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Scott Kelman, 70; performance art guru, activist and teacher

March 01, 2007|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

Scott Kelman, an innovative teacher and key architect of Los Angeles' performance art and theater scene, has died. He was 70.

Kelman died Feb. 22 in a Portland, Ore., hospital of complications from pneumonia. He had been in failing health for several years.

Among those Kelman brought to the stage early in their careers were Whoopi Goldberg, Tim Robbins' Actors' Gang theater company, Harry Shearer, playwright Luis Alfaro and such performance artists as John Fleck, Kedric Robin Wolfe, Jan Munroe and Hirokazu Kosaka.

A performance art guru and political activist who eschewed his family's New York jewelry business for the off-off-Broadway experimental theater of the 1960s and '70s, Kelman opened the Factory Place theater in downtown Los Angeles' industrial area in 1981, then founded Pipeline Inc., a now defunct small theater network that included the Boyd Street and Wallenboyd.

Operating on a shoestring from the early 1980s through 1993, Kelman and Pipeline garnered local awards and critical acclaim for hundreds of innovative solo and group shows, including collaborations with members of Los Angeles' homeless population.

"He made alternative theater a reality," said countercultural writer-editor Paul Krassner, who called Kelman a pioneer in remaking downtown Los Angeles theater in the mid-1980s.

"Here we were in the middle of skid row and there was this sense of risk in everything," said Aaron Paley, president of Community Arts Resources, one of many in the arts to whom Kelman was a mentor.

"For Scott it was, 'Take the risk, come to this theater, go on this artistic journey with us,' " Paley said.

(Kelman's famous nod to security was to hire a shoeshine entrepreneur called Casey who patrolled the area on his bicycle with a parrot on his shoulder.)

"He had a great eye and a great ear," said Shearer, who, with Krassner and Firesign Theatre's Peter Bergman, performed "Peter, Paul and Harry" as part of Pipeline's seminal "Angel's Flight" performance series at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1987. "All of us benefited from what he had to offer in making the show sharper and better."

Kelman left Los Angeles in the mid-1990s for Portland, where he founded the Brooklyn Bay Performance Space and taught his "kelmanworks" performance process, a "mindfulness and body-based approach" to creativity that is also taught in England by Bob Lockwood and the Kelman Group.

Kelman helped performers find their own way "with honesty and integrity," said his wife, Anet Ris-Kelman.

"His personal mission was to challenge artists to go places they'd never gone before with their work," said Alex Wright, who worked with Kelman as Pipeline's managing director. "He wasn't just someone who opened the doors and provided resources. He was fiery. He always spoke his mind and his heart without fear."

Kelman returned briefly to Los Angeles in August 2005 with a new work that reflected his deep connection to Eastern spiritual philosophy, a modern exploration of Taoism called "Tao Soup," which ran at the Electric Lodge in Venice.

In a review for The Times, David C. Nichols wrote: "Kelman devotees and novices alike should regard 'Tao Soup' as a matchless opportunity for creative spiritual nourishment."

In addition to his wife, Kelman is survived by a sister, Pepi Kelman; and godson and archivist, Jay Green. An open house memorial gathering will be held April 1 from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Electric Lodge, liveartselectriclodge.org.

lynne.heffley@latimes.com

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