New LATC Launches 2008 Season With Three-Month World Festival
by Kathryn Maese
DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – When the New LATC raises the curtain on its second season this Friday, theatergoers will get a rare chance to see Mexican icon Ofelia Medina, who dazzled audiences as Frida in the eponymous 1984 film, perform her one-woman show based on the book of poems Poesia No Eres Tu.
With Intimamente – Rosario de Chiapas, the actress, writer, director and activist will open the New LATC’s 2008-2009 season in dramatic fashion as part of the three-month Face of the World Festival, which features 25 shows on four stages. It’s a fitting choice, since Medina’s exploration of happiness, solitude and the search for freedom mirrors the LATC’s own tumultuous journey in recent years.
The Latino Theatre Company won a contentious fight to operate the city-owned theater under a 20-year contract and, following a $4 million renovation, reopened the venue last year. The space at 514 S. Spring St., long known as the Los Angeles Theatre Center, had been largely underutilized for more than a decade as a result of poor management, lagging attendance and its gritty Historic Core location.
Now, Artistic Director Jose Luis Valenzuela is bent on turning the historic former bank into a multicultural hub for the city’s performing artists. This year’s festival, which runs Sept. 12-Dec. 14, will bring him a step closer with a slate of dance, music, theater and even a puppet show. The New LATC has collaborated with the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and the University of Guadalajara to create the diverse lineup that features Asian, Mexican, Arab, American and African culture (among others) from local and international artists.
“I want the stages at the center to look like the city of L.A.,” Valenzuela said. “This will be a place of convergence and dialogue about who we are, where we’re coming from, what our dreams are. We have so many things in common with the various cultures and we wanted to be able to share audiences. In other words, have a Latino audience see an Asian play and African Americans see an Anglo play. The idea is to have a more harmonious world, and the arts can do that.”
Among the festival’s highlights is a solo performance by Leslie Lewis Sword in Miracle in Rwanda, starting Sept. 13. Sword portrays a host of characters as she tells the true story of genocide survivor Immaculee Llibagiza. John Fleck and Sandra Tsing Loh bring comedic insight with Side Effects May Include…, which runs Sept. 19-21. Fleck looks at our consumer-based society, while Tsing Loh draws from her hit show and new book Mother on Fire, about the adventures of getting a child into pre-school.
Starting Oct. 10 is the life-sized puppet show Canek, which was a hit at the Guadalajara festival. The story follows the young Mayan warrior Canek, who befriends the son of local landowners but must later fight against the same people to protect his land and culture. Another family-friendly offering is Floricanto’s Dia de Los Muertos Celebration on Nov. 11, which shares the holiday’s traditions of honoring the dead with a community altar in the lobby.
Medina will hit the stage again Nov. 7 with her well-regarded play Cada Quien Su Frida, inspired by the love story between painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
As part of the UCLA partnership, this season will also host the New Works Festival, with three thesis plays from students that include cabaret, stage and innovative museum installations.
While last year’s season filled the theater to about 30% capacity, Valenzuela said he is aiming for about 50% this year, relying on an outreach effort to reach Downtown Los Angeles residents. One of his ultimate goals, he said, is to make the New LATC a destination for locals.
“This is their home theater, a place they can come that’s in walking distance,” he said. “We’re trying to do programming for all people.”
Fresh from a trip to study San Diego’s Gaslamp District, Valenzuela is part of an effort to bring back Downtown’s once-thriving theater district by drawing patrons to the city’s core with culture, restaurants and entertainment venues.
“The importance of having this little jewel in the center of Downtown is that it’s the first step in bringing this theater district back,” he said. “It won’t be one day to the next, but we have to begin somewhere. I’m giving my contribution to that process with this theater and festival.”
The New LATC, 514 S. Spring St., (213) 627-6500 or thenewlatc.com. The Face of the World Festival is Sept. 12-Dec. 14. Tickets $15-$35; festival passes $150.
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