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 building 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 Glass, will 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.