It all feels surreal — but my essential problem during the theater shutdown of the Covid-19 pandemic is that for me, art happens at night. Rarely during the day, sometimes at matinees, and never in my living room. No, I go out, to theaters; there I focus my raybeam on art and artists. During the day (doh!) I think about the arts while writing about them. But the real observation takes place at night. That’s why I’m not making a smooth transition in watching performance ‘content‘ on-line, and by daylight.
Which brings me to my subject. Having been wrenched from my favorite arts outlets in Los Angeles, which among them am I most missing? I am blessed to attend them all; so, which among our wealth of theaters do I most pine for in our arts-loving city?
I have made no secret of my love for The Soraya, a glistening 1,800-seat performing-arts cakebox whose female architect, Kara Hill, simply got it right when California State University commissioned her work in the rubble of the Northridge earthquake. I enjoy the hurtle north on the Golden State (5) freeway, the zoom across ugly Nordhoff Avenue, and the slotting into street parking nearby to The Soraya. Entering the theater’s campus is joyful; all cares dissipate. The lobby scene is a wonder, particularly during matinees when the Cali-sun floods white light onto the pristine floors.
My favorite seats in The Soraya’s chic house are the fabulous swiveling single seats on the side ‘balconies.’ I also like the seats on the gently rising ‘parterre.’ At The Soraya we have a most artful presenter, Thor Steingraber, and I am very copacetic with his programming. Thor can be found in his house seat and after most shows in the lobby collecting feedback from his passionate and opinionated audience — then parrying with his own bon mot.
The Los Angeles Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion has long had my heart, and wow you do need to love a theater to have survived the digging and dirt moving, the undoing and redoing involved in The Music Center’s recent upgrade. The Chandler, with its peachy color scheme, abundance of mirrors, and gold-tiled lobby pillars, has a womanly connection courtesy of the building’s chief fundraiser and benefactor, Dorothy Buffum Chandler (1901-1997). The mezzanine lobby of this theater, one flight up a grand staircase, has views that give out to the San Gabriel mountains. That area, as public spaces go, is simply classic; there you find the great egg-shaped bar and the best ladies’ rest room in town. In the house proper, I love the Chandler’s golden sunburst curtain, equally the lighting scones that decorate the walls. The Founder’s Circle, seats designed for the town’s royalty but where I on occasion have been privileged to sit, has sight lines and acoustics to die for. But I’ll always cherish the house’s nosebleed section, its second balcony, where I first listened and learned as Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic prior to its move to Disney Hall.
Another familiar friend is CAP UCLA at Royce Hall where the dance community has deep history, where all major troupes of American modern dance so blazingly performed, and in whose lobby on whose smart black and white-tiled floor, I can nearly see the who-is-who of Los Angeles dance personalities. That has always been a social gathering point before shows. But lately, Royce’s marvelous ‘backyard’ brick patio is a wonderful place to convene, as happened at a season-closing party one year ago this week. CAP UCLA impresario Kristy Edmunds has bent-and-shaped, and pushed-and-pulled the traditional arts presentation paradigm in every direction it could stretch. She is a more than a leading light in our performing arts universe in Los Angeles. She still has surprises up her sleeve.
I’m a dance writer, and for me the best dance house in town may not be an obvious choice. Perhaps not the peachiest or the pinkest. It may be lacking mountain, or any, view. But for solid sight lines of staged dance performances, the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach delivers a hearty dose. You can see everything on its wide-spreading stage from most every level and angle. And the stadium seating coheres for a very concentrated vibe during shows. I like performances at the Carpenter Center. Wendy Whelan’s “Restless Creature” was incredible in recent seasons. I will never forget a backstage jazz concert by Kurt Elling I attended several years ago. It was spiritual. It was a dream.
The Wallis is a happening place, where lotsa communities and specialized arts programming cross paths. It’s a destination theater, beautifully repurposed from an historic Beverly Hills post office. People like going there. The Wallis is a good time out ‘cuz it is lovely and its setting is urban. There are drink and dinner options, either by car on Santa Monica Boulevard, or by foot on Canon Drive. (The theater’s indoor-outdoor bar is itself a nice place to have a drink.) Theater is a thing here since The Wallis’ very popular, hugely devoted artistic director, Paul Crewes, is a British-born theater man. Crewes also loves dance; and that dance loves The Wallis back is well established. The COVID cancellation tore at the integrity of Crewes’ strong commitment to Los Angeles dance companies, booking them exclusively in his 2019-20 season. Of all the cancellations, that one hit dance the hardest.
I want to call out my most-missed house during the Covid closures. I’m about to cheat. It’s a movie theater.
It’s the Egyptian Theatre. This historic house dating to 1922 occupies the heart and soul of Los Angeles. With its central location in Hollywood (love it or leave it); its deep cultural history (undeniable); its marvelous arcade entryway (I wish it was better); its close-by patio; interior lobby (much improved thanks to a grant from the HFPA), the Egyptian ticks many boxes as a fun place to meet and greet. But cut to the chase: the house itself. Whether seated down-left, mid-right, house-center or waaay in front nearly lying on your back as you stare upward there is the main show: a massive screen. Like the side of a barn. Like a fat lady’s rump. Like the elephant in the room — one you’d better respect. Key word here: balcony. The balcony at the Egyptian Theatre. There I have my favorite seat (it’s my secret, not telling). Truly, seated anywhere, it’s you and the movie, kid. I’ve hopped around a lot, and can safely report: There are no bad seats in the Egyptian Theatre.
Come on, it’s the Egyptian! It’s worth the effort to go there. It’s as cozy as being at home — if your house smells of popcorn oil and has a 53-foot-wide screen. I have so many great memories of talks and screenings and cocktail parties and festivals (ahem, TCM Fest, cancelled this year) at the Egyptian. And that is why movie screenings at the Egyptian Theatre are my most achingly missed night-time things in the era of COVID-19.
Dance critic Debra Levine is founder/editor/publisher of arts●meme.