Open Your Eyes & Enjoy the Ride…To Watts, with “Meet Me @ Metro”

IMG_2841_1I am one of the few lucky Angelenos to live near a metro stop, so I was able to catch the Red Line straight down to Union Station to attend the Watts Village Theater Company’s site-specific performance piece: “Meet Me @ Metro” last Sunday. In the first car I took while going to the performance a crazed woman with a suitcase was dancing and babbling unintelligibly for three fascinated children and their terrified mother. I changed cars and found myself surrounded by a group of long-haired jubilant tourists, cracking jokes at the top of their lungs about Los Angeles to anyone who would listen. Through both of these experiences I avoided all eye contact, set my face in an uninviting frown, and shrank into my chair: tricks I’d learned from four years riding the NYC subway.

At Union Station I joined the throng of expectant “Meet me @ Metro” audience members at the west entrance. We were quickly wrangled into a circle by a company of horn-honking cops circling us on tiny red tricycles and handing out yellow sticky-note tickets. With so many characters riding the subway on any normal day, it took me a minute to realize that the faux cops were part of the show and not just a bunch of lunatics. I perked up out of my guarded public transit shell as soon as I knew the show had begun.

At the center of the circle, the Watts Village Theater artistic director, Guillermo Avilés-Rodríguez, explained that the mission of this show was to redefine the Watts community as a welcoming place and to literally bring people there by using theatre. And that is what they did.

Over the next two and a half hours, twenty or so performers lead fifty audience members through the bowels of the metro, on and off of trains, out into neighborhoods, and finally to a field at the feet of the Watts Towers. We were like a mob of Hansel and Gretels following bread crumbs of narrative, history, poetry, and dance, scattered along our route through an unknown wilderness. If theatre is supposed to take you to places you’ve never been, then this show did. Physically.

More than the performances themselves, we were motivated on by the encouraging smiles and sheer effort the performers put into this undertaking. “The most amazing thing about this show is that we’re doing it,” said Mr. Aviles-Rodriguez when we began, and he was right.

The actual performances at each location were confusing, hard to hear, and underwhelming in quality. The 7th and Metro Center stop just seemed to be an excuse for the MooDoo Puppet Theater to have a man on stilts hand out postcards for their show. In Pershing Square I was struck by the irony that the audience was huddled around a performer ranting like a homeless person about loving ShangriL.A., while we turned our backs to several actual homeless people on the edge of the circle who were asking what was going on.

But whether the performances were ‘Broadway quality’ or not was beside the point. Back at Union Station I had let my guard down and allowed myself to see more than just where I was headed. As we traveled from station to station, I saw more art in the world around me than I had ever noticed before. Los Angeles, and the Metro specifically, is full of murals, statues, and installation art that I had always walked by with indifference. Now each piece was a part of a show, and it was if a spotlight was shining on everything from Joyce Kozloff ‘s film mural at the 7th & Metro stop to the music of the Watts ice cream truck playing behind the performers song. And maybe I wouldn’t have seen the inhabitants of Pershing square or their plight to participate in the show if I hadn’t been brought there with more open eyes.

There is so much beauty, humor, art and humanity around us every day here in the second largest city in the United States, and it took a troupe of intrepid performers taking their spectacle out of the theater and onto the street to help me see it. I thought back to my experiences on the metro before the show began and wondered how I would have experienced them differently if I had approached them with curiosity rather than fear.

The Watts Village Theater Company and their collaborators hope to make “Meet me @ Metro” an annual performance festival. If they are lucky enough to make this happen, I encourage you to take the trip. Until then, as you make your daily commute around town, imagine a spotlight once in a while showing you art where you least expected it. I promise you it will make for a much more enjoyable ride.

- By Stephanie Carrie

For more information about The Watts Village Theater Company, please visit www.wattsvillagetheatercompany.com.

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