Wednesday, May 2, 2012

An Empty Stage, A Troupe Unformed

I believe that theater is wherever you make it. Large productions with lots of logistics should be on Broadway. You can't stage The Little Mermaid on a Chicago street corner. But smaller plays, at least those that are made for passion and its players aren't doing it for money, should be staged wherever there's space. I imagine that this involves permits and the like, and other logistics different from Broadway productions, but why not change the perception of a place? Take a sidewalk near the Santa Monica Pier and turn it into soul-searching upon arrival at the beach. What are these two or three people searching for? What have they lost that they're trying to find? Perhaps there's not a strong audience to be found at a Goodwill store, but there are so many stories in the items there that so many performances are possible.

I think about this because of the Merrill Lynch building in Los Angeles. Or it may be the Bank of America building. I'm not sure. I do know that there was one year in the middle of the first decade of the new century in which awards for the Stock Market Game, a program that my dad's classroom was part of, were given out in an area of Walt Disney Concert Hall, with a lavish catered dinner that included filet mignon. The next year, because of the ensuing financial crisis, the awards were given in significantly less swank accomodations at that building, the 1960s-looking gathering place of that building, with a half-moon curve of chairs that looked like they were from the Space Age. Swivel chairs, with tiny side tables attached to them. It smelled moldy and dusty, also remnants of the Space Age. The stage at which presenters (teachers who participated in the program) and winners (students who had earned the most money from mock investments) was very small, and only the outer wings were used, a podium on the left side, and a long table next to it, in the middle, at the edge of the stage.

I was always so bored at these ceremonies. Mom, Meridith and I tagged along in support of Dad, but those speeches seemed to never end in time to celebrate New Year's Eve. And this always took place in April or May. So I looked around at this aged venue, looking at that stage, wondering what other presentations had been given on it. And today, before I realized I needed air from reading Anna Quindlen's new memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (I like her gentle writing, but reading enough of her essays, I find that she's pressed herself so tightly that words can't breathe all that well), I thought about that stage, in that building, way off from the entrance to the elevators that take financial people to their jobs on the higher floors, but not before they scan their ID cards and a gate barrier drops to let them through.

I wish most workplaces took the model of Pixar, that it's not all about work. They've got a cereal bar with all kinds of cereals for its employees in the mornings, the atrium is huge, with lots of events going on, and the key for them is keeping everything social, to keep people talking, listening, gathering ideas from the most unexpected places. Would the financial industry be better if it wasn't so rushed, if there was a chance for people to breathe, to let in some imagination, things that they like in their own lives, things they want to explore?

I don't know how it would be arranged for a theater troupe, or even a collection of actors among employees, to perform in that space, in that aged air, being watched from those space-age chairs. I don't know if a corporate giant would even bother with such a thing because does anyone know theater there beyond the theater that comes with financial investments? Would the legal department have to look over the scripts to make sure there's nothing potentially offensive and litigious? Would it really be right for corporate minds to decide what could be put on? Certainly, there couldn't be anything performed about the Marquis de Sade. That would be too wild a contrast. Original monologues, original plays, that would be worth trying. Short, though. One act. 45 minutes to an hour. Perform it during lunch breaks when people may want to see something different than what they've been dealing with at their desks. It would make that room different from how it's usually perceived, likely for awards ceremonies or long meetings with more than 10 people, different than the usual ramblings that go on and on and on.

I'm thinking of how utterly amateurish some of those productions might be, but it would still be a valuable creative outlet. But then, those who might perform in these plays still have to work with their co-workers each day, so would they be subtly mocked for such a thing if it goes off badly? Or maybe it's best to bring in outside actors, those looking to get better at what they do or who want to try a work before they expand on it? Nothing sexually explicit or violent, I'm sure. If there are standards laid down and whoever is to write a play and/or perform it, it's an interesting challenge to create something out of what can't be done or said. But then by that token, maybe it's best that this room remain as it always is. Who would want to be censored? But it's an experiment I wish Los Angeles would try. The city's not known for theater, so just make different theater. Put it where it's least expected, advertise the hell out of it, either among paying audience members or employees, and have fun with it. Ironically, only if I cared enough and I was staying in Los Angeles would I try to mount something like this. I wish the city was as loose as this. It's too buttoned-up, too many dark looks at others as if they're going to steal everything away. I am curious to see how Las Vegas does theater, how it's done at UNLV, what the City of Henderson offers. Theater is mounted in odd places in a way, what with those costumed characters now on the Strip just like the ones at Hollywood & Vine in L.A. I don't agree with it, because there shouldn't be an L.A. influence in Las Vegas, and it should remain at Hollywood & Vine, where it fits in better. But it's too short. And yet, theater is all around in Las Vegas, drama is prevalent, and the cast of characters always changes. Theater doesn't need to be mounted there in places not known for theater, because it has it at all times, even though it's not meant to be that.

Just now I went to the website for the Nevada Conservatory Theatre. They've got nice set designs, and hopefully actors who try. With the productions they put on, such as Sam Shepard's Fool for Love, I'm sure they do. What I keep having to remember is that not everyone is into theater, that they get enough drama from their daily lives, that the Space Age room should remain as it always has been, for nothing else but wide-ranging meetings and awards ceremonies. The best I can hope for then is to change perceptions through my writing, hoping to show people what they didn't know about what they see every day, what's always there, what doesn't give them pause because it's so automatic for them.

I wish Los Angeles could do better, make more use out of the already-tight spaces they have. But all that is so automatic to them. If anyone dances on a street corner who's not a sign-spinner, they're probably deemed crazy. That's not how it should be. There should be more connections through artistic expression. Hollywood isn't the only outlet for that.


  1. Ah, Sam Shepard. I know you're not visiting blogs a lot these days, but I'm open to the public again. Still at the same place. Trying to figure out how to get my followers back and get back in their readers. And you haven't solved my problems. I thought you could do anything. In fact, I continue to believe you can.


    1. I can't solve everyone's problems. When I was a kid, I wanted to build a time machine. I couldn't. There's only 24 hours in a day and I can't physically use them all. The time that I do use is for my writing, my reading, my life. And with this move coming up, making even more out of my life.

    2. Well then, why in the hell did you ask for details about my problems? Have you been gossiping about me? I AM an honorary Aronsky. If I were there, I'd cook some meals and clean the bathroom in exchange for you solving my problems. But since I can't be there, you should solve my problems anyway.

      Janie XOXO