A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

WHEN WE think about the place we’re from, what we are really pondering is something something much deeper than a recitation of street and family names. How you get there and who lived where, tell just one layer of the story.

Here in Los Angeles, for as long as I can remember,  I’ve noticed when someone wants to place (or categorize) you, the first question often is: “What high school did you go to?” Geography/affiliation is supposed to give away an essential clue or bIMG_9665uilding block.  (Or feeds a perception.) But with so many remade Southland neighborhoods, that location on the map we once knew so well for decades, may vanish overnight. Consequently, we hold onto our neighborhoods most reliably,  and most vividly,  in our heads, and through a series of personal sense memories.

Poet, playwright and journalist Jerry Quickley deeply understands this. For the last seven months, in collaboration with Center Theatre Group and the Community as Creators project, he has been working closely with members of two ethnically disparate crosstown neighborhoods — Montebello and Leimert Park –to tell their stories: the histories, struggles and joys.

I’ve been peeking in and out of their work in progress since early last year,  and met with Quickley before he and his team had identified both the community “connectors” (networkers and facilitators) and the writer/actors themselves.  (I’ll be writing a  piece for CTG looking at the process and the community impact). The play, Through The Looking Glasswill fold these individual observations, histories, and remembrances into an on-stage “across the fence” conversation, but one that, as rehearsals already suggest, goes deeper than one might think.

Participants took part in several weeks of writing workshops — asking and answering questions about what it meant to be from a particular place. Drilling toward a working definition meant reaching for precise language and examples. For both groups, the goal has been to shatter misconceptions — starting with their own.

We’re getting close. This past two weeks’ rehearsals revealed something rare and beautiful about creating safe and sacred spaces for dealing with unresolved business  and their attendant emotions — something this city is still rife with.  The play will be performed both in Leimert Park and Montebello with a final performance at the Kirk Douglas Theatre on February 8.

For more information about the project and upcoming performances click here.

IMG_9675

The combined cast of Through the Looking Glass in rehearsal at @CTGLA in DTLA                 All photos by Lynell George

 

new year, new journey

IMG_9224IN THE last few hours of 2015, I made my way up a familiar winding hill into Altadena. The main road up to Zorthian Ranch is lined with single-family homes with sumptuous and busy gardens set back from the road. Suddenly though, as the rise gets steeper, your ears pop and you realize that you’ve attained some very real altitude. You are now  out of gentle, rustic suburbia and are now snaking up into the wilds.

I turned onto the cut-out and drug across the dirt path and parked my car. In the distance, I could see the profile of the NOMAD and I realized that this would most likely be the last time I’d get this beautiful view of Dominique Moody‘s  mobile workshop in the form of a residence.

I’ve been following her process for a few years now. I’ve watched the NOMAD go from a blueprints, to conceptual model, to a beautifully appointed residence which will now allow her to move through the world and interact with her surroundings.

We had a light brunch and talked about what awaited her on the open road.

Her first stop is Joshua Tree, where she will continue to tie up lose ends,  but most important, will make a visit she’d been intending to for years. The artist Noah Purifoy has been one of her important influences. An assemblage artist as well, he worked with found objects that also (like Moody’s work), force the viewer think twice about what we define as “throw-away.”

What’s in store for her, she doesn’t know just yet. And that’s the goal. This first step  however was a necessary “conversation” she had to have. This first pilgrimage is a way to connect with the impulse and memory of an important “spirit guide.”

I’ll be checking in on Moody in the coming weeks to see how this trial run is going and where serendipity leads her creatively.

 


-all images by Lynell George

Natalie Cole, 65

bn-cz481_0528co_p_20140528195811

Natalie, Nat and Carole Cole

SOME POIGNANT New Years Day news.  Like many, I woke to hear of the passing of Natalie Cole.

For me it was a layered loss. I’d done some work for Carole Cole for a box set of her father’s work that came out about a decade ago. I’d felt lucky that I had been trusted write liner notes that would look at not just  her father’s musical arc but the family’s history in Los Angeles.  Like so many I grew up with stacks of Nat Cole records leaning against the hi-fi. On top of that, simply put, the Coles were L.A. royalty.

It fell to Carole in later years to keep watch over the estate and the music rights and through it was in consult with Natalie. Together they protected that story, the legacy. Every anecdote, every date, every memory was checked and double-checked. Legacy was as important to them as was his burnished voice.

Looking at the photo above, it’s impossible to wrap my brain around the fact that they are all gone. What’s hit me more than anything is that the season started officially — as always for me – on Christmas Eve when I first heard Nat Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” And the season ended upon hearing the news of Natalie’s New Years Eve passing.

Some sad  magic symmetry.