By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — As the country grappled with the pandemic lockdown of COVID-19, members of the award-winning Los Angeles Chalk Repertory Theatre used their ingenuity and creativity to pivot from live theatre to an immersive auditory play experience.
Participants can use their headphones or earbuds and listen on the internet or their cell phone to the five engrossing plays.
Titled “Chalk Lines,” the short plays can be experienced for free online at home or on location by using a mobile device. Access to the plays began June 19 and will be available through December.
Funded by the city Department of Cultural Affairs and written and performed by local actors and playwrights, the short plays are set in the vibrant but often overlooked historic landmarks of West Adams, Leimert Park and Exposition Park of South Los Angeles.
“Most of the playwrights have a real connection and authentic experience with the neighborhoods they write about,” said Jennifer Chang, co-founder of the Chalk Repertory Theatre.
Chang founded Chalk Repertory Theatre in 2008. The company focuses on telling site-specific stories about people and communities in Los Angeles.
“I’m really proud of all the pieces that shine a light on L.A. locations and history,” Chang said.
Chang expressed hope that listeners will venture out on the Expo Line, where several of the stories are set, to experience the richness of Los Angeles.
The playwrights included in the immersive series include actor/playwright Giovanni Adams, who wrote “Mutual Life,” set at the Carl Bean AIDS Care Center in historic West Adams.
Other playwrights featured are writer Luis Alfaro, who wrote “March of Time-Time Warp,” which covers 150 years of Los Angeles history; and actor/writer/director Kimrie Lewis, who wrote “Eight for Sixteen,” a story about an encounter between a white USC student and Diamond, a wise elderly Black woman who sells wares on the Expo Line.
Director/playwright Joseph Guy Maldonado wrote “From Your Homeworld to Mine,” a story highlighting a man preaching about alien life.
Director/playwright Colette Robert wrote “Leimert Park Drum Circle, Sunday Afternoon,” a story set in historic Leimert Park, where the beat of the drums beacon visitors to dance to ancient rhythms.
Chalk Lines also features underexplored communities including indigenous people of color and LGBT perspectives and a diverse creative team.
The play “Eight for Sixteen,” centers on Karly, a USC student, and her encounter with Diamond as they ride the Expo Line from Vermont Avenue to Crenshaw Boulevard. During their encounter, the intersectionality of feminism, race and privilege are brought to light as their different worlds collide.
Lewis, who grew up near Adams Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, was asked about her inspiration for writing the play.
“There’s all kinds of characters you encounter on public transportation,” said Lewis, who plays Mika, the news director on the TV sitcom “Kenan.” “I always find the merchants who sell on the trains fascinating. They’ve got CDs, deodorant, snacks, water and even socks. I think their hustle is so smart because you are in a confined space with a bunch of people on a train and they are basically putting items in front of you that are so essential.
“I think a lot of folks tend to look at people like that as victims, but I wanted to show their bold entrepreneurial spirit. It’s brilliant and it shows their business savvy.”
Lewis said she used her South Los Angeles background to help write her story.
“My goal was to show a slice of life of an underprivileged area that doesn’t get the same funding for education, jobs and medical care as other communities,” Lewis said. “But sitting smack dab in the middle of that community is USC, an institution that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars from students and parents.”
Adams’ “Mutual Life” is set in 1992 at the former Carl Bean AIDS Care Center. A young Latino orphan named Arturo is living out his last days in the Carl Bean hospice and receives a mysterious sales visit for life insurance. The life insurance salesman turns out to be “Death,” who has arrived to guide Arturo to the end of his mortal journey. The play features actors Tonatiuh Elizarraraz (Arturo) and Xan Churchwell (Dee). Churchwell, 25, is Arturo’s friend in the play.
“I hope the audience takes away that we are all people and that we are all going through something,” Churchwell said. “I think each of us need a little more compassion and love for one another, especially during the AIDS epidemic. There is unfortunately a whole generation that we have lost and I believe their names deserve to be heard and remembered.”
In “Leimert Park Drum Circle, Sunday Afternoon,” Robert relies on his background of growing up in Windsor Hills. Nearby Leimert Park is where the drum circles gather. Dazzled by the dozens of colorful drummers and dancers who frequent the circle each Sunday, Robert was inspired to write the play.
“I feel that the drum circle speaks to the African diaspora and the rhythm that unites black people that is in
our soul,” she said. “The drums are the ancient beat that unites all of us. I hope the audience enjoys the play and I hope it helps them connect with their inner child.”
Streaming information and an experience guide are accessible through https://chalkrep.com.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.