Can an East Coast preppie-turned-opera-director, who looks to Asia for artistic inspiration, find true happiness in Southern California? Peter Sellars seems to think so. And he's already dressing the part.
Having burst on the scene as director of the Kennedy Center stage in Washington a few years ago at age 27, Sellars has spent the past five years directing opera productions around the world. On the strength of his unorthodox approach to the arts, Sellars was hired last year to oversee the 1990 Los Angeles Arts Festival.
Since last fall, when he unpacked his dozens of opera tapes and books, settled into a Westwood apartment and started teaching theater arts at UCLA, Sellars has done nothing to adapt his unconventional life style to Southern California. He doesn't drive a car or own a telephone. "Watching people is what I do for my work," he says of traveling by bus. "And if I had a phone, I'd never get anything done."
He has learned Los Angeles as few people do, but the charmingly eccentric Sellars is most interested in what he calls the detours. For instance, he feels more at home in a Koreatown coffee shop than a Beverly Hills restaurant, and his favorite hangout is the Discovery Room at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
For a visit there one recent afternoon, he wore a characteristic East-meets-Far East outfit, built around a billowing, pink Oxford-cloth shirt and a short, kimono-like Japanese happi coat. "Clothes interest me," he says. "Not fashion or costumes, but how people define themselves through clothes."
His eclectic wardrobe seems appropriate for a man who once staged Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" in a Vietnamese diner in Ipswich, Mass., and "The Marriage of Figaro" in Manhattan's Trump Towers. "Brooks Brothers shirts are the main ingredient," he explains. "But from there, the additions get increasingly alarming."
At home, rummaging through a satchel that looks exactly like a yellow potato sack half-packed with neatly folded shirts and jackets, Sellars identifies each item by the country where he found it. "Happi coat from Japan, suit from Thailand, shirts from Borneo." The Brooks Brothers element in his wardrobe is a holdover from Harvard and Andover, his alma maters. "I love the big, bulky American cut," he says of the shirts. His hair style dates from school days, too. He cuts it himself--"usually about 4 o'clock in the morning in a hotel room"--to look like blond porcupine quills. "It's always very exciting to see what I'll come out with," he says.
For all his quirky fashion tastes, Sellars wears expensive, black designer suits to corporate board meetings that can lead to financing for his costly artistic endeavors. But as an alternative to black tie, even at corporate-hosted events, he prefers formal Japanese silk kimonos.
He isn't prepared to say exactly what he has planned for the upcoming Arts Festival, scheduled for September, 1990, at many locations around Southern California and modeled after the '84 Olympic Arts Festival. He sees it as having international scope, with strong representation from the Orient. "Afterward, I think people will say, 'Oh, I get it, that's what he's talking about,' " Sellars predicts. Once the festival is over, he says, "I hope to spend most of my time in Los Angeles. But I do expensive productions. I hope the city can support my work."
Stylist: Joanna Dendel; grooming: Matt Danon/HMS Bookings.