day 16 - the shadow puppet workshop

ArtShare and the American Hotel

or …. letting strangers in 

*Names have been changed for the safety of the participants

I’m sitting in Zach’s window on the 2nd floor of the American Hotel overlooking Traction Ave. We have removed the screen, propped the window open with a metal pipe and a stack of prop books, rearranged his furniture, pulled back his beaded curtain and piled 10 people into his apartment. Zach is sweating and obviously tired and maybe even a little freaked out to have a film crew in his apartment, but he doesn’t complain. Let me reiterate that there are now 10 of us in his apartment and we are all mostly strangers except for our 1 week (and a thousand years) sense of comfort and familiarity. The breeze is necessary, to say the least. I wait in the window. We all wait. Turns out that film shoots require a whole mess of people and a lot of stop and go and check and recheck …. and check again. Wait. Where is the Etch-A-Sketch?

Let me backtrack a little. As you may or may not know, our upcoming production of attraction has several film sequences and on Day 2 of shooting, I was on the crew for the “Myrine and Manny making eggs in a microwave at the American Hotel” scene. We follow Myrine and Manny from the window of Manny’s apartment, out through his wall to wall, floor to ceiling LP and CD collection, other assorted music equipment, stack of hats 4 feet tall, leopard bed, leopard folding chair, room/closet arrangement, out through the hall, through the people who may be hanging out in the American Hotel, up the stairs, into Myrine’s apartment and as she gives us a tour of her room- of her “library and garden” extension on her windowsill, her kitchen, “walk-in-closet”, her bicycle, her badminton racquet and assorted photographs and art pieces, we learn how to scramble eggs in a microwave…This whole process is a funny meeting of worlds. Here we are, albeit relaxed, flexible and ever grateful to be allowed into these intimate spaces and still, foreigners in spaces of comfort – creating a world within a world. Maya’s (the actress playing Myrine) boyfriend is in the hallway constructing her bed so they can loft it and maximize the available space in her tiny room. “This is real life” she tells us. He becomes one of our favorite parts of the film sequence.

We take 5 continuous shots in and out of these rooms and through these halls in the American Hotel and in my 3 hours there of holding a powder puff, the American Hotel meets and surpasses all of my expectations. The smell of piss. Beer. Cats. Heat. We are in a dormitory of sorts for grown-ups. No rules. Graffiti, posters, shared bathrooms, doors are open, music is coming from all directions and is of all incarnations, people are in their doorways or hanging out, beer in hand, slippers on, choosing to interact with us or slink away. It is wild and wonderful and warm. It’s a trip. Dynamic and energetic. I have one of the resident’s keys in my pocket to allow ease of entry for our crew as we run back and forth between the American and Cornerstone gathering all the missing pieces. This is a crucial detail for me. He has known me for one week and he hands me the keys to his home. I promise him I won’t steal his car.

So, that was our evening. A gentle collision of people and place.

My afternoon was similar – not quite the final step of actual filming, but in preparation for it, we went to *ArtShare down the block to retrieve art pieces from the student and professional gallery to use to “dress the space” for our next shoot – turning an outdoor triangle lot into a bohemian nighttime jazzy smoky sort of space. This process was sort of amazing too. The day before, I went in to check things out and the program manager happily let me interrupt his afternoon about 5 times as we brought people in and out to get all of the necessary OK’s and go aheads. We ended up with about 6 student pieces all varying in style from Picasso-esque painting to graffiti to collage and 3 large professional pieces from an artist named Dan Wooster (check him out online). Oversized and colorful faces that jump off the canvas with life and intrigue. The retrieval was smooth, ArtShare volunteers helped us with our trek down the street, and all was completed within minutes really.

Things are moving along. Feels good to know who is in the neighborhood. 

*Art Share Los Angeles is a community arts incubator whose mission is to shape lives through art, education and community action. Operating out of a converted warehouse in the Arts District, Art Share offers free art classes with incredibly talented artists.

Aliya Ellenby

No comments: