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. 


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  2. so, david! apparently you're still in california and you haven't called me yet?! ... LOooL! seriously j/k!!! i couldn't resist.

    i find the black box imagery intriguing. why were they so small? were they rented in expensive districts at the sake of roominess to attract clientele? was there a forbidden, underground element to these playhouses because they were too avant garde? or was it to remove all distractions so that all attention was focused on the stage? that would definitely be a challenge for the actors! high def in the (tiny) round.

    also, i guess if someone in the audience hated the play they'd have to do some brilliant acting themselves to feign interest, because by golly, that person would bring down the vibe of the tiny whole room! and you definitely don't want someone to start the highly contagious yawn-fest.

    it's too bad we don't see more shakespeare in the park and fun stuff like that. (i suppose that's why i love renaissance fairs so much). maybe you can have your students do flash theatre mobs – just show up and do a 15-minute scene in other bigger boxes with long lines but with no overhead, like the DMV, urgent care waiting rooms, hometown buffet lines... oh, wait. black boxes. not black holes. ugh. never mind.

    ah, melrose. i spent a weekend every year and a half awhile back in the ghetto part of melrose avenue (@ highland – melrose's evil twin) going to yoga teacher training. but the school was actually in the trendy little larchmont district near paramount.

    now, my old haunt, LoDo denver, had a lot of great eddies of coolness. i spent a lot of weekends at art openings and dive bars where the likes of carlos santana and branford marsalis would drop in and jam with the local bands. haven't been to denver since '99 so i don't know if these cool pools were maintained since they fancied the place up. i'm long overdue for a visit. (& yes, i still pine for the bronco days of john elway. LOL!)

    be cool!

  3. David not only are you a great actor, your a good writer, I enjoy reading your blogs, keep them coming