Metro Blue Line is the route for `traveling circus' plays
William Shakespeare wrote plays in five acts; now comes Watts Village Theater Company, organizing a theater piece in five light-rail stops. Dubbed "Meet Me @Metro II," it'll be performed along the Metro Blue Line between Watts and downtown Long Beach over the coming two weekends.
Like last year's inaugural run, it's the brainchild of artistic director Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez. Figuring that the previous show was a bit scattershot, he's added a unifying theme, "traveling circus," for the sequence of short new works by five theater companies and a large experimental jazz collaborative, Killsonic. An assortment of puppeteers and other performers will join in along the three-hour round-trip.
Aviles-Rodriguez makes no claim of originality in turning a railway into the spine of a theatrical event, citing New York City's "A Train Plays" and the San Diego Dance Theater's annual "Trolley Dances" as longstanding forerunners. The unique thing about "Meet Me @Metro," he says, is its goal of turning railway ties into ties that bind L.A.'s famously splintered and sequestered geographical communities, if only for the duration of a theatrical trek.
The production starts at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday (repeating July 9-10) at the Watts Towers, where each audience of 99 commuters/playgoers will gather for a prologue called "Meet Me @the Ghetto," performed by Watts Village Theater Company in the adjoining outdoor amphitheater. It includes a stage-setting monologue by an actor playing Simon Rodia, who built the towers singlehandedly over more than 30 years. As the production continues Rodia will be pulled along its itinerary in a red Radio Flyer wagon, gathering materials at each stop -- much as the real-life towers-builder collected pottery shards and bits of bottle glass to ornament his structures.
After the prologue, ensemble and audience will walk from the towers to the nearby 103rd Street/Kenneth Hahn station, led by the New York-based performer Rick Burkhardt, who plays the traveling circus's ringmaster. They'll board the first southbound train that comes along and travel to Stop No. 1, Del Amo station, where 24th Street Theatre/Teatro Apolo will offer a tribute to Japanese tsunami victims, tentatively titled "Blood Blossom," in the station's commuter lot.
At the second stop, Fifth Street in downtown Long Beach, everyone debarks and walks to the nearby Found Theatre, whose resident ensemble proffers "Circus Stupide." Aviles-Rodriguez describes it as a "funhouse carnival" drawing on the traditions of Long Beach's old-time harborside amusement park, The Pike.
Then it's back on the Blue Line for a short hop to Stop 3, the First Street Promenade, where the Long Beach Theatre Arts Collaborative will lead playgoers on a walking tour/performance dubbed "One Love on First Street," culminating in a fountainside dance-like piece called "Opera del Espacio."
Then it's back on the Blue Line, northbound, to Stop 4, a return to Del Amo station's commuter lot. There, Gangbusters Theatre Company provides a "Circus History Lesson" that delves into some of the local lore of the City of Compton.
The fifth and last stop is 103rd Street/Kenneth Hahn, where the musicians of Killsonic will greet playgoers and lead them on a Watts version of a New Orleans street parade back to the Watts Towers -- where the Watts Village Theater Company will wrap things up with a communitarian finale.
Aviles-Rodriguez said the $50,000 budget is double last year's and comes entirely from donations. The $11 ticket includes a $6 Metro day pass and helps defray some insurance and security costs involved in using the Del Amo commuter lot. If it's anything like last year's show, the artistic director said, the audience will grow considerably as the program proceeds, picking up fellow-travelers and passers-by whose curiosity is spontaneously piqued. The key perk of being a ticket-holder is a front-and-center spot for each performance.
Metro has helped the production with advice and contacts, Aviles-Rodriguez said, but it's not waiving its ban against performances on trains and platforms (we'll know L.A. mass transit has really arrived when it develops a busking tradition like New York City's). For those intervals, Aviles-Rodriguez says he's confident that real, unscripted life can be relied upon to provide a brand of theater all its own. Last year, he said, it arrived in the form of a shopping cart-toting Blue Line passenger dressed head-to-toe in a Spider-Man outfit.
Aviles-Rodriguez said he already has concepts mapped out for the coming five years of "Meet Me @ Metro," as well as plans to create a how-to guide for others interested in turning L.A.'s transit system into a moveable theatrical feast.
"We believe this is the future of theater -- it's participatory, it's processional, and it's site-specific," he said, and he hopes companies elsewhere in the city to take the traveling-show concept and adapt it in their own ways.
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: Members of Watts Village Theater Company rehearse the opening sequence of `Meet Me @Metro II." Credit: Joleen Deatherage.