Saturday, May 30, 2009

Touch the Water

K's latest production opens this weekend. This article appeared in the Los Angeles Downtown News.

I've pasted below-

A River Runs Through Here

Cornerstone Theater Company Makes Bedraggled Waterway the Subject of a New Play
by Richard Guzmán

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - It is safe to say that most people would never want to get anywhere near the water in the Los Angeles River.

Lined with concrete and clogged in many places by garbage bags, shopping carts and other debris, the river is viewed by many as an industrial flood channel that washes waste out of the city. Most people know it more for its appearances in films than for being part of nature.

But it was not always a city-long drain. The river was once a wild body of water, rich in wildlife and prone to flooding. It was also the lifeblood for early settlers of the area.

Although it has been paved for more than 50 years, Downtown’s Cornerstone Theater Company is inviting people to bathe in the history of the river, figuratively, with Touch the Water. The original play is part of the company’s four-year series called the Justice Cycle.

“Most people see the river as concrete, as a channel, and don’t even know it has a life. This play brings attention to the nature that does exist in L.A., to the mythic qualities of the river,” said Juliette Carrillo, who is directing the play.

Touch the Water, which runs May 28 to June 21, is not just meant to get people thinking about the river. It will also bring the audience physically closer to the river than most Angelenos ever get.

The play will be performed along the banks of the Glendale Narrows at the Bowtie Parcel in the Rio de Los Angeles State Park, part of Taylor Yard just north of Downtown. It is one of the few parts of the river that is not paved and is abundant with wetlands and wildlife, a much closer representation of what the river once looked like.

“It gives a consciousness that the L.A. River is a real river and it exists,” Carrillo said.

Founded in 1986, the Arts-District-based Cornerstone does both original work and adaptations of classic plays. All are performed by a combination of professional theater personnel and members of a community involved with the subject of a particular play. For Cornerstone, “community” is a loose term. Past productions have utilized everyone from members of a certain religion to a group of bus drivers to people who share a birthday.

Touch the Water centers on the theme of the environment. It follows previous Justice Cycle plays about immigration, reproductive rights and criminal justice.

“The idea is to explore how laws shape and disrupt communities, and there are many issues involving the river,” Carrillo said. “It’s a controversial issue with different views about where the river is going next.”

Flowing Story

According to the nonprofit advocacy group Friends of the Los Angeles River, the history of the waterway stretches back almost 3,000 years, to when the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe settled along the river in 800 B.C.

In more modern times it had different uses. It served as the main source of drinking water for the city from 1781 to 1913, when the L.A. Aqueduct was built and began importing water from the Owens River. After a series of floods in the mid-1930s killed 85 people and caused $23 million worth of damage, a large portion of the 51-mile river was paved over by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Playwright Julie Hébert spent 18 months interviewing people connected to the river. Some live along its path, while others are enthusiasts who want to see a return to a more natural waterway. She also spoke with city officials working on a $2 billion revitalization plan that aims to clean and green 32 miles of the river, add bike paths and restore some of the ecosystem.

The play tells the story of the paved river through the lives of people who live along its banks, as well as the animals and greenery that have struggled along its shoreline. The plot centers around a character named Luis Otcho-o Authemont, who has just been released from prison for killing a teen at the river (inspired by an actual killing at the river years ago, Hébert said). Authemont’s mother’s house is being razed by the greening of the river, which involves placing filters underground to clean the rainwater before it is released into the river.

“The bigger story is, he represents the river, he’s wounded, he’s scared, he’s sinned,” Hebert said. “Metaphorically that character represents the river which has flooded and killed people. The river has been put in jail essentially by being paved and now we’re talking about letting the river out of jail and the river is still dangerous, so how do we figure that out?”

Along the way there are stories about animals, a wayward sea turtle, a hardheaded biologist and the ghost of a girl who drowned at the river.

Experts and Actors

Along with the professional actors, community members in the play include Lewis MacAdams, founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River, and Joe Linton, a river activist and author of the guidebook Down by the Los Angeles River.

Linton was originally a consultant on the project, but was invited by Hébert to join the cast. He plays Joe Swift, an idealist and hardheaded Army Corps of Engineers biologist.

Linton said the play, although mostly fictional, captures the personalities of many of the people involved with the river.

“People who live in the river-adjacent community will see their lives and issues in the play. They’re intertwined in the storyline,” he said. “Hopefully this will give people a little more understanding of the river and hopefully also identify with stories of what happens in neighborhoods, since the river runs through a lot of underserved neighborhoods that are neglected.”

Although passionate about the river, acting was a whole new experience for Linton. But with the river itself as the background and the enthusiasm of the performers, the play is sure to connect with the audience, Carrillo said.

“It’s a delightful cast and they’re really committed to the work, and with their commitment to the river, and the river behind them, it’s very powerful.”

Touch the Water runs May 28-June 21 at the Bowtie Parcel in the Rio de Los Angeles State Park, 2800 Casitas Ave. Tickets at (213) 613-1700 ext. 37 or Tickets are pay what you can.

If you're in the area, try to catch it. When will you have another chance to see live theatre along the LA river? It's pay what you can. It runs for three weeks. You really have no excuse. To reserve tickets, click below -


TMA said...

Feel so sorry for the trees. Kind of taken on a nature tone on this post eh? With the trees and the river. Interesting the fate of the trees and of the river.

Wish I could check out the performance. Sounds great, just like other things that K has been a part of.

LBTudor said...

Wow, that sounds amazing. We live by the only section of the river that is natural bottom. As far as the river goes its a great section. Once while we were doing a clean up with FOLAR we saw a seal swimming up as far as Willow. Pretty cool.

Why S? said...

A seal? Very cool.

If either of you think you can make it, let me know. I know, it's a long drive, especially for you TMA.