When the former Los Angeles Theatre Center company was in its heyday in the late '80s, the LATC lobby was famous as a hangout where multicultural mingling took place on a regular basis.
The next four months promise to bring back some of that ferment. It will be the busiest chunk of time at LATC since the building's resident company folded in 1991, according to LATC business manager Lee Sweet.
An ambitious season of performances called "Loco Motion," which opened this weekend, will extend through the entire period in LATC's Theatre 4. Los Angeles Repertory Company's expanded production of "Assassins," the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical about the dark side of the American dream, opens March 31 in the building's largest venue, while the same company's revival of an Irish play, "The Hostage," opens in LATC's smallest hall on April 6.
Will & Co., which closed its South African play "Soweto's Burning" Saturday, will present solo shows by the Filipina American Fran DeLeon ("Faces of America," opening Saturday, Theatre 2) and the Japanese American Jude Narita ("Stories Waiting to Be Told," opening April 7, Theatre 3). Next month the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts will open English/Spanish performances of "Beginning at the End"/"Comenzando al Final" in Theatre 3. Scattered dance performances will add more variety.
"Loco Motion" offers a cross-section of cultural perspectives within one subscription season. It began this weekend with "The Black Horror Show," three African American one-acts playing through April 2.
Still to come in the "Loco Motion" season:
* Theresa Chavez's "The Correct Posture of a True Revolutionary," about an ex-Sandinista writer who comes to L.A. and seeks advice from Angela Davis.
* The Hittite Empire's "I Drink Televised Gods," about the image of young black men on a TV talk show.
* "Strange Country, This," which focuses on the Native American Berdache, "this double hearted Gay Spirit," according to the "Loco Motion" brochure.
* Nobuko Miyamoto in Great Leap's "A Grain of Sand," a solo Asian American show.
* A program of two solo shows: Mexican star Yareli Arizmendi's "Nostalgia Maldita: 1-900-Mexico" and Rose Portillo's "Know Your Place," which interweaves stories of contemporary Chiapas with the story of a girl fleeing Mexico for the United States during the revolution of 1910. These, plus "Correct Posture" and "Strange Country, This" are presented by About Productions.
When LATC still had a resident company, some observers grumbled that the company's ethnic labs had to get permission from the white artistic director, Bill Bushnell, to get onto the building's mainstages--and that they didn't make that journey often enough.
The last season announced by Bushnell, in the summer of 1991, included no shows at all from the ethnic labs. But the director of the African American lab, Shabaka Barry Henley (often known as just Shabaka), publicly predicted then that his group's "The Black Horror Show" would take the one empty slot in the fall of 1991. Before that could happen, however, the company collapsed.
Now "The Black Horror Show" is finally at LATC as part of "Loco Motion," produced by Shabaka's Black Theatre Artists Workshop, the descendant of the LATC lab. But it's still not on the mainstage; Theatre 4 seats 99.
Even though the theater is small, Chavez, who coordinated "Loco Motion," is glad the artists finally are dealing their own deck at LATC. In the old days, Chavez said, even LATC'S Latino Lab, which transferred more productions to the mainstage than the other labs, "still did not control their own destiny. They had this sugar daddy who took care of the business for them."
By contrast, the four groups behind "Loco Motion" "know how to run their own companies internally," Chavez said. "You become empowered by being able to self-produce."
Shabaka sounds less confident about that sense of empowerment. "I genuinely miss" the old LATC and "the five floors of talented people" who worked there, he said. "There is no longer that support system. Now over half (my show's) budget is coming directly out of my pocket. I've got to wear quite a few hats. I think I'm going to change the sets myself." Ironically, "The Black Horror Show," in which Shabaka performs, is about the conflicted souls of African Americans who work within white organizations.
Whatever the virtues of the old LATC, it's history, and the building's current occupants are trying to create models for a new support system. If it all works as Chavez hopes, "the works will resonate off each other," she said. And she's particularly pleased that it's all happening downtown, "a center of different cultures coming together. For that's what we're trying to do."