Saturday, March 9, 2013

Art As Activism

Now don’t worry:  I’m not going to get on a soapbox and preach about the duty of an artist and all that jazz; this isn’t that kind of blog.  I just wanted to talk about some productions that I was lucky enough to be in that are more than just entertainment; that aim to both teach and delight (which is my definition of great art, bastardized from Sir Philip Sydney’s definition of great poetry).  Great art, by that definition, can come in all shapes and sizes.  Three such projects are the short film “Meet the Zillas”, the pilot of a proposed television series called “Chris/Tina” and the hit web series “Old Dogs & New Tricks”…and I, believing in them, got myself involved in them all.

 Meet the Zillas is the brain child of multi-talented writer/director /producer/actress Moreen Littrell who wore all four hats on the project, creating a campy, comedic fable about a place called Zillatown where everyone is wedding-obsessed but not everyone is allowed to marry—namely Zillas.   Its wild, colorful and occasionally musical world may look like Dr. Who meets Dr. Seuss, but the desire to love and marry who we want and be treated equally by all is as familiar as it gets in our country’s current climate.   You can see me as a pro-Zilla protester and as a guest in a wedding that gets magically (and hilariously) mob-flashed.
 “Chris/Tina” is the creation of Jorge Perez and tells the tale of a teenager in a Latin community and all that entails (Catholic repression, machismo, etc.) who feels caught between the expectations of that community and the realization that he is a woman inside and needs to begin the transgender journey.   Perez hopes to educate people--especially parents--and help provide a role model and a voice for youth who are in the same or a similar situation.  I couldn’t think of another show that was trying to do that and anything that helps kids feel less alone and survive being ridiculed or bullied is good in my book.  So I signed up for a cameo as a Waiter in one scene.   See a sneak peek of the show here:

Back to comedy (and wedding drama) on the set of “Old Dogs & New Tricks”--Leon Acord’s ground-breaking web series about gay men in (or near) their fifties, trying to navigate life in the youth-oriented city of West Hollywood where men “of a certain age” can feel invisible.  No other series out there right now really represents this demographic and, with the aging of America, this is a subject that needs to be talked about.  At once outrageous in its humor and candor, the show manages enough dollops of pathos to make you care about the characters as the episodes evolve; so much so, that the series has garnered quite a following.  (It doesn’t hurt to have great actors on hand as the Dogs and their various cohorts.)  So when I heard they needed a few more actors for a big 2-part gay wedding in their second season, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

So, yes:  I love to watch (and act in) mindless comedy, cheesy horror, fantasy and all the rest.  I really do love it all.  But I get a special sense of pride from being involved in art that aims for more than just entertainment; where the laughs are tied to lessons and the plots provoke positive change.  I guess it’s the part of me that wants to help make the world a better place.  Lucky for me, I’m not alone in that dream.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Trouble With Words

I don’t normally blog about other people’s art, but I have to shout about a event that no Los Angeles theater lover should miss.  It’s the Coeurage Theater Company’s production of Gregory Nabours’ “The Trouble With Words”.  If neither of those sound familiar, you are really missing out, so read on.
 The Coeurage Theater Company has been around for over three years, surviving as L.A.’s only “pay what you want theater”.  They, under the formidable guidance of Artistic Director Jeremy Lelliot, believe no one should be denied a chance to see theater just because they’re short a few bucks.  It’s a beautiful, lofty goal and Coeurage has managed to stay true to that goal while keeping its doors open and continuing to bring great theater to the town.   Case in point:  in their new space at the Lost Studio Theatre, they are presenting a brand new, no-holds-barred production of Gregory Nabours’ Ovation Award winning song cycle “The Trouble With Words”, complete with live musicians, dancing and songs that will be sung in cabaret acts across the country in no time.

 “The Trouble With Words” is a musical catalogue of the ways we use speech and vocabulary to hide or reveal our feelings and thoughts:  how the words we choose to use or not use can calm or confuse, harm or amuse, render or fuse.  Mr. Nabours’ songs are jam-packed with wit, whimsy and wonder, echoing Jason Robert Brown and Stephen Schwartz to great effect.  The Haircut is a hilarious lesson in male versus female communication styles while Complimentary Brunch shows how a man is not even needed for tension as two ladies use words as weapons in the best musical cat fight in years.  Men get their due in Pick Up Lines as two Lotharios battle for the best use of verbal seduction which ends in an ironic and funny tie. Then, The Ballerina’s Lament shows that, sometimes, vulgarity really does provide the best word choice.   

But don’t be fooled that this is a mere intellectual exercise in and about words.   Mr. Neighbors is a master tunesmith and when emotion is the focus, his melodies soar with the kind of lyricism that sends chills up your spine.  All That’s In Between, Raincloud and Before The Fall all prove to be the kind of songs that you want to capture in your hands somehow and let them fill your heart up. And that, ultimately, is what great musical theater should do.

Kudos to the multi-talented cast and musicians…and to the courageous crew of the Coeurage Theater Company.  As their name suggests, they provide great theatre…with heart.

Coeurage Theater Company - Lost Studio Theatre - 130 S La Brea, Los Angeles, CA 90036  ~ @Coeurage