Maya Angelou: Professional Hopemonger

Dr. Maya Angelou graced us with her presence last night.

And I do mean grace. The woman seems to be carved out of it. Every gesture, every sentence, even a few self-deprecating asides, she delivered with quintessential grace.

Angelou alluded to the fact her appearance here at UCLA Live was originally scheduled for a month earlier.

“I was halfway here when I got the news that I was to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom….Understandably, I turned around,” she said, and was greeted with appreciative laughter. (Angelou does not fly and travels to her engagements via a large and very slick, decked-out tour bus.)

“I thought the least I could do was to not only come, but bring the medal,” she said, gleefully brandishing it as the audience cheered.

Thoughts of people from Africa, bound and shipped as slaves to America, thoughts of every race of immigrants in this country were with her as she accepted the honor, Angelou said.

“I thought of every one of us, wherever we are, whatever we are, whether Budda or Pest,” she said. “Human beings are more alike than we are unalike. I know that. At my best and at my worst, I represent you. And at your best and at your worst, you represent me.”

If you remember that in everything you do, even in saying hello to a stranger, she said, “you can lift up the whole human race.”

The woman is a walking poem and last night, she admonished us to think of poetry as a glue that can help bind us together.

She embodies that idea, beginning and ending her speech by singing a humble and raw rendition of a folk spiritual I Shall Not Be Moved, one that her beloved Grandmother often sang.

Affectionate stories about and remembrances of living with her Gradmother (called “Momma”) were peppered throughout Angelou’s appearance. She deftly swung from smilingly recalling poignant details of childhood inspirations and adventures, to recounting the sad memory of being raped at a young age and the subsequent trauma that rendered her mute for several years, refusing to speak to anyone except her brother Bailey.

Angelou said she found solace in poetry, reading and memorizing everything from Poe to Shakespeare during those silent years.

“When I started reading Shakespeare, I thought he must have been a black girl, living in the south, who had been molested,” she said. “How else could he know what I know?”

As she spoke, her memories flowed seamlessly into a graceful recitation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXIX

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

“I knew that that sweet love was my grandmother’s love,” Angelou said reflectively.

Angelou offered a something to every fan in that audience, from acknowledging her affinity for country music (“When it’s right, it’s very right”) to reciting from her most celebrated work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, to a humorous anecdote about getting caught smoking in a health food restaurant, which led to a mischievous recounting of this lighthearted piece from her oeuvre.

The Health-Food Diner
No sprouted wheat and Soya shoots
and Brussels in a cake,
carrot straw and spinach raw,
today I need a steak.
Not thick brown rice and rice pilaf
or mushrooms creamed on toast,
turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
I’m dreaming of a roast.
Health food folks around the world
are thinned by anxious zeal,
they look for help in seafood kelp
I count on breaded veal.
No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
and zucchini by the ton,
uncooked kale and bodies’ frail
are sure to make me run.
Loins of pork and chicken thighs
and standing rib, so prime,
pork chops brown and fresh ground round
I crave them all the time.
Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
for carnivores. smoking

It was a remarkable evening from a remarkable woman and I think we all left feeling just a little bit better about, well, everything.

This is one of my favorite quotes about Dr. Angelou, from London’s Guardian newspaper:

“She is like the Desiderata in human form – issuing a litany of imperatives and exhortations to be fabulous, conscious, passionate and compassionate. A professional hopemonger…”

I think the world could use a few more hopemongers like Maya Angelou in it and a few less mongers of other sorts.

Thanks to all who were there with us. It was truly a special night.

 

Calling all Poets

Ever felt the urge to put your innermost thoughts in iambic pentameter? Did a love gone wrong inspire some free verse? Have some pithy Haiku scribbled down somewhere?

We want to read it.

Really.

April is National Poetry Month and on April 23 we are proud to host two of the finest American poets writing today, Billy Collins and Kay Ryan, both former U.S. Poets Laureate.

We’re holding a poetry writing competition in honor of this event and National Poetry Month. The winner will receive a pair of tickets to see Billy Collins and Kay Ryan speak.

Billy and Kay will be judging entries from selected finalists and will read the winner’s poem on stage at Royce Hall the night of the event.

First Prize also gets a $100 gift certificate to Book Soup, (one of the best examples of a sadly fading entity– the independent bookstore).

Second Prize and Third Prize winners will be acknowledged from the stage and receive a $75 and $50 Book Soup gift certificate respectively.

So, don’t be shy, dust off some of those old musings you have lying around, or use this as an opportunity to flex your creative muscle and write something new. Even better yet, perhaps use this as an impetus write something for the first time.

Only unpublished poetry may be submitted. Work that has appeared online, or has been accepted for publication in any form is considered to have been previously published and should not be submitted. One entry per person.

Submit entries at www.uclalive.org/artinaction

Submission Deadline: Midnight: April 8, 2011

I’ll get you started with one of my poetic endeavors. (I am decidedly not a poet and I bow to my betters, so if I can put it out there, so can YOU!)

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE

if
A house is not a home.
and
Home is where the heart is.
then
The heart is not a house.
but
I confess…
It’s where I live
and
I’m glad…
mine’s always open for guests
though
I admit…
Some have come in and trashed the place.

Photo courtesy studentofrhythm via Flickr</em>

Knee Deep in Waters

John Waters is here. Er, well he will BE here in a few short hours and he WAS here already for a bit last night. But really, he’s everywhere, including popping up in this hilarious SNL digital short a few weeks ago.

The boundary-slaughtering director was gracious enough to agree to do a very small private appearance on campus last night with a hundred or so students and fans from the UCLA community as part of a free event put on by the Student Committee for the Arts in conjunction with his near-sold-out appearance at UCLA Live tonight.

John Waters

For the first time since he made the film in 2004 he said, Waters sat down and watched and provided a live commentary toA Dirty Shame, which stars Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville and a cast of oddly amazing and comically genius characters in a plot centered around victims of sex addiction (via accidental concussion) and the results of their wanton “sexing” on their perturbed neighbors. It’s a very funny movie, by the way, primarily due to the chops and complete abandon of Ullman as a Baltimore hausfrau-turned-sexaholic and a surprisingly good Knoxville as a charismatic sexual Messiah.

Waters shared anecdotes about scenes and cast members and dialogue, sharing tidbits of stories he’d read and actual events that happened to people he knew that helped inspire the plot and lines from the flick. (Most are too racy to share here, but trust me, it was awesome). He repeatedly and gleefully pointed out social oddities about his beloved hometown of Baltimore where this, and all of his movies are based. He especially relished mentioning moments of dialogue or scenery or cast costuming that alarmed the normal folks in the neighborhood where he was filming.

“My films basically have given me an outlet for all my social deviance,” Waters joked. “I’ve often said if I didn’t become a director I would probably be in jail.”

The self-proclaimed trash master stuck around to good-naturedly answer questions from the thoroughly engaged audience admitting his pride at the fact he’s been able to poke fun at himself and his own career. He also pointed out that he’s given people like Patricia Hearst, Traci Lords, and Johnny Depp chances to take on tropes that defined them—kidnap victim, porn star, teen idol—and push the boundaries by taking on those pop-culture identities and skewering them.

Waters is not only a prolific filmmaker, but also a prolific author whose fifth book Role Models came out last year. He said he’s always writing something.

“I guess I’m really a writer more than anything,” he said. “I couldn’t direct something I hadn’t written. I don’t even think I’d know how.”

Waters will be here very soon. We’re looking forward to his one-show and hope you are too. And bring along those copies of any of his books or DVDs because he is generously signing autographs here afterward.

But, no matter what Waters might say….leave the cigarettes at home. Our Royce Hall ushers are plenty busy, thanks!

Litany and a Young Poetry Lover

Ah it’s Valentine’s Day season. What better time to peruse sappy love poems and read them aloud to your significant other.

Or perhaps, even better, how about a not-so-sappy and yet oh-so-endearing love poem from Billy Collins. And even better yet, how about having this adorable 3-year-old poetry lover recite it for you.

Seriously, this is the cutest thing ever. Guys, play this for your girlfriends. Coos guaranteed. (You can read along with the poem text below.)

Litany
by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.

Meanwhile, here’s Collins himself taking on the same poem. Compare and contrast.

Oh and don’t miss Collins here at UCLA Live April 23 with fellow former U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan.

Photo courtesy erix! via Flickr

UCLA Live in the Community

UCLA Live’s K-12 arts education program Design for Sharing (DFS), is continuing its partnership with UCLA Community School, one of six new pilot schools operating as part of the LAUSD Robert Kennedy Community Schools complex in the mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles. Teaching artists from Design for Sharing and L.A.-based dance company CONTRA-TIEMPO have been working with 4th, 5th and 6th grade students using dance, theatre, movement and creative writing to explore the theme of “Homeland,” or “Patria.” The residency spans a 22-week period during which students interact with professional artists, make their own art and attend special DFS performances at Royce Hall.

Community School Kids

Here are some samples of the creative writing work already coming out of the program so far this year. We’re looking forward to more!

This Land Is…Esta Tierra es

This land is kids studying in school,
Tall Buildings,
Perfume, ice cream, soda, tacos,
Sour and Sweet.
This land is tamales y panes,
Tacos y burritos,
A BIG BOWL OF WONDERS!
This land is hot, rainy and fresh,
Kids walking to school,
The smell of fresh flowers blooming in the spring,
Flores y árboles.
Pizza!
Video games!
Koreatown, Los Angeles,
Kids screaming, cars driving fast,
Children laughing,
COLORFUL!
Mountains, flowers, animals,
Buildings in the city…
Where I belong.
This is our land.
Group Poem: Ms. Kim’s Class

It Matters That…

It matters that we have friends to cherish
someone to love, we are all safe,
that we have cupcakes and sweets.
It matter that we live in justice
that we get a free education
that we have a safe harbor.
It matters that everyone is accepted and that we accept others.
It matters that I have shelves of books, books and more books
that I can let my imagination roam free…
It Matters
It Matters
It Matters
That I write this poem.
Irene: Ms Lee’s Class

A Little India is Good for the Soul

This might be a slightly shameful confession for someone who considers herself as possessing above-average cultural literacy, but what the heck, we all probably have a little “ignorant American” in our psyche and background and we’re all friends here, so I’ll just go for it.

The confession is, up until a couple of years ago, when I got into yoga, I didn’t give much thought to India. I realize now that that’s kind of a weird thing to say about such a gigantic and populous place on this planet, one that’s responsible for so much culture and economy on the world stage.

Devaraja Fruit & Vegetables Market, Mysore, India. Photo credit: PnP! via Flickr

As any budding yogi discovers, or any experienced one knows, India’s influence becomes unavoidable as you get deeper into the practice of yoga. Sanskrit words and chants and sounds of the country start to seep into your consciousness on a more basic and daily level.

And now, I think about India a lot. I re-read the Bhagavad Gita recently in a whole new light (yes, really, I am a book-dork). And I listen to music from artists like Karsh Kale on a whole new level since India came to mean something more to me. I first encountered Kale years ago when I was working at a DVD magazine and reviewed Palm Pictures’ Tabla Beat Science release. I’ve always been an adventurous music lover and it spoke to me with its controlled frenzy of energy and style.

Check out this video to see what I mean:

Kale’s music speaks to me even more these days. I got a sneak listen to a couple of tracks from his upcoming album, ones that he will likely play on-stage Saturday night at UCLA Live and they are lush, energetic and uplifting.

Music is a passport to the flavor and texture of a culture that is not our own, a little taste of the larger world, which yes thanks to massive amounts of media coming from all directions, is a little bit smaller every day, but that is full of cultures and peoples that can still seem mystifying and remote as we live out our own little lives.

I look forward to welcoming even more India into my life this weekend as Karsh Kale and MIDIval Punditz hit the stage. It’s probably the show I have been most looking forward to this year. My mind is wide open and ready to be blown.

How about you? Is there any music from another culture that has permeated your consciousness lately?

Hope to see you here this weekend. In the meantime, Namaste :-).

Photo: Devaraja Fruit & Vegetables Market, Mysore, India. Photo credit: PnP! via Flickr

The Wizard of Odd

John Waters is a character. Love his movies or hate them, you have to admit he’s made an indelible stamp on popular culture.

For some of us, the fact that that stamp comes with a slightly filthy, off-kilter image, well that’s OK.

I like funny people and I like smart people. I like people who are both funny and smart and make no bones about what they do and how they do it, and artists of all kinds have the most luxury to be wickedly funny and smart and absolutely unapologetic about it. Waters is all of those things.

I loved reading this quick excerpt from Robert K. Elder’s new book, “The Film That Changed My Life: 30 Directors on Their Epiphanies in the Dark.”

He included John Waters for the book and somewhat surprisingly (to me at least), the man who made what he himself dubbed the “Trash Trilogy” of films and introduced the world to the first superstar transvestite “Divine” chose the innocent and whimsical “Wizard of Oz” as his most influential film.

Here’s his brief synopsis of the classic film’s plot:

“Girl leaves drab farm, becomes a fag hag, meets gay lions and men that don’t try to molest her, and meets a witch, kills her. And unfortunately — by a surreal act of shoe fetishism — clicks her shoes together and is back to where she belongs. It has an unhappy ending.”

That? Is just made of awesome.

I have a feeling Waters will be applying that razor-sharp wit to his own work and other Hollywood fare next month in his UCLA Live appearance titled “This Filthy World Goes Hollywood,” which is timed Feb. 23 to poke fun at the entertainment industry’s most indulgent and self-aggrandizing time of the year as Oscar night looms.

Bring it on, Barak Marshall

Los Angles dance lovers get a rare treat this weekend, the chance to not only not only see some amazing dance from leading choreographers, but to interact with them and literally reward them for the amazing work they do.

It’s the A.W.A.R.D show being held at REDCAT this weekend.

From the LA Times

“ Coming to REDCAT Thursday through Sunday, “The A.W.A.R.D. Show!” (an acronym for Artists With Audiences Responding to Dance) channels the zeitgeist as defined by the Fox TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” and other competitive arenas where performing artists duke it out for fame and fortune. Specifically tailored for contemporary choreographers, the show-cum-contest grants $10,000 to a winner toward the creation of a new work and has stirred up some lively debates about the financing and subjectivity of evaluating the often underfunded medium of contemporary concert dance.”

A dozen choreographers will show 15-minute dance pieces over the course of the weekend and participate in Q&A sessions with audiencegoers who will then vote to determine who wins the $10,000 prize.

We’re rooting for Barak Marshall around here as we gear up for his April appearance on the UCLA Live dance season with Monger.

Here’s a sneak peek at the eclectic and energetic work that tells the story of a group servants trapped in the home of an abusive mistress.

I was talking to Barak after another LA troupe graced the Royce Hall stage, Helios Dance Theater. Helios’ world premerie of Beautiful Monsters the first time an LA company has performed in this theater in a decade. Barak breaks Helios’ streak a few months later with his LA company, and rightfully so.

He’s incredibly enthusiastic about his two dates in Royce. “I practically grew up here.” he said.

Barak’s mother and famed dancer Margalit Oved taught at UCLA for twenty years. Her son’s a rising star in his own right and this April’s performance will be nostalgic and celebratory.

We’re wishing him all the best as he competes this weekend.

The Onion’s Many Layers

Happy New Year! We’re back in Royce Hall and gearing up for our winter and spring programming, which includes an well-timed appearance from Joe Randazzo and other editors from The Onion on Feb. 10 for “Inside the Onion.”

The past several years, the economy, climate change, our political leaders, our increasingly ridiculous obsession with celebrities and their dating habits, reality television stars and other pop-culture fascinations, not to mention the rather sorry state of overblown media punditry in our society, have provided more fodder than ever for smart, intellectual people who use satire to get their point across.

No one does that better or has been doing it longer than The Onion. And, members of the creative brainchild that is The Onion will fill us in on what makes them tick here at Royce Hall on the heels of some major growth for the brand that started in the late 1980s as a mail-order newspaper out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

January is a banner month for the premier fake news news source in this country. For the last three years, The Onion website has hosted daily videos that poke much-earned fun at the tactics and style of modern cable news networks with its “Onion News Network” online series.

Things are getting even more fun as that genius online video bit grows right up into a weekly series on the Independent Film Channel. “Onion News Network” premieres on IFC January 21 and is even more brilliantly tongue-in-cheek given that former Fox News anchor Brooke Alvarez is at the on-camera helm.

Check out the trailer. It looks hilarious and hilariously brilliant. Should give Stewart/Colbert a run for the money.

Nothing is sacred in the hands of The Onion, not even sports. Premiering on Comedy Central next week (January 11) is “Onion SportsDome” an Onion-branded sports-news parody that even I might watch.

A Few Favorite Things From 2010

‘Tis the season for looking back, appreciating and looking forward, right?

We’re wrapping up 2010 here in the basement of Royce Hall and getting ready for a long break, but we’ll be back soon enough with two great shows in January—Wallace Shawn on the 22nd and Karsh Kale on the 29th.

We’re all pop-culture junkies around here so I asked a few fellow staffers to chime in on some of their favorite performing arts experiences over the last year, both here in Royce Hall and elsewhere.

Tinariwen at UCLA Live Feb 2010

Personally, my favorite UCLA Live performance was probably Tinariwen in February of 2010. I admit, when it comes to world music, my taste has mostly always hovered more on the commercial edge, but seeing this band, hearing their stinging, hypnotic grooves and watching those uplift and entrance the packed-house audience, was a real game changer for me.

I saw a lot of great shows outside of our programs in 2010, but my hands-down favorite has to be LCD Soundsystem with Hot Chip at the Hollywood Bowl in October.  It was a gorgeous cool night and our seats were among the worst seats I’ve ever had at the venue, but also somehow, the best, because I was there with a large crew of my music-loving friends and made some lasting friendships with the group behind us. There was much dancing in the aisles, This Is Happening was one of my favorite albums of last year and it’s a moment in time that’s not likely to be duplicated given James Murphy’s plan to lay LCD to rest. Definitely one for the mental photo album.

Here are a few other staffers pics of the year.

Billy Bragg at UCLA Live November 5, 2010

Marivi Valcourt, Marketing Manager

Favorite UCLA Live/Royce Hall Event

Billy Bragg doing “(Shirley) Greetings to a New Brunette” and his commentary around his pre-show ritual “Shit, Shave and Shower.” Classic Billy.

Favorite Other Event:

Natalie Merchant at The Getty – hearing her voice live again was amazing.

John Spokes, Director of Development

Favorite UCLA Live/Royce Hall Event

I loved Baaba Maal, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Gamelan Cudamani but if I have to name a favorite, it has to be Dengue Fever playing their own soundtrack to the Lost World. Great music, an unusual event and a great archival print courtesy of UCLA Film Archive.

Favorite Other Event:

Watching Fully Committed, a play directed by my wife Casey, with 17 members of my family on a cold Minnesota night.

Ron Jarvis, House Manager

Favorite UCLA Live Event

My favorite moment this year was when I was standing at the back of the house for the Mavis Staples / Billy Bragg concert and I realized that  (1.)  I should have been in the audience, and (2.)  There is still an audience for political troubadours who can stir the social consciousness within.

Favorite Other Event

Watching members of PETA scream at audience members attending “The Greatest Show on Earth” at the Staple Center.   I would guess that half of the audience owned pit bulls.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet at UCLA Live May 2010

Jessica Wodinsky, Theater Production Supervisor

Favorite UCLA Live/Royce Hall Event:

Cedar Lake Dance Company. The stunning New York-based troupe performed two nights to standing ovations, expertly executing choreography from six of modern dance’s most exciting and eclectic stars.

Favorite Other Event:

Carole King /James Taylor at the Hollywood Bowl

Thoughts from the staff of CAP UCLA