Word Theatre celebrates 10 years with party and performances
The live storytelling at Thursday night's Word Theatre event brought audience members to their knees -- quite literally. Most of the 200-some guests, clad in cocktail attire with wine glasses and hors d’oeuvres in hand, huddled contentedly on the floor throughout the 10 short readings. And somehow, that felt just right -- equal parts Algonquin roundtable and kindergarten.
The event, held at the Santa Monica home of Word Theatre artistic director Cedering Fox, was in celebration of its 10th anniversary and was also a benefit to help bring Word Theatre into Title I schools, which are largely attended by students from low-income backgrounds.
“We’re trying to ignite a new generation of literature fans,” said Fox, who worked the room in an electric orange, '60s-style dress and suede boots. “We bring stories to life, we give voice to great writing.”
For over a decade the storytelling salon has fused the literary and theatrical worlds in Los Angeles with monthly events at which established actors such as Ed Harris, Forest Whitaker and Minnie Driver perform the works of fiction writers such as Rick Moody, T.C. Boyle and Mona Simpson over dinner in an intimate supper-club setting. In recent years, Word Theatre has expanded its reach, with monthly salons in New York and periodic events in London. All evenings are recorded and repackaged on CDs sold through Harper Collins Audio.
Thursday night’s reception continued in that same format; but first, guests -- artists, actors, writers and filmmakers -- enjoyed cocktails on the back lawn overlooking views of the Pacific as well as a spread of assorted pick-me-up food that had been donated by local restaurants.
A quick survey of the party -- a crush of far more people than Fox’s elegant, art-filled living room no doubt intended -- showed a disparate mash-up of pop culture: novelists Janet Fitch, Loraine Despres and David Francis mingling with Omar Epps, Marcia Gay Harden, “X-Men’s” Edi Gathegi, “True Blood’s” Chris Bauer (pictured above) and “Boardwalk Empire’s” Vincent Piazza. All while live, jazzy piano flowed in the background, spiked by the distinctive, festive overlay of cocktail party clatter-chatter.
But when the buffet tables were pushed to the side and replaced with a mike stand and spotlight, the crowd settled down. As in: cross-legged on the floor.
Christopher Gorham read a short story by Steve Almond; CCH Pounder performed an Amy Gerstler poem; Stephen Tobolowsky read his own work, a slice of life about being trapped in his car with a relentless moth. The performances came to a crescendo with an especially moving reading by Philip Baker Hall of a Pushcart Award-winning story by Mark Halliday.
It was “story time with milk and cookies” all over again, but with Chardonnay and crudite instead. And it was a testament not just to one of L.A.’s long-running literary series, which has fostered a sense of artistic community, but, put simply, to the transformative power of words.
-- Deborah Vankin
Photos, from top: Cedering Fox addresses the crowd; Chris Bauer performs; setting up for readings; CCH Pounder delivers a poem; Christopher Gorham performs. Credit: Deborah Vankin / Los Angeles Times