Not "High School Musical": Free Staging of "New." Attracts Michel Gondry, Michael Cera and Sebastien Tellier
The free staging of the musical New. last weekend pulled a win for the avant-garde social scene. While experimental theater has long been a place for innovative social commentary by crafty bohemians like Beckett and Shakespeare, the emerging twentysomething generation hasn't much bothered to make this cultural mouthpiece relevant. (High School Musical does not count, even if it convinced some preteens to try out for their school's production of Our Town.)
New.'s playwright Rachel Kolar, Lauren Brown, and Nicole Disson operate under Post Fact Productions, "a community for the Avant Hard" that understands corporate marketing. No one simply hands out money these days, but companies seek branding opportunities. The stylish factor certainly worked to Post Fact's advantage in getting The Standard's sponsorship. This production's cast, crew, and friends include some of Echo Park's hippest rising talent. It was no surprise to see Tom Petty's daughter sneak in with the L.A. Ladies Choir when they appeared in the aisles during the final scene, all wearing white dresses from Becky Stark's closet and abstract hats. In addition to musicians from every band galore, Michel Gondry, Michael Cera, Ryan Gosling, Peter Mehlman, Tessa Thompson, and Aaron Rose sat in the audience. Later on, Sebastien Tellier watched the good-looking kids do a conga line at the afterparty in The Standard's lobby while Becky Stark stroked Gondry's hair on the couch.
The rest of the costumes were designed by Miss KK. The dresses she made for leading ladies Rachel & Lauren perfectly blended ridiculous and awesome. They looked like two pieces of overdressed bubblegum. When the curtain rose, Oliwa (Oliver Newell) stood there beaming his ear-to-ear grin wearing gold lamé leggings and arm bands, an elf from the future. The costumes had a sense of humor, too. Featherbeard and Amanda Jo Williams had big shiny mermaid tails that opened in the back to reveal their underwear. Mecca, the choreographer, put the hot in her Fire dance wearing a blood orange leotard and flamenco-ready skirt.
Mecca's choreography brought the musical to life with strange shapes and jittery, crazy movements. She seeks the beautiful in chaos, a sort of rock and roll approach to dance that had the actors leaping, crawling, and shaking. Nicole Disson throbbed as The Dictator, Anna Oxygen, operatically greeted her audience of "monkeys." Ariana Delawari glided, as she played Air, but even Delawari did the lightning struck robot when she sent Rachel's character onward to her demise.
Mecca's performance at The Standard afterparty offered another glimpse at her edgy stylings. She descended the escalator wearing a cardboard box and trash. Her dance here literally erupted in madness and caused a beer to break.
In both its vision and resourcefulness, New. definitely made an impression on over a thousand people who attended Friday night's performance. The script itself was a smart, funny critique of cultural excess, well acted and willing to poke fun at itself. In the end, culture dies, we all die, even good-looking people. As the characters symbolically fall through death, they take a purgatorial passage through Water, Air, and Fire, with no salvation to be had, and wind up in the Ether. Which doesn't seem a bad place to end up if heaven doesn't exist.
When Rachel Kolar first entered the Million Dollar Theater, she met an elderly woman named Maria who often prays in the empty 2000 seat venue. Built in 1918, the Million Dollar is one of the first movie houses opened in the U.S., yet this amazing stage sees more visits from birds than thought-provoking humans. Kolar told Maria of her vision, following Joseph Papp's footsteps. Free avant-garde theater with hip original music by local bands; a grassroots movement, Free Art For The People, beginning with this production; staging more plays, teaching children; establishing a permanent space where people can create art and music; gaining power and presence using smart marketing tactics and company sponsorship! A tear dropped from Maria's eye. She'd never seen a play before.
Check out the soundtrack from New., the experimental rock opera. (courtesy of L.A. Record)