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Laist Interview: Bart DeLorenzo and John Fleck

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Bart DeLorenzo is the artistic director of the Evidence Room, one of Los Angeles's most unique and adventurous theatres for new works and for avant-garde writers. At the ER, Bart has directed over 20 shows, including No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1999 LA Weekly Award, Best Direction) One Flea Spare, Messalina, Pentecost, Saved, Andromache, Leonce and Lena, and their current show, She Stoops To Comedy. (LAIST reviewed it here.) He has received many awards and nominations for his work, including a 2001 Local Hero Garland Award for Direction. Bart is active in the development of new works for theatre in Los Angeles and nationwide, and his company is known for being a playwright's theatre.

John Fleck, performance artist extraordinaire, plays Alexandra Page in She Stoops To Comedy.. His own performance pieces have been performed at the ER and nationwide, including at the Getty Center, the NY Shakespeare Festival, MOCA, and Taper Too. His work received national attention in 1990, when, along with three other performers, he became part of what was known as the "NEA 4." Labeled by some political pundits as too dirty to be funded, they brought their landmark case against censorship to the Supreme Court. Other recent performances include the world premiere of A Perfect Wedding at the Douglas Theater, Applause at Reprise!, and a long run at the Tiffany in The Mystery of Irma Vep.

Bart and John talked with LAIST this week about the Evidence Room, She Stoops To Comedy. (now playing) and the challenges of making theatre in Los Angeles.

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Age and Occupation:
Bart: Timeless, I direct and produce theater.
John: I'm approx. 270 years old.. I suck the lifeblood of audiences. I'm an actor/performance artist/social Vampire.

How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?
Bart: Twelve years, all of them in Venice.
John: 30 years now in LA (gulp) with a few here & there in NY & Miami. I currently live in Los Feliz

Why do you choose to live in Los Angeles?
Bart: I love the weather. I spent much of my life in cold places and I've seen enough rain and snow. And I've lived in so many places, but none of them feel as free as LA.
John: Because I have a beautiful home & friends & I support my non profit art addiction by acting in tv/film.

How did you first become involved with the Evidence Room?
Bart: I founded it ten years ago with a few other people.
John: I saw a production @ their old space @ the Ivy Substation (Flow my Tears) and liked what I saw.. I became a regular attendee @ their shows. Bart then asked me if I'd be in their first production @ their new current space, BERLIN CIRCLE w/ Ms. Megan Mullaly and we hit it off very grandly.

How was the name Evidence Room chosen for the company? What does it mean?
Bart: Many different theories about this. What I remember is that we wanted a name that was the name of a place, that our theater would be a location, a space where things could happen, and that it shouldn't sound definitively like a theater. And then, we started reading a lot of bullshit theater missions in a lot of programs that would go on about 'beauty' and 'truth' and such nonsense. So I think it's fun to say, " No truth, here. It's the theater, for chrissake. Just the evidence. You figure out the truth."
John: That was before my time with the company..

The Evidence Room has frequently presented plays with subversive, political or cutting-edge artistic content. Has the ER ever suffered from censorship or backlash against promoting so many new, edgy writers? And (John especially) what has it been like to deal with censorship of your own work?
Bart: Critics tend to be harder on new plays and on plays with a political agenda, but audiences are hungry for what's contemporary. The only backlash is occasionally to the bank account.
John: I no longer receive funding.. The last grant I got was a Getty Fellowship.. The NEA elimiated all 'new genre' grants after the NEA 4 debacle that I was part of .. I've been banned from several performance venues. Cal Plaza, The Natural History Museum (my piece last year was partly responsible for the firing of 2 people there).. I'm not proud of that, but what can I say?. I often deal with religious/political/personal themes. I like to work with ideas & images that some might consider blasphemous and look for the beauty in them. As President Truman once said, 'one man's blasphemy is another man's philosphy'. I find most of the people who condemn my work are often the ones who have never seen it...

What is the Evidence Room's style or unique feature? What distinguishes it from other LA theatre companies?
Bart: We've always produced in beautiful expansive spaces, our current one being the most amazing, and that has dictated a larger concern in the plays we choose to do. No kitchen sink plays, no sitcoms. But I think the principle behind the play choices is to present something that is striking and new in some way, that holds the mirror up to the present moment. That and great actors and terrific designers.
John: Besides the expansive theater, I love their Grand Lobby and have performed some of my own solo shows there among them, 'Nothin' Beats Pussy'. It always gets a large diverse audience. Like I tell folks who don't know about it.. It's the hippest space on the east side of LA. (and for that matter, probably all of LA)

How are new company members selected, and what is it like to work with this group of people?
Bart: This has changed over time and is still changing. All I can say is that it's really inspiring and moving to work with many of the same people over a period of time, to grow together and to learn from each other.
John: I'm really not a formal company member, but have been in several shows. I guess I'm just a lucky fella. I love working with these folks. These are folks who love experimental theater.

Talk about rehearsals for She Stoops To Comedy. Was this a difficult play to work on?
Bart: No. David's created a very original piece of writing, so it was a little tricky Œcracking' some of the scenes. But he was very helpful, suggestive, and supportive. But such a talented and fun cast. They made rehearsals a blast.
John: What a difference a great cast & director makes.. It flowed very easily.. I hit a creative wall about 2 weeks before we opened, but thank God, we worked thru it. Bart brought in Megan Mullaly for a few rehearsals just to get a 3rd eye involved and I appreciated that.. I was a little nervous & hesitant about that, but She's a comic genius and she helped me with the character of Alex very much.

What makes She Stoops To Comedy different, as a piece of writing and a production, from other, more traditional plays? Why is this play important to you?
Bart: Well, the play celebrates the theater, which is one of the great loves of my life, if not the greatest. And it celebrates the life of the theater, how we work. And it celebrates the mode of the theater, the idea of revising and rehearsing and trying something again and suggests how the theater itself is a design for living. And it's the smartest and funniest play I've read in years. I could talk about this for days.
John: I just flashed on a show I did years ago @ the now defunct LA Theater Center. Tony Kushner's 'The Illusion' (directed by David Schweizer).. I love these plays about theater's illusions. This one, in particular, is all about the magic of words & actors conveying all the shifting realities on stage (without costumes, make up, sound effects).. It's about magic - and I sweat my ass off up there.. Its hard bein a magician..

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What do you think are some of the challenges and unique facets of the LA theatre scene? What is your audience?
Bart: We have an adventurous audience. They come expecting the unexpected. The biggest challenge is that this audience is not big enough. In this amazing, vast, alive city, it's hard to get attention, to convince people that a night at the theater can be both fun and worthwhile.
John: You're catching me at a slightly alientated artistic time in my life.. I've been enmeshed in LA Theater/performance art for some time.. and I gotta say, at this moment, I'm a little disillusioned.. Granted, I tend to think the grass is always greener somewhere else, but I gotta say, NY takes its theater & peformance art more seriously.. Yes, there's a die hard community here in LA, but oy!.. its so hard to get those sparks to start a fire.. We'll see.. We've gotten raves in all the papers, the Weekly, the Times, Backstage West.. I'm keeping my fingers crossed we start fillin those 99 seats .. - As for my self scripted solo work, I've been workshopping my new piece ,JOHNNY'S GOT A GUN for a year and a half .. I think its a very relevant piece about Family & country. I've got all the trappings of a successful career - reviews/awards/grants, but other than the Evidence Room.. no one in this town is stepping forward to produce me. REDCAT, wherefore art thou?

Where do you see the Evidence Room company going in the next year, or the next five years? What does the future hold for the ER?
Bart: I don't know. And if I did, I wouldn't say. It should be a surprise.
John: Hell if I know.. I'm just glad I'm on the love train now.

How often do you ride the MTA subway or light rail?
Bart: Very rarely. I live in Venice.
John: I rode the subway today, Saturday, to the anti war protest downtown.. Other than that, I'm in my car most of the time.

What are your favorite movies or TV shows that are based in LA?
Bart: All the Altman movies: THE PLAYER, SHORT CUTS, and THE LONG GOODBYE. And is there a better recent film than MAGNOLIA? And MULHOLLAND DRIVE. That knocked me out.
John: ditto about Bart's picks - and of course, NBC's 'Joey' (jus kiddin)

Best LA-themed book?
Bart: I'm a big Raymond Chandler fan, but that's not a Los Angeles I recognize. I remember reading LESS THAN ZERO before I moved here and it seemed a pretty accurate depiction of a certain slice.
John: Gore Vidal's HOLLYWOOD .. and what's that book I read a long time ago??.. CITY OF QUARTZ.

What's the best place to walk in LA?
Bart: I live near the Venice boardwalk and I do that walk at least a couple of times a week. For serenity, there's nothing like walking along the tide from beach to beach in Malibu.
John: From my car to Trader Joes in Silverlake.. I call it the Church of TJ's.. It's where I go for socializing in LA.

It's 9:30 pm on Thursday. Where are you coming from and where are you going?
Bart: Usually, rehearsal. But I'm taping "The Apprentice."
John: 2 weeks ago I was in rehearsal.. This Thursday, we're running the show.

If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?
Bart: Now.
John: I gotta say I liked LA in the early to mid 80's.. the punk rock/alternative performance scene was blossoming..

What's your beach of choice?
Bart: Although I live in Venice, it's Matador, in Malibu.
John: I should probably marry Bart, cuz I agree with so many of his selections.. I like Matador too..

What is the "center" of LA to you?
Bart: The places where people gather here are so disparate. I guess I only feel that 'center' feeling when I'm at a large cultural event. On the plaza at the Music Center or at the RedCat on an opening night. At MOCA or LACMA or the Getty. At Walt Disney Hall. Those are the places I feel the buzz and the rush of the city. Sometimes the Evidence Room lobby, particularly when we have a late night event, like one of John's shows.
John: Trader Joe's in SilverLake.. All life revolves around that Temple of Commerce on Hyperion .. other than that, Griffith Park is a source of life renewal pour moi.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?
Bart: I love where I live, but it could be bigger.
John: I like where I live.. even though before I hitch my wagon outta here I'd love to live on the coast.. I've always lived on the east side of LA...

Los Angeles is often stereotyped as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you find it challenging to make new friends here?
Bart: I work at a theater, so typically I meet a new group of people every day and every night. I long for alone time. But my dearest friends I have gotten to know by working together.
John: I've been here so long, my sense of reality is rather skewed.. I do think its harder to find connections here because we're so isolated in our cars & homes - NO STREET LIFE (that's the worst thing about LA).. But I have great friends I've known for years - they're my Family .. Now, finding a long term lover is another thing.. oy!.. I'm lookin - anybody out there, please inquire.

What is the city's greatest secret?
Bart: That it's the best theater city in the country.
John: I agree that there's a lot've great theater in this city and a lot've great actors... I spend a lotta time back east (and granted, they take their theater more seriously - but still, there's a lot've drek out there that gets lauded).. Hell, I think we in this play @ the Evidence Room , with all due LA modesty, are top notch... Viva Los Angeles!!