October 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
I’m not a scene-ster. I don’t go to rock shows that start at 10 p.m. I didn’t score tickets to Desert Trip (AKA OldChella). Although I’ve lived in Silverlake for more than two decades, I’ve never set foot in Spaceland. (Or the Echo for that matter.)
So I was surprised to find myself in the midst of such a scene at Walt Disney Concert Hall this past Saturday. Food trucks parked on Grand! Scads of people–mostly young–moving in, out and around WDCH! Beer tastings in the Cafe! Drums and pianos in the garden!
It was the LA Phil’s first-ever 12-hour celebration of New Music, Noon to Midnight, curated by the godfather of New Music, John Adams, the Phil’s “Creative Chair.” For a mere $15, you had eight hours to feast on great works of contemporary music played inside and out of Disney Hall by up-and-coming local groups like wild Up and Jacaranda Then, beginning at 8, with a separate ticket to the LA Phil’s Green Umbrella concert, you got four world premiers conducted by Adams plus a wild Up after-concert concert of yet more premiers.
And then there were the crickets. From 9 to 11 p.m., a microphone amplified the sounds of 1,000 caged live crickets placed in the center of BP Hall, “calling to remembered landscapes that evoke the poetics and politics of place.”
The entire event was like that: immensely creative, a little wacky, brilliant, thought-provoking, annoying, and more.
Before giving a downbeat for the evening concert, John Adams took a microphone for some off-the-cuff remarks. When Green Umbrella concerts began in 1988, he said, New Music wasn’t even a blip on L.A.’s music horizon. Citing the number of youthful ensembles that had assembled themselves in L.A. over the past decade, he declared that New Music’s time had arrived. And it was happening here–not Brooklyn or San Francisco–in Los Angeles.
At which the unusually large audience applauded with enthusiasm, me included.
June 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
Did your childhood include Saturday matinees at the local movie theater? Mine did: 25 cents admission and 5 cents for a small box of popcorn. The movies weren’t noteworthy–I remember only that I saw The Blob, which kept me in a state of panic for weeks, and a Zorro serial–but they instilled in me a love of the big screen.
That history is what draws me to the Highland Park Theater at 56 & Figueroa. Like the Uptown Theater of my youth, it’s cheap ($5 before 6 p.m.; $4 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and the impressive, multi-story rooftop neon sign suggests it was the neighborhood movie house in days gone by. Alas, the auditorium has been divided into three narrow screening rooms and the balcony stairs are roped off.
The Highland still is a neighborhood theater, however, in a way that mall multiplexes aren’t. Though a little down at the heels, it attracts local kids, their parents and grannies with its first-run PG and PG-13 studio fare. (Occasionally something off-beat slips in, like the animated, hip-hop version of Little Red Riding Hood we saw there a few years back.)
Though the sound system is now Dolby Digital, the Highland most likely will never go high tech and 3-D and that’s just fine with me. Viewing a movie there takes me back to a simpler time, when Saturday afternoons went on forever and popcorn could be had for a nickel. And that alone is worth the price of admission.
February 11, 2014 § 2 Comments
I’d probably need several years of psychoanalysis to determine why I’m so fond of this character, found on Sunset where Waverly curves down to meet the boulevard. Shouldn’t I find the dark scowl frightening/ disturbing/ threatening?
Instead, I read the face as determined/ take no bullshit/ ready for whatever comes. Walking to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings, I give it a friendly nod, happy to know it’s made it through another week unmarred by graffiti.
The remainder of the mural is pretty cool, too.
January 8, 2014 § 2 Comments
He comes to mind periodically, usually when I myself am out walking. We called him The Walker and for years we’d see him striding briskly through Silverlake and environs, always shirtless and in gym shorts, his head bent down over a periodical.
Over time, he caught the media’s attention and through their stories we learned he was a cardiologist in private practice somewhere in the Valley and that he walked long distances–10 miles comes to mind–every day.
He became a fixture; if you mentioned The Walker, everyone knew who you meant.
I sometimes wondered how a busy cardiologist could have time for a daily 2-3 hour exercise program.
A few years back, we learned the answer when he was indicted for running an opiod prescription mill. The case had not progressed very far before the walking doctor was found dead in his hot tub. He had committed suicide.
Then there’s the artist who wryly inserted him into another Sunset Boulevard mural: Amidst chiaroscuro scenes of bygone L.A. days, The Walker is the sole figure in color. Now he, too, is gone.
January 7, 2014 § 2 Comments
Walt Disney Concert Hall. A small ensemble and a famous conductor/composer of New Music wait on stage. A trim young woman in narrow black slacks and scoop-necked black top enters holding a wireless microphone. She stops, looks around as though she’s not quite sure what she’s doing there.
The iconic conductor gives the ensemble a signal, music issues forth, and instantly the woman morphs into an assured vocalist. She sings in short, breathy phrases with dreamy concentration. At times she gestures languidly. The poignant lyrics, inspired by letters between distant lovers five centuries ago, evoke love and loss.
Her companion, foil, background is the ensemble’s lush music. Together they weave a melancholy and utterly captivating tapestry of sound.
The piece concludes and, instantly, the vocalist is again a bewildered child: stiff, uncertain of what to do or where to go until the conductor seizes her hand and leads her into a bow. They exit, but wild applause draws her back onstage where she stands in bewilderment until running off again.
The abrupt transformations astonishes me. The young woman is Julia Holter and the composition —Memory Drew Her Portrait— is hers. The piece was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and this performance is its world premiere. Holter is a CalArts MFA with three albums who has performed on multiple continents.
Why the deer-in-the-headlights ungainliness?
The Phil’s New Music group played three other compositions that evening; their male composers had no difficulty mounting the stage or taking bows. I had hoped that by now, young women would have learned to step into their power rather than feel flummoxed by it. Can it be that women still aren’t supposed to display confidence, strength, and, yes, even pride?
I guess not.
September 8, 2013 § 1 Comment
Sunday, September 1, the curtain came down on Independent Shakespeare Company’s 10th season of free performances.
That’s a metaphoric curtain, of course, since ISC performs on a bare bones, temporary stage in a natural amphitheater located where Griffith Park’s old zoo once stood.
We were there, cheering along with approximately 996 others, at the conclusion of As You Like It, the third of this year’s ISC’s productions, which included She Stoops to Conquer and Macbeth.
The actors in AYLI were brilliant, as usual, although the staging was a little flat and static in places. No matter; the company’s venture into Restoration comedy (She Stoops to Conquer) was cleverly done and Macbeth’s Melissa Chalsma and Luis Galindo nailed the lead couple’s unbridled and desperate ambition.
We’ve attended ISC performances for maybe eight years and, over time, seen actors grow and productions expand. The fairy costumes for 2012’s Midsummer’s Night Dream deserved an award for their gold lame weirdness, which conveyed the scary-dream nature of the queer beings that wore them. ISC fight scenes are always beautifully choreographed (if that’s not an oxymoron), Macbeth’s being exceptionally bloody this year.
ISC’s apocryphal tale of their origins is that at their first performance, the audience consisted of 14 people and a dog—and the dog left at intermission. That doesn’t happen now. L.A. has discovered that Thursdays through Sundays throughout the summer, sitting in front of the ISC stage is the place to be. The company reports that 43,000 people attended this year’s performances.
I think of ISC as “the little Shakespeare company that could.” Melissa Chalsma and David Melville came to L.A. and started with almost nothing but determination and a wonderful rapport with Shakespeare’s language. I especially appreciate how they showcase actors of diverse ethnicities and races and reach out to audiences across language, class and race.
Luckily, ISC has found a permanent home in Atwater Crossing so their productions will continue through the winter. Cyrano, Romeo & Juliet, plus David Melville’s old chestnut, A Christmas Carol with Charles Dickens are on the schedule.
As for me, I’ve already marked June 24 on my 2014 calendar, ready for next season’s Twelfth Night, Richard III, and Taming of the Shrew.
This just in: ISC’s Thank You for Coming video.
August 26, 2013 § 1 Comment
I lived in Silverlake for years thinking the neighborhood had an unusually large number of feral dogs because at night or when police sirens blared a chorus of great throaty yowls arose.
Then I camped in the San Gabriel Mountains, where signs warned against feeding coyotes, and heard the same yipping bark.
I got back to the city and immediately called the rangers’ station in Griffith Park. Was it possible that coyotes from the park could range as far as Silverlake, a good two miles away?
“They could,” a ranger told me, “but more likely they’re living right in your neighborhood.”
But this is a densely populated urban area, I protested; surely no wild creature that size lived so close to humans.
“Sure, they do,” the ranger said. “They’re living in the brush all over those hills.”
Once I accepted that fact, I began to see what had been hidden in plain sight. Coyotes crossing streets, loping from one patch of brush to another. Coyote pups gamboling in the reservoir meadow (back when it was still fenced in). Coyotes sitting inside the reservoir fence staring out, as if we were on display and he a zoo visitor. Pass-throughs just big enough for a coyote dug under the reservoir fence.
From these encounters, I’ve learned that while caution is always advised, coyotes aren’t really interested in messing with two-leggeds. Pussy cats and small dogs are another matter, to which the frequency of “lost pet” flyers attest.
It’s no surprise then that coyotes figure prominently in our public art. The Gold Line stop on 26th Street in Lincoln Heights features a coyote tale. The Micheltorena Street School painted one into its Sunset Boulevard mural.
And one day, this image—a stencil actually—appeared near the Los Angeles River at the base of a Memorial Bridge pylon. It’s good we snapped the photo when we did: the next time I passed by, it was gone. An overzealous graffiti removal team had painted it over.
Postscript: Last week, up the hill from our house, we turned the corner and there, in the middle of the street, trotting towards us in a manner I can only describe as insouciant, was a coyote, adolescent-sized. He paused, we moved to the sidewalk, and all of us resumed our travels. Just another day in the urban wilderness.
July 19, 2013 § 2 Comments
It’s a given that L.A. has lots of cool murals; I’ve found one that mysterious as well as cool.
Hoover Street parallels Virgil to the east; above Sunset, it dead ends at a hillside. A split staircase, built in 1928, links Hoover to Prospect Street above. Someone used that concrete wall for this colorful, eye-grabbing mural:
I love the way the vivid blue water cascades down the central staircase. It flows from cupped hands beneath the all-seeing eye.
Wings sprout from either side of the Great Eye making me think of seraphim, described in the Hebrew Bible as creatures with multiple eyes and six wings. Can’t say that’s what the artist was thinking about.
The female figure below the west stairs looks like she’s lifting the earth. To the east, the male clasps a young tree. To me, the mural is redolent of fecundity, creation, our rootedness in the earth. I find it intriguing, calming and cooling (all that blue), provocative. What do you think?
April 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
Good things in L.A. sometimes happen in strange places.
Like Saturday night when I drove downtown to Skid Row. There, in the produce district, Inner City Arts has a serene campus of multiple buildings stocked with all manner of art-making materials. Since 1989, they’ve done what a lot of schools no longer do: provide a space for creativity to flourish.
But their theatre was simply the venue for an independent production from the Roots & Wings Project: “Tree of Fire.”
Three incarcerated women review/relive their lives and choices as the prison burns around them. Very powerful vignettes of exploitation, abuse, grief, and desperation–as well as sisterhood and mutuality.
Original script & music, superb acting on a bare-bones set, each woman contained within a small square of light projected onto the floor.
When a medical emergency forced one of the actors to drop out, playwright and producer Jesse Bliss Woods stepped in as a reader.
It was gratifying to finally see the fruits of so many years of labor. Here’s hoping there will be future productions.