All the world’s a stage

01 wild Up at the Santora (650x433)
Composer Lisa Bielawa, right, performs “Genesis” in the atrium of the Santora building in Santa Ana with a violinist from L.A.’s wild Up orchestra.

It used to be that attending a concert consisted of buying a ticket, taking a seat and watching the same thing as everyone else in the room. But a recent spate of shows in the Southland have taken performance off the stage — and into public places like train stations and historic buildings, letting viewers wander around.

This week artist Emily Mast will be staging a work around the L.A. County Museum of Art. Reporter Carolina Miranda joins KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis to discuss the trend.

Rather than one big theatrical work, L.A. artist Emily Mast is going to stage a series of theatrical vignettes around the museum. The piece combines theater with performance art with the poetry of Catalan poet Joan Brossa. It will be focused on taking viewers on a procession to the forgotten corners of the museum, including a balcony facing Wilshire Boulevard that no one ever visits.

LACMA curator Jose Luis Blondet is a fan of using these in-between spaces. People often go to the museum and just look at a painting, but he thinks a performance like this can change the way people experience the space.

The performances were all part of a show called "Santa Ana Sites #4: wild Up at the Santora," which explores ways of taking art and performance into public spaces. Here, a pianist from wild Up places a rendition of Radiohead's "Let Down."
The performances were all part of a show called “Santa Ana Sites #4: wild Up at the Santora,” which explores ways of taking art and performance into public spaces. Here, a pianist from wild Up places a rendition of Radiohead’s “Let Down.”

This idea of doing a show in public spaces is not totally new. Last fall, the opera “Invisible Cities” was held at Union Station, allowing viewers to wander around and choose where they stood and what they saw. Street theater troupes going back centuries have always used whatever space they could get their hands on to put on shows.

In recent years, it’s definitely picked up steam — major theatrical works have been staged this way in New York. A couple of years back, the Society for the Activation of Social Space Through Art and Sound staged mini-concerts at a motel in Eagle Rock. You could choose what room you went in to and what you listened to.

Last month, the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana helped organize something similar at the historic Santora building in downtown. There was a piano recital in a corner studio, and an experimental trombone piece in the basement.

The Santa Ana Sites performances consisted of a series of micro concerts. Visitors were free to go into any room in the building at any time and stumble into a performance. Seen her: a percussion performance by Corey Fogel.
The Santa Ana Sites performances consisted of a series of micro concerts. Visitors were free to go into any room in the building at any time and stumble into a performance. Seen here: a percussion performance by Corey Fogel.

So why is this type of staging becoming such a thing now? For a number of reasons: economics can be one — in some cases, it can be easier to do a pop-up performance in an empty gallery or a hallway than doing all kinds of elaborate staging. But it also has to do with the way we consume culture today. At the Santa Ana performance at the Santora, Carolina spoke with composer Lisa Bielawa, who had an interesting theory on why this is becoming so popular.

“Audiences are getting used to, particularly in music, they’re getting used to choosing, having more of a choice of what they’re to hear,” Bielawa said. “Think of things like Spotify or where they have a playlist where they can control. Choosing what you want to hear is becoming more active. And the listening experience is, I think, moving further and further away from the kind of experience that one used to have, you know, buying a ticket to go see a concert and sitting in seat A22 and hearing everything from there.”

Matt Barbier plays "Sequenza V" by Luciano Berio in a storefront in the Santora Building's basement as part of Santa Ana Sites.
Matt Barbier plays “Sequenza V” by Luciano Berio in a storefront in the Santora Building’s basement as part of Santa Ana Sites.

At the Santa Ana show, there were a few people who looked slightly confused. Like, “Where do I stand?” But there’s a real sense of excitement, too. In Santa Ana, Mike Kerr, an Orange County resident, said he really dug it.

“I think the whole concept is great,” Kerr said. “I love a chance to get intimate with the music and the musicians. And, it’s, you get a chance to sample lots of different things. The musicians are very excited about it. I talked to several of them and they think it’s a wonderful experience. And it’s really an interesting opportunity to hear a wide range of different kinds of music in a great setting. And the energy level is so just high. People are walking around with smiles and they’re totally into it.”

A performer from the wild Up orchestra plays a "Solo for English Horn" written by Lisa Bielawa. Bielawa is currently at work on a residency at the Grand Central Art Center, which sits across the street from the Santora.
A performer from the wild Up orchestra plays a “Solo for English Horn” written by Lisa Bielawa. Bielawa is currently at work on a residency at the Grand Central Art Center, which sits across the street from the Santora.
An installation by Chris Kallmyer occupied one of the spaces at the Santora. An art video featuring a mumbling track of television preachers also included a live performance on French horn.
An installation by Chris Kallmyer occupied one of the spaces at the Santora. An art video featuring a mumbling track of television preachers also included a live performance on French horn.
The Santora is one of Santa Ana's most notable historic buildings and musicians from wild Up played mini-concerts in practically each and every space: studios, hallways, the atrium and the basement. Here, a clarinest plays a modern composition in a dramatically lit studio.
The Santora is one of Santa Ana’s most notable historic buildings and musicians from wild Up played mini-concerts in practically each and every space: studios, hallways, the atrium and the basement. Here, a clarinetist plays a modern composition in a dramatically lit studio.