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Posts Tagged ‘los angeles’

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Photo: Jeremy Copeland
Patrick Torres, Erik Miron, Bergen Moore, of the band Vignes Rooftop Revival, on the way to a gig in downtown Los Angeles.

Around the time Suzanne and Erik were planning their wedding, I met a musician’s mother in what I called my Cancer Dance Class. He and his band mates were Berklee grads, and they had a group called Shamus, which I can no longer find on the web. Suzanne loved their music as much as I did and even asked the band to play at her wedding.

Oh, ha, ha. You can just imagine how much they would have charged to bring all their instruments and band members by plane from California! (Suzanne settled on a local band called the Booze Beggars.)

I’m thinking that a band that travels by bicycle like the one in the following story might have been cheaper to hire than Shamus, although I admit I can’t see them bicycling from California to the East Coast.

Lisa Napoli wrote about the bicycling band at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Some musicians arrive at their gigs in a tricked out tour bus. Others, if they’re lucky, in a limo. But there’s a popular band based in downtown Los Angeles that relies on a lower-key, low-carbon form of transportation.

“In car-crazy L.A., the band members either bike, walk or skateboard to all of their gigs.

“The lively acoustic group, the Vignes Rooftop Revival, began by accident five years ago, on a rooftop of a loft building on Vignes Street in rapidly gentrifying downtown Los Angeles.

“A group of neighbors, including musician Erik Miron, would enjoy meals with other building residents, as the dramatic city skyline shimmered in the background.

” ‘After awhile the instruments would come out,’ said Miron, who came to Los Angeles to study music at the University of Southern California. ‘We’d start goofing around and it evolved into something where we decided to take it down from the roof to the bars and restaurants.’ …

“One gig led to another, and accompanied by a rotating cast of musical friends, the band now play 200 shows a year. …

” ‘It’s funny. We’re almost like an Amish jazz band,’ said Miron, who has a full, wiry beard that makes him look right out of Pennsylvania Dutch country. ‘We don’t use cars or electricity so much.’

“Miron said the Vignes Revival didn’t set out to be so green. He and the core members of the group just found it easier to get around without the use of a car. …

“Driving a car leaves him ‘mildly grumpy,’ while arriving by bicycle, he said, is a refreshing way to indulge his love of being outdoors.

” ‘It’s nice to move under your own power,’ he said, as he loaded up his guitar, banjo and trumpet in a trailer he hitches up to his bicycle. He also adds in a few succulents in pots adorned with the band’s logo for good measure. At each show, they give them away. …

“Bass player Bergen Moore uses different wheels to get to the show: a hand-made, hand-painted skateboard. That has been his preferred mode of transportation for a while, even when he lived in hilly San Francisco. Now, he’s got his instrument affixed with wheels, too. …

“Nary a pothole, nor the occasional motorist agitated at their speed, daunts these musicians. For a gig that was ten miles away, they made their way via a combo of human-powered transit and the Los Angeles Metro system.

“They do enjoy playing the tavern around the corner. Then, they get to indulge in an even simpler commute: walking.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Craig Schwartz
Tom Hanks as Falstaff in the recent Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of Henry IV — the actor’s “Los Angeles stage debut.” Hanks went off the script when a medical emergency in the audience interrupted the show.

One always wonders if an actor known for subtlety in close-ups can make the shift to the grand gesture on the big stage. It’s such a different kind of acting, and I have sometimes been disappointed (e.g. the otherwise brilliant Liv Ullmann, the amazing-on-screen Sally Hawkins). But Tom Hanks, apparently, rose to the occasion in his recent performance as Falstaff at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles presentation of Henry IV. He channeled Falstaff so well, in fact, he was able to ad-lib in an emergency.

As Tara Bitran  reported at Variety in June, “A few scenes into Wednesday night’s performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’ Tom Hanks had to go off script. …

“ ‘An audience member became dehydrated and had to be taken out,’ Heath Harper, Hanks’ theatrical dialect coach, told Variety. …

“One of the crew members with medical training assisted the audience member until they regained consciousness and the paramedics arrived. The medics performed tests on the guest in the crossover under the seats. Because this is the actor crossover as well, the show could not restart.

“ ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ Harper said. “It credits the work we’ve done and Tom’s commitment to the character that he was able to just jump on the stage and improv as Falstaff like that. The audience absolutely ate it up.’ …

“Hanks addressed the ‘scurvy rogues who stood up from their seats’ to leave during the 20 minute pause, describing their departures as an ‘insult to all actors and to Shakespeare himself.’

“The video also shows Hanks-as-Falstaff warn: ‘Get back here or find this sword and many a dagger placed neatly in the tires of your carriage’ to laughs from the still-seated audience members.

“Hanks then returned back to center stage, inviting audience members to ‘come sit here, and I shall give thee a haircut,’ he offered. …

“Once Hanks and the production team received word that the audience member had recovered, ‘the show went on and the crowd was completely behind us to the end, giving us standing ovations all around,’ Harper said. … ‘All in all, I think it was a fantastic true-to-Shakespearean moment in LA,’ Harper said. ‘The crowd definitely got their money’s worth.’ ”

I love seeing this kind of thing happen. In fact, I still remembering seeing René Auberjonois do something similar in Alice in Wonderland when he wasn’t more than 14, presaging the brilliant career he would later have. And there’s a funny scene in Thorton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, in which the actors are supposed to pretend that someone backstage got sick and that they are all discussing it chaotically downstage. I loved the line of the actor at the Antrim Players in Suffern: “It must have been the chocolate matzohs.”

Theater can be such a good training for life: Something always goes wrong.

More at Variety, here.

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Photo: Alan Greenblatt/NPR
Growing up, Liam Foley (left) was in charge of dishes and never cooked. He was still able to help chop the onions, though, at a burrito-making project for the poor in San Francisco.

Here’s another great story about ordinary people stepping up to try to make a dent in some of life’s knottier problems. This initiative is about making a dent in hunger and getting to know a few people experiencing homelessness.

Alan Greenblatt writes at National Public Radio, “Jimmy Ryan’s recipe for burritos is really pretty simple. It calls for 50 pounds of rice, 50 pounds of beans, a couple of cases of canned tomatoes and several hundred tortillas.

“That may sound like a lot, but Ryan is one of the organizers of the Burrito Project in San Francisco, an informal charity that makes and distributes about 500 burritos to the homeless once a month. On May 21, the group celebrated its second anniversary and rolled its 10,000th burrito. …

“The desire to distribute healthy, easily portable burritos is catching on. … A couple of the entities have registered as 501(c)3 charities, but others remain completely informal. Anyone is allowed to use the name as long as they’re providing burritos and not making any money off the service.

” ‘From what I understand, we have one of the only burrito projects that runs four days a week,’ says Rai Doty, a coordinator in Salt Lake City. ‘Four days a week, we feed 200 to 500 people a night.’

“The groups rely on a mix of donated food and sponsorships. In San Francisco, different companies pay the bills each month, helping out with both funding and manpower. …

“The crowd [I saw] was mostly young and white, but several other racial and ethnic groups were represented, with at least one grandmother helping out. For some, this effort represents just one stop along their personal charity journeys, which also include efforts such as working at animal shelters or churches. But for others, this was a quick and painless way to give back. …

“The organizers say they’re trying to make the event fun and welcoming, asking everyone to introduce themselves and providing kombucha and cake to celebrate their anniversary. …

“The soup kitchen that allows the Burrito Project to use its kitchen is located on the edge of the Mission District, which is ground zero for gentrification pressures in San Francisco. …

“The Burrito Project encourages volunteers not just to hand out food, but to stop and interact with individuals who are often neglected or avoided. …

“No one is under the illusion that handing out an occasional burrito is going to solve anyone’s problems.

“Some Burrito Project outposts try to do more than occasionally feed people. During the snowy season in Salt Lake City, the group partners with Warm the Homeless, which distributes blankets, coats and hats. The long-running project in Bakersfield, Calif., has been adopted by high school and church groups who hand out clothes and shoes when there are donations. Their ninth anniversary event on July 8 will provide a forum for representatives from other local groups that provide housing, health and legal assistance.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Kol Peterson
Los Angeles will pay homeowners who are willing to house pre-screened homeless families by creating “granny flats,” like this accessory dwelling unit over a garage in Portland, Oregon.

I like stories on creative ways cities are trying to tackle homelessness. These initiatives may seem like a drop in the bucket, but some may actually work well over time and help alleviate the effects of our extreme inequality. You have to start somewhere. After all, the homeless population includes working families unable to make ends meet on their wages.

As Vanessa Romo wrote at National Public Radio last month, “In an attempt to alleviate the soaring homelessness problem in Los Angeles County, officials want to pay homeowners to house people by building new living units or bringing existing dwellings up to code if they are in violation.

“It’s part of a $550,000 pilot program launched by the LA Community Development Commission to explore new ways to safely and at a relatively low cost, provide housing options for handful of the county’s nearly 60,000 homeless residents.

“The county Board of Supervisors has narrowed down the pool of applicants from 500 to 27 and is in the final stages of selecting a group of six property owners who are ready and willing to start construction in the fall, according to the LA Times. The county is also leading a design competition for model secondary dwelling units.

“Officials will consider whether to expand the program after 18 months. …

” ‘People are looking at what they can do to make our neighborhoods more affordable and help more Angelenos find stable places to live,’ LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Times.

“Garcetti has been urging property owners to build secondary units, or ‘granny flats’ as they’re often called, in their backyards for years. He estimated it could create 50,000 more units if only 10 percent of homeowners would take on the challenge. …

“The Times also reported ‘the loan principal will be reduced each year the unit is occupied by a formerly homeless person and forgiven after 10 years, at which point the homeowners can do as they wish with the housing.’ …

“Los Angeles is only the latest county trying to take on the nation’s homelessness crisis by inducing property owners to provide affordable housing.

“Multnomah County in Oregon started a similar project last summer where four homeowners agreed to have a small unit built on their lot and pledged to provide housing for pre-screened homeless candidates for at least five years.”

More.

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Photo: Richard Vogel/AP
A statue of Gene Autry and Champion at the entrance to the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. The museum opened in 1988
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My family had one of the early televisions because my father was writing a story about Dumont for Fortune. It was a clunky little thing, showing black and white only, of course, but we loved it, and all the kids in the neighborhood came to watch.

My hero was Gene Autry, the singing cowboy. (Want me to sing the opening number for you, the one Autry sang when he rode Champion up close to the camera and reined him in with a little bounce?)

Recently I learned that in 1988, Autry founded a museum in Los Angeles about the American West. Here’s an Associated Press report by John Rogers at US News on the museum’s 2016 expansion.

“The Autry Museum of the American West [is expanding] to include a garden of native Western flora, as well as new galleries showcasing hundreds of Native American works, some from present day, others centuries old, many never seen publicly.

“The expansion, named California Continued, adds 20,000 square feet of gallery and garden space to the museum that, with its red-tiled courtyard and distinctive beige bell tower, evokes images of an 18th century, Spanish-styled California mission . …

“Museum officials say visitors will now see one of the largest collections of Native American artifacts found anywhere. Also included will be more than 70 plants native to California — many medicinal and some endangered — as well as new displays that include Western mixed-media paintings and interactive works showing such sights as California from the highest point in the continental United States (Mount Whitney in the state’s midsection) to its lowest (Death Valley on the Nevada border).

“Because it’s the Autry Museum, visitors also will still see such venerable Hollywood artifacts as the Singin’ Cowboy’s Martin guitar, TV Lone Ranger Clayton Moore’s mask and a wealth of silent cowboy star Tom Mix memorabilia. …

“[Autry] died at age 91 in 1998, just a few years before … its 2003 merger with Los Angeles’ Southwest Museum of the American Indian. …

” ‘This collection that is now in the Autry Museum is a native collection of the very same rank, and in some quarters even better, than the Smithsonian’s,’ said [the museum’s president, W. Richard West Jr.,] who was founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“Some of the best of the collection on display is contained in the exhibition ‘The Life and Work of Mabel McKay,’ a Pomo Indian basket weaver, healer, civil rights activist and person believed to be the last speaker of her tribal language when she died in 1993. Her intricately woven, often colorful baskets are accompanied by a recreation of her workroom, narration by her son and other works. …

“The garden contains native plants that caretaker Nicholas Hummingbird hopes will make people realize there is more to Western flora than cactus and sagebrush.”

More at US News, here.

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Photo: Homeboy Industries
The Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J., is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

I recently heard Terry Gross interview this amazing priest, founder of the world’s largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program, on her radio show Fresh Air. This is a man who lives his religion, ministering to the outcasts of society.

“GROSS: My guest, Father Greg Boyle, has worked with former gang members in LA for over 30 years. He’s the founder of Homeboy Industries, which was created to help former gang members and people transitioning out of prison create stable lives and stay out of gangs. Instead of Father Greg trying to convince business owners to hire young people who are at risk, he created jobs for them through Homeboy Industries.

“Homeboy is a series of businesses including a restaurant, a bakery, cafe, farmers markets created with the purpose of hiring these young people so they can have on-the-job training. The employers come from rival gangs so they have to put aside their distrust and hatred of each other. Homeboy also provides other job training and social service programs. …

“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Father Greg spent a lot of time on the streets. He’s witnessed shootings, he’s buried over 200 young people and he’s kept on with the work in spite of being diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia about 15 years ago. He started working with gangs in 1986 when he became the pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in East LA, which was then the city’s poorest Catholic parish. He’s just written his second book, called, Barking To The Choir: The Power Of Radical Kinship.

“Father Greg Boyle … you say that employment isn’t necessarily going to totally change someone’s life. They might end up back in prison. But if somebody’s healed, that will change their life possibly forever. What’s the distinction you make between [the employment] opportunity that you’re giving them and healing?

“BOYLE: Thirty years ago when we started Homeboy Industries, you know, the motto was nothing stops a bullet like a job, and that was a response to gang members saying if only we had work. And that was essential, but then when we discovered that, you know, we would dispatch gang members to jobs. But the minute any kind of monkey wrench was tossed into the mix, they would unravel, you know, that there was no resilience.

“There was no healing. And they would go right back to gang life or go back to prison. So it was then that we kind of, probably 15 years ago, we said, you know, healing is probably more necessary along with the fact that people need to have a reason to get up in the morning and a place to go and a reason not to gang bang. …

“So we altered our [stance] from just finding a job for every gang member or employing them with us but also trying to have them come to terms with whatever suffering they’ve been through and trauma. …

“GROSS: You talk about people whose parent would put their head in the toilet and flush the toilet and nearly drown them. … So when people have been brought up like this, and they’re also poor and they have no real future prospects, how do you heal them? …

“BOYLE: Well, part of what we have at Homeboy is this irresistible culture of tenderness, you know, where people kind of hold each other. …

“We don’t get tripped up so much by behavior. Even gang violence itself is a language. … What language is it speaking? You know, it’s not about the flying of bullets. It’s about a lethal absence of hope. So let’s address the despair. And the same thing is with behavior.

“I mean, we bring it up, and at some point we say, we think you’re telling us that you’re not ready to be here. We love you. We think you’re great. Come back when you’re ready. So that’s the thing we do often enough. And we drug test because we don’t want anyone to numb their pain as they do the work. …

“They’re not going to be able to transform their pain if they’re inebriated or if they’re constantly smoking marijuana. … They’re used to self-medicating. They’re used to escape. They want to find that place where they can’t see their pain from. And the antidote, really, is to hold them in a place where they feel cherished, and that’s really compelling.”

There’s so much food for thought in this long interview. Read it at NPR, here.

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Photo: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
Lining up for tacos outside the Islamic Center of Santa Ana.  The ‘Taco Truck at Every Mosque’ event for iftar (evening meal that breaks the fast during Ramadan) promotes solidarity and understanding.

Community organizers are getting creative with ways to pull different groups together. Consider this California example.

Anh Do writes at the Los Angeles Times: “Activists Rida Hamida and Ben Vazquez wanted to find a way to promote unity among the region’s Muslim and Latino communities, so they came up with a novel idea.

“After daily fasting as part of the holy month of Ramadan, dozens of local Muslims joined their Latino neighbors Saturday night in the parking lot of the new Islamic Center of Santa Ana, taking part in the inaugural event of the campaign dubbed Taco Trucks at Every Mosque.

“Organizers said the idea is to demystify Islam through the sharing of food and to unite two groups, Muslims and Latinos, facing increasing discrimination. …

” ‘This is perfect timing. The purpose of this month is to give charity, to grow our character and our inner lives and to nourish our soul through service. What better way to do that than by learning from one another?’ asked coordinator Hamida, whose goal is to host food trucks that will serve halal tacos at every mosque in Orange County. …

“Even young participants such as Idrees Alomari, 13, were encouraged by Saturday’s event, which he said was a good way to show how people can appreciate their differences and similarities. …

” ‘All the way from the parking entrance to inside, everyone’s been like, “Welcome, welcome, we’re so glad to have you here,” ‘ said Dulce Saavedra, 24, [a] youth organizer for Resilience OC, a nonprofit created from the merging of Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color and Raiz, a group pushing for partnerships between law enforcement and immigrants.” More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

This initiative reminds me of an annual event that took place in Lowell, Mass. It was a gigantic soccer tournament with teams from the scores of immigrant groups in the city. I always admired the ONELowell initiative because it can be hard to get minorities to band together and realize they can collaborate to promote common needs. Sharing a sport loved by many nationalities seemed like a good place to start.

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