I spent two nights in Los Angeles, California, and didn’t even see the Hollywood sign. I did, however, enjoy an evening with an amateur dramatic group in a public library. Yes, friends, that cliché is true. Everyone in LA is an aspiring actor or actress. If anyone tells you different it’s because they want you to drop your guard while they steal your audition for a yoghurt commercial.
Not much actual acting happened at the amateur dramatic group. There was a lot of gossipping about auditions, failed or otherwise (actually, no, now that I think about it, just failed). There was hyper-critical analysis of headshots — the physical manifestation of these people’s own sense of self-importance — which anyone in LA has to carry around with them at all times. There was lots of excuse-making (“oh, I didn’t bring my script today, but here’s one I love from a scrawny misunderstood independent screenwriter you’ve never heard of”). And then, right at the end, there was some massive melodramatic monologue-reading which was either compelling or creepy depending on how you feel about warcrimes against Bosnians.
But let’s freeze-frame here, with this woman kneeling on the floor outside this public library at midnight, hair flopped over her face, weeping, and let’s rewind a few hours like this is a bad sitcom episode. I’d just arrived in Union Station (pictured above) from Tucson, Arizona. The sun was shining with the promise of Hollywood megastars and bare-skinned beach babes. I was picked up at the station by my host, Mia, in her little yellow car that looked like a sports car from a distance but turned into a faded former taxi when she got close. She parked right outside the station, pulled me over, argued for ten seconds with the orders-is-orders parking attendant and then we departed in a hurry.
“Fuck LA,” she said. Her first words to me.
“Yeah, fuck LA.” Her second words to me.
It was somewhere between her third words and her thirtieth that I found out she held a prominent position as a public speaker for Amnesty International in Southern California.
Whether talking about falsely imprisoned death row inmates in Georgia (this was a few months before the execution of Troy Davis) or the inability of LA residents to drive in a straight line, Mia oozed so much passion that she had to keep a box of tissues on the dashboard. I might not have agreed with everything she said (but we’ll ignore that because, let’s face it, no one comes here for a debate about ethics), but I loved Mia. Anyone that passionate about anything, let alone everything, can only be admired.
She even had strong opinion on ales and, err, vegan sausages. We had both in what I, as a Brit, can assure readers was definitely not a pub. It was what a small city pub might look like if taken over by a fabulous gay couple and a hipster. There were tables-for-two along one wall, a bar along the opposite wall and a chasm of space in between. It was like they were waiting for more furniture deliveries. It was only later, while in a wine bar, that I realised all the empty space was actually designed that way. It was for these wannabe stars to stand upright while trading witticisms. Apparently sitting down is a sign of weakness in Los Angeles. Standing up makes back-stabbing that much easier I suppose.
After eating Mia drove us a few miles to a public library. I’ll be honest, I was expecting these amateur dramatics groups meetings to be all hush-hush and in basements with candles and shadows, not in a well-lit library courtyard with sweet old ladies pushing book carts down corridors. After a whole lot of standing around, excuse-making and general thumb-twiddling for a few hours, it was midnight, the library was closed, the car park was empty, and the four of us were standing out front getting ready to say goodbyes (because even the simplest thing in Los Angeles seems to involve a lot of preparation).
“Let’s just read these monologues,” Mia said. Allen went first. Then Madison. Then Mia. She really got into it. It went on for three sheets, a recreation of the climactic soliloquy from a Bosnian in a documentary about warcrimes back in the day (Google it). The amount of water on my host’s face grew ever more concerning, her body motions beginning to make me wonder if she hadn’t had a stroke. The others stood with brows furrowed, hands in pockets. Eventually Mia finished, both orally and physically, and quite possibly sexually too (the floor was awfully damp).
In the car, after goodbyes were finally said, Mia asked me, “So, what did you think?”
“I, uh, well, umm, you definitely, err, meant what you said. You’re a passionate woman.”
“Thanks, Chirpy. I’m glad you said that. The others are all about analysis, analysis, analysis. To them everything is about success. About getting an audition, getting a part, getting famous. I don’t do it for that. I do it because I enjoy it, because I want to tell the world about things happening elsewhere in the world. Horrible things. I think drama and theatre is a great way of disseminating that kind of information in an accessible form.”
I didn’t feel the need to tell her that a 20-minute monologue about the tortures faced by people in a country most Americans have never heard of wouldn’t generally be considered “accessible”, but hey, I can’t imagine many people thought the key to Jimmy Savile’s dressing room was that accessible, but apparently it was. So who knows, maybe she’ll be famous one day and I’ll have to eat my words. Or she’ll gate-crash a Hollywood party with her Amnesty gang and start shrieking that Ryan Gosling has a cold, cold heart because he doesn’t buy fair trade coffee. I’m not sure which is more likely.
If you made it this far, congratulations, you have stamina. Now it’s your turn: Thoughts? Anyone? About anything?