Thursday, July 30, 2015

Theater Dreams

  I was in a shoe box last week. A theater the size of a shoe box. On Melrose Ave -the busier, noisier, trendier section of Melrose. 
   And by trendy I mean utterly behind the times. It's something you notice as you get older - big cities create these eddies that gather old trends and sustain them or ....eddies of nostalgia form in big cities because there's so much capital - human as well as corporate- and the human tide of it never stops. Never stops wanting to buy an old dream they heard started here. 
   The Ramones, or Guns and Roses, or NWA, or Patti Smith... The Cure... There are enough people walking the streets of New York or LA or London to convince you it's the year the week the day you first heard them and fell in love. 
   And every year enough kids come from the hinterlands to maintain the fire. 
    I missed all this because thank God, I was in a black box. 
   One of those lovely, tiny theaters you can't believe grown men and women use to perform in. Four steps to cross from the back wall and trod the feet of your audience. How in God's name could this place be used for Shakepeare or Ibsen or anyone else? 
   I've seen people stand up to give a toast in dining rooms bigger than this. More suited to the epic. 
   My local bar has better acoustics. 
   Last year I watched the High School students of Saltsburg PA, population 896, perform Bye Bye Birdie in a theater that held ....well 896. 
  When I was in college my black box was twice the size of this LA equity space, had better lighting and had wings to hide in and move things through rather than the exit door this place had to get you to the parking lot. 
   What a change is this. 
   You're a teenager, you're 20, and you're performing in a space the likes of which no one but the luckiest, finest Broadway or West End actors will ever see. 
   And then you become a professional. You work in this mad business, for what's called a living, and you ply your trade in a room you could rent from Guardian Storage. 
   Which is not room enough and continent to hide the slain ( ambitions of your adolescence). 
   It's an acting class. We meet once a week. We perform a scene our teacher's assigned us and then listen to his advice. 4 hours. Next pair, next pair after that. Every Monday. 
   12 of us in the space, a third of which is roped off to protect the props of the show running the other 6 nights of the week. 
   A soft glow on the raked floor. Everyone looks better on a stage well lit. Our teacher's an old pro, started with Steppenwolf in Chicago and made his way to LA where he's made a life half what he was raised to be, half what the business makes you. 
   I noticed as he spoke that the walls of the theater were cinder block. About the worst thing you can hope for soundwise. They were painted black and the ceiling was maybe 9 feet. 
  The chairs of the theater were recycled movie seats from the old days, with that red brushy plush penned into a metal frame, so fun to play with when you're five. Or 45. 
 Running above the last row of seats along all 3 walls - it's a 3/4s stage- the black paint seemed to have been worn down, almost to a silver. Above each seat. Little pale halos. 
   And I realized, that's the audience leaning back. Where they'd lain their heads listening to Hamlet, or Trigorin, or Miss Julie or some mad kid's latest rant. The very oil of them resting on the walls. Still there. 
   And every cliche I've ever been told still seemed true - that it doesn't matter how big the theater is or how much you get paid, the only magic to the thing is how you get thru to those people. Thru the cloud of language and feeling and drive you gather amongst yourselves any given night. 
   Like I said - big cities let these eddies gather. Mine's just a little less marketable. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fryman Canyon LA

    Los Angeles has a series of pocket parks that run along both sides of the Hollywood and Beverly Hills ridgeline. If you look at a map they seem to hang from Mulholland drive - flanking green patches scattered between the massif of Griffith Park and the immensity of the Santa Monica preserve west of the 405.
If all you did was drive by them, you'd never know they were there.
I didn't for years.
They're Godsends. Public space hidden within the tightly guarded real estate of West LA.
They're great because once you're inside them you can smell California and not California traffic.
California flora when it bakes in the sun for weeks and months has a kind of intoxicating tang. It's neither sweet nor acrid, it's a little of both. Some eucalyptus oil poured over cooked desert flowers and the rich bark of live oaks. The air warmed with this atomized duff.
  And because there's so little water, scent is reduced to what it actually is - an inhalant, particles of things, living and dead, coating the lining of your mouth and your nose. Which all seems a little creepy, but California's creepy. It's an absurdly beautiful and absurdly cruel landscape. It's attractive and dangerous. It's rich beyond measure and dumbfoundingly wasteful. And you read all this in a glance. As was said about a famous Hollywood magnate "he won't stab you in the back he'll stab you in the chest." So goes the Golden State.
   The same thing occurs when you first cross the Mojave, or see El Capitan, or crest the Tehachapi pass and there's the Central Valley, or stand beneath the surf at Half Moon Bay, or enter a room at Universal with 10 executives who control your fate and a network that spans the globe....the reaction is twofold... "my God what power". And ...."I'm gonna die here."
   But in a tiny twisting little park, hanging off the back of the Hollywood Hills, cut between estates and cul de sacs you can enjoy California lite and get a decent work out among shrubbery and trees that once in awhile obscure the fact you are dead center of a 7 million person metropolis.
  Which is something that always astounds me.
   I was on the return leg of my loop and, for 30 minutes, I saw and passed no one.
   Not a single person.
   I can't quite wrap my head around this fact; that you can still find yourself alone in LA, or New York, or San Fran or any of these mega cities, it just doesn't seem likely, but then there you are, following a trail, riding thru Central Park at 10 pm, crossing the Golden Gate in a decent wind, and somehow you are the only one there.
   It's a gift. A little grace parceled out to each city and I suppose if you seek enough your karma it sometimes finds you.
   At the far end of my loop I'd gone searching for a special spot, a sort of box canyon some friends had shown me years before. You had to climb past what supposedly was George Clooney's old house lined with security cameras, and then up a steep staircase, weave along a trail which ran below more mansions, one of which was the beauty built by Jennifer Aniston for Brad Pitt that ended up being the empty shell built to honor Angelina Jolie's beauty. But 3/4's of a mile on you'd find a place where water almost always ran, real water not sewage, coming off the escarpment of LA and creating a tiny tropical corner. Maybe half an acre but in there everything is green. The eucalyptus trees are 100 feet tall, the Oaks three people at the base couldn't get their arms around. The place seems just a little bit like home, back East, where parks should have trees and trees and trees not just scrub.
  It was still there, still green, or "greenish" as California's drought has turned all its dirt to a dust as fine as sand on the moon and its plant life into a kind of kindling, but the stream was running and the leaves on the ground were alive. I felt like I was in a borrowed version of Frick Park, the city park in Pittsburgh I most like to pretend I can still get lost in. So I lingered, I saw the remains of a rope swing my friends and I had used 10 years before, laughing that we still loved this shit at our age. I wanted to grab it now.
  And then George Clooney walked by.
 I looked up when I heard someone coming toward me. Saw an older man, pretty fit, knee braces, silver back hair, led by one of those fabulous dogs only the coolest people keep- half husky, half something with half an ear gone and one eye blue, one yellow. A dog that looks like it's always smiling. And a dog that looks like it could drag you out of a crevasse.
   Of course it wasn't Clooney it was that other guy who looks like Clooney but even more like an ex football player from the 70s, not quite big enough but bigger than you, the duller Clooney clone who didn't quite get the parts - you'd know him if you saw him.
   I said something like "Now that's a dog." and the guy half smiled and I thought, yeah I'm wearing my Steeler's shirt and either you get "GO PITTSBURGH!!!!"  or you get that quiet jealous smirk from all the losers who somehow decided to throw in with Oakland or Dallas or Denver and he was one of the latter. So big deal.
   And then I realized, No, he's not smiling because for a few minutes he'd been alone and blissful and then this dude showed up who looked like that actor from...."Well, you'd know him if you saw him", he probably told his wife when he got back.
 I realized, we'd found each other and cancelled ourselves out.
 I put my head down and made no sign I'd done the same thing everyone usually does to both of us.
  Just another day in Los Angeles.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Art and Money

   Okay.  I don"t do this very often. In fact I've never done it.
But watch this link

This is my buddy Lex.
He's a genius.
Not like when you say "Oh that's genius" when the guy at Best Buy tells you how to turn on your Direct TV or "What a genius!" when you see Rory McIlroy pitch out of the rough.
Nope. I mean GENIUS.
Like scary smart and skilled and driven and rare.
Way rare.
He builds, he paints, he sings, he draws, he writes, he throws, he prints, he plays, he can even dance pretty good.
He's the real deal.
And that's his latest project.
He's 1800 bucks away from his goal.
This is an easy one.
If you like art, if you give a shit about this country just about now trying to take its colonial, slave owner, indian killing past seriously, trying to fess up and own up and say, "Yes we're still a great nation but ....yeah we did this", then send my man some scratch. A little bit. The week's coffee allowance. Or share this with someone you think might dig it.
Or send a lot of money and get a bottle.
Take a gander, take a listen, pass it on.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tweet on twits

  Roger Rees died yesterday. A British actor most people know from his work on Cheers or The West Wing.
  When I was 13, he played the lead in Nicholas Nickleby, the 8 1/2 hour extravaganza that brought intelligent spectacle back to Broadway, saved the RSC, and convinced a generation of playwrights they didn't need to press delete. He made a teenager wonder what all the noise was about, this acting thing. This theater stuff.
  He was remarkable. He shone, and his voice was a thing you sat back and closed your eyes to.
  He won Tonys, he won Oliviers, he was a star of the stage.
  But this morning when I read about his death, a day losing Omar Sharif, the first thing I saw in the paper were all the tweets. You could check up on who sent a note memorializing his life. There, before the obits, before the summation of a 40 year career, were little links to the three sentences some other celebrity thought to tick off as they were walking to set.
   And I thought, What the fuck have we become?
  A guy dies. A giant in his particular art form. A campaigner for human rights and what's first thing on offer from one of the world's foremost publications? What do people go to?
   Three grammer free burps from the producer of Cats. Words to make the words "sound bite" seem like a meal.
   What do we want these days in America?
   What do we get?
   What we deserve.
   140 characters and a mule.
   Please let me show my deep concern, my love and praise, let the first thing that the family members of an old friend hear from me be found in.....a tweet. Let me advertise my appreciation. Let me show my followers (Glory be to God for that Guyanan slip up, for that Mormon, Scientologist phraseology finding its way to Twitterdom) let me show them that I care. Let me advertise empathy.
  Publicizing your business, your latest painting, what play you went to, what joint makes the best pulled pork, where you like to shit when you go to the airport, great, feel free, it's all sort of absurd and in its American accumulative madness sort of something Whitman might have enjoyed playing with but when it comes to people fucking dying, keeling over from disease as we're all going to do one day or drowning in Korean ferry disasters, burning in a hotel in Vietnam, wiped out in a train wreck etc etc etc what pieces of your soul are you crunching up in your hands like a dried leaf every time you tweet things like "Sure sorry to see him go. True gent. Luv to his family."
   The Sioux weren't far wrong every time they refused to be photographed. We should keep their  "primitive prejudice" in mind. Part of you goes with every choice you make giving yourself away. Handing over what matters when there's apparently no pain to the process, when it seems so simple, just the press of a button. Send. Fire. Boom.
   Oh it's not such a big deal. It's so minor. It's just fun. So silly to rail on about such silly stuff.
   Yeah. Fill your days, your waking minutes, hour after hour, date after date, next to your kids playing on their i pads, next to your lover who's reached to check a text, tap on with all the media errands you can find and tell me the next time you can write a decent sentence, carry a tune, find the time to write a letter telling someone who actually mattered to you that they mattered.
   Death by a Thousand Cuts is now Death By a Thousand Apps.
   Cause we can have

 "Alone with his longing
he lays down on his bed and sings a lament;
everything seems too large, the steadings and the fields."

and we can have

"Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man."

and we can have

"He was my North, my South, my East, my West
My working week and my Sunday best
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong"

or we can have

RIP #RogerRees - a lovely, generous &  kind man & an heroic & passionate actor. We all fell in love with him in #NicholasNickleby  so sad

so fucking # sad indeed.