• Ports O’ Call Feasibility Study Reveals Weaknesses All Around

    Financial weaknesses obscures deeper missing vision weakness

    By Paul Rosenberg, Senior Editor

    The long-awaited financial feasibility study for redeveloping Ports O’ Call, released in early November, concluded that “the Developer’s Initial Concept is not financially feasible.”

    But that a scaled-down project, anchored by a smaller themed attraction, would be feasible. Councilman Joe Buscaino, who dismissed it as merely “an opinion,” at a special meeting of the council’s Trade, Commerce and Tourism Committee, held on Nov. 12, 2014 at Port of Los Angeles headquarters in San Pedro, quickly panned it.

    “I’m not looking for a scaled-down project,” said Buscaino, in his opening remarks. “My vision is for Ports O’ Call redevelopment project to be an opportunity to pursue an important first step in transformation of our LA Waterfront.”

    He went on to draw comparisons  to “key initiatives that have taken place in the last several months,” starting with “$1 billion that has been earmarked to green the Los Angeles River.”

    At Buscaino’s invitation, early waterfront promenade promoter John Papadakis went much further in criticizing the study, blasting it as “anemic” and “intentionally misguided.” But the developers themselves, who Papadakis also blasted, were far more measured, treating the study as a worthwhile, but inherently limited document.

    “It’s very worthy effort,” said Wayne Ratkovitch, who heads up one half of the development team known as the LA Waterfront Alliance, but there are limits, he explained. “Feasibility studies, however, cannot take into account a number of things. They can’t take into account good fortune. They can’t take into account creativity, entrepreneurship, opportunities that can’t be seen or expected. So our job is to exceed what the model says.”

    Erik Johnson, representing the other half, took a similarly balanced approach.

    “I think it was an important step that needed to be taken by the port,” Johnson said. “By the very nature of these types of things, they tend to undershoot the actual mark. I think in many ways it presents a conservative picture. But if you just take it at face value, the original phase of development is almost identical to what we had proposed. That may be all the market can bear today, but we don’t think so.”

    “Our job is to bring in something better than the standard,” Ratkovitch elaborated. “The standard is simply to look at other projects and compare this one to other projects. We want to do more than that. We have done more than that. I keep thinking about some of our past projects. The Oviatt Building [a 1928-built Art Deco treasure], in downtown Los Angeles, we had not one, but two, feasibility studies [that] told us to do food-service and building, but keep it very low. We didn’t do that. We we brought in the Rex restaurant, which was the finest restaurant in Los Angeles for 17 years.”

    And then, there was the Wiltern Theatre, which “was about to be torn down, it had no future. We had to recover equipment to put the theater back together. Now, 30 some years later, it’s still functioning as a live theater and doing very well.”

    All developers may believe they’re exceptional and can defy expectations, but Ratkovitch has the record to prove it—not just a record of financial success, but also of preserving and enhancing heritage. This is why his involvement was so widely welcomed. Johnson, on the other hand, dove into some of the details in order to make a related point, that the big-picture opportunities were being significantly underestimated.

    “If you just take at what’s modeled at face value, just the RD & E [retail, dining and entertainment] enhancements, will add $28 million in incremental revenue on that site,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t include the themed attraction component, which is $22 million, add them together that’s $53 million of economic activity that can be made on the base case… which is less than what the developer thinks is achievable.”

    But there was more that was being overlooked, Johnson argued.

    “It doesn’t include the quantification of the incremental tax revenue, property tax, sales tax, business tax. It talks about 500 jobs, but it doesn’t include the multiplier effects, the add-on jobs and the overall economic employment—property value, which is trickier to estimate. But, if you look at this as a project not just with the port, but for the City of Los Angeles, as a whole, the economic benefits are manifoldly increased from those modeled.”

    Another side that’s apparently not getting the attention it deserves is that of the ongoing concerns that have kept Ports O’ Call  alive all these years—alive and growing, according to Mike Galvin, POLA’s director of special projects, who presented the study to the committee.

    “The existing site has been experiencing very good revenue growth in the last three years,” Galvin said. “It’s up about 28 percent since 2010.”

    That is, with estimated visitors up from 800,000  to around 1.5 to 2 million annually.

    In short, it’s already a significant economic force—but an endangered one—two points driven home by Michael Ungaro, whose family owns The San Pedro Fish Market. Also, more broadly, it was supported by Stephanie Mardesich, who spoke up on behalf of “preserving the history of our community,” noting that she had been vocal “on behalf of saving Ports O’ Call” and routinely got expressions of support whenever she spoke out.

    “That does not mean I’m against the project or what Alan and his team are doing,” she said.

    But it did reflect a strong concern that historical continuity was being forgotten—one of  several  themes that long-time waterfront activists June Smith, who also commented briefly, touched upon in later comments to Random Lengths.

    Ungaro, however, gave these general concerns a razor-sharp focus:

    “We currently hold four Guinness World Records and attracted over 1 million visitors from all other Southern California in the last 12 months,” he said. “We are also a current tenant the Port of Los Angeles on the LA Waterfront. After more than five decades, our lease will be coming to an end in seven weeks.”

    That is an extremely precarious  position  for such an economic powerhouse to be in.

    “According to the study our company provides the waterfront with over 50 percent of its financial results, 70 percent of its paid visitors, and nearly 80 percent of its year-over-year growth,” Ungaro explained. “We note that all those accomplishments and those of like businesses are lumped anonymously together, while assuming that our company and our peers can provide twice as much financial result. Even after having our net space is cut by 30 percent, our rent is raised by 138 percent,” to match rental rates in the Wilshire district.

    According to the report, Ungaro said, “We are the only paid tourist attraction in California that attracts over 1 million people annually and has no long-term guarantee of location, lease or lease amount.”

    But the precarious position of Ports O’ Call’s current tenants is only one facet of a larger neglect of community well-being, as summarized by Smith, a leading community activist on waterfront development issues for more than a decade with the Port  Community Advisory Committee. Smith spoke briefly during the one-minute public comment period at the meeting, but gave Random Lengths a more extended reflection on the gap that’s opened up between the port and the community over time.

    When the Waterfront Alliance development team was chosen, “The port and the developers made it very clear that they were no longer asking for ‘input’ but only for public reaction to their plans,” Smith said. “The port sold this approach by its ‘urgency’ in finally seeing a new development.  By this time, both the PCAC and the CRA had been disbanded, and the groups that had been formed and had overseen the numerous plans and attempts at developmental designs for 12 or more years.  There was no mechanism, in effect, to properly oversee the proposed development.  Essentially, the community was back to doing business with the port in the same way as the good old days before PCAC.”

    One result, Smith noted, was that “Absent a cohesive knowledgeable community group having the ‘ear’ of the port. The port has quietly been ‘cleaning out’ businesses at POC.  The negotiations for new leases drags on and is a critical aspect of what the newly chosen developers can do at the site.  Some, like the Art Association, have simply been cut off because the port no longer thinks it worth subsidizing…. [T]heir plan all along has not been to necessarily keep the current businesses as the new development moves forward.  Not keeping successful businesses runs counter to everything professional waterfront developers have told all of us, consistently,”

    Smith specifically mentioned studies done by the Urban Land Institute, which the port has repeatedly given lip-service to and then ignored.

    Another window onto the port’s failure of vision can be gleaned from the feasibility study itself. Part of that study involves an inventory of existing nearby attractions and the potential inter-actions of customer bases. But the only considerations envisioned are pairwise overlap.

    Concerning CRAFTED, for example, the study notes, “Annual visitation is approximately 90,000 visitors. Current visitation is generally from the South Bay but due to target market and separation from the Project, there is not believed to be much overlap of visitors.”

    Concerning the Maritime Museum, it says, “The museum visitation is approximately 80,000 annual visitors. While a redeveloped POC may benefit the Museum, the limited attendance volume and typical visitor profile (youth/school groups) moderates retail spend potential.”

    Comments are similarly narrow regarding the USS Iowa, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the World Cruise Center, and others. There is no hint of thinking about holistic synergies between all the different elements, which was a key animating concept in the early stages of waterfront development planning, and which the port alone is in a position to nurture and guide.

    Smith provided a broad overview of what this would entail.

    “A well conceived coordinated plan should include: a) a completely integrated transportation and parking plan; b) the retention of currently successful businesses; c) addition of businesses that are unique to the Harbor history and culture, including: the fishing industry; the armed services; the labor movement; the Japanese community and all the immigrant cultures who formed the Harbor Area and their colorful contributions in the arts, foods and music.”

    Going even deeper than Mardesich, Smith continued.

    “I, frankly, am deeply dismayed that the historical elements that were possible only a few years ago have almost been totally obliterated,” Smith said. “Only the Japanese community seems to have continued to raise funds to assure the awareness of their successful but painful history in the Harbor. We have watched many of the old successful immigrant based businesses fold, restaurants like Ante’s and Canetti’s, bakeries such as Ramona’s and the Norwegian Bakery, businesses such as Williams’.”

    The preservation of such businesses in a rich historical and cultural mix was one of the primary lessons that waterfront activists learned from attending international waterfront conferences in the early 2000s. And, while the obvious common sense of such preservation remains clear to individuals in the community, it seems to have no institutional representation or  power to shape the future.

    “This is of the highest priority to the Harbor Department in non-cargo-related areas,” said POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka  in kicking off the discussion of Ports O’ Call redevelopment.

    But if it’s to succeed, POLA also needs to prioritize rebuilding a framework in which the community can fully participate in shaping its future, with enduring ties to its past.

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  • RLn ANNOUNCEMENTS: Dec. 4, 2014

    Dec. 6
    San Pedro Urban Greening Project 
    Participate in the San Pedro Urban Greening Project Design Workshop #3, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 6, at the Warner Grand Theatre.
    Details: (818) 424-6582; Click here
    Venue: Warner Grand Theatre
    Location: 478 W. 6th St., San Pedro
    Dec. 6
    Rules to Remember
    The Long Beach Police Department encourages the community to comply with all during the annual Belmont Shore Christmas Parade, at 6 p.m. Dec. 6, on 2nd Street.
    These advisements include:

    • Allow plenty of time to find legal parking and consider using public transportation, which is affordable and allows you to avoid traffic congestion.
    • Sidewalk areas and center medians cannot  be reserved with personal property until 5:00 p.m.
    • Long Beach Municipal and California Penal Code sections regarding under-age drinking and/or possession of alcohol will be enforced
    • Street vendors selling items without a business license are subject to citation or arrest and may have their property confiscated
    • No dispensing of Silly String
    • Parade goers are reminded to immediately report any suspicious activity to the nearest police officer or by calling 9-1-1.

    Affected street closures and times are as follows:

    • Livingston Avenue will be closed from Ocean Boulevard to Second Street at 2 p.m. for staging parade participants
    • At 4 p.m., all north/south streets from Quincy to Claremont Avenues will be closed up to the immediate alleyways that run parallel to 2nd Street on both the south and north sides
    • Second Street will be closed from Livingston Drive to Bay Shore Avenue at 5 p.m.
    • All roads will reopen by 11 p.m.

    Dec. 6
    Long Beach, Green Terminal Island Plan
    The public is invited to attend the first community workshop to discuss the Livable West Long Beach Plan and Green Terminal Island, at 10 a.m. at Silverado Park in Long Beach.
    Long Beach has begun two key planning efforts that will have a major impact on enhancing the quality of life in West Long Beach. The Livable West Long Beach Plan will establish a comprehensive strategy to ensure that existing improvement measures found in plans such as the I-710 Community Livability Plan and the Mobility Element, are funded and implemented throughout the west corridor of the City.  The Green TI Plan will define the community’s vision for converting the TI Freeway into a local serving road with an associated greenbelt.
    Details:  www.lbds.info/westlongbeachplan
    Venue: Silverado Park
    Location: 1545 W. 31st St., Long Beach
    Dec. 6
    Carson Used Motor Oil, Filter Collection Event
    Carson will be hosting a used motor oil and oil filter collection event to allow residents to get rid of used motor oil that cannot otherwise be disposed of in regular trash, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 6, at Carson City Hall.
    Details: (310) 847-3520
    Venue: Carson City Hall
    Location: 701 E. Carson St, Carson
    Dec. 6
    Health Insurance Enrollment Event

    The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services will host a health insurance enrollment event, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 6, at The Center Long Beach.
    Certified Enrollment Counselors will assist community members with Medi-Cal and Covered California applications during the current enrollment period. Language assistance is available in Spanish and Khmer.
    Details: (562) 570-7979; www.longbeach.gov/health/fss,
    Venue: The Center Long Beach
    Location: 2017 E. 4th St., Long Beach

    Dec. 8
    NWSPNC Stakeholder Meeting
    The Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council Board and Stakeholder Meeting will take place, at 6 p.m. Dec. 8, at Peck Park
    Details: (310) 548-7580
    Location: 560 N. Western Ave., San Pedro

    Dec. 11
    Free Water Education Classes
    The South Bay Environmental Services Center is hosting a free water education class, Dec. 11, on the third floor of the Donald L. Dear building at the West Basin Headquarters in Carson.
    Details: Click here
    Venue: West Basin Headquarters
    Location: 17140 S. Avalon Blvd., Carson

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  • RLn NEWS: Dec. 12, 2014

     LB City Council Votes
    LONG BEACH — On Dec. 2, the Long Beach City Council voted 8-0, to ask the city manager to provide a report within 60 day on the cost of installing a looping system for the hearing impaired in public facilities.
    A looping system, also called an audio-frequency induction loop, consists of a loop of wire cable around a designated area, usually a room or a building, which generates a magnetic field picked up by a hearing aid. All hearing aids equipped with telecoils work with looping systems, allowing those with hearing aids to hear what is being said into a microphone in the “looped” location, free of distracting noise from the surrounding environment.

    Two More Directors Hired at Port of Long Beach
    LONG BEACH — On Dec. 2, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners announced new directors for the Harbor Department’s Construction Management and Information Management divisions.
    Suzanne Plezia, who has been acting director of Construction Management since January, is now the permanent director, overseeing construction of port projects.
    Nyariana Maiko, who since 2010 has been associate vice president of the Program Management Office for Molina Healthcare of Long Beach, will be the new director of Information Management.
    The two women are filling slots vacated by directors who retired this year.
    Plezia, who joined the Port of Long Beach as an intern in 1996, rose through the ranks at the port, working in the Design, Program Management, and Construction Management divisions, developing a depth and variety of experience. In 2012, she guided the procurement process for the Desmond Bridge Replacement contract. She was also promoted to deputy chief harbor engineer that year. Her promotion to director is effective immediately. Plezia earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of California Irvine.
    Before Molina Healthcare, Maiko worked in management of information technology and program management for a number of companies including Toyota Financial Services and Nissan North America. She has about 30 years of progressively more complex work experience in information technology and information management, business and strategic technology leadership. Maiko earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a specialization in quantitative methods and computer science from the University of St. Catherine-University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minn., and a master’s in computer and information science from the University of Minnesota. She is scheduled to start at the port on Jan. 5, 2015.

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  • San Pedro’s Search for Respect and Waterfront Development

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  • My Brother, Kenny, and I

    A story about autism and acceptance

    By John J. Muto, Los Angeles Harbor College Student

    When I became a freshman at San Pedro High School, Kenny and I attended the same school for the first time in a long while. Kenny was a senior and he was autistic.

    The disorders associated with autism are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

    Last year, the National Institute of Health merged all autism disorders
    into one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    People with autism sometimes have communication problems which stems from tiny delays in the perception of speech, or from imprecise pairing of spoken words and gestures. In Kenny’s case, this resulted in him speaking fast–so fast that people had difficulty understanding him.

    In high school, I had friends. I was on the school’s baseball team. I had a social life. I was embarrassed to be seen with him. So I avoided him, despite my mom’s instruction to say “hi” whenever I saw him.

    I never spoke to him while we were at school. We were brothers and attended the same school, but our lives and our worlds were separate. Yet, I watched him. Whether it was during our late morning 20 minute nutrition break or our early afternoon lunch break, Kenny sat alone and no one said a word to him. Not even me, his own brother.

    I felt convicted. When the school year ended, I thought a lot about his lonely lunch periods. There were a lot of nights I lied awake thinking about how terrible a brother I was to Kenny.

    One night, tired from wrestling with my conscience, I resolved to be a better brother to Kenny. I began to spend my nutrition and lunch periods with him and began visiting him in his class which housed other special needs students.

    As my relationship with Kenny deepened, my desire to befriend the other special needs students in his class deepened too.

    I wanted to be their friend. I wanted to get to know all of them and hang out with them every chance I had. I treated them like I treated my friends. I wanted them to know that they are normal; they have autism but they are still regular human beings, like the rest of us.

    Once I got to know all of them, I recognized that, like everyone else, they act and enjoy the same things that regular teenagers do. This was not for service hours for school or for having everyone think I was a nice person. This was for Kenny, who had never had a friend.

    Several years ago, my mom and I decided to combine my passion for baseball with our desire to create a supportive community for families and their autistic members. We called it the “Challenge League Game.”

    Every mid-April, we invite autistic students from throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District and San Pedro community to play a game of baseball with San Pedro and Mary Star high school student players and former players from the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

    The major leaguers usually acts as the pitcher for the game, but perhaps what’s more importantly gained is that high school students, autistic or not, gets to talk and interact with each other over the game of baseball.

    Aside from the experience of playing baseball and making new friends, the students going up to bat get to hear the names announced by an announcer over loudspeakers and then go home with a “Challenge League Game” t-shirt.

    This past year, former Dodger player, Maury Wills, donated $1,500 to the Challenge League baseball event.

    My mother and I want to make jerseys for the autism kids that play in the game. We want their names to be on the back of the jersey.

    This coming April, will be our seventh year hosting the Challenge.

    Spending time with autistic students has changed my life. I love baseball, but I have no aspiration of becoming a baseball player in the major leagues. I do, however, aspire to join the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Community Relations Department.

    Major League Baseball is a major supporter of Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization that sponsors autism research and conducts awareness and outreach activities aimed at families, governments, and the public.

    Through Autism Speaks, I hope to combine my two greatest passions: baseball and serving the autism community.

    I want to raise awareness for autism disorder during the season and provide special opportunities for families and individuals affected by autism.  I want people that are affected by autism to participate in various baseball activities, including throwing out the first pitch, announcing “Play Ball!” and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

    If I am able to get my dream job of working for the Dodgers; I would like to eventually have the autism baseball game be at Dodgers Stadium instead of having it at a recreation park like we always do.  I would also like to have some of the Dodgers’ players go out to the community and socialize with autism kids all over the Los Angeles area.  The impact they would have on these kids are unspeakable.

    There are a lot of non-profit autism organizations all over the world that are raising millions of dollars trying to find a cure for autism. But something that I think that can be more beneficial for people who have autism right now is to engage them. Be a friend to them , and get to know them.

    Strong and enduring friendships within the autistic community are rare. Kids who are not autistic take for granted the ability to form friendships and enjoying life with others on their own.

    I’ve learned from spending time with Kenny and volunteering in special needs classes the power of a simple hello and act the act of remembering names in the autistic community. It’s a great feeling when a connection is made.

    So I ask you, the next time you see someone that has autism, will you make a difference in their life?

    If you’d like to learn more about the “Challenge League Game,” call (310) 874-1189.

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  • Transgender Remembrance Day

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  • Angels Gate Cultural Center Announces New Executive Director

    By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

    Angels Gate Cultural Center announced the selection of Amy Eriksen as its new executive director.

    This fills the vacancy created by the departure of the previous Executive Director Deborah Lewis in March of this year. Amy was chosen from a very competitive field of candidates. Throughout the extensive search process she simultaneously served as director of education and interim executive director. The board of directors of the nonprofit organization made a decision to hire from within, which facilitates a smooth transfer of management.

    “My commitment is to see Angels Gate expand and grow in a way that has a meaning to it,” Eriksen said. “We can always come in and add more classes and programming but this place needs a direction. I appreciate that [previous director] Deb gave us a view of that direction and she brought in the staff for the job.”

    As previous director of education for three years, Eriksen’s vision for Angels Gate is deeply rooted in education and outreach to schools. The plan is for her to remain in that position for the time being.

    “I am staying in the director of education role for a few months as we make this transition,” Eriksen said. ”I know that department very well and in order to accomplish our goals it only makes sense for me to stay in that role, with a little help from the staff”

    On the day I visited, the center had a bus full of elementary school children touring the facility, which brought joy to Eriksen.

    “My favorite days are school tour days,” Eriksen said.

    One of her pet projects is the Artist’s in Classrooms program. The program provides in-depth instruction in visual and performing arts to students in the K through 12 range. Professional artists teach through ongoing classroom residencies. Angels Gate is in 88 elementary classrooms across the Harbor Area with this project. The program focuses on third third grade in order to train teachers in Visual and Performing Arts, or VAPA, standards.

    “Last year, and now this year we have added a new component called the Model School Program,” she said. “We have fostered that program at Taper Avenue Elementary School. Every grade, from first to fifth grade, gets art in the classroom. My goal is to change our grants in order to have this program in all the Harbor Area schools in the next five to 10 years. [At Taper Avenue] first grade gets multi-arts, second grade gets dance, third grade gets our visual arts program, fourth grade gets music and fifth grade gets creative writing. So, there is a series of learning that is built around the arts. We had students that were in kindergarten [at Taper Ave] and they are now in fourth grade. Within the next two years we will be able to see what kind of impact this program has had on students coming out of elementary school and going into middle school.”

    Angels Gate Cultural Center is one of the oldest cultural institutions in the Harbor Area. It is also one of the most hidden art spaces that we have. Eriksen is aware of the great divide that exists between the downtown area and the center at the top of the hill. With the small five-person staff at Angels Gate, marketing and public relations are high on the list of goals to improve connection within the community. Ericksen expressed a need for volunteer at the center. Their website lists opportunities available for people interested in becoming involved in the arts. Landscapers, office assistants and docents are all needed.

    Most people are familiar with the Studio Artist’s program at Angels Gate and their annual Open Studio tours. Situated on the bluffs overlooking the Point Fermin area of San Pedro, Angles Gate Cultural Center has provided studio space to artists living in Los Angeles and Orange County for nearly 30 years. Guided by the mission to unite art, community and culture through creative discovery they offer studio space to artists of all disciplines. Filmmakers, playwrights, musicians, printmakers, photographers and ceramicists all occupy studios n this historic place.

    Angels Gates compound has been in existence for more than 80 years. The buildings that house the studios were built by the military with the goal of lasting only five years during World War II. Long after the threat of invasion from across the Pacific has passed, the bunkers are dormant but the buildings continue to be used for artistic and community endeavors.

    Eriksen’s resume includes more than 15 years of administration, communications and programming experience in the arts nonprofit sector throughout the West Coast. She earned a masters in organizational management. A lifelong Long Beach resident, she is a recent graduate of Leadership Long Beach’s 25th Anniversary Silver class.

    “I look forward to continuing to serve and partner with our artists, students and the
    community,” says Eriksen. “I am dedicated to Angels Gate Cultural Center because it provides cultural and artistic expression as a unifying force in our diverse community. We nurture art advocates and create a place for community members to re-imagine the San Pedro and Harbor Region. ”

    Details: angelsgateart.org.

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  • LBPD Chief Luna Swear-in


    Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna (left) is sworn into office by Long Beach City Clerk Larry Herrera-Cabrera (right) on Nov. 21, 2014 at the Long Beach Convention Center with a crowd of about 500 attending. Retired Sgt. Able Dominguez (middle) holds a Bible for the ceremony. Photo by Diana Lejins

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  • Bus Stop Is a Trip to the Past

    By John Farrell

    It’s an era long forgotten, an era when you took the bus and got to know the people around you, — sometimes more intimately than you cared to.

    Now people, even on the local trains and buses, stare straight ahead, ear-buds connected to something in their pocket, occasionally nodding their head to the rhythm. Only old fogies and homeless folks talk anymore.

    It used to be that a bus trip was an adventure, a liberation, a way to change your life and your outlook on life. Remember It Happened One Night?

    Well, you can still go to the bus stop created by scenic designer Robert Young for Little Fish Theatre’s production of William Inge’s play Bus Stop. The play will be in San Pedro through Dec.13, when the bus leaves forever. Maybe those little town bus stop cafés are a thing of the past, but the one created for this play is a carefully, fully realized replica of several that this reviewer has memories of, right down to the soup cans stacked on display above the counter. (more…)

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  • Ubu the Sh*t

    By John Farrell

    Usually you know who is playing the starring role in whatever play you are seeing.


    Oh, yes, that’s whoever.

    Earnest Worthing?

    Of course, that’s another whoever.

    But when you go to see Ubu the Sh*t (the elision is theirs, not ours), even with a program it is impossible to keep track of the players, because they are wearing masks and disguising costumes. Nine different people play the lead roles of Pa and Ma Ubu at various times.

    The production, presented by the California State University Long Beach’s Theatre Department at the Studio Theatre on campus, is one play where individual performances are, intentionally, not important. The hilarious and scabrous action takes place with so many people running on and off stage that all you can do is sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

    It is dapted and directed by Jeremy Aluma in collaboration with Four Clowns, of which Aluma is artistic director. The 1896 absurdist play by Alfred Jarry, which prefigured many 20th century plays (and which Aluma has adapted and directed before) is given a new twist this time around, a twist called, Twitter.

    As part of the action, audience members are asked to fill in three Mad-Libs before the performance, and tweet their responses to a hashtag. The players agree on which three to use and include those as part of the performance. (A penguin was one of the answers opening night.)

    Ubu the Sh*t originally was produced, for just one night, in Paris and caused a riot. (Parisians were serious theater-goers.) It is based, loosely, on a play created by Jarry and friends to satirize a hated physic professor. Ubu, the title character, is ugly and vulgar and a lot more words. Aluma has created an Ubu who is fat and scabrous, with his genitals exposed and his emotions on the same level. Ubu’s story uses a lot of Shakespeare, or at least can be compared to him, but Ubu himself is just disgusting and very funny as a result.

    All nine Ubu’s use the Studio Theatre’s theater-in-the round to full effect: there is just a tangle of metal in the middle of the stage and the action comes at you from all sides, down the aisles and with so much energy it is hard to know what is happening next, and absolutely impossible to tell the actors apart.. Since this is a performance featuring clown techniques and a great deal of audience participation, the story is different, — hilariously different.

    The tweeting which is a part of the evening brings evening more audience involvement, since not only are audience’s tweets used in the play but audience members whose suggestions have been accepted are singled out for attention. Sometimes that attention is a little embarrassing, if you are involved, but it is always funny if you aren’t the focus of attention.

    Ubu does have a plot, a combination of the story used in Macbeth and many other classic works, but really Ubu is about Jarry’s view of life: he sees everyone as being a product of their inner emotions: sex and excretion and eating are all that matter. Pa Ubu and Ma Ubu (played by Rob Bergman, Tyler Bremer, Laurel Buck, Montana Bull, Jerry Campisi, Jamarr Love, Ammy Ontiveros, Quin Sheridan and Siri Tveter at various times) are poster children for violence, for sex and for everything indecent. The play opens with an obscene chorus set to music from Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and closes the same way, and that sets the stage for the rest of the evening. Pa Ubu finally gets stabbed (in his genitals) but all nine personifications of him have deserved such a fate.

    Four Clowns knows how to make these characters distinctive and lively. The audience has a great time as they are brought into the play again and again, sometimes a little against their wills. It’s a lively and entertaining evening, definitely not for children (there is a lot of obscenity, mostly gleefully and gratuitous) but Ubu is no longer likely to precipitate a riot (even in Long Beach.)

    Tickets are $15, and $12 for seniors and students. Performances are at 8 p.m. Dec. 2 and 6, with matinees performances at 2 p.m. Dec. 6 and 7.

    Details(562) 985-5526www.csulb.edu//depts/theatre

    Venue: Studio Theatre

    Address: 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach


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