Rhythmix event is not your grandma's bingo

Rhythmix event is not your grandma's bingo

Laura Casey

Photos by Steven Zegas.

Even though Berkeley’s Laurie Soman is what the regulars at Rhythmix Cultural Works' monthly bingo nights call a “bingo virgin,” she quickly got into the custom of balling up her paper cards after a game loss and throwing the ball toward the winner, bopping another player, unnoticed, on the head.

“This is the most fun part of the game,” Soman giggled as she repositioned herself with her yellow bingo dauber, an ink pen made especially for blacking out spots in the game, for the next round of the ten-round night.

Rhythmix’s regular, monthly second Thursday bingo night isn’t you’re grandma’s sleepy lodge game.

Go to bingo at the cultural center and art gallery and expect to be entertained by more than just a game of B12s and O61s. Rhythmix bingo features themes, costumes, singing and dancing. And the gaming is pretty fun too.

“There’s something for everyone,” Rhythmix board chair Carolyn West said at this month’s game, which had an Oscar night theme. West was dressed in a top hat covered in film that was streaming onto her shoulders and cascaded down to the floor. “It’s more performance art than bingo and it makes everyone laugh.”

Rhythmix Executive Director Tina “Bean” Blaine said founder Janet Koike and Ellen Sebastian Chang, a director, writer and a creative consultant came up with the idea during a brainstorming session.

"It was just one of those moments when the light bulb goes on and you know that even though the idea is far fetched, it is going to work," Koike said. "I looked around at all the talent in our Rhythmix community and asked them to pool their energies into this fun event."

Doors to bingo open at 6:30 p.m. and gaming starts around 7:30. Rhythmix volunteers man food and drink stations which include pizza from Arizmendi Bakery, chips, sodas, wine, beer and cocktails. The $25 per person evening includes a drink discount and hours of bingo play for people 18 and older.

Alameda’s Patti Ward has been going to bingo at Rhythmix since it started three years ago and said she likes everything about it. She and her friends reserve a table at the 130-person event, which usually sells out. Ward has won the grand prize, $200, one time and has raked in other winnings such as tickets to performances at the center, gift certificates to local eateries and wine glasses.

“I like the entertainment and I love the prizes,” she said. “It’s a great night of fun.”

Last Thursday players competed for prizes like frames donated by Creative Framing in Oakland, gift certificates to local eateries including the Pasta Pelican, High Street Station Café and the Little House Café. Rhythmix also offered up tickets to upcoming events at the center like the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet performance on May 3 and a Health and Happiness seminar taking place on Saturday.

Bingo is a fundraising event for the nonprofit arts center, which is located near Alameda’s Park Street bridge. Blaine said the event - which is sponsored by local businesses - not only brings money into the center, it builds community. Regulars have come to anticipate bingo every month, she said.

“What I think is really fantastic about this is we have all of these people come here who don’t often know each other and they sit next to each other all night and have fun,” Blaine said.

Bingo also provides an avenue to promote Rhythmix’s many performances and programs to an audience who may have never come to another Rhythmix event, she said.

Rhythmix artists create props for each month’s different theme and bingo rarely uses the same props twice, Blaine said. Upcoming themes - themes are primarily generated by volunteers, staff and emcee Mr. Entertainment - include Motown Bingo, Cartoon Bingo, Zombie Bingo and Bollywood Bingo.

“It’s a lot of work and a lot of preparation but it’s really fun,” she said.

In addition to custom sets and themed music, each month's bingo event features a new cast of costumed characters, "yay girls" and guest ball callers - moves which Blaine said keep the event fresh.

The next bingo night is themed Swing Bingo and features boogie woogie music and prizes sponsored by Greens and Grains. Rhythmix is at 2513 Blanding Avenue. You can learn more about bingo at Rhythmix by visiting http://www.rhythmix.org or by calling (510) 865-5060.