Last Monday night was a Memorial for Gordon Davidson. If you don’t know who Gordon is or was-the chances are you didn’t grow up in Los Angeles. Gordon Davidson was the founding Artistic Director for the Center Theatre Group for over 40 years. He is the person who made Los Angeles a destination for theatre.
I attended on Monday night not because I knew Gordon personally. But because I wanted to say Thank You.
Gordon — You created my introduction to theatre. You fostered the love of theatre and it’s necessity in community. You created a Golden Era of theatre and made it accessible to everyone. Thank you. I owe you something good.
When I was a kid, my very first show was at the Music Center. Going to the Theatre was an event — I dressed up in my best dress with white knee socks and black patent leather Mary Jane’s and we drove downtown and when we came up those escalators, there was magnificence. Architecture, people in tuxedos, lights and fountains. It was the swankiest place in the world. When the lights went down and the silence fell over the audience — it was reverence and an excitement I’d never experienced, all in one moment. From the second the curtain went up and the lights hit the stage, I was mesmerized. Magic! I was instantly hooked.
Theatre is a pure art form because anything can happen in a theatre. There is no separation from those creating the art and those receiving the art and that connection, that touchable connection, is sacred. That connection is what binds us together as community, as society, as living beings. But also, it makes us aware that we are bound together. That connection is what makes it art because until that connection occurs — it isn’t art. It is intention in a vacuum.
Gordon understood this relationship. He was one of the few artistic directors in the nation that focused on producing new works. He created a relationship with our Los Angeles neighborhoods and commissioned them to give us their voices. He worked with schools and made scholarships available for entire seasons at CTG. Access to theater for everyone. If you grew up in Los Angeles, Gordon was an icon. Sometimes when I would go to the theater, I would see him with his white hair talking to the subscribers. I’d think to myself, maybe one day I will have the chance to show him what I’ve got. Maybe he will shine his silver light on me.
There is a responsibility that is fostered in theatre. It is a mission handed down from one artist to the next. If that magic has touched you — you must pass it on to another. There are certain rules that make magic possible. If you have been a part of the work that has created magic, you must share the rules with another artist. It is a natural mentor/disciple relationship that is fostered in theatre. Those who live within the natural order of theatre lead by example. Those who are new are expected to watch and learn and if you want to come out and play — you follow suit. It was like that for me. It was an honor to be invited to be an apprentice at Zoo District. Through that apprenticeship, I was taught how to respect the medium and how to preserve it.
Responsibility for that simple mission was accepted on that first day I went to the Music Center. If you want to be part of the magic-you will do whatever it takes to speak such sacred truths.
At Gordon’s Memorial Monday night — a traditionally dark night for theatre — it seemed fitting that it was on the Ahmanson stage amongst the Amelie set. It was filled with theatre royalty — people who had worked with Gordon over all those years and all those projects. It was said by more than one person that Gordon’s belief in the power of theatre was mythic. That the sacred words spoken would remain housed in those temples. When they had to renovate the Mark Taper, he was almost superstitious around the idea that some of those words might escape in the process thus being lost to the world forever. Because theatre is an ephemeral thing. You were either there to witness what happened on that stage or you weren’t. Either way it can’t be recreated.
Zoot Suit will be returning to the Ahmanson next month. A very fitting celebration to Gordon’s memory. When it premiered at the Mark Taper Forum in April, 1978, it was the first professionally produced Chicano play. Gordon ushered that project all the way to New York and it became the first Chicano play on Broadway. This was Gordon’s mission. To share the underbelly of our communities, our humanity — what links us all together. Los Angeles has plenty of its own stories to tell. You needn’t go far to find a universal tale.
It was said and felt that the best way that we can honor the memory of Gordon, especially in the political times we live in is to lead with “the same noble intention and unswerving commitment.”
And as Gordon was known to say:
“Leave the door open for possibility.”
This is the legacy fulfilled by Gordon Davidson. That of a true artist.