In 1965, immediately before locking himself in his home for 18 months to beat writer’s block and compose One Thousand Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez wrote a movie called Tiempo de morir. Though the film is cited by the likes of Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu as an inspiration, and is considered a classic in Mexico, it is nearly impossible to see in the US.
Libros Schmibros hooked me up with a copy in advance of their 50th anniversary screening of the film at the Ford on August 5. Lucky for Ford fans, it’s a gem. Halfway between a taut western and an indie drama, the film is both wildly entertaining and thought-provoking.
The screening will feature a newly restored print and a live Q&A with Márquez’s son and acclaimed filmmaker Rodrigo García.
Though Boyle Heights lending library Libros Schmibros generally focuses on books, founder David Kipen hopes the event will spark an increase in LA outdoor movie offerings of Spanish language films. “Of 150 films screening outdoors in LA this summer, none are in Spanish or subtitled,” David said at the Highland Park coffee shop where we met.
Libros serves as a crossroads of sorts – where Eastsiders and Westsiders often co-mingle and LA’s many cultures collide. David came across Tiempo de morir while researching Jewish Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein, who made his directorial debut with the movie.
“With Libros Schmibros being the Yiddish Mexican joke that got out of hand,” David said, “we thought it would be cool to bring everyone together to watch a terrific movie.”
David is a native Angeleno who—aside from stints reviewing books for the San Francisco Chronicle and five years as the National Endowment for the Arts Literary Director—has lived in various parts of LA most of his life. Libros started in 2010 when David moved into a Boyle Heights storefront and improvised loft and, as he ferried his collection of nearly ten thousand books, decided to open the space to the public.
David sees this recent foray into film as an expansion of Libros’ mission to “increase access to stories” and hopes the event will inspire a full film series in Boyle Heights’ Mariachi Plaza.
“There is a terrific heritage of Mexican film going back 100 years,” David said, “where Latino Americans can see themselves portrayed as something other than banditos or drug dealers. It’s a simple, but powerful thing.”
Come see Tiempo de morir at the Ford on Friday, August 5 at 7:30PM. Go herefor tickets and info.
One of our favorite things about live music is its ability to draw audiences together through shared experience. Over the weekend, we witnessed this in full force. The artists that opened the Ford’s summer season – TAIKOPROJECT, Quetzal, Aloe Blacc and guests – did what artists do best. They took what is happening in their world, which also happens to be happening in our world, and incorporated it into their performances. Their soulful melodies, timely lyrics and thoughtful words created a space where we could connect with each other as we struggled to process the violence of the week.
It was an amazing way to initiate our beautiful new stage. We hope to continue to create a welcoming space for all to connect with each other and the art on our stage this summer. Coming up this week, we are crushing over Outfest, which makes its return to the Ford with four films. Check out the full line-up here.
And, on the horizon is Big World Fun, our free-for-kids family series, making its return debut on July 23. These one-hour events feature music and dance styles from across the globe, created by artists here in our backyard. The Ford’s shaded amphitheatre is the perfect space for squirmy little ones, as are the preshow activities – turtles and owls courtesy of the County’s Department of Parks & Recreation and crafts by Mama Earth.
Last, but certainly not least, we want to share with you the first in a new series – the Ford Theatres Pop Up Production. Without giving too much away, think of them as a little two-minute break from your day. Enjoy!
“There is a community of artists and musicians creating new work that is evoking a genuine reflection of what Los Angeles is. That’s where we were going with Concrete Saplings.” – Bryan Yamami, TAIKOPROJECT
It’s this community of LA-based artists that we at the Ford Theatres work so passionately to support and which Angelenos will be able to see aplenty this summer at the Ford. It’s so important to us, in fact, that we redesigned the stage, expanded the dressing rooms and upgraded the lights in order to provide this community of artists with a state-of-the-art facility to call home. And now here we are – almost two years later – welcoming you back as our nature meets culture transformation nears completion.
As we wrote about last week, TAIKOPROJECT will be kicking-off the opening weekend of our reopening season tonight with Concrete Saplings, created and performed in collaboration with Quetzal. The two in our one-two punch for our opening weekend is Aloe Blacc, who will be performing songs by such icons of American social movements as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and more. Accompanying Aloe is an only-in-LA slate of musicians, including Brazilian guitarist Fabiano do Nascimento, son jarocho group Cambalache and soul/rock fusion group The Brothers Band, just to name a few.
To get a taste of what a night like this might sound like/feel like, check out this short clipof Aloe and Fabiano rehearsing Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free.”
And, because you can’t hit it out of the park with just a one-two punch, our opening weekend closes with a sold-out 35 year anniversary celebration of the Tony Award-winning musical Dreamgirls with none other than its original stars Sheryl Lee Ralph, Loretta Devine and Jennifer Holliday gracing our stage.
If you can’t make it this weekend, don’t fret. There’s a whole season full of amazing shows coming up – plenty of chances to sit out under the stars and soak up the freshest sounds of LA.
I sat down with Bryan Yamami, of TAIKOPROJECT, in Quetzal Flores’ (of Quetzal) backyard before rehearsal on a recent Tuesday. As cars of musicians arrived and began to unload giant drums into the house, Yamami laced the history of these two groups into the story of their musical collaboration.
As it turns out, the link between TAIKOPROJECT, a Japanese taiko drum group, and Quetzal, a Chicano rock band, is surprisingly deep – the groups met more than ten years ago through a connection with the Aratani Japan America Theatre.
Then, a bit over a year ago, Yamami found himself at lunch with Quetzal and the Ford staff in the same week. This synchronicity led to a performance last summer as part of Ford on the Road, where each group performed existing songs from their repertoire.
Their upcoming show – which opens the Ford’s 2016 Summer Season – has the mark of a true collaboration: a drummer starts a beat, or a guitarist lays down a riff, and together the groups write a song. This process was common for Quetzal, as a rock group, but something new for TAIKOPROJECT.
Their collaborative spirit was evident in the easy atmosphere of rehearsal – seven musicians and their instruments filling every corner of Quetzal’s living room, surrounded by bright folkloric art. The musicians worked out the time on a particularly difficult bit, fluidly switching languages between the formal musical notation and making instrument sounds with their mouths, “A flat, come in after the ba-da-da, ba-da-da, you know, on measure seven.”
As they mastered the timing, Japanese flute and electric guitars weaving in and out of the melody to the pulse of the drum, one of the drummers offered the image of an anime show he liked– “This one sounds like that,” he said. “Like kicking ass!”
Yamami describes the aesthetic of the show as an exploration of emotional range. “People always think of taiko as bone-shaking drumming,” he says. “We love that but we also want to challenge the range of emotions that these instruments can make people feel, exploring the melodic and lyrical side. Here, we are honoring tradition by turning it on its head.”
This is what makes this collaboration so LA: two groups that go deep with their traditions, rooted in their histories and communities but not confined to them, in conversation as they create something new.
– To get a taste of the show and learn more – watch the video below:
We started off the day right, with coffee and a serenade. The Filharmonic harmonized and beatboxed their rendition of “Shut Up and Dance with Me” in front of the beautiful Broad Museum, to the surprise and wonder of those waiting in line.
From there, we moved on to Grand Central Market for a lunch and hip-hop break. A potpourri of food options satisfied everyone’s cravings. We were just settling in for a post-lunch coma when Versa-Style Dance Company popped up from their seats and woke everyone up with their rad hip-hop moves to “Too Hot” by Captain Obvious.
We topped off our day in DTLA at Angel City Brewery where Vaud & the Villains got everyone jazzed with their raucous 1930s New Orleans orchestra and cabaret show, performing their original song, “It All Ends the Same.” A truly perfect ending to our fun-filled day.
Stay tuned…we’ll be sharing videos from the day throughout the summer.
This isn’t the first time the Ford’s amphitheatre stage has undergone a major transformation… In 1938, four years after his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl, film director Max Reinhardt chose the Ford as the venue for his staging of Goethe’s Faust.
In the program notes, Reinhardt described the theatre as “the Cinderella among open-air theatres—in my opinion, the most beautiful of them all.”
Under the direction of set designer Nicolai Remisoff, the production involved the creation of an elaborate Bavarian village, including a church, tavern and prison.
Watch your wingtips!
Planning the stage’s Cinderella-esque makeover.
Remisoff (on the left, with pointer) oversees construction on stage right. (Photo courtesy of Otto Rothschild Collection, The Music Center)
The stunning completed set—the stonework and the familiar hillside backdrop are the only clues that it’s still the Pilgrimage/Ford. (Photo courtesy of The Red List)
With a breathtaking set like this, it’s no surprise that a who’s who of 1930s era Hollywood movie stars packed the audience for the premiere. An LA Times review describes fans crowding the entrance with their autograph books as stars such as Hedy Lamarr, Peter Lorre, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Gary Cooper, Olivia de Havilland and Lucille Ball arrived for the performance.
California not-so-casual: Fritz Lang, director of the silent film classic Metropolis, is accompanied by his monocle and actress Miriam Hopkins on opening night, August 23, 1938. (Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library, Herald Examiner Collection)
The glowing cross looming above the Hollywood Hills has, I’m pretty sure, perplexed many people. I know it did me (until I started working here).
Another Angeleno who has puzzled about the cross is Tom Carroll of Tom Explores Los Angeles. Tom’s thirst for knowledge about Los Angeles history led him on an interesting journey to the cross and beyond, discovering the Ford Theatres along the way.
For us, being an integral part of Los Angeles history is a point of pride. So much so that we took time during our closure to dig up more about our past, unmasking impostors and unearthing photographs of the Ford’s first performers in the process. Learning about the stories and people behind a place you think you know shifts your perspective.
As we look towards the future, we remain dedicated to continuing to tell LA’s story. One of the ways we do this is by focusing our season on the artists that call LA home.
Check out the latest episode of Tom Explores Los Angeles and find out what Tom discovered on his journey. And, then be sure to visit the Ford this summer. You may see it in a whole new light.
If you’ve driven down the 101 on your way to the Valley, you’ve most likely seen our giant crane jutting up above the ridgeline. That’s us, hard at work on renovations. We’re still at it, but the good news is that we’re in the home stretch. Come July 8, you will get to experience the Ford as never before.
But, you may protest, “I love the Ford as it was!” Rest easy, my friend. You’ll still be able to see your favorite artists in an intimate space ensconced in the natural beauty of the canyon. We hired the best of the best among historic preservation architects to help us revitalize the Ford and address some critical things that needed fixing. Our #1 priority? Making improvements without changing the Ford’s vibe.
What will you find when you check out the Ford this summer? A new stage, better lighting, better sound. A new picnic terrace with more dining options. And, best of all, LA’s freshest artists doing what they do best.
Rumor has it that in 1912, John Barrymore was frolicking in the Cahuenga Pass reciting soliloquies from Hamlet when he declared, “What wonderful acoustics – there should be a theatre here!” Less than a decade later, the Pilgrimage Play Theatre (now the Ford) was built on that very spot.
Since then, the rolling hills of the Ford have echoed classic verse of all kinds, from a lavish production of Faust in the 1930s to an iconic production of King Lear in the 1960s. And, though the striking outdoor space lends itself perfectly to the classics, the intimate indoor space beneath the amphitheatre witnessed the birth of some of the most influential modern theatre of the twentieth century.
From 1973 through much of the 1990s, this 87-seat black box theatre was the home of the Mark Taper Forum’s new play development programs The Lab and Taper, Too. The list of artists and productions that those programs developed is truly remarkable, from the first workshop of Tony Kushner’s landmark Angels in America and the Taper’s first presentation of a Latin American play (Jose Ignacio Cabrujas’ The Day You’ll Love Me) to the works of theatre icons like Spalding Gray, Bill Irwin and Joseph Chaikin.
The recent uncovering of The Lab’s logo during renovations sparked a desire to unearth more about this seminal period.
How did The Lab and Taper, Too end up at the Ford?
Madeline Puzo [Producer of The Lab and Taper, Too, 1979-1989]: Robert Greenwald, who is now a documentary filmmaker, was the one who saw the space and started The Lab, as a laboratory for artists to create experimental work.
How specifically did the Ford space influence the work?
Andrew J. Robinson [Actor and director]: The downstairs Ford space was like a pressure cooker. Once the doors closed, that was it. You were in the world that the artists had created. The outside was completely shut off.
Michael Jung [Associate Producer of the Taper New Works Festival]: The space could really be converted into almost any creative vision.
Robinson: During Belly [Belly of the Beast, 1984] we turned off all lights and created total darkness – and I mean total – to give the audience a feel for [the character’s] sensory deprived life in solitary confinement. People would freak out, and on a couple of occasions, beg that the lights be turned back on. One man literally crawled over people and fled the theatre.
Robert Egan [Director and Producing Artistic Director of the Taper New Works Festival]: It was also ideal for developmental theatre. It was a rough, raw space. The walk up the hill [into the venue] was a welcome procession out of the bustle of the city through nature into a surprising and sacred space for new and challenging work. It was intimate at less than 90 seats. So it was a truly embracing space to focus on new groundbreaking work.
Jung: The intimacy of the venue also allowed a special connection between the performers and the audience. We served wine and beer and snacks and often the audiences would stay after the talk backs just to hang out.
What are some of your favorite projects from that time?
Egan: I will never forget our workshop of Angels in America. It was so simple, without any of the technical pyrotechnics that would ultimately be employed in its many major stage productions around the world. I remember the Angel simply walking on stage and stepping on a black box and spreading her arms to suggest feathered wings and I saw it all. It was so powerful and it was the first time the world was hearing those magnificent words and confronting those powerful ideas.
I also remember that in that same season we heard the first three plays in Robert Schenkan’s Kentucy Cycle. Both plays went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. And it all started here in LA at the Ford!
Robinson: [Acting in] In the Belly of the Beast directed by Robert Woodruff was my one titanic production experience at Taper, Too. Belly was the story of Jack Henry Abbott, a man who spent nearly his entire life in some form of penal lock-up. Norman Mailer wrote a book of the same title and helped get him out of prison, at which point Abbott promptly murdered a young man on the Lower East Side. It was perhaps the most powerful theatrical experience I ever had.
Puzo: Oh yeah, In the Belly of the Beast was an incredible production. I couldn’t have been prouder of being a part of that. We didn’t think it would go anywhere, then suddenly it went to Sydney, then it went to the main stage and then it went to New York.
I’m also really proud of is Struck Dumb with Joseph Chaikin. Joe had aphasia, but wanted to perform again after he had a stroke. He was terrified the whole time, but he wanted to do it.
I remember [the director] Robert Woodruff asked Joe, “How will you learn your lines?” And Joe said, “I can’t.” Woodruff asked, “How will you remember your blocking?” And Joe said, “I can’t.” And Woodruff laughed and said, “Well, you’ll have no trouble keeping it fresh!” And that was true; it was a life-changing performance.
Egan: Another highlight for me was watching Luis Alfaro roller skating around the stage in a black slip during a moving piece about the trials and tribulations of being gay and Latino. It was incredibly brave, imaginative and funny. I think the projects and the Taper staff truly reflected the dynamism and diversity of Los Angeles at the time.
Diversity and inclusion have been big topics of conversation lately. Could you tell me a little more about how that factored into Taper, Too’s programming?
Jung: We always looked for diversity of content and experiences and searched for unique voices that represented the American tapestry and particularly a perspective on Los Angeles.
Egan: I really think that is why huge crowds would line up in front of the theatre. They were there to see new plays that spoke to the diverse, political, complex social world in which they lived.
We premiered artists from many different communities – I first saw the work of Luis Alfaro, George Wolf, John Fleck, Tony Kushner, John Belluso, Han Ong and many more in that space.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Puzo: There was also a professional development element to the Taper, Too. As a producer, I believed that our responsibility wasn’t simply to the audience, but also to our artists and the artists in your community.
We welcomed LA theatre artists and gave them the opportunity to develop and show their work. That’s what Taper, Too was about.
Robinson: It was another theatrical world then, kinder, more generous, more appreciative to theatre artists.
Puzo: And the work these artists did at the Ford was life-affirming and life-changing. It was an incredible time where the forces of creativity aligned and some profound work came into being.