The cast of ‘Citizen: An American Lyric”
by Sean P. Thomas
The stage is set for a collection of Los Angeles’ creative minds to get a moment in the spotlight. Even better, those moments will take place in Downtown, and the performances will be free.
On Friday-Sunday, April 27-29, the inaugural Our L.A. Voices: Spring Arts Festival will fill Grand Park. The happening will bring more than 30 artists and groups to the 12-acre space, where there will be live theater, dance, music and more. There will be performances as well as opportunities to buy art.
Julia Diamond, Grand Park’s interim director, said that the festival was created through a joint venture with the Music Center. The goal is to showcase a wide spectrum of the L.A. art scene, with everything from sculptors to digital artists in a family-friendly environment.
“We’re really trying to tell a big story about L.A. as a center of massive amounts of creative energy,” Diamond said.
Grand Park opened in 2012 and has played host to numerous community events, everything from the annual New Year’s Eve celebration to a book festival. Frequently local artists have been involved, but were not the focus.
This weekend, Diamond said, the artists will be thrust front and center. Festivities run from 6-10 p.m. on Friday, 1-10 p.m. on Saturday and 1-6 p.m. on Sunday.
“We’re trying to tell the biggest story that we can,” Diamond said. “It’s about making a big splash for an important part of L.A.’s identity and giving the audience a chance to come see art in one place.”
‘Citizen: An American Lyric’
Festival organizers have partnered with a number of artists and groups, among them the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood. The theme of the festival is, “What does it mean to be a citizen?”
Aptly, the Fountain Theatre will perform Citizen: An American Lyric, an adaption of poet Claudia Rankine’s book of the same name that explores race relations and questions of citizenship in the United States. The novel was adapted by Stephen Sachs, artistic director of the Fountain, after coming across a book review in the New York Times. In the wake of the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Sachs said that he wanted the theater to make a statement on race relations in America, and that Rankine’s words provided the proper avenue.
He described the book and the ensuing play as less of a sledgehammer and more of a scalpel, precisely dissecting racial narratives in American society to get to the core of what a citizen’s experience is like in the country. Citizen will be mounted on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; each hour-long performance will be followed by a community discussion about the play and the festival.
Diamond said the play, which was previously on stage at the Fountain and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, resonates with audiences and fits the theme of what she is trying to do with the Spring Arts Festival.
“It really became the core question of this year’s festival,” Diamond said. “Who belongs? Who is on the inside? Who is on the outside?”
Sachs said it is gratifying to have the work appear at the festival. However, he said he is disheartened that the issues that prompted the play are still relevant almost four years after Brown’s death.
“It’s very meaningful to me to have this work shared with as many people as possible,” Sachs said. “I love the idea of doing it in Grand Park in front of City Hall. I can’t think of anything more appropriate.”
The stage at Grand Park, downtown Los Angeles.
“We encourage people to come out in full force and to bring the whole family,” Diamond said. “Art is meant to bring us together and get us thinking, and there is no better way to do that than across generations.”
The Our L.A. Voices: Spring Arts Festival runs Friday-Sunday, April 27-29, at Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave. or grandparkla.org/event/ourlavoices2018.
This post originally appeared in Downtown News.