Summertime, and the audience is busy
July 3, 2012
Going to a concert or show may be a spectator sport most of the year, but when the temperatures start climbing, Los Angeles audiences like to get in on the act.
From sing-alongs to outdoor dancing, accordion playing to impromptu Shakespeare, this summer’s arts calendar is heavy on audience participation.
“The idea behind it is that audiences are trying to be artists themselves, rather than just sitting in a seat,” said Heather Rigby, General Manager of Productions at the John Anson Ford Theatre. “It’s also a really good community builder that helps people be able to express themselves.”
The Ford’s audience participation events, called “J.A.M. Sessions,” began in 2008. The sessions allow people to dance and try out new instruments while connecting with artists from diverse cultures. Already this year, crowds have tried their hands (and feet) at Afro-Cuban dance and Japanese Taiko drumming. This Monday, June 25, Otoño Luján and Gee Rabe will share their mastery of the accordion before leading a giant, novice accordion symphony. (Instruments will be provided.)
The J.A.M. Sessions have proven so successful that this year the Ford is taking its show on the road, courtesy of a grant from Metabolic Studios. Starting July 6, road sessions will be held in East L.A., Newhall, San Fernando, Whittier and Willowbrook.
Also at the Ford, the Big!World!Fun! series offers youngsters a chance to try dance and musical styles from cultures worldwide. The events take place Saturday mornings at 10 a.m., beginning July 7.
At the Hollywood Bowl, summer night sing-alongs turn the legendary amphitheatre into something of a karaoke-on-steroids experience, with some of the best-loved musicals of all time projected onto a huge screen with captioned lyrics.
“There is something very unique about a venue that seats 18,000 people and everyone is singing—it’s really loud,” said Arvind Manocha, the Bowl’s chief operating officer. “It is just primordially powerful to hear that many people singing the same thing in one space.”
The events, which began in 2001, bring out the dramatic attire as well as the wannabe Broadway divas. Thousands show up decked out in movie-specific costumes, and hundreds take part in the pre-show parade dressed as characters, objects or even ideas from the movies. A package of interactive props is handed out to enhance the fun, à la Rocky Horror Picture Show. And, because it’s Hollywood, said Minocha, special guests associated with the movie often show up, like the actors that portrayed the von Trapp children and Didi Conn, who played “Frenchy” in Grease. (This year, Grease will be performed July 14 and The Sound of Music on September 22.)
In downtown L.A., the Walt Disney Concert Hall hosts its own Friday Night Sing-Alongs, which are free to the public. They begin this Friday, June 22, with “Disney Favorites,” and continue later this summer with Motown hits and Broadway tunes.
Across the street at the Music Center, the courageous can trade their two left feet for new dance styles at Dance Downtown. Live bands and DJs provide rhythms for the outdoor dance lessons, which are held in the Music Center Plaza. Next Friday, June 29, Dance Downtown features Bollywood dancing. If that’s not your speed, the rest of the season has plenty of other options like disco, samba and “60s Night,” to name a few.
Over at the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica, the “Beach=Culture” series engages the community with its own participatory events. On Tuesday, June 26, enjoy some guerilla Shakespeare with the facility’s new resident artists from the Salty Shakespeare Company, who pride themselves on “Erupting, Interrupting, Disturbing the Peace.” Guests can try their hand at street theatre and learn the secrets of the group, which employs rap, Parkour (extreme freestyle, um, walking) and attention/diversion tactics to engage the public with their performances.
Aspiring non-performance art amateurs also have a few options, from LACMA’s free family art workshops to the UCLA Fowler Museum’s upcoming Afghan fighter kite-making workshop to the Getty Center’s Family Art Lab.
This Saturday, June 23, aspiring artists can practice and pitch in on a collaborative effort at Dockweiler State Beach that will use UV paint to create a mural that glows under black lights. The event, called “Nite-Write,” is presented by MobileMuralLab in cooperation with the L.A. County Department of Beaches and Harbors and the L.A. County Arts Commission.
With options like playing with glowing paint and belting out show tunes, there’s something for just about everyone. Don’t worry if you’re a newbie; you’ll be glad you left your armchair behind.
“The first time you go,” said the Hollywood Bowl’s Manocha, “you kind of need to figure it out, and then every other time you will be more involved in the fun.”