Saturday, February 10, 2018

TRICKS OF THE TRADE

Hello and welcome from another Saturday at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica.

It’s a gloomy Saturday at the beach, hardly in feeling, but definitely cloudy with a high today of 63 chilly degrees. Not that you can tell by everyone on the sand. There are a lot of young kids today. A small group of boys are playing touch football and the volleyball courts seem to be ruled by a women’s team from a local college. All the bikes from the rental stand are out, so it just goes to show you the resiliency and can-do spirit of Angelenos who would consider this weather ‘storm watch’. We have rain expected next week and you would think it was the tornado that took Dorothy away from the talk at the Du-Par’s early this morning at the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax. I actually heard someone sigh with disappointed concession, “I’ll have to close the windows”. Such is life in paradise. Even my own aged mother was prophesizing, “Ow, my arthritis – there’s a storm coming!”

I find writing here quite comforting. On Saturdays there are small groups of people who traipse through the office on a guided docent tour. I seem to be the tail end of the tour because after a look in at my marvelous tiled 1927 restroom, the docent will talk about when Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst died. There is usually a strange judgement pause when the guests figure out how different in age these lovers were. I guess you can say that my office is the sobering moment of the tour. I am the last thing you see before the video presentation, so there is always one stray who will come back and take another look at the room again after having seen it in its 1927 glory on screen.

The other interesting facet of being here is having everyone ask me what writers do.

In some ways they want to know how I live, make money, whether I sit there for eight hours, etc. But what I think they really want to know is ‘how’ I write.

I’m not one for not having ideas. I try my best to stay full of inquiry in my life. I still do that try to learn a new word a day trick. I save every interesting article and I believe that every great play starts with a really great character. All great characters have great stories attached to them, versus great stories that sometimes lack really interesting people telling them. So, I do a lot of tricks around who people are. I love a book about acting by the great Joseph Chaikin that contains a series of essential questions one should ask a character as they attempt to build one. ‘The Presence of the Actor’ is what it is called. He asks a question that always informs the quality and interest in my characters; what is the one thing that people cannot see when they look at you? I find that question so interesting because each one of us has a series of events, secrets, stories that live in us that make up not only how we live, but how we will move on. In similar fashion, he asks ‘Is there a part of you that has not lived yet and what would it take to make it happen?’

Suddenly, there are mysterious to be solved in plays and how people live in them. I love the amount of information that a character will give you, if you let them. I also love this way of working because I never lose interest in the character or the story. I am always trying to unpack something, to the very end.

Oh, I have a ton of these kinds of exercises and they always come in handy when one needs inspiration, a new way forward or just a trick to get going again.

Especially on an overcast day in Santa Monica.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Hello Friends,

Greetings from the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica where my residency continues.

It’s Saturday and I am sitting out here on the porch watching the water, the volleyball games and a gigantic group of what look like High School kids try and do a human pyramid. To the human spirit!

Or to beach culture, at least.

I live about thirty minutes from here, but it never fails to surprise me, week after week, how this is another world unto itself. The beach, nature, does something to you, it opens things; pores, lungs and mind. There is such a lovely sense of community next to the water, no one can really own something as large as the Pacific Ocean. It equalizes one and all.

It’s a chilly, freezing California 68 degrees today, but still, the transplants are treating it like a summer day. Lots of folks are playing volleyball and the towels are all laid out on the sand.

I am having an amazing time. It’s been a productive period, generating a lot of material. Not all of it good, of course.

Writing is a lot like cooking; you throw a bunch of seemingly compatible items in the pot and hope for depth, innovation and taste, but a good deal of the time it’s more like; ‘wait I’ve had this before’ or ‘my casserole has become mush’. Nevertheless, the process is the point here and if I knew where I was going, I probably wouldn’t go.

I love writing.

Lately, I have been writing all through the night and sleeping during the day. Maybe because I am writing about the culture of what happens overnight, I seem to have just gravitated to those hours. It’s a mess on my system, as I still have daylight duties, but naps are coming in very handy.

I continue to investigate the state of homelessness in Los Angeles County. The statistics do not lie. According to the Los Angeles Times; “The number of those living in the streets and shelters of the city of L.A. and most of the county surged 75% — to roughly 55,000 from about 32,000 — in the last six years. (Including Glendale, Pasadena and Long Beach, which conduct their own homeless counts, the total is nearly 58,000.)”

So, what does the Beach House have anything to do with that?

The beach house is as much a refuge as it is an experiment for me. It is giving me an opportunity to research, to write, but most important of all, something we never get to do, and that is to dream.

The meditative space. The space for clear and practical thinking. It is one of the most essential elements of art making – the conceptualization period – but one we in our culture don’t give much time to. Partly, because there is so little time!

So, when I come here, I slow down. I sit and think. I look at the art. I look at the sky. I look at the water. And I am in a state of wonder, literally, a kind of dream state of asking. Full of inquiry.

I love the way time passes here. It seems eternal. And yet, there are always people moving through here, on a tour, so they stop time, and stop me, which I find healthy and good. They make me articulate who I am and what I am doing here. I personally think it’s good to name yourself and your process, so I find it refreshing. Lord knows, I ask visitors to talk about themselves all the time.

So, when you come visit; come dream. And don’t feel bad about interrupting me. That’s part of the ball game here. This is a public space, so graciously donated by the Annenberg Foundation and run by the City of Santa Monica.

I feel grateful here. It’s not at all what I expected.

And that’s one of the joys of making art.




Monday, January 22, 2018

Why, hello there, Santa Monica!

This is Luis Alfaro reporting for duty as your Winter Writer-in-Residence at the Annenberg Beach House. Forgive my late entry into the blogging world, but I am a Facebook regular, so I am now moving operations over here for the next few weeks.

I am a playwright and a professor. This season I had an adaptation of one of my Greek plays (developed down the way at the Getty Villa!) Oedipus El Rey, produced off-Broadway at the storied Public Theatre. We sold out our entire run, extended three times and were a critics pick of The New York Times. It was a dream come true. At the same time, on this coast, I had another Greek adaptation (also developed at the Getty Villa) Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, run for six months at one of my artistic homes, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and it subsequently transferred over to Portland Center Stage. I am a tenured professor at the University of Southern California (USC) in the School of Dramatic Arts.

This semester I have been granted a wonderful creative leave to finish a bunch of new work and also to launch some productions around the country. So, you can imagine how lucky I am to have been selected for this distinguished honor from Santa Monica Cultural Affairs.

My time at the Beach House has already been jam packed and fun-filled with lots of really interesting people and events. Just last week we celebrated Marion Davies' birthday, and crowds showed up en masse dressed up in period outfits. It was the best. There was a live band, some Arthur Murray dancers from the studio in Santa Monica, along with some great exhibitions about the beach house history.

My office is upstairs in what is considered the only original remaining building, the Guest House. Built in the early 1920s by one of the few female architects of the time, Julia Morgan, my non-functioning restroom is a sight to behold. Tile work in light blues, greens and yellows, a nod to the sand and the sea.

To be honest, I was never one for nature.

I was born and raised in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, on a street corner known as Pico & Union. So, you can imagine that I am a city boy. My closest connection to nature was as a Boy Scout (Troop 321) based out of Immaculate Conception parish over by The Pantry Restaurant. We learned how to fish at MacArthur Park and Echo Park lakes. City workers would come by and dump a bunch of live fish every quarter. Nature! I learned how to endure nature on a weekend survival trip to Griffith Park, where I learned to suck water out of cactus, then dry it and turn it into a rope. The truth is, I always imagined that if I was being chased by a pack of coyote, I would just run to the Golden State Freeway at the edge of the park...

The harsher truth is that an aunt of mine drowned in a riptide at Santa Monica Beach when I was little and my immigrant family took this as a sign that the ocean was not our friend. I can remember a field trip to the Getty Villa from 10th Street Elementary off Olympic Boulevard and having to eat my lunch on a big yellow bus, while my classmates frolicked in the sand, because of our fear of the ocean.

I didn't see the ocean truly until well into my 20s.

Nowadays, I feel very connected to nature. I am in my fifth season as the Playwright-in-Residence at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is located in the rural south end of the State of Oregon in Ashland. A town full of lakes, deer, some sweet bears and a whole lot of nature.

Listen, I won't bore you with my introductions here. But if you would like to know more about me or my work, I will be presenting tomorrow, Tuesday, January 23rd at 6:30 at the Beach House, about my plays and how I make art work around the country.

In the meantime, feel free to come visit.

I am trying to use my time during the week to do some serious writing, but I am always in the office on Saturdays from 10-2 and it is such a pleasure to meet folks and hear about where they come from.

We have such a rich and interesting history here at the edge of the ocean, on the Pacific Rim. I can't wait to celebrate that even more during my time here in Santa Monica at the Beach House.

I will share details about my upcoming projects in the next few days.

But for now, what a pleasure to meet you!



Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Welcome to Luis Alfaro, Writer-in-Residence

Welcome to Luis Alfaro, Writer-in-Residence!

Luis will be holding his first office hours on Saturday 1/13/18 from 11am-2pm, and thereafter every Saturday through March 10, 2018. Stop by to say hello!

While at the Beach House, he is working on a commission for Center Theatre Group: a contemporary adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle with an eye on the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. In addition, he is continuing work on The Golden State, a trilogy of plays commissioned by San Francisco’s Magic Theatre and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival whose first part, Delano, focused on a Pentecostal minister and his flock in the Central Valley birthplace of the United Farm Workers union. 

He is also presenting monthly public programs under the theme of “Things We Share” on Tuesdays at 6:30pm: 1/23/18, 2/20/18 and 3/6/18, more info here.

Luis Alfaro is a community-based writer known for his multi-faceted work in the American theatre along with his poetry, short stories and journalism. A Chicano born and raised in the Pico-Union district of downtown Los Angeles, Alfaro is the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship, popularly known as a “genius grant”, awarded to people who have demonstrated expertise and exceptional creativity in their respective fields. Alfaro has also recently been named as part of the inaugural cohort of Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellows.

The first playwright-in-residence in the eighty-year history of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, his plays include Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles (Getty Villa, Victory Gardens Theatre-Chicago); Delano (Magic Theatre-San Francisco); St. Jude (CTG Kirk Douglas Theatre); Oedipus El Rey (Woolly Mammoth-Washington DC, Boston Court-Pasadena, San Diego Repertory, 18 productions, upcoming The Public Theatre-New York); Electricidad (Mark Taper Forum, Goodman Theatre, 32 productions); down town (Institute of Contemporary Art, London; XTeresa Performance Space, Mexico City); Body of Faith (Cornerstone Theater Company); Straight as a Line (Primary Stages; Edinburgh Festival; Goodman Theatre; National Theatre of Romania); Black Butterfly (Smithsonian Museum, The Kennedy Center, Mark Taper Forum).

His literary work is featured in more than 25 anthologies, spoken word CD (down town) and a short film, Chicanismo. He teaches at the University of Southern California. More here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Final Post: Thank you!

This residency has exceeded my own objectives and expectations, and I hope it has been an inspiring and informative experience for writers, panelists, and the many guests who attended the public programs.

I am grateful to the City of Santa Monica, Nan, Naomi, Jonathan, and the many people who set-up the rooms and made each event seamless.

Please continue to attend public programs here, as they are all about the arts, are free, and are critical to building community around creative initiatives you could be part of just by being in the room.

We've attached a little video summarizing the last 14 weeks for your information and for fun!




Tuesday, December 12, 2017


From this past Tuesday's final program, Cody Sisco announced two more resources dedicated to the writing community, which we are sharing for your information and use*:

Northeast Los Angeles Writers – a critique group

The Northeast Los Angeles Writers critique group is dedicated to helping writers finish, edit, and publish novels, memoirs, and short stories. We enable writers to learn from each other through critiques and networking and we provide a safe space for all participants to provide constructive feedback in a kind and helpful manner. 

If you’re not ready to submit your own work, you can still participate as a reader! By reading and providing feedback, both you and our writers learn and grow. 

We host mini-lectures at the beginning of each meetup on topics related to the craft and business of writing, from how to tell a story to managing the publishing process. Our members are pursuing self-publishing as well as the traditional publishing routes. We meet at the San Rafael branch of the Pasadena Public Library system and the Silver Lake branch of the Los Angeles Public Library system.

To participate, review our calendar and sign up to attend one of our meetings here: https://www.meetup.com/NELAwriters/events/upcoming. When you RSVP, you’ll receive guidelines and deadlines for submitting your work as well as links to manuscript excerpts and our critique guidelines. 

If you have any questions, please contact one of the co-organizers, Cody Sisco, at sfcody@gmail.com.

***

BookSwell – L.A.’s Literary Calendar and Community Hub

BookSwell is dedicated to growing the literary community by supporting a vibrant and thriving culture of live events and online content. We offer readers a service that helps them get plugged in to what’s happening in their area and to discover books and authors they love.

You can submit an event to be included in the calendar here: https://www.bookswell.club/submissions/. All author appearances at local bookstores, literary festivals, and venues are welcome to submit events though listing is not guaranteed. BookSwell is also looking for partners and sponsors to help publicize our events. Email contact@bookswell.club for more information

To sign up to receive updates about events, go to: http://www.bookswell.club/subscribe/. Or view the calendar here: https://www.bookswell.club/events/

(Note: December is a slow season for author appearances due to the holiday. Check back in January for a full schedule of events.)

*The ACBH, nor the City of Santa Monica, implicitly nor directly endorse any organizations, web-sites, or other program referred by the writer-in-residence, panelists, or their guests.