"All Who Wander Are Not Lost" — JRR Tolkien

The Topanga Canyon Gallery (TCG) is a collaboration of more than 40 local artists, where new shows are curated monthly.  These shows feature one to three artists, or are themed group shows. But twice this year, the TCG artists abandon their own walls to host two other art events: the Juried Open, as well as Love Fest, a fundraiser for Topanga Canyon Elementary School that features student art.

A juried show is one where artists submit their work for selection by a juror for entry into the show. Every year, TCG chooses a different outside juror (often an art professor, gallery owner, or curator) to select the pieces for the exhibition, and then to consider all the work and select prizewinners. This year the Juried Open ran from January 11th through January 29th with juror  Franklyn Liegel. Liegel, an MFA from Otis Arts Institute, has been a faculty member at Otis College Continuing Education for thirty years. Liegel chose work that he felt reflected “the fullest possible range of work and style.” He states that he chose the awards on “a glistening day” when “nature oozed. As [he] walked the room over and over and over, [he] asked [himself], ‘What will nature be like when we are gone?’” This is when he said the pieces “began to speak to [him] with their own vulnerability and beauty.”

Awards were announced at a reception on January 22nd.  Liegel states, “The top awards were absolutely the ESSENCE of this particular exhibition.” Wine and refreshments were served to a packed house, where Liegel mingled among the artists and guests, discussing work, and explaining his selections. 1st place went to Tracey Harnish’s Dysthymia 2, 2nd place to Arthur Kraft’s painting The Apartment, and 3rd to Mara Thompson’s Note Tree. The show also featured two stunning pieces of jewelry: United by One by Fereshteh Fatemi and Evolving Creations II – Pink by Laura Silverman. The pen and ink drawing Octopi by Bridget Klappert was an audience favorite: a colorful intricate image of two intertwined octopi that looked almost digital. Above The Apartment hung Self Portrait: Transformation by Veronica Winston, a romantic painting featuring a child and mother-figure.

The 12th annual Topanga Elementary fundraiser Love Fest runs February 1st through February 4th, with live music, bake sale, and raffle on February 3rd 4 to 7pm. Then it’s back to business as usual with a monthly show Dreaming, featuring two TCG artists, Joel Harris and Farideh Azad running February 8th through March 4th.  The public is invited to join the artists at opening and closing receptions throughout the year.

For further information:

TCG: http://www.topangacanyongallery.com ; (310) 455-7909

Tracey Harnish: www.traceyharnish.com/

Mara Thompson: http://www.mythmara.com/

Arthur Kraft: http://cbsartcollections.com/artists/arthur-kraft

Fereshteh Fatemi: www.ferangelika.com

Laura Silverman:  http://www.etsy.com/shop/ArtiZenBeads

Bridget Klappert: http://bridgetklappert.com/

Joel Harris: www.joelharrisstudio.com

Farideh Azad: www.faridehazad.com

Pepperdine University’s Center for the Arts presented Imago Theatre’s ZooZoo this past Saturday. Smothers Theatre, on the Pepperdine campus in Malibu, is worth a visit for the magnificent ocean views alone. We parked in the free lot below the theatre, enjoyed the view, then took the free shuttle up to the theatre. Here we found young families dressed in their Sunday best scampering about like ants.  As we were shown to our seats in the vaulted 450-seat theatre, we noticed it seemed somewhat misty inside.

Carol Tiffle and Jerry Mouawad founded Imago Theatre, in Portland, Oregon, in 1979. Imago has been “honored for their masked theatre pieces, as well as innovative works that push the boundaries of form, design, and story.” They aim to infuse “each production with an idiosyncratic physical energy.” Having toured internationally, ZooZoo was also performed on Broadway in New York in 2010.

We were certainly treated to a Broadway-quality performance with ZooZoo on Sunday.  Five performers, that seemed a cast of a dozen, danced, leapt, and paraded about in uniquely masked costumes, thanks to “fabricators” Mark Forrest and Cati Thomas. A show without dialogue, ZooZoo is animated with body language, movement, lighting, and music, leaving much to the imagination. Amid giggles and gasps from the audience, the performers thoroughly entertained us with an array of creatures: fluorescent fireflies and snakes, insomniac hippos, long-tongued anteaters, an acrobatic larva, a paper bag, and my favorite, playful marching penguins. Among these were also polar bears who crept in on a cold mist (explaining the misty air inside). Many of the creatures also climbed out into the audience to the thrill of the children (and to the dismay of one adult whose seat was stolen by a penguin).

The five performers, Fiely Matias, Alexander Hill, Darren McCarthy, Keyon Gaskin, and David King, ended the show by revealing their human forms in a rain of “magic paper,” as decreed by one young theatre goer. While we exited, the audience was enthused, remarking how “cool” the show was on their way out. I highly recommend catching ZooZoo when they are touring. It is a show appreciated by all ages and will leave you smiling and inspired.

Pepperdine’s theatre is comfortable, and well managed, without a bad seat in the house. Creative intermission refreshment “plates” (fruit and cheese, veggies, deserts, or wraps) were offered at a small cost by Plate Restaurant in Malibu. Upcoming family theatre at Pepperdine this spring includes Are You My Mother?  and Fancy Nancy and Other Story Books.

For further information:

Center for the Arts: PBox Office: 310.506.4522 or Bottom of Formhttp://arts.pepperdine.edu/

Imago Theatre: http://www.imagotheatre.com/

Plate Restaurant: (310) 317-6800 or http://www.platemalibu.com/

Bottom of Form

In times of a grim economy, global warming, high unemployment rates, and holiday stress, who wouldn’t love to return to the carefree days of childhood? Imagine slipping on that dazzling tutu and dancing blithely around your living room to a song in your own heart; or escaping to a fort of blankets and pillows, where you meet your imaginary friends for a flashlight adventure.

This is the atmosphere cARTel: Collaborative Arts LA envisioned with their most recent event, FORT: Gallery, Party, Playground. Aspiring to “bring back the magic,” FORT took place Thursday December 8 at Angel City Brewing in downtown LA. Partnering with Brownies and Lemonade, along with Schools on Wheels, FORT raised funds to support education of homeless children.

The brewery, a 25,000 square foot warehouse, came alive with music, drinks, and art, while the 600-plus attendees donned newspaper hats and pipe cleaner glasses that were part of the gift bags. On the upper loft of the brewery, proclaimed “Lookout Mountain,” a fort was erected by artist Amanda Wallace. Asked to create an interpretation of “Starry Starry Night,” Wallace fashioned a “gypsy caravan” with fabric and scarves, filled with lights, tinsel, and other found objects. There was space to play cards, chess, make shadow puppets, or sit by a campfire. From Lookout Mountain, one could view the other forts on the ground level. Each fort was the vision and inspiration of different artists chosen for the event.

Artist Joel R. Harris designed an eye-catching red-roofed playhouse. This was a recreation of the “crooked whimsical” houses that appear in his paintings, but as a ten-foot tall cardboard house with a small cardboard doghouse in the yard. Inside hung inspirational art and an interactive “dream wall.” The back of the door featured a list of “fort rules” inspired by Robert Fulghum’s book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Through the crooked little windows one could see a neighbor’s whimsical house (as a painting). Harris was grateful for the opportunity to “allow people to go inside and experience the house within.”

Next to Harris, Darcy F-M created a fort inspired by the recent Santa Ana winds and North American sweat lodges. Collecting fallen braches in her neighborhood, F-M’s fort looked like a disaster from the outside: a bent umbrella flew past an overturned shopping cart and trashcan next to what appeared to be just a large pile of branches. But inside, a warm glow and rocking chair welcomed visitors to a cozy draped teepee with a record player spinning ocean sounds.

The tallest fort was created by Myriad Slits and Purgatory Collective. This was a representation of memories, featuring stacked cabinets and type-drawers filled with collectibles like piggy banks, clocks, bells, drawer pulls, salt and peppershakers, and dolls. It was draped in white lace and lights. On the other end of the warehouse, Emma Goo used colorful boxes and egg crates to enclose a bed of pillows. Snowflakes and lights dangled above while a couple of yard gnomes peeked in.


Overall, this was a creative, unique, and inspired event, definitely recapturing the joy of childhood in adult-style. As cARTel’s sixtieth event, fans can count on more “boundary-pushing” events from these visionaries in the future.

For more information please visit:

cARTel: http://www.wearecartel.org/

School on Wheels: http://www.schoolonwheels.org/

Brownies and Lemonade: http://www.browniesandlemonade.com/

Joel R. Harris: http://joelharrisstudio.com/

Myriad Slits and Pergatory Collective: http://www.myriadslits.com/

Theatricum Bootanicum

The Will Greer Theatricum Botanicum hosted their first annual Halloween event this year on October 28, cleverly calling it Theatricum Boo-tanicum.  With a rustic woodsy setting in the heart of Topanga, they boasted a haunted house, pumpkin carving, ghost stories, game booths, and live music. The evening was scheduled to run from 4pm to 10pm.

Theatricum Boo-tanicum earns an “A” for effort, but if they plan to make this an annual event, there is definite room for improvement.  When we arrived at 6pm, the Botanicum’s grounds were already flooded with families in costume. The crowd seemed mainly to be locals who greeted each other, admiring one another’s creative costumes. Most of the children were 10 and under, with many toddlers and babies in toe.

The haunted house was scheduled to open at 6:30pm so we got in line. At about 6:45, when it still hadn’t opened, someone at the front of the line reported they were working on “toning it down” as they hadn’t expected such a young crowd. Ten minutes later, we decided to get out of line and check on the other activities.

We headed over to the mainly deserted game and activity area. The set up of the games were minimal and on the standard of a typical elementary school Halloween carnival. These included cookie decorating, fishing, a fortune-teller, and face painting. They were available at an additional ticket cost, which was surprising given the high admission fees ($20 per adult and $5 per child). There were free improvisation games, and a ghost craft, but no one was partaking. The pumpkin carving was also an additional purchase of a pumpkin, though carving supplies were provided. Food and drink, including beer and wine, were also available at an additional cost.

The ghost stories were clever, set in a small amphitheater with a spooky dimly lit set. A costumed actor dramatically narrated a story, while another created realistic sound effects. Just as the story was getting spooky, the actor also appeared to “tone it down.” The ghost story we heard ended with a fairy-tale-like happy ending, and the sound effects actor laughing. Stating that her next tale would begin again in an hour, the storyteller then directed us to the live music stage.

We heard one of the four bands, Many Distant Cities, perform. They sang upbeat folksy zombie, vampire, and murder-themed songs, playing a ukulele, drums, guitar, and an accordion.  The music and vocals were strong, but the audience was a disappointing 12 people, as apparently most were still waiting for the haunted house.

We headed back over to the haunted house again at 8:15pm, only to find a much longer line. Those waiting were older, mainly teens and adults, all in costume. After waiting another twenty minutes without the line moving, we decided to head home.

Overall the admission price at $20 per adult seemed a bit steep for what we encountered, given the additional expenses inside. But as one of the venders explained, it was their first annual, and Theatricum Botanicum had no idea what type of crowd to expect. Hopefully next year they will make some improvements and be able to add the Theatricum Boo-tanicum as another high quality entertainment event in the Topanga area.

This past Saturday we headed to Sierra Madre in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. Sierra Madre, just east of Pasadena, has a charming small town feel. In the center of town, Sierra Madre Boulevard is a quaint tree-lined street peppered with cafes and shops, where we found the Sierra Madre Playhouse.

This playhouse was a paradise for our three-year-old daughter. When we entered the lobby for their Fairy Tale Theater performance of The Tale of the Frog Prince, three smiling adults immediately greeted our daughter. They gave her a nametag and handed her a frog visor “on loan,” as well as a “ribbit” maker. Addressing her by name, they invited her into “the swamp” and suggested we have her sit in an aisle seat.

The small theater seats around 120 and the aisles were lined with Lilli pad carpets. We sat near the front and waited for the show to start. All around us children in frog visors hopped, chattered, and twirled their “ribbit” makers. Accompanying fathers, mothers, and grandparents seemed just as excited for the show to start.

A few brief announcements and a raffle preceded the show, while two birthday girls were honored with tickets for the upcoming performance of Cinderella in 2012. Then the Frog Prince arrived.

A lovable actor in a frog costume, Chris Loop, immediately engaged the young audience. He asked them to join him hopping about the swamp and scratching his back where the bugs had bit him.  The story continued when the adorable Lindsay Hopper, as Princess Rosalie, befriended the frog.  The snooty Prince Bertram, played by Hal Sweesy, along with Jane Park as the Queen, and Erica Hopper as Princess Penelope, added to the story’s conflict while Rosalie and the Frog Prince attempted to turn him back into a real prince with a kiss from a princess. Ron Johnston as the King added comedic relief carrying a heavy load of furniture through the swamp, and singing about the bossy Queen. Throughout the show, the audience interacted with the actors dancing and hopping.

Minimal set and lighting left much to the imagination for the children who were enthralled with the actors and the opportunity to participate in the play. I was personally pleased that the evil queen who’d turned the prince into a frog never actually made an appearance, but was only mentioned in a voice over to start the play.

Approximately 45 minutes in length, the play was short enough to maintain the attention of the under 12 crowd, and entertaining enough for the parents. It also had a great moral message for the children. At the end of the play, the Frog Prince led his audience of “frog friends” outside for a meet and greet with the actors and autographs. All in all this was a positive fun family activity.

The Tale of the Frog Prince continues on Saturdays at 11am through November 12. For more information visit the Sierra Madre Playhouse website at http://www.sierramadreplayhouse.org/

You may have driven past it dozens of times without noticing the Miles Memorial Playhouse. It’s the tall white building next to the tennis courts of Christine Emerson Reed Park on Lincoln and Wilshire in Santa Monica. But it is now time to take notice.

The Playhouse hosts a variety of theater events throughout the year including the Annual MixMatch Dance Festival presented by the Hart Pulse Dance Company. This year the 5th Annual MixMatch Dance Festival ran for six nights, with each night showcasing different dance works. In all, there were 65 different dances from over 40 choreographers. Dancers came from all across the country, including southern California, and their work included “Modern, Jazz, Contemporary, Ballet, Hip Hop, Belly, Pointe, World, Pole and Dance on Film works.”

On the fifth night, eleven dances were showcased. All were mainly contemporary and modern dances featuring two to six dancers, but all were unique in their presentation.

The show opened with “Weighted” by the JLOC Collective of New York, staring Stephanie Swensen and Kristel Sterbenz. The dance was an interpretation of one of Anne Sexton’s poems.

Other highlights included “Love Dog” by Megill and Company, danced by Karissa Smith, Erin Riddle, Elyse Villa, and Genevw De Palma. The dance included lipstick and easles as part of a performance art piece. “Influence Acting in Opposition” by Qualia Dance Theater including lighted rolling balls, and “For Water,” a film by Natalie Metzger, concluded Act I.

The brief intermission included complimentary lemonade and a cool evening outside the Playhouse doors in the park. When we returned under the arched doorways and chandeliers of the Playhouse, Act II continued.

“Deux” danced by Marcella Lewis and Joshua Williams showcased the dancers’ strength in movement, while “Out of Our Hands” from Evolve Dance in New York, staring Colleen Cintron-Rivelli, Julie B. Johnson, Alex Martin, Erica Moshman, Jessi Patz, and Kalra Quintero, was an upbeat perfectly synchronized number, tying together a variety of dance steps.

“Under No Certain Circumstance” by SonneBlauma Danscz Theatre of Santa Barbara, danced by Misa Kelly and Welie Ching, was an audience favorite. There was no accompanying music and the grunts and sounds of the two dancers offered a comedic air to a dance that expressed anger, frustration, and cooperation.

The show ended with “Possibility Lost” a short contemporary piece by the Hart Pulse Dance Company with Alyssa Thompson and Chasen Greenwood.

Overall, it is an enjoyable evening of high quality dance in the small Playhouse. Seeing all six nights of the festival would be inspiring if you enjoy a variety of dance. The Playhouse seats approximately 132 people on straight-backed chairs on moveable risers. The audience was a variety of ages, including about a dozen children.  To the Playhouse’s benefit, they also offer free parking at the garage a block away, which is literally unheard of in Los Angeles.

For more information please visit the Hart Pulse Dance Company’s website at http://hartpulsedance.com/

The 2011 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is upon us. Joy! The vast array of panelists, speakers, activities and presentations is overwhelming. It really is. It’s every bibliophile’s dream, methinks. Two full days celebrating the written word in all its beautiful forms? Count me in!

Here are some of the specific guests and events I’m excited about this year:

The Bullseye Bus: Don’t drive? Take mass transit? Don’t feel like bothering with traffic and parking hassles? Target’s Bullseye Bus will have you covered with a shuttle running to Union Station and back. No, I’m not actually excited about riding a bus. I’m excited that the Festival is reaching out to mass transit users and making life easier for us.

Alison Arngrim: She was Nellie Olsen on Little House on the Prairie. There’s so much more than that, though. She’s an abuse survivor, she’s been an AIDS activist since the 1980s, she’s a stellar stand-up comedian, and as evidenced by her memoir, Confessions of a Prairie Bitch, she’s one damned good writer, too. Forget all the ghostwriters and staid prose found in a lot of Hollywood tell-all books. It’s not here. Arngrim’s memoir is intelligent, witty and really, really engaging. Her observations on how she used her experiences as Nellie to become a strong, confident adult are inspiring, and I don’t generally use that term lightly. Arngrim is also a captivating public speaker, and I’m looking forward to hearing her in person.

The Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles: These kids are amazing. I’ll just let their music speak for them. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgL0NWTNH5c

Danica McKellar: Yeah, she was on The Wonder Years, but hello…the woman developed the Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem while she was still in school. Her books, which include Hot X:Algebra Exposed, Kiss my Math and Math Doesn’t Suck, have three aims: to break down middle and high school math concepts and make them accessible and understandable, to give girls confidence that they can master said concepts, and to reinforce the point that being a smart girl is something very positive. Considering how many girls lose interest and confidence in math as they go into middle school, these are big things.

John Bemelmans Marciano: He’s the grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, who brought the world the sassy French schoolgirl Madeline. These days he is continuing the tradition with new Madeline books and artwork that preserves Ludwig’s engaging style.

“What Are You Reading?” Graffiti Wall: Share your latest literary find. Read others’ entries and discover new books you just have to read. Write on a wall that becomes part of the Festival, and an art form unto itself. It’s all good.

Enjoy the Festival, all! We’ll check in again afterward with a review and roundup of the festivities.