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Arts and Entertainment

WeHo Book Fair Part I: The Robertson Salon, Sponsors, and Queer Renegades

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It was scorching hot in West Hollywood on Sunday for the West Hollywood Book Fair, much too hot for the heavy, dirty jeans and tight, thick t-shirt I was wearing.

I don’t know if it was because of the hangover I was nursing, the fact that I arrived a little late, or just the heat, but at 12pm when I arrived at West Hollywood Park near the Pacific Design Center, I had some trouble getting into the swing of the fair.

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The Robertson Street entrance to the fair was covered with an archway made of purple balloons. Immediately inside and to the right was a small stage lined with purple velvet curtains and about five rows of folding chairs set up, aptly titled the Robertson Theater. Actors from non-profit corporation Books with Feet were onstage performing “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” by Gertrude Stein, to an audience of about ten. I sat down towards the back.

The two women on the small black stage repeated the phrases “Miss Furr” and “Miss Skeene” back and forth to each other, over and over. This was obviously not a scene that I should have walked into halfway through, and it didn’t help my growing sense of being thrown into Waiting for Godot or some sort of David Lynch movie. They continued their repetition as I slinked out of my seat and into a chair at the back of the next stage over, the Robertson Coffee House.

There, staff and students from another non-profit called Write Girl were reading essays and poetry. I stayed for a while, and at the end had the chance to make an attempt at real journalism by talking to a very impressive young woman named Melissa Castillo. Melissa, age 17, won second place in a citywide essay contest for Latino Heritage Month held by none other than Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Her essay, “Immigrant Prayer”, was a moving tale based on stories, she told me, of her relatives coming to America from Mexico.

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Melissa Castillo, 17, and her Write Girl mentor, Reparata Mazzola

After talking with Melissa and her mentor Reparata Mazzola, I wandered around to familiarize myself with the layout of the fair. I finally figured out that it was organized by color -- the tops of tents were yellow, red, green, and blue to represent the pavilion they were a part of.

The tents housed fair sponsors, like the LA Weekly, West Hollywood Writes, and a fun little booth called Hot Mexican Love Comics. The tents were also home to small stages like the Robertson Coffee House and Theater, and featured panel discussions with writers, teachers, and various experts.

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After my walk, I felt a little more at ease and wound up back at the Robertson Theater. This time I happened upon a performance of Shakespearean excerpts, by a group called Classical Theatre Lab. The actors were dressed in all black, and I was ready to cringe my way through the show as a trade-off for having a shady place to sit, until an older woman named Mary Cobb performed a fantastic rendition of the scene in Hamlet where his wife asks him to not divorce her. The show peaked early with Cobb, though, because the next few scenes were overacted, not heartfelt, and almost as cringe-worthy as I had anticipated.

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Next I ambled over to Queer Renegades, an open-mic type show moderated by Michael Kearns. Performer Ian McKinnon kicked it off by telling a story of how his babyhood should have been: his parents in awe of his beautiful gay soul, telling him bedtime stories in which Greek Gods fucked each others brains out high on Mt. Olympus. Shane Bruce later sang a moving song about the Iraq war and Cindy Sheehan. I was near tears, when from just outside the tent a girl interrupted the song in a completely random yet strangely fitting, life-goes-on moment by saying loudly into her cell phone, “OK, you can pay me later, Larissa.”

Photos by Jessica for LAist