. Check it out.

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