by Ashley Steed~
Company: Art|Works Theatre and Studios, home to:
- viaCorpora, International Performance Research and Development House &
- ARTEL Theatre Laboratory
Seat capacity: 84
When founded: 2005
Parking: Parking lot on site (16 cars only); Street parking easily accessible
Handicap accessible: Yes – Let them know in advance to accommodate best seating.
Restrooms: In plentitude. A handicap restroom is currently in the plans.
Amenities: Central Heating and A/C, good-sized backstage, parking lot, 4 rehearsal spaces – one with a sprung floor studio space.
Lobby: Yes. Occasionally more than one.
Concessions: Available depending on the show, allowed inside the theatre as well.
- Café Bacio: 6541 Santa Monica Blvd – Right next door. They have a wide variety of coffee flavors and snacks.
- Café Muse: 6547 Santa Monica Boulevard – Also next door. A vegetarian café with great food and drinks. They also have vegan options.
- The Foundry on Melrose: 7465 Melrose Avenue – It’s not right next door but has recently partnered with ARTEL on its Moustache=Soup campaign and is a rocking place to go.
- The Cat N Fiddle Pub: 6530 Sunset Blvd – About 5 blocks North of Artworks. Great English pub to grab a pint after the show. They have a nice and large outdoor seating area.
- Crown of India: 6755 Santa Monica Blvd – About 2 blocks West of Artworks. Chicken Tikki Masala and Chicken Korma are local favorites.
- The Hollywood Corner: 1156 N Highland Ave – About 5 blocks West and 2 blocks North of Artworks. The sweet-potato fries are a must.
What’s on: 2010: The year of the Absurd, announced by ARTEL, began with two viaCorpora productions: the Grand Guignolers’ Absinthe, Opium & Magic: 1920s Shanghai and ARTEL’s The Kharmful Charms of Daniil Kharms
tempOdyssey runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5pm.
Grand Guignolers and viaCorpora are remounting Absinthe, Opium & Magic: 1920s Shanghai in conjunction with the Actor’s Gang at the Ivy Substation for 11 performances only May 7 – 29.
ARTEL’s Bedbugs (a work-in-progress showing) will be June 11-12 at 8PM.
Art|Works Theatre and Studios will be playing host along with many other local theatres to the Hollywood Fringe Festival this summer.
In 2005 Olya Petrakova of American Russian Theatre (ART) and Don Cesario of Elephant StageWorks joined forces to create Art|Works. After renting the Lillian Theatre from Cesario for one of her shows, Petrakova approached him to be her partner and together they conceived Artworks as an incubator of new work.
The name Art|Works came from a combination of Petrakova’s creative company ART and Cesario’s Elephant StageWorks – but the name really has a deeper meaning. “The impetus behind the combination of names,” says Petrakova, “is that art works, as well as, art is work or labor… in a healthy sense. There’s a saying in Latin: Labor omnia vincit impobus – it means dedicated work overcomes all obstacles.”
Since its inception, “Artworks has become a hub that supports a large number of productions each year,” says Petrakova. “It provides a home for the training of actors by local and national teachers such as Elizabeth Mestnick, Tony Greco, the Upright Citizens Brigade, and Steppenwolf West.”
She adds, “Artworks also functions like a Russian Matryoshka doll with its producing branch – viaCorpora, International Performance Research and Development House supported inside it, while viaCorpora in turn supports its resident theatre laboratory ARTEL.”
So viaCorpora, (another Latin phrase that means “through the bodies.” ) “is the starting point for all of our theatrical and community endeavors,” says Petrakova. “Since 2006, viaCorpora has provided a house for local, national and international artists to create, develop, exchange and present their work. With a focus on physical theatre, ensemble building and devising theatre processes, it aims to provide a home away from home, a refuge in which to focus on the processes of creative action.”
In 2006, ART evolved into ARTEL. “ARTEL is an old Russian word meaning labor collective, though the oldest sense of that word is family, brotherhood, commune. The name is also inspired by the famous ‘Artel of Artists,” a cooperative commune in 1860s Russia.
ARTEL is also an acronym for American Russian Theatre Ensemble Laboratory. These multiple meanings highlight a line of research that is central to their aim: the development of the individual creative potential within the collective environment. Through specific engagement with the histories and cultures of Russia and America, ARTEL aims to create performances that provide space for deeper reflection on a shared human experience. Through instigation and collaborative gathering of creative actions across diverse artistic mediums, ARTEL is committed to the construction of culturally enriched communities.
Coming from Russia, Petrakova explains the difference between her native country and the US. “In the US there is an amazing development of the individual. I come from a country where it’s not about that. I wanted to develop as individual but couldn’t in Russia.” Now she sees the need for a happy medium. Thus, she says, “There needs to be a healthy evolution of the collective and the individual.”
Petrakova’s husband Bryan Brown, who is also the co-founder/co-artistic director of ARTEL, as well as the Education Programming Director of viaCorpora, thinks the company’s international relationships make the Artworks hub special. “We’ve gone to so many countries,” he says. “Our connection to Russia is very inspiring – theatre is incredibly alive there. Movement and physical theatre is very present there. It’s inspired us to continue to do what we’re doing.”
Petrakova agrees: “In Russia going to the theatre is an entire night out – it’s a place to go. It’s something that’s really missing in LA, especially for the Russian community.”
She adds, “for us to tap into that is really significant. It becomes a really wonderful event… It’s not just going to the theatre and seeing a show. People make it a whole evening. They hang out and get to know us – it’s more of a meeting ground. It’s a way that we get to know our audience. We try to get to know people as personally as possible; who they are, what they do – it’s an exchange.”
Brown says their experiences have reaffirmed their beliefs of what theatre is, and should be. “For us, it’s about the strength of theatre and the necessity of it in developing culture in every city,” he says. “Different cultures/cities each expose the need of theatre and dual interaction.” He adds, “It’s one of our visions to keep developing the space for rising resident companies like Grand Guignolers, companies that have a similar aesthetic in performance and with connecting to the audience.
“Our goal is for the space to expand and become the grounds for exploratory, theatrical work. The work has to be breaking ground. And development is very important. Fundamentally it has to be ALIVE. It’s easy for the theatre to be boring. He asks, “What is it that makes something alive? There’s a wire connection between the audience and the stage, which has to be charged. It’s very challenging and very exciting. We believe in connecting to the audience in a very immediate way.”
Shows at Artworks have drawn in a wide variety of audiences – thus it’s safe to say their target audience is everyone. “We are rooted in the popular theatre.” say Petrakova. “We want to entice audiences back into the theatre. We want people who have never been to the theatre to discover its magic. We want an audience that wants to play in our world, to come back again and again to co-create our performances, just as readers co-create the texts they read.” Perhaps the most important thing that theatre-goers should know about them is that they are committed to immersive and imaginative experiences.
ARTEL has a long-standing collaboration with the Grotowski Institute in Poland and was invited to do a training exchange in 2008. In 2009 ARTEL was invited to be a part of the US Artists Initiative, a group of professional and emerging artists brought to Poland to be special guests of the month-long international festival, The World as a Place of Truth. In November 2009, viaCorpora received award funding to travel to Russia in order to establish relations with contemporary theatre laboratories in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In April 2010, ARTEL was invited to attend and lead exploratory sessions at the Centre for Performance Research’s 9-day intensive Director’s Forum in Aberystwyth, Wales.
Artworks is never stagnant. The hub is also used for furthering training. “We recognized a need for physical, vocal, ensemble-building and devising workshops and began actively seeking master teachers on the local, national and international level to bring to LA,” says Petrakova. Over the last 3 years they have promoted workshops in Polish ensemble theatre (Teatr Zar, Song of the Goat, Awake), Butoh (Shinichi Iova-Koga), Clown (Jef Johnson’s Clown Lab), Commedia dell’Arte (John Achorn and Brian Powell), Russian Folk singing (Evgeniya Zasimova), Melodrama (Debbie McMahon), Physical Devising (ARTEL) and Performance Through The Body (Stephen Wangh, Bryan Brown). “We actively seek master teachers to exchange their work with the LA theatre community,” say Petrakova. “We actively seek collaboration with LA artists who are looking for support to create new and uncommon physical/vocal performative work. We also promote Around the Teapot discussions on various discourses around art, criticism, sponsorship, science, culture, gestation and generation.” (Please contact email@example.com if you are interested in participating.)
ARTEL, as a resident laboratory, is developing its own training practices and devising processes. They host Gogol-Mogol Tearoom Salons, a cabaret of sorts that engages musicians, painters, dancers and the LA artist community in a one-night improvisational glee.
Right now Brown says they are spending more time on envisioning how viaCorpora can be a larger corporation. “We want something that is much greater and more supportive for interesting new work.”
About two and a half years ago viaCorpora produced the first LA physical theatre festival. “We would love to do more festivals,” says Brown. But “it is time consuming, in a wonderful way. We’ve started to put a plan together and raise money. We’re trying to find the right relationships; it’s an ongoing development. And because we travel so much and have met a number of amazing practitioners we are trying to bring them to LA – not only to do workshops, but also, hopefully, having them do some showings.”
He continues, “We want to expand that dialogue [between artists] – and focus on making more of a lasting impression. On making something that has a larger impact on the theatre community.”
Of course, no dialogue about theatre is complete without the mention of money. Most theatre practitioners in this town have other (non-theatrical) jobs in order to get by.
By Russian standards, says Brown, if you’re not getting paid you’re considered an amateur or that it’s just a hobby. When touring in Russia, “the question always asked is are you being paid? And the answer is no. This needs to change,” asserts Brown. “We need American theatre to really grow. Having other jobs, something to support us to survive, is so dividing. Theatre in its pure essence tends to want to remove the line between life and art. But because we can’t fully do that, we are split and that really affects theatre. And because people are busy with their other jobs, it doesn’t provide the quality of performance that it could be. It also doesn’t provide the opportunity to tour. If we are not full time artists, then there is no way we can compete [internationally.]” At one convention, “it very quickly came to a question of money. Well, our actors don’t get paid. People were shocked that we actually do that in America. It’s startling. We have to change that.”
Since then, Brown has asked himself: “What would theatre people do if they had to survive by only doing their work?
“That has haunted me.”
Thus their mission is to open that dialogue, and maybe find an answer to that question.
Petrakova comments on the notion that because theatre actors don’t get paid much, or at all, it shows their dedication to the craft. Yet, she asks, “How can we explore the other side (not just the ‘I need to get paid part,’ but something larger)? It’s about us creating something that will provide income. Believing that they can make this their livelihood – it’s fundamentally important. Most actors are essentially for hire, rather than owning the product. But with ensemble devised work we own the product. We’re the investors. Then, when this product starts going out and we start getting paid, it’s split between the investors.”
Brown adds, Petrakova’s been “banding around a term called the creative class. Which is about finding a way to marry art and business… thus we have the creative business person – a new class of people. With this new class, we are focused on creating a tribe around the world of artists.”