Wednesday, April 04, 2012

A Specific Place and Time

Clifton's Cafeteria, Downtown Los Angeles.
“We have wasted History like a bunch of drunks shooting dice back in the men's crapper of the local bar”
- Charles Bukowski
One of the blogs I follow (although I don't read it as often as I should) is Scott Walter's Theatre Ideas.  His philosophy is an inspiration:
Theatre Ideas is based on a single premise: something is deeply wrong with the state of the American theatre, and without radical change it will continue its slide into irrelevance. As Al gore says in An Inconvenient Truth, quoting Winston Churchill, we have passed the "era of procrastination" and are now in an "era of consequences." It is no longer enough to simply "do the work," one must reconceive the context, refashion the business model, revise the purpose, and refocus the values.
At the center of his philosophy is the community.  Not the insular, social network-stuccoed community of artists, but the community-at-large.  The Joe Publics, if you will.  Please take a moment to read Scott's summary:  "Welcome, New Readers".  I would like to draw your attention to his second principle:
2. Localization. Connected to number one above, regionally-based theatres should encourage the development of local aesthetics. Regional theatres should not be like malls -- the same no matter where you are in the country. The choice of plays, the artistic staff, and the experience itself should reflect the place where the theatre is based. The Era of McTheatre must end.

Ceiling of the Palm Court in the Alexandra Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles

On Saturday, March 3rd, my wife and I took a tour of "Hotel Horrors and Main Street Vice" with the kind and knowledgeable bunch at Esotourric.  What was intended to be a fun diversion on a beautiful Saturday afternoon was instead quite revelatory.  We know that we're steeped in history -- this is tinsel town, after all.  For instance, the Elephant/Lillian/Theatre Asylum complex is just across the street from a parking lot that used to be Buster Keaton's movie studio.

The corner of Lillian Way and Eleanor Avenue, the site of Buster Keaton's original motion picture studio, Hollywood.

This sort of history is all around us.  There's a cemetery walking distance from my house, Rosedale Cemetery, the final resting place of Hattie McDaniel.  Hattie won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1939, for her work in Gone with the Wind -- the first black actor to win an Academy Award.  It was her wish to be buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery (then known as Hollywood Memorial Park) along with ... well, everyone who was anyone.  At the time she passed, Hollywood Memorial Park was "Whites Only," and so Hattie was laid to rest at Rosedale, the first cemetery in Los Angeles to be open to all races and religions.

It's fascinating.  And there is such a fine line between the glamour and the gutter in this town -- Randy Newman nails it in "I Love L.A.", a wry song for a cynical city:
Look at that mountain
Look at those trees
Look at that bum over there, man
He's down on his knees
Look at these women
There ain't nothin' like 'em nowhere
(Odds are, that bum used to work in the industry.)
  
I'm not saying that every story should be an L.A. story.  Still, it wouldn't hurt to listen to Scott Walter; to tell stories that speak to this specific place and time, stories that may reflect and comment upon the lives our audiences lead.

I'm preaching to the choir, by and large, and I take great satisfaction in theatre companies that "get it".  Leo Geter may have set Naked Before God in Arizona, but it's an industry story that speaks to a Hollywood audience.  Based upon Phillip's review of Feedback, Jane Miller's play concerns itself with identity, the need for self-improvement, and the loneliness that caused by constant outside evaluation -- sounds very Los Angeles to me.  I'm terribly interested to see what Sacred Fools does with Stoneface, a play about Buster Keaton that opens May 25th. 

Let us continue to listen to Los Angeles.  Tell her stories; react to her news, her events and her people.
"Three million people in the City of Angels according to the last census, easily half of them up to something they don't want the other half to know. We all get sucked in by the lobby.  Palm trees finger the sky and there's enough sunshine to lay some off on Pittsburgh.  But that's all on top. L.A., truth to tell's, not much different than a pretty girl with the clap."
- City of Angels, book by Larry Gelbart

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