LETTER FROM L.A.: Hollyween; Play7
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier
in Hollywood might seem redundant, given how many people already spend their
lives in costume. (Or in disguise, which isn’t exactly the same thing.) Still,
this time of year is marked by at least two traditions: the West Hollywood
‘parade’ and the Day of the Dead. Since these correspond to two of the city’s
larger cultural groups - gays and Mexicans -, each of these is infused with a
certain exuberant pride.
New Yorkers should know that,
unlike the Village’s fest, West Hollywood’s ‘parade’ is really more of a
promenade than a procession. Santa Monica Boulevard is closed off for a long
stretch and a mix of people in and out of costume walk up and down in no
particular order. Over the years, more and more concessions and stages have
been added along the route. I’ve seen some great costumes there over the years
– a princess riding a large dragon; six Filipino men in matching Carmen Miranda
outfits; a coterie from the French royal court with period outfits made of
plastic strips -, but none of the breathtaking floats that mark the New York
year, I chose to go see Chauncey DeVille Productions and Sacred Fools’ production of “Dracula”, whose colorful music
hall take on the story was a fine complement to the madness in the streets.
Vampires and lunatics – what could be more fitting for the evening? A friend
who did go to Santa Monica Boulevard told me it was very crowded, with far more
people out of costume – that is, spectators - than in. Since the most terrifying thing down there
is usually the parking, I don’t regret missing it this time around.
fitting that Frida, the movie about Frida Kahlo, came out just before
the Day of the Dead this year. I doubt you can understand Kahlo’s work without
knowing Mexican traditions such as this one, which treats death and celebration
as natural playmates. Thanks to Conquistador priests, it now follows All
Hallows Eve (Hallow E’en, as the Brits used to say) though the Aztecs had
celebrated it during the summer.
Iconographically, it’s a perfect marriage of the Catholicism that
brought you dancing skeletons on church walls and the often morbid Aztec
festivities. Saturday, I went to Olvera Street for one of several Dia de la
Muertos celebrations. Though Olvera Street - touted as the oldest street in Los
Angeles - is lined with touristy taco
and souvenir stands, on this night its Mexican character seems far more
authentic. Several altars are set up around the plaza at one end, apparently in
memory of real people. Aztec dancers in ornate feathered outfits perform
nearby. Long lines form at the churros stands.
of the buildings that goes between Olvera (a pedestrian street) and Cesar
Chavez, a gallery is hosting an exhibit of various works of art on the theme.
Basically, this means skulls – silver and gold skulls, cut-out skulls, crudely
sketched skulls… - intermixed with gaily colored cloth and tiny bits of mirror.
The exhibit brings children’s drawings together with sophisticated art,
comfortably embraced by one colorful culture. Kahlo would have felt right at
How do small theater companies get people in
to see what is often well-reviewed, high-quality work – playing to half-full
houses? Off-off-Broadway theaters in New York may want to drop by www.play7.com,
the Web site of Play7, for one idea. Last week, the fifteen theaters
cooperating in this effort held a party at the Echo, a club in Echo Park. While
the free food and cheap drinks probably helped fill the large club, the point
of the event was to let people know they could buy seven vouchers for $77,
allowing them to see as many plays. The vouchers are good for a year (plus
mailing time) and can be given to friends as well.
Play7 includes theaters like
Sacred Fools, Zoo District and Ensemble Theatre/LA, all respected groups that
present exciting, well-reviewed work.
By making it cheaper and simpler to see their work, they’re now being as
creative in their marketing as in their productions. I suspect theater
companies across the country will watch this initiative with interest.