All posts by Kristy Edmunds

An Announcement from Kristy Edmunds

I’m writing to share the news that after 10 tremendous years at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, I have accepted the position as the next Director of MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. I am honored and excited to join this incredible organization while full of emotion as I transition my role from the Center and UCLA which has been my professional home for over a decade.

I have countless memories from hundreds of performances, artists, and the Center’s indefatigable staff over these years of our shared efforts (that stunningly and often against all odds have made many an ‘art miracle’ happen, with many more to come). I could fill volumes recounting these wildly rewarding, challenging, and indelible experiences, and perhaps one day I will try to catalogue the weave of my time at the helm of CAP UCLA.

Doing so now would be premature because as I transition into the big shoes at MASS MoCA, I will continue my involvement with the Center as Creative Advisor for the much-anticipated UCLA Nimoy Theater (formerly The Crest). With renovations soon to begin there will be exciting news about “the Nimoy” on the near-term horizon.

At this moment though, I want to express gratitude for the positive impact that you have all had on my tenure at UCLA. Every director of an arts organization has the multi-faceted responsibilities that come with the job, and here that encompasses the myriad detail involved in presenting and sustaining live performances and the artists who create their worlds for us to encounter on stage. I have had the pleasure to collaborate with an astonishing staff, patron leadership from our Executive Producer Council, the School of the Arts and Architecture and moreover, all of you that make up the community that we have the joy of working with and for.

I have been regularly motivated by you as audience members and supporters who are such an enormous part of what has compelled me to get up every morning and stay late into the evenings. You care about what we do here and show up time and again. At a professional and personal level, your presence and consistency over these many years means that we know each other by name, by face, and through our many exchanges together. This rapport and relationship is the backbone of the Center itself.

You have made a lasting mark on my professional life in extraordinary ways. These come in the form of a simple kindness, a high-five or an embrace, or sharing a profound observation about the production or a burst of ebullience in the lobby. You’ve offered helpful advice on improvements (notably the wine selection or parking, a squeaking seat, font sizes, the importance of harp players and more). You’ve sent emails to me after reflecting on a show or an event; a masterclass by a visiting artist, or a toast backstage. There have been times when you re-upped your membership to support CAP UCLA, and done so not for the benefits associated, but for the cause. Some of you have made transformative gifts to one of the support funds or program endowments that keep the lights on and enable the work to continue.

You are as much a part of the inspiration behind my job as the artists and the people I work with each day.

I know this is as true for the CAP UCLA team as it is for me.

As I begin as the Director of MASS MoCA and shift into an advisory role to support the transition ahead, I am elated to announce that Fred Frumberg, Deputy Director and Program Manager and Meryl Friedman, Director of Education and Special Initiatives who have extensive experience in managing CAP UCLA’s operations, will together assume the interim leadership for CAP UCLA. I know you will join me in supporting them and everyone on the Center’s team as we move into a brilliant future.

Thank you for being the community that has made my life’s work here so fulfilling, and here’s to the circle expanding in transformative ways for all of us.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

A note from our Executive and Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds

At UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, we tend to mark each season gone by with a set of programs that we have supported, commissioned, produced and presented. It is safe to say that this past season has been unlike any other in our history. As we near its conclusion, this tends to also be when we announce the incoming projects ahead, seek membership renewals, celebrate the plethora of new productions and enlist subscriptions from our stalwart audiences.

This year, we are not going to announce the 2021-22 Season as per tradition. Instead, we will be announcing our upcoming programs quarterly. This feels wise and true given what the last year has wrought. Our financial ability to make long term advance commitments is also much more precarious than before. I am proud and amazed by what the staff and the artists have pulled together over a season spent largely in distanced quarantine, change and uncertainty. It is a testament to an incredible drive to share some pretty awesome lemonade made out of a boatload of LEMONS.

As we begin to see things opening up in Los Angeles, throughout the U.S. and internationally, it is cause for ebullient hopefulness. In hearing from so many of you and the artists themselves, there is a growing sense of relief at being able to do some of our most meaningful activities together again.

As Los Angeles reopens, CAP UCLA will continue to adjust our approach. For the first time in CAP UCLA’s history, we will bring an ambitious and wildly creative installation project to L.A. in July (stay tuned). This fall, we will celebrate the ten-year history of the Center for the Art of Performance! We are bringing back the Tune In Festival which is being filmed throughout the summer and we will continue to populate the CAP UCLA Online channel that has become a beacon for over 55,000 people from literally all over the world.

In fact, 74% of you who joined us in the digital realm this past year were first time attendees to CAP UCLA programs. Not only did you conjoin with the Los Angeles family of supporters, you also sent us contributions and words of such eloquent appreciation that truly kept us going. As did the support from our Executive Producer Council, members and donors and from some vital foundation grants. It probably goes without saying that absorbing a year with no ticket revenue takes a hefty amount of creative maneuvering. I know many assume that UCLA funds the Center’s work, and while that is true in part, it is by no means the lion’s share of our operation, which actually comes from ticket revenue and charitable donations.

Where 2021 will continue to yield little or no earned income, I cannot express our gratitude for your support more emphatically, and now we need your support more than ever. By now you all know that every dollar counts and will continue to as we move forward, so please give what you can.

There is going to be a great deal of exciting programming and inspiration to discover in the upcoming year and we are going to share it with you in the months ahead. For now, we are steady on and full of gratitude for all that you have done and continue to do on our behalf and for the incredible imaginative impact and resilience of artists the world over.

Best regards,

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

Show your support for CAP UCLA: Give Today

CAP UCLA Announces Free Spring Programs

Dear CAP UCLA family,

I wanted to write you as we continue to muster our strength, double up on our masks and keep moving forward in this brave new world. While there remains a long stretch ahead, we are hearing that many of you are in line now for vaccinations (yay!). It does feel that 2021 has ushered in renewed hopefulness with much to be grateful for. At CAP UCLA, we are grateful that you have stayed with us through our mega-shift of producing online performances and for those who have joined us from around the country and worldwide. For a performing arts organization like CAP UCLA, the silver lining in this is we are still able to connect with people far and wide, including our family of Angelenos who remain at home, as does the CAP UCLA staff.

Your notes, letters and gifts have made their way to us and every word of encouragement has inspired us to press on. Many of you have gone further by making a financial contribution to CAP UCLA. Every donation, every membership, every check or stock transfer we receive supports CAP UCLA in upholding what we can continue to do as an organization. Most of our financial resources come from people like you. Your collective contributions are the single most vital resource we have to draw from and is how we support our future work. I imagine that you all know what it feels like to rummage through the sofa cushions in search of that joyous sensation of finding a few bucks. Truth be told, that is exactly what our financial management process is all about now and I thank you wholeheartedly for helping us keep the lights on and the flame alive by sending us your contributions whenever and however you can.

You will see that we have necessarily changed our remaining season schedule. Several artists are postponing into the future because the very nature of their project is elementally linked to the presence of an audience. After valiant efforts to explore alternatives, the honest fact is that there isn’t an alternative. I salute their decisions to wait for the return of live audiences and know how aching the wait will continue to be – but we’ll get there! Other projects remain on the calendar with date changes for live streams – we added time to make it soar. Some of the artists have replaced their originally planned (and luminous) projects with wholly new ideas that are exactly right for this moment – and they are so spot on it blows my mind. CAP UCLA has also added some surprises to the mixology ahead – small sublime works of art that make our hearts sing. There is no end to the innovation that is happening out there; no end to the fortitude needed to stay the course; and there are no words to describe the contour of everyone’s creative efforts.

Given the not so subtle changes we have endured together these past ten months, what we are about to announce may sound counter-intuitive, but announce it we will: CAP UCLA will continue to ensure that the remainder of our 2020-21 performance programs are free. As financially unorthodox as this may seem, people in our community are hurting – students and families, artists and cultural workers, the list goes on and on – and free access to the projects on the CAP UCLA Online channel has been a salve and a place of inspiration for many. We want to keep it that way. This is an equity issue and a compassion issue. And, sometimes marketplace issues can get in the way of what an arts community is seeking to share.

In the spirit of helping one another in every way that we can, we hope that you’ll embrace our decision. Hundreds of you have signed up to be $15 monthly renewing digital subscribers and I’m asking if you will instead convert your willing participation into a membership or a recurring gift. Those of you who are already members of CAP UCLA know that membership comes with perks – and while we can’t exactly offer discounts on “free,” we can offer the bespoke accelerant of sharing what your membership makes possible regularly, for which we are ever grateful.

Suffice it to say, the depth and impact of CAP UCLA’s efforts ahead will be in parallel with the resources we have to work with. Every contribution we receive will be given back to you as works of art that would not have been possible without you.

Hopefully the donate button will be pressed frequently as you enjoy the rest of our incredible season. It will come to us like an optimistic affirmation of recovery and we will use it towards ours. Invoking the artist Miranda July, it will be about “Me and You and Everyone We Know” – or don’t yet know but believe in and care about.

Thank you,

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

P.S. All you have to do to keep enjoying our programs for free is create a login to CAP UCLA Online. Once you have signed in, you will have instant access to all CAP UCLA Online programs. No payment information is required.

Happy Holidays from all of us at CAP UCLA

Dear CAP UCLA family,

At the tail end of a year unlike any other, where we have experienced so much of our work in the arts thrown against the rocks, we can still celebrate the incredible care that enabled us to keep steering and stitching the seams together with vigilance and creative problem-solving. I’m not going to dwell on the grief because there is not enough room to adequately do so, but I acknowledge the word in scale while also being inspired by how we continue to make, find and share beauty at every turn. I want to recognize the contribution of all who work here at CAP UCLA and our Executive Producer Council. In a period of constant change, everyone gave their unwavering support through each calamity large or small.

The well-spring of inspiration has come from the artists and their creative teams who continue to engage with us, no matter the strain, to invent new ways for bringing their work to life – and it is safe to say that the reason behind all of our collective effort is our audiences. You are the community that makes what we do uplifted and possible. While the adage that “If you are standing still you are falling behind” is something all of us have viscerally lived at high velocity this year, the motivation for sprinting ahead has been to ensure we are connected to our audiences and communities as we cope in our different lives and realities – and to offer something joyously and very much alive in the performing arts.

For CAP UCLA we were able to create a financial lifeline this season for more than 300 artists and their work through our newly invented online channel, collaborations with colleagues in film production and those with empty stages, here and around the country and world, who hosted numerous performances without live audiences.

Thousands of you have shown up for our events and we cannot thank you enough. For us it was a profound sign of your belief in our continuation and of our shared possibilities together.

Although we are truly proud of what we have held together and created this year, we know there is much still to do as we head into 2021. There will continue to be heightened needs in the arts community as we ride out the pandemic (while wearing our masks and staying safer at home).

I know that you have been asked to support the many causes and needs there are across the country and world, and I know that everyone has been affected in ways that we could not have comprehended less than a year ago. CAP UCLA and the artists and communities we touch and work with also need your support in any way it can come. Please give what you can. We can’t carry the future from here without you.

There is so much more to dance and sing and play and make together and to support and stand with. For now, on behalf of all of us at the Center, may you have love and peace, respite, friendship and neighborliness over the holiday season.

We look forward to seeing you in the new year ahead and thank you again in advance for all you do and give and extend in all of the ways that you do so.

With gratitude and love,

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

Announcing CAP UCLA’s 2020-21 Season

The 2020-21 CAP UCLA season ahead is the result of constantly evolving discussions with artists, managers and producers who are dexterously adapting to unprecedented change while exploring new possibilities.

While every season is the result of copious planning against challenging headwinds, what went into the 2020-21 program is truly unparalleled. During the initial months of the COVID-19 impacts to our health, work and economy the many unforeseeable challenges ensured that what seemed concrete and doable on a Monday could easily fall apart within an hour, a week or a month. As the pandemic settled in for the long haul, projects had to again be postponed as new urgencies quickly stepped forward. The number of times we have re-planned each event is past counting. My point is not about the exhaustive frequency of disruption in our lives and work, but to acknowledge the fortitude and faith that has been in constant evidence. To conceive of how we would offer a reliable programming framework for artists and audiences while every facet of our organization was upended has taken some doing. We are extremely proud of what we have in place. It is not based on what remains, rather, it is the exuberant response to navigating uncertainty with an abiding commitment to the incredible artistry at work in the world.

I want to express my gratitude to organizations and colleagues who have rallied together to share information and strategies, and to express my profound admiration for the artists who are facing the largest cataclysm of their professional lives yet who remain steadfast in extending all they can towards any and every solution that may be at hand on a moment’s notice.

I also want to acknowledge our audiences and supporters. When CAP UCLA shuttered our stages in the face of what public health requirements rightly asked of us, we also turned to you for input and support. In shifting our professional know-how from staged events as our principle way of gathering people together, we rapidly developed our humble newsletter into a weekly online publication. We wrote honestly about what we were experiencing, emphasized what artists were doing, linked readers to where urgent support was available, and put a high beam on the local, national and international perspectives we found useful in this new chapter of life at home.

The intuitive form of our newsletter was an effort at preserving the informal exchanges that take place in our diversely populated cultural commons — our lobbies, lounges and stages — the places where social encounters can illuminate what’s on people’s minds about any number of topics at hand in our communities here and afar. The value of these exchanges is as much a part of why we gather as the art itself. Your tremendous response to what we shared each week inspired us to press on and spare no effort in generating access to perspectives we may not have encountered anywhere else.  Rather than bemoan what is not possible in our theaters (however tempting), we have focused on what can be sustained.

CAP UCLA took a fierce and early stance that an immediate financial commitment to artists was the single most important priority for moving forward. The heart-rending reality of the economic freefall in our operating model spurred us to develop creative initiatives that would drive resources to artists wherever possible and required us to bypass long-ingrained conventions (see Artists Commissions).

Our remaining resources are modest to say the least, and we have invested in what we believe will be essential to our mutual recovery. Artists have always been at the forefront of what we do and they will remain so.

For the foreseeable future, every performance CAP UCLA presents in our 2020-21 Season will be shared online. Royce Hall will become a studio for high-level documentation of live performances. Many performers will be travelling to (or across) Los Angeles to stage their projects with us while our audiences remain safely at home. For our international artists, film crews have been organized to capture their projects in their cities of origin with CAP UCLA’s support. Visa applications and/or renewals for travel to the U.S. have all but stopped for the remainder of 2020. As we look ahead to 2021, we have ensured we are able to resume our presentations while recognizing that quarantine periods and distancing requirements may also make the presence of live audiences difficult if not impossible.

Assuredly, when we have the ability to invite you to join us in the theater, pending health and safety requirements, you will be the first to know.

The word adaptation will surely be a constant companion as we navigate the lengthy period ahead. With each shift, we will adapt accordingly. It is tempting to suggest that in doing so we will all be making history together, but the humbling truth is that the history of right now is re-making us. We envision that this transformative time will serve our collective betterment — one requiring more humility, more justness and more availability to the realities of the world we have neglected and must now actively address in order to correct course.

We hope that where you can support us, you will. Where you cannot, we totally understand and wish you every strength in the challenging new reality we find ourselves in. There is a cultural bottom-line behind CAP UCLA that ensures we can and will continue to be a resource for our communities for as long as we remain standing. This is what it is to sustain the cultural commons regardless of and despite unevenly applied market pressures. At the heart of CAP UCLA’s continuity efforts, we will put our values above our spreadsheets to leave an evidence of care in everything we do.

Here’s to everyone having a seat at the table in our exploration through wholly new terrain. May it bear meaningful fruit for the future that we are all part of creating.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

Apples, Fog and the Future

Dear Friends,

This is my last weekly letter for the time being. To those reading them, and to all who have written to me in return — thank you. I wanted to share a story I have told several times. Somehow it brings me to an understanding of something important and far bigger than what a surface view of something can illuminate without having stood in another person’s shoes.

My father’s family worked the fruit orchards of Washington state. When he was 14, my dad migrated to each crop harvest over the summers and sent his earnings home to support his family. I often picture him in the worker bunk houses and hitching a ride to the next town as a young teenager. Marrying my mother changed his life course. She put him through college by working as a legal secretary and he was the first in his family to earn a degree. He majored in economics.

One summer, when we had gone to the Wenatchee Valley to see everyone, my uncle Don took me to the highest overlook along the orchard road to explain to me how the big picture of orchard management worked. It was a lesson in labor, economics and the ethics required for “good, honest work.” Apple pickers were assigned specific zones in the orchard. Everyone was paid based upon how many bins were filled with fruit and hauled up to the side of the road by the end of the long day. The number of bins determined what you earned. The pickers had no influence on the market value of the apples, nor the worth of their labor at the time – that was determined by complicated systems associated with profits and hierarchies.

There are only a few weeks to clear the trees. After that, people would move on to cherries or pears or apricots.

How an apple on a tree converts into money for a family was vividly clear to me, but how their labor accrued wealth for others was far less so.

Looking across the orchard allotments from the high dirt road, my uncle asked me to point to the zones where I thought the best pickers had been. I logically pointed to where the trees were completely bare. He adjusted his hat and moved my extended arm to point at where the trees still had some fruit left on the branches. “Those are the trees that had the best pickers working there.” I was perplexed because, as I understood it, those red dots were money.

“The best there are don’t pick the trees clean,” he said. “They don’t yank the branches or strip off the leaves. They only take the fruit that is ready to yield, and are careful to leave the spur intact. If you go too fast, get greedy and pull down all of the fruit, you will hurt the tree, break the branch and damage the spur. That means the tree won’t fruit in the next season.” He told me that the best are the ones that pick the apples with a commitment to the future. They ensure there will be fruit for the next season for whomever comes along to work the harvest. Doing so is the ethic of a job well done, however tempting it might be to take more.

He showed me just how to use my hand to pick an apple so that I would leave the spur intact. It is harder than it seems, and is a wonderment when done well. Every time I hold an apple I think of that feeling and what it took to get there.

The next letter that you receive will be to announce our upcoming program. It is full of change and value and hopefulness and care. All of the artists involved have collaborated in some extraordinary ways to come together around the future possibilities we can make and share. All of the producers and managers and creative teams involved, and the entire staff and Our Executive Producer’s Council — we are all excited to offer it up to you.

We have worked on it with the intent that it will carry a great deal of wonderment, and equitably leave a spur.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

Why Art Matters

Hello,

I’ve been trying to put my finger on an apt way of describing what this global pandemic is like in the context of the arts. Not the grief, anxiety or strain part. Not the pressure in coping or hanging on part, nor the momentary landing upon relief whenever it arrives. These are universalities that have been unevenly racing through all of our lives, while also stretching off in directions we don’t have a compass for. Instead, and not through an exclusionary impulse by any means, I want to describe something about what those of us who make art and work in the arts are doing through this and what that doing is about. I think it is useful and believe it matters.

As of today, two-thirds of the nation’s artists are now unemployed. Not-for-profit arts organizations have an aggregated loss of $5.5 billion to date, and only a tiny fraction have any real reserves to help weather the storm. Looking ahead is therefore not for the faint of heart and rather like accepting a dare to not flinch or wobble at the knees as you fix your gaze on an incoming future. Our livelihoods and operating capacities are shaken. At the same time our willingness and instinctual resolve to outwardly give everything that we have available to us has accelerated.

The voluminous amount of sharing going on in the arts is evidence of an empathetic logic we seem to retain in ample supply. A principle that goes like this: when having almost no income (and scarcely any idea of whether it might return), lean straight in and give as much as you can. This is what we are doing in the arts with our archives, with time, with ideas and problem solving, with our works and creativity and labor. The very things from which we derived our economic means are flying freely out the front door. We are up into the wee hours with colleagues around the world comparing notes, budget models, responses, speaking with one another’s supporters and advocates while generating plausible frameworks. We are working throughout the daytime to tackle yet more new planning, preparing for scenarios beyond our control, researching and listening closely to signs of silver linings. We are generating testimonials for one another’s fundraising efforts, dipping the credit card into each other’s tip jars and learning digital terminology like a crash course in a foreign language that we know we will have to be fluent in by yesterday. We are collaborating together while reminding each other to eat something before our night shift starts again.

The day of the 2016 November election, I arrived in Paris from Los Angeles (I had voted by mail). There was just enough time to splash my face with water before sprinting off to see a French play at a venue on the outskirts of the city. I was jet-lagged and hungry. After the 3-hour experience in the theater with a neglected phone battery, I was immensely grateful to find a tiny creperie stand that was still serving. The menu listed traditional French and Middle Eastern ingredients, and the aromatic spices in combination with masterfully folded crepes were a reflection of the adaptive and creative acumen of the owner-operator-cook. He offered me a glass of his hot cinnamon tea at no cost if I could place my order in French. After his jovial adjustments to my pronunciation he handed me a cup of delicious perfection. As he cooked, he insisted on calling me a taxi driving friend he knew to ensure I would be safely returned to my hotel. The warming tea on a very cold night continued to flow.

We talked as if we had been long acquaintances, and in the course of our discussion he told me that giving away tea to people was part of his culture, his identity and his enjoyment of his work. That ensuring I had a trustworthy ride to my hotel was “a simple act of common care.” I thanked him of course, and we went on to discuss the nature of kindness — what strains are put upon it and the need to uphold it. “We must act from the heart,” he said. “This solidarity is what makes life have meaning.”  He then casually ensured that I understood in advance that if I tried to pay for the several glasses of tea I had consumed by then, it would injure his intention. “For the crepe, of course! It is my livelihood and a service. But for the taxi, the tea, and the pronunciation lessons… no. That is my independence, my liberty and my expression of solidarity with you.”

Before the taxi arrived I took a napkin from the small stack by the hot sauce bottle, made a drawing on it, and gave it to him as I left. I knew it would best carry my appreciation and express my solidarity with him.

This is what we are doing in the arts and it is what the doing is about.

Without question, we urgently have to configure how to repair the economics for restoring livelihoods. As an arts community we have a unique and important role in that national effort. But the outpouring of what we are extending through every available means is about something else which we play a role in sustaining. With the floor having dropped out of our economic bottom-line, we have a cultural bottom-line to uphold and exchange. It involves the liberty to express solidarity from the logic of our common care and to act upon it without hesitation.

Here’s to the late-night cooks, drivers and artists. To resuming our chance encounters with useful wisdom extended by people whose names we don’t know but with whom we share feeling.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

The Show Will Go On

Dear Friends,

During undergraduate film school, we were teamed up to work on narrative features. As each treatment was presented for review, I noticed the well-practiced diplomacy of our professors. I had the sense that my life experience at 18 years of age was not yet that of a feature-length film, and attempting one would be to repeat whatever conventions I had been exposed to. Derivation has its place when learning how to do something, but I couldn’t afford the amount of film stock it would take anyway. Like many creative young souls with no financial backstop — I had to find a different way.

I did know how to take decent photographs. Making them move was how I would create a sense of place and tell a story without the pressure of narrative structure at 24 frames per second. I made short documentaries, and most were shot by combining my limited film stock with the unexposed leftovers of my feature-oriented peers. I worked in the equipment checkout to offset my tuition and would collect what remained in the cameras when they were returned.

Professor Paul Monaco was the department head and thankfully saw something in my work. I was awarded a study abroad internship in Berlin at the end of my senior year which landed me briefly at Wim Wenders studio, where making a scenic element for a single shot he needed (for Wings of Desire), meant that anyone versed in paper mâché had vital importance for a few frantic days. The rest of the term was for learning the complete history of German cinema, and schlepping on various productions.

While in Berlin, Prof. Monaco wanted us to attend a theater production that was appealingly entitled Death, Destruction and Detroit II. We bemoaned that 5+ hours at a theater (of all places) would be sacrificed from our cinematically all-important time. “You will not be able to see this man’s work in the United States unless you are in NYC on the right day, in the right year, and it will never be this production,” he said and went on to explain the significance placed on the arts in Germany. His invitation was for us to experience something outside of our known interests. Only two of us showed up.

The play was by Robert Wilson and for me it was life altering.

On that night in the scarred and impossibly divided city of Berlin (1987), I had zero inkling that my work and Robert Wilson’s would later converge into a now decades-long relationship. One that is due to Philip Glass, Linda Brumbach, Elisabetta di Mambro, the Watermill Center and countless artists that Bob has cast, collaborated with or championed.

In Bob’s own words, “You can’t explain theater. You have to experience it.” And I think that for theater-goers this is the very crux of what makes our now dormant “seeing places” (Greek meaning) so excruciating. Yes, we gratefully have access to drama and comedy and story through our books, cinema, television and episodic streaming and hallelujah for much of it (especially if we are talking about Sundance Institute and our film colleagues who knock it out of the park in the vision and perseverance department). But theater, as it is conceived and made to move from the page (or sketch) to the stage, is created to be experienced as theater. Which is precisely what we miss.

If that essence could be as effectively achieved through another form, it would have been taken up a long time ago. But the beautifully enduring fact is that it cannot, because it is a lived practice in a collaborative engagement between people in real time on a stage of some sort or another. The theater resists efficiencies in full-throated preference for finding what it uniquely is, and that is why its conveyance cannot just readily pivot to a screen in someone’s pocket or on someone’s desktop.

As we support the theater as an experience, we support its lived lineage – its artists, designers, technicians, actors, directors, playwrights, puppeteers and creative producers. And for the time being, we can access the archival documentation from theater-making histories that are being generously sent out into the digital world in the hope of finding us. This gives us another chance to retain it in our collective rapport and appreciation. What has already been made carries weight and value.

There will also be incredible creativity arriving on this virtual stage in the near term, made for that way of experiencing what theater makers are thinking about. Supporting them online and at home, is also to say that we are going to be there for their eventual return to the stage — and with gusto! Perhaps less concerned by the lobby line at the bar during intermission — having relearned something in what is now, truly, the longest intermission ever — we’ll acknowledge how deeply we value the astonishing artistry and humanity of the theater.

The show will go on.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

New Music by Generous Makers

Dear Friends,

The first live performance that I ever presented took place in November of 1990. I was an emerging artist fresh out of graduate school, and had miraculously landed two part-time jobs in Portland, Oregon. One job was as a filmmaker-in-residence for the Northwest Film Center, and the other was coordinating a newly established contemporary art program at the Portland Art Museum. My part-time status meant that I had a lot of bosses, but the person who hired me at the museum and with whom I worked far more than part-time was the equanimous and truly brilliant curator of contemporary art, John Weber. I am so grateful that it was John who ushered me into the curatorial work I continue to do to this day (as does he). The program was small so we packed in everything we could into our two exhibitions and four performance allotment. For the museum director and trustees at the time, it was plenty.

Our first performance was My Brother Called by the composer and avant-garde opera maverick, Robert Ashley. He had continued working on his major opus entitled, Perfect Lives but our museum auditorium had real limitations and he wisely suggested this “other piece” instead of declining my invitation. We spoke on the telephone many times prior to the performance, and each conversation was like a master class in sonic philosophy, music history, properties for unhinging theoretical convention and his elliptical structures for composing. Like his music, he would shift from one surprising and complex idea to an entirely different one almost imperceptibly – it took me a decent pause to recognize he had moved elsewhere. I didn’t say much on those calls, as it would have exposed my thin comprehension of nearly everything he was describing, and would respond to his questions with questions which, thankfully, served to prompt him into more thoughts while giving me time to try to get a better grasp on the windmills that were churning at the other end of the phone line.

This meant that nothing we discussed was going to help me write a coherent press release or a blurb for marketing his project in time for a museum deadline. Which I believe he relished. He was teaching me about what mattered to him artistically, and it included my potential as a part-time employee fresh out of grad school.

On the day of my deadline a stack of pages had arrived via the museum fax machine overnight. It was Bob’s libretto for My Brother Called.  It was created by stringing together “Personal Ads” found at the back of magazines and newspapers at the time. (For those who do not know what these were – the equivalent now would be something like a profile post on a dating app except each letter used added to the cost so grammar was thrown out the window: “DWM 37 seeks F companion to help with young daughter; SWM seeks female friend who likes jogging old movies & yellow dogs; GBM attentive good looking seeks GM for travel and fun not more,” along with other embellishments.) Bob had created a precise order for these personal ads. They began by establishing each “character” as an anonymous someone looking for someone and for some particular reason. From random introductions the libretto progressed (over an hour or so) into a kind of dialogue of want ads between so many strangers who were all looking for one another.

I left a message on his answering machine to tell him that it felt like he had created a structure for how longing had a shape and that it was different for everyone. Which is what his music was doing from his compositional interests and references. The project was a continuation of his lifelong portrayal of regular people within his music making consciousness that he called opera but was not of opera. He was able to masterfully disguise insights so that we thought they were our own as we heard them.

Since then, I have been privileged to work with many composers who have generated singular and new terrain in music that carries towering cultural value. Composers lead one to musicians that inspire them, musicians back to composers in a virtuous circle of mutual commitment. You’ll be meeting two of them who are each phenomenal musicians, advocates, creative producers and collaborative forces that are both a glue throughout the contemporary music scene. Lisa Kaplan of Eighth Blackbird (piano), and Nadia Sirota of Living Music and yMusic (viola). They recently collaborated on Nadia’s “Pirate Radio” sessions, and are in conversation together via CAP UCLA. We love them and are in awe of what they, and all throughout their communities, do together. You’ll also be able to catch up with the indefatigable and beloved So Percussion.

In the spirit of the personal ads from the 1990s: “AD of CAP UCLA seeks listeners 4 new music by generous makers doing incred things. Answer questions w/questions, add open ears, glass of red. Visit often. Tips appreciated.”

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance

 

 

Jazz Day at Home in Honor of Those Who Are Keeping Us Safe

Dear Friends,

Some of you know CAP UCLA as a contemporary dance and theater presenting organization, others as a literary series. For some we are a “go-to” for global, roots, folk, indie and/or new music. Others look to us as the place to see genre-defying performance collaborations. But some of our most stalwart and active audience members experience CAP UCLA through our work in supporting and presenting the towering achievements of artists who live and breathe in the extraordinary world of jazz music.

In keeping with personal reflection: I had an uncle who listened to his coveted jazz records late at night after everyone had long since gone to bed. The far-off sounds from the porch would compel me to sneak out of my sleeping bag on the living room floor to get closer. This music was relished by my uncle, as was his time alone with it. He would land the needle on the vinyl record and listen with his head back and eyes closed. Any interruption would be unwelcome, so it was with delicate care (and a risk of detection) that my 5-year-old self would venture out for a better proximity.

Hiding there, just out of eye-shot, I would work at listening. These “songs” were long and unusual to me. There seemed to be no ending to anticipate, no relief in a refrain, and it was all complicated and amazing to my ears. A language unlike the country/pop/rock I heard on the car radio while riding with my parents. I tried not to breathe or move and would squeeze my eyebrows together to settle in a music that was unanswerable and fascinating. Putting my head back with my eyes closed helped, but the truth is what made me able to hear jazz was watching my uncle’s uncharacteristic revelry and intimacy in how he listened and how he loved what he heard in the music.

He drove a digger, welded, and worked the cranes when there was a construction job. He picked blackberries on the weekends to make jam and wine. He had served in the military and we understood it was not a thing to bring up at dinner. When I eventually asked him about his jazz records on the porch late at night, he told me that it was his friendships he was listening to. That the real way to understand the depth of jazz was to be with it in person and experience the musicians making it right then. That records were an artifact of something captured, like a sound equivalence of a photograph: “It can’t hold everything that goes into jazz, but it proves that a f’in miracle took place between people. When you listen to it, you are looking after that.”

As we celebrate International Jazz Day this week, we acknowledge the African American musicians that changed the sound of the 20th Century and the global impact of a form that continues to expand and express how the self-manifested and singular contribution of an individual can elevate the liberty of all of us. Jazz is democracy in full and generous flight.

In the past few days and weeks, jazz has lost many of its practitioners — elders, authors and musicians. Our celebration of the form is tempered by a grief for the loss of these music makers, and still requires us to bend over to put on that shoe, stand up, stay together and feel a grace in listening from the lens of love.

Let’s keep looking after each other.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance