Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Everyone's 'On' In Los Angeles (Cont'd)

I intended to write today’s post yesterday, but yesterday’s introduction meandered out of control, becoming an entire blog post of its own.  Looking back at it today, I can no longer see the connection that made me think it was appropriate as an introduction.

I thought you might like a reminder of who you’re dealing with.

Anyway, the delay provided me with a more suitable introduction, so it’s good.  I just have to make sure it doesn’t meander out of control.

During – what I call exercise but actual exercisers would call “a casual stroll” along the beach walking path – I passed a stone-faced gentleman, exhibiting the coloration and bone structure of an American Indian, who, using an empty, five-gallon, plastic, bottled-water container as a drum, was beating out the distinctive rhythms of his ancestry, or so it sounded to my admittedly uneducated ear.

My initial reaction to this impromptu free concert was,

“That is so cool!”

My quickly following second reaction was,

“Do you think he’s auditioning?”

To the people who do not live here, my response may reaction inexplicably cynical.  But in Los Angeles, unlike perhaps anywhere else in the world, life appears to proceed on concurrent strata, one, involving “What you do”, the other, the possibility of being “discovered” doing it.

Because it’s happened.  Not often, perhaps, but demonstrably more often than it happens in Poughkeepsie, a place-name I pulled randomly out of the air, representing virtually anywhere that’s not here, but with the advantage of sounding distinctly “Poughkeepsie”-ish.

I’m sure that anywhere a parent has a cute baby, strangers suggest they should put that baby in commercials.  The difference is, here, the stranger’s suggestion comes with a business card, soffering professional representation as a “Baby Agent.”

And that’s when you’re not even trying. 

A Los Angelino may have an avocational interest in performing in a play.  The thing is, there is no “Amateur Theater” in Los Angeles.  Everything is a “Showcase.”  Grownups, children, a “fashion show” for Chihuahuas – a producer pops up, screaming –

I want that Chihuahua!

The  result is that, in a city where there are no amateurs, only “professionals-in-waiting”, the joy of “performing for the fun of it” materially disappears.  Taking exhilaration, exuberance and the sheer pleasure of performing along with it.

Which is sad.  In my opinion.  Though not in the opinions of thousands of aspiring hopefuls who move here annually, believing that a chance encounter with the right person could lead to the fulfillment of a dream.  Which will never happen in Sheboygan.  (Selected for the same reason as Poughkeepsie.)

Fine.  But still.  (And here comes the payoff.)

A contrasting pair of examples:

We are visiting our cabin in Michiana Shores, (Indiana, but it is directly across the street from one-hour-later Michigan.)  Within walking distance is the Dunes Summer Theatre, where we have enjoyed numerous productions, mounted and performed by the local citizenry.  Our all time favorite:  Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.

It was sensational.  The staging, the costumes, the voices.  But most memorably,

The spirit.

The theater reverberated with an energetic excitement.  The amateurs were “on fire” participating in that show.

Now as luck would have it, the very next evening, I found myself in a theater in New York, watching a production of a musical called The Life, a certifiable Broadway hit, running for over a year and, in 1997, garnering ten Tony Award nominations and capturing two of them. 

What did I notice?

Professionalism.  A substantial budget.  Talented performers.

But no life.  (In The Life.)

And no spirit.

In my humble and unofficial evaluation, Michiana’s The Pirates of Penzance was unquestionably the superior production.

My point?  

As Joni Mitchell’s used to sing, “…well, something’s lost, but something’s gained…”

What’s lost:  The effervescent purity of performance.  What’s gained:  The possibility of big-time opportunity.

In L.A., one of those options has been permanently deleted from the menu.  How do I feel about that?  In a show biz “Company Town”, it’s inevitable. 

I am thinking about going out for lunch today.  And if I do, there is little doubt I will try to be funny with the waitress.

You never know. 

The guy at the next table could be looking for a humorous old person with a wonky eye.

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