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DISNEY HALL: THE OPENING / ARTS NOTES

Playwright has a daily regimen

October 19, 2003|Mike Boehm; Diane Haithman

If a play a day keeps the doctor away, Suzan-Lori Parks must be radiating health. For nearly a year, the 2002 Pulitzer Prize winner ("Topdog/Underdog") has been crafting another slash-marked opus called "365 Days/365 Plays." She set herself the task of writing a short piece daily, with an eye toward an eventual presentation by the School of Theater at CalArts, where she runs the dramatic writing program. The first installment, a two-hander called "Start Here," will help inaugurate the new Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) on Nov. 15 -- part of a 24-hour opening bash for the theater and gallery complex that occupies a corner of Disney Hall.

Travis Preston, head of the CalArts directing program, is overseeing the five-minute kickoff installment and working with Parks on how eventually to handle the whole shebang. He says Parks began writing it Nov. 13. If five minutes was the average, "365 Days/365 Plays" would clock in at more than 30 hours.

Preston says the entire work will be presented, after a fashion, during the opening gala, dubbed "REDCAT 'Round the Clock." The theater school plans to put all 365 scripts on display as an art installation.

"The last thing we talked about was that they'd be in a case in a pile. You can meditate on what they might contain, but you can't actually read them," Preston says. "It's a beautiful expression of the writer's discipline."

Just how the contents might one day unfurl on stage remains a matter of low-pressure discussion, Preston says. "The spirit is very light, very loose and very casual."

Parks couldn't be reached, but a CalArts spokesman relayed her comment that she geared her unusual creation toward the REDCAT inaugural after Steven D. Lavine, CalArts' president, asked her last year to write a prayer for the event.

"I thought this big, long play would work as a REDCAT prayer," Parks said. "It's about life and living and the beauty of every day."

-- Mike Boehm

No duckies,

but no grudges

Yes, Frank, it's a nice building.

You might not think that Frank Gehry, world-renowned architect of Disney Hall and other critically acclaimed shiny structures around the world, would still fret that the new hall's late benefactor, Lillian B. Disney, didn't much care for his wild design.

But in a recent Times interview, Gehry -- world-renowned worrier -- described how, when the hall was in the early planning stages in the late '80s, a vacation he took was almost ruined because he spent so much time fretting about Lillian Disney's preference for "sweet, pretty images" over his blast of contemporary curves.

Here's what triggered Gehry's 16 years of insecurity, according to Lillian and Walt Disney's daughter Diane Disney Miller: Lillian told Diane that she would like Disney Hall to look like "a little brick church covered with vines." Lillian then sent a gentleman friend over to Gehry's office with a little picture book to show Gehry an example of what she was talking about.

Gehry does not recall whether the building was a church -- but he does remember Lillian Disney's beau presenting him with a photo of a brick building "with a thatched hut and a little pond with duckies in it, and weeping willows. I said: 'Look, I would do anything for this lady, but if we did that, it would soon be called Disneyland instead of a concert hall.' "

Eventually, Miller and her sister, Sharon Disney Lund, persuaded their mother to trust the architect. And there were no hard feelings: Even though Disney Hall has no thatched roof or baby ducks, Gehry's design contains shapes inspired by Lillian's love of blooming flowers. The hall's brightly colored carpet and upholstery pattern is also floral and is called, appropriately, "Lillian."

-- Diane Haithman

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