Theatre Thursday: When things get meta

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nine years now since I was blessed to be part of Playwrights’ Arena’s amazing project in celebration of their 20th anniversary called Flash Theatre L.A.: 20 in 2012.

What this involved was a playwright creating a short piece designed for a specific environment, most often also involving singing and dancing, then a rehearsal period on weekends, usually at the then home of Playwrights’ Arena at the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) which, I can tell you, felt like the most New York experience possible in L.A., especially if one took the Metro down to Pershing Square, walked to the theatre, and it was a misty morning on a weekend in February.

Good times.

During that year, I performed in 13 out of the 20 performances, which took place everywhere from the very west side to the very east side of town, and from as far south as the Adams District to as far north as Silver Lake — although a lot of our stuff happened in Downtown L.A., which is where the performance I’m thinking about took place.

It happened in Pershing Square, so was within walking distance of the theater, and it was a piece called Meat by Donald Jolly. (The original idea had been to stage it further east in the warehouse district, with most of the cast lying in the back of a truck, but that was beyond our means.)

The division of roles were: A) The “meat,” which were a bunch of people in skimpy bathing suits with all kinds of anti-capitalist slogans drawn on them; B) The radical faeries, who would ride in and save the day, and C) The Authorities, who would try to stop all this shit from happening.

I was cast as one of the two Authorities, and my counterpart was an actor named Bill. I’d worked with him a few times over the whole Flash Theatre thing, and we had definitely bonded because we were about the same age (i.e., older than a lot of the other cast members), had the same weird sense of humor, and had already been cast in roles that got weirdly intimate and, even though he was straight and I was not, it worked out, because he was cool about it and I wasn’t attracted to him anyway.

Funny how that works.

But… getting back to Meat… We all marched from the theater to Pershing Square, and this got a lot of attention mainly because there were a ton of half-naked people on the streets of DTLA, plus a number of them also decked out in glitter and boas and riding scooters or the like. Then there were these two white guys dressed like Secret Service.

We got to the venue. We took our places. And just as I was about to launch into, which meant that I was supposed to charge our audience and tell them, “Nothing to see here, please disperse,” an actual security guard got up in my face and told me that we couldn’t perform there.

Well… that was kind of a problem. I knew that I couldn’t launch my own character in his face and tell him to step off, because that wouldn’t end well. At the same time, the idea of a muggle screwing with my show really pissed me off.

So I did the only thing I could do, which was to give him the look of death and slowly point at Playwrights’ Arenas artistic director, who I knew for a fact had it covered when it came to the whole “Yes, we can perform here” angle.

The guard headed over to talk to Mr. Rivera, I launched into my shtick (and actually scared the shit out of a couple of good friends standing in front because I committed to it so hard), Bill got into it as well, and the whole thing finally came off, ending with the Radical Faeries glitter bombing the Authorities and wrapping us in boas until we wound up mesmerized and dancing together to the music that had started playing, which I think was the song Sway with Me.

But it was definitely my weirdest Flash Theatre experience ever, because someone who was the real-life version of the character I was about to play tried to fuck with what we were all about to do, and I essentially managed to misdirect him so that he could be neutralized, exactly like my character and Bill’s in the show.

Wow. Trippy.

Postscript: Years later, I volunteered for the annual Playwrights’ Arena fundraiser, Hot Night in the City, just before the year of COVID, and my job was as off-stage announcer and various wrangler of stage equipment. I was stage left, and the other guy was stage right, and we were also working various other prep stuff together for a long time.

He looked familiar, but we didn’t recognize each other until we finally did. It was Bill, and the reason we didn’t recognize each other is that we’d both lost a shit-ton of weight since 2012, and both for very similar reasons.

This was also when I found out that he was about five years younger than me, but my journey had been through congestive heart failure that had led to a weekend in the hospital, me quitting smoking, diuretics squeezing a lot of that weight out, and then a change in diet doing the rest.

In Bill’s case, he had to have a triple bypass or something like that, but otherwise the same idea. That experience led to major lifestyle changes for him as well.

It was a very weird reunion. But again, very meta. He and I got cast in the same roles for theater. We just had no idea that we’d be cast in the same roles in real life.

Small planet, eh?

Image source: Downtowngal, (CC BY-SA 3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

May the fourth be with you

Okay, this isn’t actually the anniversary of the premiere of a certain film — it was May 25, 1977 when a film called just Star Wars opened. But in the nearly 44 years since then, the entire franchise has become a cultural phenomenon. It’s literally been around long enough that some teenage fans of the first film more likely than not may now have grandchildren who are into the current films and shows.

“May the fourth be with you” is a perfect example of that. Somewhere along the way, Star Wars Day was created and while it’s not an official Lucasfilm/Disney event, they still use it to pay tribute to the franchise. Oh — and sell stuff, of course.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Star Wars Day is May 25, since the premiere was here on that date.

There’s not a lot of agreement of how the holiday came about, or where the phrase referring to the date originated, although it’s been attested to as early as 1979, although the first publication was in 1999 in the book The Science of Star Wars by the astrophysicist Jeanne Cavelos.

Incidentally, she was born on May 26th. Missed it by that much.

Now, if you were raised with any touch of Catholicism prior to a certain time, whenever you hear “May the force be with you” (or “the fourth”), you will almost automatically reply, “And also with you.” That’s just a thing. It’s unavoidable. Embrace it.

If you’re more of a Dark Side person, don’t worry. Two days from now, it’s Revenge of the Sixth.

I’ll keep this short, but I will point out one thing: I saw the original trilogy before 1997, which means that I saw… the original trilogy. But Lucas was never one to leave things alone, so as my Star Wars day gift to you, here is just a hint of what he changed when he re-released Episode IV in the late 90s and early 10s.

Well, except for changing the title to Episode IV: A New Hope once Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back came out.

I can’t say that I totally disagree with some of these changes, and the color timing, especially in the 2011 version, is much, much better. However, say it with me…

HAN SHOT FIRST!

Thank you, and May the Fourth Be with You.

Wednesday Wonders: The Earth is not happy with us today

Today, April 22, 2020, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Ironically, while we probably won’t be celebrating it in public this year, we’ve already sort of helped the planet out by staying home. There have been some positive effects on the environment,

In my hometown of Los Angeles, we’ve not only had the cleanest air we’ve had in decades, we also have just about the cleanest air of any major city. But considering how many cars we’ve taken off of the roads in the last month, that’s not a big surprise.

It should be self-evident from these changes, and others, that human activity does have a negative impact on the environment. It should also be clear that staying at home and social distancing does save lives.

A perfect example of that is the difference between California and New York. There are a lot more people in California, but a lot fewer cases of COVID-19 — around 33K in the former and 250K in the latter — and certainly a huge difference in the death toll. California has lost 1,200 people. New York State: 19,000. (Note: the death statistics are still wildly unreliable, however.)

Why the huge difference? It’s hard to say. Part of it may be that California is much more reliant on car culture, but that’s not true of all of the state. The Bay Area, for example, is just as dependent on public transit as New York.

Population density could also be a factor, with people in the five boroughs packed in like sardines, while those in most of California (again, outside of the Bay Area) are spread out all over the place.

It’s possible, but we really don’t know yet, that the virus came to New York from Europe, and so was a different strain, whereas cases in California may or may not have come from China, although they most certainly did not begin in the fall of 2019.

So what lessons should we take from this particularly unusual Earth Day? Maybe that we should have been paying more attention to our Mother all along. That we should have understood that important little bit that we are all connected on this planet, and borders, cultures, walls, and artificial divisions do not exist.

You know, the old saying: One planet, one people. Please!

In honor of Earth Day and the idea of cutting back, I’m keeping this one short and sweet. Stay home, take care of yourself, eschew greed, envy, and plastic, and share what you can with friends and neighbors as you can, but also don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

Happy Earth Day 2020. May the planet be a better place, and may we still be on it, in 2021.

%d bloggers like this: