La Art Theater Scene on the Cheap and Easy

Despite what the NYC “Arterati” might like the world to think, a vibrant and creative art world exists outside the confines a single long, thin island in the east.  A great example of this phenomenon noisily rumbles and growls in the greater Los Angeles area of southern California.  The existence of the Movie Industry, several fine Art Schools and the beckoning of the weather and multitude of distractions for both physical and cultural pursuit have created a haven of creativity on this sun-drenched parcel of the earth.

And a very large chunk of this fascinating, challenging and, sometimes, ribald world is offered up nearly every weekend of the year by the very people who have fallen victim to the lure of the art world, the artists and actors who want to perform for you.

And none of the “intercourse” I am about to introduce you to requires strange rituals or snooty tastes or rubber coverings or fancy duds or chauffeur-driven limousines.  They are open to the public.   And that means you.  You are invited to partake of the offerings on display “just as you are.”  Come along now and “enjoy.”

The art gallery exhibit opening evening

Los Angeles is literally littered with Art Galleries.  There are scores and scores of them from the outer reaches of the San Fernando Valley to Palm Springs to Orange County to the Westside all surrounding a thriving Downtown Art District, which itself is made up of several distinct “regions.”

But more important than the venues that are seeking out your attention, are the general “rules of the road” for managing the process of optimizing your night of fun and frivolity when you head off for your weekly forage, a word I use with specific intent, into the previously unknown land of strange beings variously referred to as artists, gallery owners, promoters, venue managers and assorted curators, attendants and other hangers-on.

Do your homework.

Identify your Target Area (Westside, South Bay, Chinatown, Downtown, OC, SFV, etc.), look up openings on sites such as the following (among many others):

Create a list of Gallery names, exhibit opening times and addresses/locations.  Choose your itinerary and map out (on Google Maps, et. al.) the sequence, timing and driving distances of each gallery using an average time per venue of between 15 and 30 minutes (this will be refined as you gain experience with gallery history and artist popularity).  Designate a driver and a navigator/schedule enforcer. 

Be cool

Find a free parking space near each venue, leave your map in the car, carry a discrete camera and proceed to the front door of the gallery with an air of nonchalance and distracted confidence.  Return the greeting of the woman at the door (if there is one) and walk past her as if you have been to this gallery many times before.  If there is a “list” (just a gimmick to get your email address) just ask to be added so that you can be notified next time there is an event. 

Walk immediately to the left or right and begin scrutinizing the first art object on display.  Look at it from a distance, from middle-distance and then up-close and personal.  Don’t stand in the way of any other viewer and be sure to notice not only the art but the environment, how the piece is displayed and how the light sets it off in the gallery.  Move on to the next piece and repeat.  (When you have mastered this rule you will know when you are ready to graduate to the level of clandestine people watching, much the best part of any gallery hopping evening.)

Find the wine and hors d’oéurves

After giving the art a respectable, though not complete, eye-balling accompanied by a thoughtful commentary whispered to your companion, begin to look around for where most of the patrons are gathered, especially if they have drinks in hand.  Mosey on over toward the activity, pull out a dollar for a tip, wait in the little line and then give the young woman (or guy) your request for one of the choices of complimentary libations available for your enjoyment.

Next move to the food table and secure a small paper plate and a napkin.  Chose your cheese and crackers, nuts, dried fruits, vegetables with dip, chips, cookies and other goodies with an air of noblesse oblige.  Always remember that you can come back for more, so don’t overload your plate and put your “uncoolness” on display.  (And, remember, this is just your first gallery…there are many more to go.)

Stick with the timetable

With food and wine in hand, return to the gallery proper, finish looking at all the art and then return to your favorite pieces for a final appreciation…and finish up what’s on your plate and in your glass.

Now, leave the gallery, thanking the attendant if she is still at the door, return to your car and proceed to the next venue and repeat the above procedure until you have taken in all the art (or food and drink) that you can in one evening!

Warning: Pay attention to the difference between exhibit openings, art walk openings and an open gallery.  Most exhibit openings will offer the amenities I’ve described above.  At art walks, some, but not all, Galleries will offer some minimal refreshments.  Galleries that are simply “Open” will not have any amenities.

The small theater performance evening

The number of small theaters and acting groups in the greater LA area is astonishing.  You could probably go to a new theater every night of the year and still have not been to them all.  Of course, many do not last very long and they change hands all the time but there is always a new group forming it seems, especially so close to Hollywood.

These small venues are frequently run by the actors themselves but also by non-profit, community groups, subsidiaries of professional theaters and numerous other organizations.  They typically charge much less for tickets than the grand theaters in downtown that get all the publicity and the “big” productions.  There are hardly ever any “name” performers in the productions and the venues can be quite small and “off-beat” to put it mildly.  But they all provide lively and, many times, cutting edge acting and presentations that can be most surprising and delightful…and occasionally offensive.

Supporting the theater community are numerous web sites that offer half-price and discount tickets to a very large portion of the performances available each week.  Two of the most popular are:

When you sign up for LA Stage Alliance they will put you on their mailing list and every week you will get a display of all the plays that are offering discount tickets for their shows.  You simply chose the night you want to go, charge the tickets on your credit card, print out a map of the location of the venue and the receipt for the tickets, go to the theater and pick-up your will-call tickets.  That’s it.

Goldstar will also provide you with notice of any discount productions they have available along with lots of other “opportunities” for events around town.

We always get to the location a little early in order to find some nearby free parking and sit around in the lobby of the theater waiting for the other attendees to arrive and to watch the goings-on of the theater staff as they prepare for the performance.  All this adds to the intimacy of the play “environment” and gets you in the mood for emotional experience of seeing live performers giving their all for you, the audience.

Only one warning is necessary regarding attending small theater… will end up in areas of the city you have never been in before and go into buildings that you would warn your children not to play near…..but proceed ahead with all deliberate speed and have a great time!