Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Introducing CAP UCLA’s Interim Leadership: Meryl Friedman and Fred Frumberg

As Kristy Edmunds embarks on her new role with MASS MoCA and as Creative Advisor for the UCLA Nimoy Theater, Fred Frumberg and Meryl Friedman, both of whom have extensive experience in managing CAP UCLA’s operations, have assumed interim leadership of CAP UCLA. Together, they will oversee management, programs, artist relations and all other aspects of leading a major cultural organization in close coordination with the school and campus. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to work in a theater my entire adult life, and I know how much possibility lives in that room especially when students meet a new artist or discover the performing arts for the first time,” says Friedman. “I’ve had the joy of experiencing the power of that potential every day for the past 13 years as Director of Education and Special Initiatives, with Kristy and all our incredible team. Every day we get to create a new story, and I’m honored to help write this next chapter.”

“I met Kristy in 2005 when I was running a company in Cambodia,” Frumberg explains. “She took a risk by inviting one of our theater pieces to the Melbourne Arts Festival. It’s that uncompromising commitment to the power of arts that enticed me to join CAP UCLA as deputy director five years ago and that empowers me to take on this interim role. I’m humbled to join the entire staff as we navigate this exciting transition together.”

Meryl and Fred are eagerly coordinating with artists to meet you all in the theater for a vibrant spring season and an enthusiastic return to live performance. 

Behind the Curtain of Sun & Sea: What Does It Take To Create an Indoor Beach?

The first task was sourcing 10 tons of local sand to create the beach that audience members look down onto from a square shaped balcony. Following three days of performances and 15 showtimes, the sand will be donated to local elementary schools for use in sandboxes.

The next step was creating a realistic scene. While performing the libretto, translated from Lithuanian to English, the cast will act like it’s any other day at the beach — relaxing on towels, slathering on sunscreen and playing badminton. They’ll even nibble on snacks sourced daily from neighboring eateries in Little Tokyo. Beach noise playing over speakers in the space will add a layer to the live singing; there will even be a dog or two to add to the ambience.

There is also a distinct color palette of pastels to create a sense of nostalgia. The costumes and props will all be muted tones. We even crowdsourced a light colored bike from a member of CAP UCLA’s staff as a prop.

This peek behind the curtain only just begins to reveal the scale of the transformation needed to execute this artistic vision.

The 2019 Venice Biennale winner Sun & Sea, presented by CAP UCLA, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and the Hammer Museum and featuring the L.A.-based Tonality choir, will make its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Contemporary on October 14th. Tickets on sale September 17th at 10 AM PDT. 

A Moment With Artists-in-Residence

“Performance doesn’t just magically appear on a stage. Behind every work, there are years of creative development, months of rehearsal and a continual pursuit of support.” — Kristy Edmunds, CAP UCLA’s Executive and Artistic Director

Each year since 2012, CAP UCLA has welcomed a new cohort of six to 12 artist residents and offered resources, connections and more to support their process of bringing an idea to the stage. No two residencies look the same, in part, due to mentorship and guidance by our Executive and Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds. The CAP UCLA staff works to meet the artists where they are, often providing creative time and necessary space for the development of new work.

Some residencies last from conception to production, where we are along for the full ride. The White Album by Joan Didion created by Lars Jan/Early Morning Opera, presented in April of 2019, was such a project. For this, CAP UCLA partnered with Ucross Foundation in Wyoming, a Research and Development lab for the arts, to provide a month-long residency in 2018 to develop the work in an intensive and uninterrupted environment. About the residency, Jan said, “removed from the patterns of our daily lives, our group of artists was able to draw nourishment from the stunning beauty of the natural landscape and grounds, as well as the generous ethic of incubation guiding the program and staff there, to connect with a creative and personal intensity unparalleled in other settings.”

Other artists, like choreographer Ann Carlson, had ideas for years, but lacked the time and space to bring them to fruition. The interruption to our daily schedules created by the pandemic provided Carlson with the time and CAP UCLA provided the space. Describing her time in the Royce Hall Rehearsal Room, she said, “for me, a residency can be a setting aside of body, mind, space and time for working, for waiting, for opening to the next idea, or to give room (literally) for ideas to emerge, to take shape, to shift from a gentle haunting towards a concrete thing in the world.” Unlike The White Album, Carlson’s intended solo may become something else or take more time, but it was “a chance to reach into those barely there impressions, those shy or bold things that tend to prefer more private pockets.”

Even during the global pandemic when the majority of the performing arts have been restricted to the digital stage, artists need a space to create, to make sure their work is ready when live performance is able to return. Carlson added, “in the context of the virtual spaces that are part of life now, a brick-and-mortar residency feels rare, a place to savor, both the place itself, the comings and goings to it, and what happens as a result of residing in it.”

This is also true for multidisciplinary artist Annie Saunders, who is in the rehearsal room this week working on a multiformat piece entitled Rest! Saunders says, “space and time are so valuable in the creative process, just the time to let the ideas breathe and come into themselves. The space in the rehearsal room especially lets us air things out, imagine them in large rooms, large stages, encourage them to unfurl and become the most of themselves they can be. It’s a gift. And we are in the gift giving business.”

Artists are not the only ones who benefit from the CAP UCLA residencies. They also allow you, our audiences, to follow a project from when it is just a blip in an artist’s mind to the moment when you are sitting in the audience enjoying the fully produced work. Many of the works that result from these residencies appear in future CAP UCLA seasons. It is not an easy task to decide who will be invited to participate in the program. As part of the selection criteria Edmunds “considers the work L.A. needs to see right now, [and] which artists are on the brink of something brilliant.”

The creative process takes time, a resource we all could use more of. We know you can’t give us time, but you can show your support by making a donation. Please give what you can to ensure that CAP UCLA can continue our commitment to artists and the development of new work that can be presented on our stages in the near future.

Message from the Center: On Philip Glass’s Piano Sonata

When Philip Glass mentioned to me a few years ago that he was working on a piano sonata (his first!), I instinctively sensed that this was going to be a big deal. Not because a new composition by Philip Glass generally is, but because of his exuberance for it: “Hey! Did I tell you I’m working on a piano sonata?!” For all I knew, he committed himself to the idea in that exact instant, or, more likely, he had been working away on it in his mind while we were talking about a range of other topics over our bowls of soup. Whichever the case, he was excited by the journey he was embarking upon.

Phil has written sonatas for other instruments before, but this would be his first for the piano. I imagined how much he would pour into it given that the piano is the instrument he has spent a lifetime playing (at home and on countless tours). However, Phil is not an artist to let the potential of a ‘first’ be tethered to what is known. His exuberance came from writing something that would far surpass what he could play, or be able to entirely hear on the instrument itself beyond imagining it as the composer. There would need to be someone who could bring the music to life and bridge the musical space between themselves, the audience and the composer.

Phil composed his Piano Sonata for Maki Namekawa and Maki collaborated on its shape and dimensionality by adding her tremendous capacity and insight as a pianist. They sent recordings and adjustments back and forth across the Atlantic, and Phil describes her contribution as much more than a facile pianist interpreting the material, but adding to it in order that it can be heard and embodied.

Many will recall an epic week in 2013 when CAP UCLA presented a survey of Philip Glass works at Royce Hall that included La Belle et La Bete, Music in Twelve Parts and his Complete Etudes. The week offered towering elevations, with an audience experiencing countless intakes of breath on so many levels and for me, experiencing Maki play Phil’s Etude #20 is forever lodged in my being. I have little doubt that I was not alone in my astonishment.

As you experience the concert as given by Maki – there is something undeniably present about the current moment we are living in, and an incredible point of connection to the future that arrives in the third movement. There is far more consonance in the music than dissonance, and Philip Glass has put a great deal of faith into our evolving capacity to listen and hear. We recognize the piano, the structure of the sounds and the notes in time – but the speed of change and harmony is almost unimaginable. Hearing what we perhaps could not have been able to until now, is the gift of their work.

We originally scheduled the concert to take place on the Royce Hall stage, which has served as one of Philip Glass’s many ‘creative homes’ over decades. Throughout this pandemic we have had to invent previously unconsidered approaches for fortifying our commitment to artists and audiences in supporting our continuity together. No small feat within a global pandemic, with our borders closed, and our stages dormant. As the US administration stopped all visas, as the devastating heave of the virus expanded, we had to find another way.

I want to thank Maki and my team at CAP UCLA, and especially also Gerfried Stocker, Artistic Director and CEO of Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria for the truly generous collaboration in filming the Piano Sonata just before the new COVID-19 restrictions took hold in Europe.

My gratitude to Philip Glass runs deep and long. For his immense humanity, perspective and music. For me, it is like light finding its way through all of the cracks in the seams and is forever arriving.

Thank you for joining us.

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

This Was the Year that Was

While we will all be glad to bid farewell to 2020, there were several bright spots for CAP UCLA this season for which we are grateful.  Season highlights include:

Artist Commissions

CAP UCLA provided financial support for some 300 artists through commissions this season. Projects included:

  • Chris Doyle’s Memento Vivere, a 24-hour digital clock made with UCLA students and available for Apple watches
  • Constance Hockaday’s Artists-In-Presidents, a collection of “fireside chats” from artists released in the final two months of the 2020 campaign
  • Choreographers’ Scores, a collection of visual scores by 27 contemporary choreographers that will become available as limited edition prints and tour nationally
  • Notes on Napkins, a collection of more than 100 musicians’ doodles on napkins that will become an affordable boxed set of commemorative napkins
  • Meshell Ndgeocello’s Chapter & Verse: The Gospel of James Baldwin, a multi-media tribute to James Baldwin co-commissioned by a consortia of national and international performing and visual arts partners
  • A filmed version of Robyn Frohardt’s Plastic Bag Store installation in Times Square that was set to open just prior to the COVID-19 shutdown

Constance Hockaday

Digital Programs

CAP UCLA also brought back new online versions of several programs we had presented in the past, including:

  • Forced Entertainment’s Complete Table Top Shakespeare: At Home Edition filmed by the company at their kitchen tables in Sheffield, England and Berlin. Available online through December 31, 2020
  • The online version of Kid Koala’s Music To Draw To, two hours of curated music designed to get your creative juices flowing which we presented live as a follow-up to his 2016 performance of Nufonia Must Fall
  • A three-day celebration of Grace@20, a seminal work by choreographer Ronald K. Brown, that included a filmed performance of the work, an online class and a talk with the artists

Ronald K Brown EVIDENCE

CAP UCLA Online

We also filmed all of our fall performances this season and streamed them online on our new channel. We will continue this practice in 2021 and hope you will join us.  Fall highlights included:

  • The Tune In Festival – a four day celebration of music for change filmed in Los Angeles and elsewhere, bringing together musicians and poets from the U.S., Canada and Latin America. Excerpts from the performances and interviews with the artists are available online.
  • The acclaimed Quinteto Astor Piazzolla filmed in Buenos Aires and seen by an international audience of more than 1200. Available on demand.

Quinteto Astor Piazzolla

L.A. Omnibus

We also created a new literary series, L.A. Omnibus, featuring conversations with L.A. writers and artists. This fall featured artists Constance Hockaday, Daniel Alexander Jones and Kristina Wong and discussions with authors Donna Rifkin and Lynell George. All Omnibus programs are available on demand.

Tue, Dec 8: L.A. Omnibus: Lynell George - Upcoming Programs - UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance

Taylor Mac Holiday Benefit Concert

We were delighted to be able to once again present Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce…Pandemic!, an online version of his holiday extravaganza that we presented for two days live last year at Royce Hall. This event was a benefit for CAP UCLA that was seen by some 600 households and raised $23,000. Thank you to everyone who donated and attended the event. If you missed it, it is still available on demand through January 2, 2021.

Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce… Pandemic!

Art in Action

For these past 10 months, we’ve re-imagined how our public programs continue to provide opportunities to take part, learn and engage.  We’re still learning, but there have been definite bright spots:

Design for Sharing, our K-12 arts education program migrated to a virtual platform, providing filmed performances, remote art-making, virtual arts residencies and Art Kits that we made available to over 100 elementary school students.

Our student committee, Student Committee for the Arts (SCA) partnered with our colleagues in Residential Life Arts Engagement to pilot a Pen-Pal program, over 200 UCLA students spanning 7 countries and 13 states participated during Fall quarter, making connections and sharing art work.

Our CAP Poetry Bureau went online for Poetry Month, and we wrote and distributed over 100 poems that were mailed or emailed to members of our LA and UCLA communities.

Along the way we wrote Odes to Ordinary Things, established a virtual gallery, and engaged in some proactive thinking about the City of Angels. Thanks for staying connected, and stay tuned for more.

Happy Holidays

We would like to give a shout out to the artists who are facing the largest cataclysm of their professional lives, yet who remain steadfast in their determination, resourcefulness and commitment to expressing universal truths and helping us get through this year.

We also want to give special thanks to you, our audiences and supporters, for hanging tight with us as we reinvent ourselves in the digital universe so we can continue to share the work of contemporary artists around the world and provide them with an income stream until they can return to our stages.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS from all of us at UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance.

 

Interview: Constance Hockaday on Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020

 

We sat down with artist Constance Hockaday to discuss her project, Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020, which was commissioned by CAP UCLA and will be available online starting in September at cap.ucla.edu and at artistsinpresidents.com. 

Q: Can you tell us about yourself and this project?

I’m Constance Hockaday, the director of Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020. Artists-In-Presidents is an art project, but it’s also a civics project. We’ve invited over 50 artists to deliver fireside chat-inspired addresses to the nation alongside the 2020 presidential campaign.

Q: What is a fireside chat?

A fireside chat is what people called this type of national address that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was doing in the thirties. After the Great Depression began, FDR became president and he realized we had this huge crisis, people had lost their faith in democracy. The radio had been invented and he realized he could speak directly to people to overcome their cynicism and ask them to participate in democracy as an act of faith. He takes that moment and he shows up and he says I’m going to come in like this priestess, I’m going to manifest a collective, a new American mass public, I’m going to describe what you, American citizens, could look like if you came together.

This is where the project becomes potent to me. It becomes important because it’s about this overdue need to update the performance of public leadership. After all, even our most celebrated president, in his most famous policies, specifically excluded brown and black people and he interned Japanese-Americans. Our national legacies of liberation have always excluded and erased the voices of the majority of people who live within our arbitrary borders.

That’s what this project is about. It’s about taking these strategies, this conjuring of a potential American mass public, and bringing those strategies to the bodies and the voices of black people, brown people, women, trans people, indigenous people, queers, people that have been erased from the performance of public leadership. 

Q: Can you talk about the shape the project has taken?

So I reached out to hundreds of artists and we ended up with about 50 committed artists who are writing their national addresses. We’re recording their performances via audio and turning that into a podcast that we’ll roll out alongside the presidential campaign. So starting at around 50 days out from the campaign, we’ll start releasing one artist at a time on the website and a podcast app, to give our audience the experience of hearing these voices alongside the actual presidential campaign. We’re exploring performances of power, performances of leadership, the history, and the legacy, and the posturing of our public leaders. We have built relationships with retired presidential speechwriters to help artists find their presidential voice. 

Each artist is also asked to create a visual companion piece—their presidential portrait. We have left that open to being their aesthetic of power, however they want to do it. 

Q: How did you choose artists to participate?

I didn’t want to be the only one choosing artists, so I put together a board of curators and poets that I trust. I asked them to give me names of people, and I sort of whittled down that list and sent the invitations out in waves. Whoever said yes, I then asked to recommend who they thought would be a good person to add to the cast. So it became a chain letter invitation process. 

Q: What kind of voices were you looking for?

As I was inviting all these artists, the Black Lives Matter movement reached this place in the public view that it had never reached before, and I asked myself, “where are people that are living in the intersections?” I was particularly drawn to women of color, to complicated identities. As a queer feminist with an immigrant mother, I want to hear from immigrant queer women, I want to hear from trans folks. I want to hear from emotionally intelligent and beautiful Black voices. 

I wanted to create an affirmative experience for a listener, to create the experience of being spoken to with dignity, of being witnessed and spoken to from the voice of a leader that sees and hears you. I was looking for people who could speak to some of the most marginalized voices or the most marginalized communities in this country. Our politicians, our public leaders, they talk about black people, they talk about brown people and trans people, but they very rarely ever talk to them.

If we provide people with the experience of young queer black women speaking with vision and speaking intimately from this fantastical national platform, will that ignite in an audience or in other black, young queer women, the thought that maybe they could run for office? 

Q: Have recent events affected the project?

I’m an artist who historically works with boats and urban waterways. Around the time that Trump got elected, I was introduced to FDR’s retired presidential yacht, which is docked in Oakland, California. I am not a history buff, I’m not an academic, but I’ve come to understand a lot about the history of this country just through becoming obsessed with this ship. The project was originally about recreating the Fireside Chats, broadcasting these messages from FDR’s ship back to the nation. 

Suddenly a pandemic happens, and there’s a complete and total lack of leadership. I’m just thinking, “where’s dad?” You know, where’s the guy that’s going to come and give me something I can believe in? And I realized this project isn’t about broadcasting from FDR’s ship. This is about broadcasting back to FDR’s ship. This is about us becoming “Dad/Mom” (the voice of care) for ourselves and each other. If that makes sense? This is about sending these voices back to the ship to update that history, to update all of the voices that have been erased, have been left out.

Q: What were the biggest surprises in putting the project together?

It struck a nerve. Not just in the artists, but also the speechwriters. A tidal wave of speechwriters showed up in my inbox. There were even conservative Republican speechwriters who worked for the Bush administration that wanted to do this! 

Maybe the biggest surprise in this is that I have more empathy for our public leaders than I ever have before. It’s like you’re walking straight into the dark towards a feeling. If there are leaders out there with a true commitment to the common good, they don’t know what an equitable world looks like. Nobody knows what an equitable world looks like. It’s similar to creating new work, it’s just walking towards a feeling… you don’t know what it’s going to be, and it starts to become real by saying it and saying it and saying it, and saying it better and saying it better and saying it better. 

Q: What do you think is the role of artists in times of crisis?

In my work, I’ve become very interested in this thing called the normalcy bias, where we get on autopilot and our bodies just continue to see the world as it always has been. To break free of the normalcy bias we have to usually have a fire alarm. The role of the artist is really to just be this sort of professional fire alarm. It’s about breaking us out of our normalcy bias, articulating these complex parts of our human experience that often just get glazed over or taken for granted. The artist is excited by a certain kind of chaos, both making it and finding it. Chaos is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Being in the unnameable, unknowable places is being close to lifeforce.

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