Out Looking for the Spark
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Out Looking for the Spark

Last week I got a little depressed. Yes, it happens even to the most dedicated Angeleno. Maybe it was a post-election depression or maybe it was part of the upcoming global depression…in any case, I needed to access The Spark of Life.

Now, you may tell me that here in the modern world, if you need the spark of life, you don't have to rub two sticks together. You can run to the video store and rent something with The Spark of Life for $4.29. Later, you can download the soundtrack to your iPod.

Sometimes, though, you do just have to see it live — and me, I decided to go top drawer. In fact, Saturday night I dressed up and went to the L.A. Opera. You see, they were doing Carmen, the story of a gypsy woman who was born with the Spark of Life. She tries to pass it on to this naïve fool, and she destroys them both in the process. Many musicians played. Viktoria Vizin sang the big arias, and though the production itself was a little damp, if I focused just on Vizin, I did get that little charge, that little frisson. She swaggered. She played castanets. She hiked up her skirts. We in the audience raised our binoculars to participate more closely in her passion.

Still, three hours was a little long for a few minutes warming my hands on her sweet mezzo soprano.

A few days later, out in Glendale at A Noise Within theater, I heard that the remarkable Freddy Douglas was playing Hamlet, and I thought, “Nothing better than Shakespeare when you're depressed.” The Bard sorts through every pocket in the darkest clothing to find any still-warm ember. And sure enough, although it was an impatient L.A.-style production, and the director had cut some of the Dane's best lines, Douglas was exquisite. He dug out the sparks, and as in all great tragedy, his Hamlet seemed to die from living too close to the flame.

Okay, Shakespeare managed to warm me up for another couple days, but The Urban Man thought: “The trouble with great art is you have to shuffle through too many words and gestures to access what you need.”

And lo, come Tuesday night, as I was driving up Fairfax in West Hollywood, I spotted a big crowd outside the Greenway Court theater. I remembered that it was hip-hop poetry night, and many twenty-somethings had gathered to hear folks spit verse: you know those long fire-hose lines, those hot, fast rhymes of rapid conclusions, in which a derision is spoken with precision leading to a decision, and a man under revision. The audience packed the theater and the aisles and the stage, and sure enough, the mostly young poets, angry or laughing, did actually rub sticks together. There was hardly any waiting for the payoff, and me, unable briefly to conjure my own glow, I basked in every vision they delivered to an overheated mic.

Sure enough, Vizin and Douglas and the edgy performers at Da Poetry Lounge had conquered my depression, and walking back up a chilly Fairfax to my car, it occurred to me that back in primitive societies, they also had people whose job it was to tend the fire. When the time came to move to the next campsite, these folks would wrap up the smoldering embers in some animal skin and carry them in a bundle. I'm sure it was a sacred task, a big honor. Nowadays, we've given that same post to singers and dancers, actors and directors, rappers and poets — and when we really need to chase away a chill, how wonderful it is that we can just buy a ticket. And okay if, by outsourcing this skill, we sometimes forget how to generate our own sparks, well…everything has a price.

For the Opera, $160 a ticket; for Hamlet, $40. For Da Poetry Lounge, just five bucks.

Copyright © 2008 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.

Banner image: Viktoria Vizin and Marcus Haddock in Carmen at the L.A. Opera

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