Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: Get Resolved

A new year, and everybody is talking, tweeting, posting, snap-gramming, and insta-chatting about their New Year's Resolutions. I find it ironic that we wait until Dec. 31 to get resolved about things in our lives which obviously need resolving every other day of our year, but are then ignored. When it comes to your craft, you better resolve yourself to make some kind of effort every single day to better your chances of success, or you might as well resolve yourself to a lifetime of waiting tables, babysitting, dog-walking, customer greeting, Ubering, or whatever it is you're currently doing to pay your bills. For that matter, if you have resolved yourself to a life of driving other people around for money while they ask you questions such as: “Oh, are you trying to be an actor?” and “Are you doing that ‘acting' thing?” then you might as well resolve yourself to Lyfting in a city that isn't so damned expensive, and leave Hollywood behind you.

If it takes the new year to encourage you to resolve yourself to making more effort each day to advance your entertainment career, then so be it. Nonetheless, if you want to make it, you are going to have to set a new resolution every day. Every day!

So many of us have taken that “day job” to help us pay our bills, and then allowed it to derail our efforts to make a living through our craft. So many of us get overwhelmed by our “adulating” responsibilities that we forget to concentrate our available time and energy toward at least improving our craft. Every day. You have to do the work to get the work.

You absolutely have to resolve yourself to doing at least one important thing every day toward perfecting your craft and advancing your career hopes. If you want to escape Uber hell, then you have to be constantly working toward that escape - one spoon full of earth at a time, if necessary, to dig your way out of the restaurant server servitude and the like.

While you are reading this, ask yourself right now what you have done today to advance your entertainment career, and then resolve yourself to set an immediate plan to do something more before the day is over.

Resolutions are such a curious thing. The word itself has so many profound meanings. We commonly adhere to the most prevalent meaning: to be earnest in a decision; determined. Yet to resolve also means to separate into parts, or to break up; even “disintegrate.” Perfect. Then as artists it should be our goal to resolve the obstacles in our path to success. Separate them into parts. Break them up, and accomplish them one at a time, every day. Resolve to eventually disintegrate them.

Additional meanings of resolve include: to transform by any process; reduce by mental analysis; to deal with conclusively; to clear away or dispel; answer.

Certainly. If you can't disintegrate an obstacle, then resolve it into something else in order to resolve the problem. Here's the problem with most people – not just artists: They spend 90 percent of their time doing what it takes in order to provide the means necessary to do what they want to do with the other 10 percent of their time. That may be true for you, but it doesn't change the fact that you need to spend 100 percent of your energy toward your goals during that 10 percent of time available to you to pursue your craft.

Listen to plays or books about the craft on tape, or podcasts about your art while you drive around waiting for that next customer who needs a ride. Read a play or a screen play on your breaks or lunch hours. Turn off the LuLoo at night in favor of practicing a new audition monologue, or perfecting the one you have that hasn't been winning you any roles lately. Don't spend time caught in the Flix Net, binge watching the latest series. Watch documentaries about your craft, and the best people who have succeeded in the craft. Learn from them. Here's something they all have in common: they did the work to get the work.

Get resolved.

In chemistry, resolve means to separate into “optically active components.” Nothing could be more clear. You have to be able to actively “see” the components to each and every goal. You cannot reach any point without knowing how to get there, and crossing the countless points in between. That requires seeing the points in between with a clear plan about how to traverse them. When we resolve an image, we “separate and make visible the individual parts.” These principles of optics are important to pursuing your craft - one facet of the spectrum at a time, if need be.

In music we “resolve” a chord, or a harmony section from dissonance to consonance. If you are not resolved to pursue your craft every single day, you have cognitive dissonance about your chances of making a living through your art. Resolve to create some consonance between your dreams and your actions. Get busy.

Work doesn't always have to be work. We are creative people. We can create ways to enjoy doing the work. Instead of inviting that fellow actor friend out for drinks, invite them over for a bottle of wine to share monologues. Perform for each other. Give each other notes. Help each other grow as performers. If you are writers, then share some pages with each other of what you are currently working on. Give each other feedback. Advance the draft just one step further…..Every day!

Cartoon of the Algonquin Round Table by Al Hirschfeld. Clockwise, from the bottom left: Robert E. Sherwood, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Franklin Pierce Adams, Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman. In the background, left to right, Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt, Frank Crowninshield, and Frank Case, manager of the Algonquin Hotel.

It's 2019 – the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Algonquin Round Table. The new Roaring Twenties are upon us! When you plan that next dinner party, become your own John Peter Toohey, and create your own Round Table of artists. Do acting exercises with each other, play theater games to keep your skills sharp, and read plays or screen plays out loud together. Plan your next production, Perform scenes and monologues together, and for each other, to learn from each other and improve your craft. Write. Share ideas. Work on accents together.

Resolve yourself to host a theme party for your industry friends. Choose a genre of theatre or film to inspire your theme. Choose a playwright, and ask everyone to come to the party prepared to do a scene or monologue from one of the plays. Choose an accent for the evening, or make it a game throughout the night that every hour on the hour someone draws a new accent out of a hat, and everyone has to do their best to maintain it for the next hour.

We can create ways to have fun doing the work, but we must be resolved to be diligent in our continued pursuit of our craft, and we must stay resolved; whether it is Jan. 1, or Feb. 1, or March 10, or July 29, or tomorrow. And tomorrow, and tomorrow…


Listen and Darkness Comes Alive

Darkness Comes Alive 7/6/18. Photo by Evan Lorenzetti.

The sound is not the first thing you notice when you enter the Lili Lakich Studio, but it is the most surprising. You are surrounded by neon artwork created in Lakich's studio, but after a few moments you hear the most calming sound, a slight hum coming from the lights. White noise, maybe a few bursts of static, and immensely calming, meditative. The last thing you might expect from a room filled with so much light is to find such a soothing sound there.

Trap Street is a cartographers term for something inserted in a map – a street that didn't exist or an elevation for a mountain off by a few or several hundred feet – to catch copycats. If the non-existent street turned up in someone else's map, then they had stumbled into the trap, and their duplicity was obvious.

It is also the name of a group of writers and performers who want to tell stories about Los Angeles, especially spaces and streets that might have been left off the map, not necessarily to catch copycats, but because our eyes have forgotten to look. Trap Street has created a piece called Darkness Comes Alive that marries fiction with reality in an audio-tour of the Lakich studio.

Darkness Comes Alive is not exactly immersive theater – as Trap Street Creative Director Chad Eschman says, "There's no backstory before you arrive and no one pulls you into a room to give you a password – but we do want you to feel like you're in a slightly different version of the world you know."

It's the combination of light and sound that creates Darkness Comes Alive. A typical audio-tour of a museum for instance, is all about facts--so and so was born in 1871, they painted everyday at noon, etc.--but these are stories--told from three different perspectives, each exploring the idea that our souls can be captured within those neon tubes that are illuminated by some eternal presence.

It's still more than a hundred degrees when I arrive at nearly eight o'clock at the Lakich gallery (it's hot bitch! a young girl yells at her friend as I take a few pictures outside.) The Lakich gallery is on what is now a very well trod street, around the corner from the New American Hotel (Al's Bar R.I.P.) and across the street from the always bustling Wurstkuche.

It wasn't so in the early 80's when Lakich first opened her studio – the area was off the radar, far less commercialized and home to a still underground art scene. Gentrification isn't the right word maybe – it's not exactly conformist Middle Class suburbia, but the Arts District has gotten far more expensive, and if we shouldn't mourn the passing of the rougher edges, we'll still feel a loss if the artists who created this neighborhood can no longer afford to live here.

Inside the studio there are less than a dozen people, attendance a victim of this high heat since the opening weekend had crowds closer to sixty. We have already downloaded tracks from our favorite podcast app. They are called the Vigilante, the True Believer and the Undertaker, each the name of a character telling us stories about the neon light installations we are seeing. We are free to follow the stories as we see fit, in whatever order. We wander the room in headphones, and the others having arrived in small groups of 3 to 4 compare their reactions to the piece.

Darkness Comes Alive 7/6/18. Photo by Evan Lorenzetti.

What was your first memory of light? asks one character. The studio's bright white walls are awash in it, different hues mixing together, and the result isn't garish, but like the sound of the lights, comforting. We all look a little better under neon lights I suspect. Julianne Jigour, Director of Development for Trap Street, says she had never before this project considered neon in the realm of high art.

Jigour tells me that Lakich's fascination with neon began when she went on family road trips, and they would choose the motel to stay in for the night based on the neon sign out front. So much for the distinction between high and low art--Lakich's work bridges that gap, and the sensuous quality of all the light makes me believe the show's conceit that souls are preserved inside those glass tubes.

One of the first things Eschman saw when he moved to Los Angeles three years ago was the Lili Lakich studio, but only from the outside. He was very interested by what might be going on there, but with no studio hours posted, there didn't seem to him to be any way to get inside.

Years later, when Amy Thorstenson, Director of Events for Trap Street, wanted to do a piece involving neon light, the group initially approached the Museum of Neon Art (MONAin Glendale, but they weren't responsive. Eschman remembered his first impressions of Lakich studio and made the connection--and suggested the Lakich gallery. Thorstenson called Lakich and found she was willing to talk about their project.

Lakich co-founded MONA in 1981 with Richard Jenkins, but ended her association with them nearly 20 years ago. Her studio is the former home of MONA. Trap Street wasn't aware of this history when they reached out to Lakich.

Lakich gave them a copy of her book Lakich: For LightFor LoveFor Life, and Trap Street took some of her personal history, also adding in fictional elements within the narration. The idea of electricity and neon as a source of life, or that souls are held within light, was inspired by the pieces they saw at the Lakich Studio.

Sticks and Stones installation by Lili Lakich. Photo by Evan Lorenzetti

Trap Street, originally an off-shoot from a Chicago company that did similar work, has been around for about two years. They start with a location and then build the show around it; they don't build sets or costumes to create another imaginary world within a space. They like to take the space exactly as it is.

"We always start with a space that has a story to it already, and the story inspires everything we write, everything we create," says Eschman. "That's why each show is different." Darkness Comes Alive is an audio tour because it somehow felt more appropriate to use that form to explore an art studio and gallery. They used the Iron Triangle Brewery for their first production (Nautapocalypse), and that became a live show, a party where it turned out some of the partygoers were actors playing roles.

"It's really interesting because, unlike (Darkness Comes Alive) where the space is ours, Iron Triangle was still open to the public, so it created this interesting dynamic," says Jigour. The show went on while people drank beers or played bar games. Performing in that environment became a funny challenge, part of the beauty of performing in a public space.

Whatever the exact form of the piece, Eschman wants an audience to come to Trap Street shows to explore an interesting space, knowing they're getting something extra unique to their productions.

"We did a show in Chicago where there were two groups of people who went on an audio tour thinking they were taking the same tour, but they were actually listening to different narrators," says Eschman. "So what happened is that when they went through the space, they encountered live scenes. They all saw the same scenes, but in reverse order. They came together at the end and realized they'd seen the same scenes, but heard a different person explain it."

Chad Eschman and Julianne Jigour of Trap Street. Photo by Evan Lorenzetti

Having each been in Los Angeles for about three years, Eschman and Jigour both feel like they are discovering a city that is changing so rapidly. "One thing about not being...from L.A. is the way it directs your attention in different ways," says Jigour. "I have no really ingrained roadmap of where to look in L.A. so it's kind of like a wildcard."

Inspiration for their projects is intuitive, like driving down the freeway and seeing some sign or building that triggers your imagination. Serendipity. It's how Nautapocalypse came together--Atlas Obscura, publishers of a guidebook celebrating "700 of the strangest and most curious places in the world"--did a tour of Los Angeles buildings that formerly housed brothels. Matthew Johns, Director of Design and Technology for Trap Street, went on the tour. It sold out before Eschman could get a ticket--but they met where the tour ended, the Iron Triangle brewery.

"We just sat there for a few hours and said this place is amazing," Eschman says, and little by little the idea for Nautapocalypse began to take shape.

Trap Street, along with completing a short film based on the writings of William S. Burroughs and hosting a podcast about cocktails called Rogue Bottle, are looking for more spaces that they and their audience can explore. Lakich has already suggested to them that they might return to her studio in the Fall for a remount of Darkness Comes Alive; they may revise or expand the piece if that happens.

They want to create more audio tours across the city, perhaps releasing them for people to download and experience anytime they want. Whatever the project, they want to give the same experience of asking the audience to question what is real and what is fiction.

"We're interested in creating a partnership with different spaces, where it's not just about us and our work and our creative stuff, but it's about inviting the community to these cool spaces that should be seen," Jigour says. They want spaces they can collaborate with and not just be viewed as another rental.

And even though they are newcomers here, Eschman and Jigour say Trap Street is encouraged by how welcoming the artistic community has been. "I just love that everyone in this town seems up for trying something weird and new – it's a little like the Wild West out here," Eschman says.


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"Take Your Broken Heart, Make It Into Art."

My heart is broken and I need some healing!

As January 20th approaches, I'm afraid that the world is coming to an end. It feels like I'm waiting for doomsday to happen, while trying to pretend in front of my boys that life is the best thing ever and every day is the “bestest day ever” as my son, Sydney (5 years), likes to say.

November 7th seems to have put me in a black hole. I have been avoiding friends and people in general. Even at my son's school I have not been able to talk to people much and I've avoided running into people. If I see someone I know, I say a quick “hi” and usually I quickly turn my attention back to my boys. They are a great distraction!

If I talk to anyone, I have to make a concentrated effort to say something positive and if I can't, I talk about the weather. Thankfully we have that now to talk about which also is a great distraction. If I don't focus on the positive, I'm afraid that I will crack and start to cry and fall apart.

I've been searching for inspiration online. Articles about why the wig-man might be a good president fail to inspire me or lift me up. The petitions I'm signing daily seem pointless (though I keep on signing). Calling the White House or my representatives is depressing because people either hang up on me, or the tell me to call someone else, or they connect me to a black hole.

I have avoided social media because it's full of bad news. Some people are outraged, some post articles that are not legitimate, and a lot of people share more and more petitions.

My email inbox has been getting little attention as well. I get emails about great deals on something that I don't need. Emails to sign more petitions. Harassing emails from the Democratic Party to fill out survey after survey and “Why don't I respond. Do I not care about the election?”

And as I'm trying to avoid everything, this past week finally inspiration found me when a friend of mine, Leonora Gershman Pitts, posted in her timeline in response to Meryl Streep's Golden Globe speech. Leonora is is a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She works as an actress and filmmaker, serves as a City Commissioner for the City of LA, and is the co-founder of the Los Angeles Women's Film Collective. She is married, has two kids and two dogs and she lives in LA. Her post is very well articulated and call to action to artists. I needed this! I needed her post to finally be inspired to do something! To not sit at home and dwell on what is happening but to get up and inspire others around me with my art.

I want to talk about Meryl, about bubbles, about cities, and about makers.

The reaction from Conservative Twitter and our own President-Elect after Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes was swift and predictable. After she called on us to access and nurture our collective empathy, to protect and challenge our free press, and to continue to create create create, the Right called the rest of us “elitists”, said that actors should stick to acting, that we West and East Coasters live in a bubble.

First, let's quickly recognize and then release the irony of this relatively small group of Americans decrying the idea that actors/performers/entertainers should hold political opinions and say them out loud; this is the same group of people who worship Reagan, wanted to change the Constitution to allow Schwarzenegger to run for president, and just put a reality show blowhard idiot in the White House.

Secondly, don't come at me with this idea that Trump wasn't mocking the disabled reporter, which seems to be a common right-wing response on Twitter. Own that you voted for the guy who made fun of someone's disability. Own it. You know full and well he was, there is no other excuse. Also, if you think asking people to choose empathy over bullying is political, examine your life and make some changes, I beg you, for the betterment of our fragile world.

On to the generalization that Hollywood, or the coasts, or cities, or any diverse area is stuck in a liberal “bubble”. I live in the second largest city in the United States. Before I lived here, I lived in the largest city in the United States. Before that, I lived in a small city in a vast but tiny-populated state. So, I have a little experience with white, rural America, and a little experience with diverse, urban America.

Here in Los Angeles, my family and I are surrounded by immigrants, transplants, and homegrown Angelinos of every imaginable ethnicity, class, race, and religion. My kid goes to public school, so we have seen first hand how a group of racially, ethnically, socio-economically, academically, and behaviorally diverse little people can come together and immediately form a little society. My white kid is a minority at her school. This isn't a bubble. It couldn't possibly be - we are all so very very different from one another.

Just because our experiences are diverse and co-existing humans has led us to be more collectively progressive in our views doesn't mean we live in a bubble. It means, as they say, that the arc of human thought and action bends toward progress. Always has. The more we work to get through each day together in a large city, the more we realize that we are all in this together, that we need to exist and protect and align with one another: that's progressivism in a nutshell. We co-exist in this city, sharing our experiences, our ideas, our troubles, our triumphs. We come together when we know someone is in need, we create micro-communities within our communities, we know each other's names. That's not a bubble.

A bubble is being surrounded by people who look and think exactly like you. That's a bubble. If you lack the intellectual curiosity to suss out the difference between fake news and real news - and then just automatically doubt the reporting of the real news, you're in a bubble. If you have convinced yourself that a man who uses the kind of bullying, hurtful language that our president-elect uses, is worthy of our higher office: bubble. Bubble. Bubble. If you think his cowardly and cruel heart is somehow honorable, bubble. Awful bubble.

To Hollywood, specifically, being an “elitist” bubble, I invite any of you to please come visit a set. Nearly every single person on that set belongs to a union. Nearly every single person, save maybe the very biggest stars (who have earned their money and acclaim are shouldn't be excluded from the conversation just because they happened to succeed) are working- and middle-class. Electricians, grips, sound designers, hair and makeup artists, PAs, most actors, costume designers, editors, line producers, location managers, camera ops, DPs, casting directors, set dressers and designers -- most of us are just independent contractors working from job to job. Union workers, just like a mason or a police officer or a plumber.

Lastly, to the point that Meryl should shut up, that actors / entertainers / performers / makers / creators / artists shouldn't speak about politics or current affairs - this might be the point that pisses me off the most. The entire reason art exists, in every single form, is to illuminate, explore, dissect, and attempt to explain the human experience. Since the dawn of man, since people could speak, artists - STORYTELLERS - have helped us understand ourselves. When a movie makes you cry or a TV show makes you laugh or a painting has taken your breath away or a piece of writing has made you blink in disbelief at its beauty or a song has given you goosies from head to toe - even if it is escapist art - it is because some part of you recognizes yourself within the art. Maybe not even you, personally, but yourself as a member of the human race.

Actors, creators, artists, we are all just storytellers. It's our one job. Art is inherently political, and it always, always, always has been. So to the people on the right who want us to shut up, nice try. We've never been able to shut up - it's precisely why we, even the shyest among us, became artists in the first place. So, as we say in California: yeah, no. We aren't shutting up. We're turning up, now more than ever. Make your own shit if you don't like it. Dare ya.

Artists: let's get to work. It's annoying them. That means it's working.

If you feel like I felt the past few months, I hope you will find inspiration to create art. Don't wait for others to invite you to create. Start on your own. And if you are inspired to create something, let us know what it is. We would love to hear it.

As for me, neighbors, inspired by my edible forest front yard, came over today. I gave them a tour of our garden and told them how we are harvesting and storing water with Hügels and ditches, with drought tolerant plants and native flowers. I showed them what vegetables and herbs we have planted and how we are protecting our plants from the scorching sun with arches and plants that will grow in during spring. They are inspired to have a garden like ours and I offered to help.

This will be the year for me where I can put my knowledge and pass it on and who knows, maybe these next four years I will work toward transforming our neighborhood into a sustainable community.