By John Farrell, Theater Writer
There is an old wives tale that cats have nine lives.
Apparently meme cats live on even longer than their flesh and blood avatars. Meme cats are those funny and sometimes curious pictures of cats that have become a source of fun on the Internet. Cats that are hugely fat, cats that are dressed in human clothes, cats that, to humans, at least, are warm (and of course fuzzy) and have been unlucky enough to be captured on cell-phone cameras in embarrassing positions, live on even longer than their flesh-and-blood avatars.
They have been on the Net for a long time and are just as popular now, maybe more popular, than when they first appeared. (You can find them at www.icanhascheezburger.com)
They have been a source of fun for many, but for two people, composer Ellen Warkentine and librettist Andrew Pedroza, they have become a little bit of an obsession, so much so that the two have composed an opera, called LOLPERA, based, at least loosely, on the many funny pictures that they found on the Net. They started with one song, about the cat deity “Ceiling Cat” and before long they had a work of two hours in length that was premiered this past October at the Garage Theatre in Long Beach to critical praise (from more than just this critic, by the way). It featured a seven-piece orchestra that played Warkentine’s music and a cast of singers and dancers that included Pedroza in a starring role. Pictures captured from the Net were projected on the walls along with the text, and the story, a classic duel between the forces of good (Ceiling Cat, who oversees everything) and Basement Cat (a black number who is the embodiment of evil) was not really about cats.
“If you have you have already seen ‘LOLPERA’ and think it is about cats, you need to see it again” Warkentine was quoted as saying in the Press-Telegram at the time of the works’ premier.
Pedroza said at the time that the work needed to be seen again, and now it will be, as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival scheduled June 14 through 24 all over the theater scene in Hollywood, with previews that will begin June 7 and a big opening night party June 13. The Hollywood Fringe Festival, now in its third year, features dozens of plays and performances in comedy, musicals, dance, film, cabaret and operas, using many different theaters all over the Hollywood area, more than 20 venues in all. (The actual boundaries of the festival are Franklin Avenue to the north, Melrose Avenue to the south, Wilton Place to the east and La Brea Avenue to the west., from Hollywood United Methodist Church in the north on Franklin to ComedySportsLA in the south, from the Actor’s Circle Theatre in the west to the Underground Theater in the east.) The Festival, based on the more-than-50-year-old Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, offers theater companies from around the United States and the world a chance to produce a show in Los Angeles. There is a competition in the various categories and awards, with shows sometime competing in several Fringe Festivals all over the United States. LOLPERA will be going to the New York International Fringe Festival in August after performances in Hollywood.
The original Fringe Festival occurred in Edinburgh in 1947, when a number of performing companies came and presented their own productions in addition to the official Edinburgh Festival, which was itself an attempt to revive performing arts in a Europe recovering from 10 years and more of war. The “fringe” was a description for performances outside the Festival itself. The Festival continued, as did the “fringe” performances, which were themselves organized in 1959. Since then other Fringe Festivals have begun in locations as far apart as Minnesota and San Francisco, Melbourne, Australia and South Africa.
“We’ve been rehearsing five hours or so on Saturday and six hours on Sunday” for the Fringe Festival performance, Pedroza said after a late night rehearsal this week.
No, not a rehearsal of LOLPERA, but for performances of The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, in which Pedroza has a role and which opens at the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theater May 19. Pedroza has a busy schedule.
“We have been rehearsing all over the place, but now we have been given room at the Expo Building in Long Beach to rehearse, which gives us a lot of room.” Pedroza said his schedule is “difficult, but doable.”
The version of LOLPERA they are rehearsing is close to the original. “It’s almost the same as the one we performed at the Garage Theatre last year,” Pedroza said. “We are clarifying and restoring the work. We are making the whole opera faster and funnier, with the pictures and the captions and everything.”
LOLPERA will be performed in Hollywood at the Hudson Theaters on Santa Monica Boulevard. The larger and more traditional theater space, 99 seats and a large space for the production, are given the company room to refine the performance.
“We are really focusing on making the action clearer and more concise,” Pedroza said.
They also have to plan for the contingencies of the Festival itself, where every theater is used by many companies.
“It’s a lot bigger but we have to work around the other companies that are using the same building,” he said.
They haven’t been officially accepted for the New York Festival, but should be this week, and are planning to take a large contingent to New York for performances there in mid-August.
At the Garage Theatre the opera was performed by seven musicians, with Warkentine playing her score from the piano and other instrumentalists, including saxophones, a harp and a violin, contributing to the music. Sixteen performers, including dancers and singers, were in the cast that nearly overpowered the Garage Theatre’s space. Just how many musicians will play for the performances in Hollywood and New York isn’t decided yet. (It apparently depends on who shows up.) Pedroza isn’t worried.
“As long as we have Ellen at the piano, we will be all right,” he said.
For her part, Warkentine, who also spoke by phone, is enjoying the experience of refining her music.
“I really enjoy reworking the music, reining it and making is sharper and better,” she said. “I’m having a great time revising it and revisiting it.”
And they take the work very seriously. “We are trying to find a way to combine elements of Les Mis, 1984, Clockwork Orange together, to spread the energy,” Pedroza said. “The people who have seen the website are right on with the treatment of the characters. We are poking fun at the Internet generation, the iPhone generation, including myself, but there is a whole lot more in this work than just that.”
Tickets are $10. Performances are at 7 p.m. June 10 and 17, with an additional 3 p.m. performance June 17.
Details: (323) 455-4585; www.thegaragetheatre.org, www.hollywoodfringe.org
Venue: Hudson Theatres
Location: 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles