The challenge of time and space

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Taylor Mac Reed Hutchinson/CAP UCLA

This last weekend Taylor Mac, the fabulous drag performer and all around theatre genius, returned to the Center of the Art of Performance at UCLA with a holiday show: “Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce”.

Lucky Angeleno’s got to see all or part of Taylor Mac’s extraordinary “24 Decade History of Popular Music” - also courtesy of CAP UCLA. But instead of being presented at the heart of UCLA’s campus in Royce Hall like the current offering, the 24 hour show last spring happened in the wonderfully grungy and funky - Theater at the Ace Hotel.

Time and space made all the difference.

It’s hardly fair to compare a 24-hour master ouvre, that was created over the course of eight years, with a two-hour holiday show - and that’s not really my point One was a rigorous complicated masterpiece, the other was a fun holiday show.  What is meaningful, and so often overlooked is how much of a difference venue can make. We often think simply in terms of size - the intimacy of a small theatre versus the grandeur of 2000 seats - but the very character of the theater itself makes a difference.  Where the theatre at the Ace Hotel felt like the ideal, oddly historic venue for a queer re-imagining and re-construction of America’s history, Royce Hall feels like - the-main-revered-performance-hall-of-a-major-university. Taylor Mac’s subversion of the dominant narrative around the holidays felt like an uncomfortable juxtaposition of place and art.  Conceptually, it’s brilliant to see art challenging norms at the center of a public university but theatrically - the two hour show couldn’t bridge the gap. It felt a little too polite, the vibe of the space didn’t match the tenor of the show..

It’s this tension and the challenge of Royce Hall as the primary venue for CAP UCLA’s executive artistic director Kristy Edmunds that has me so excited about the Nimoy Theater.

What’s the Nimoy Theater?

The Nimoy was announced earlier this fall and is UCLA CAP’s conversion of the old Crest Theatre on Westwood Boulevard into a new performance space - made possible, in part, by a donation from Susan Bay Nimoy to honor her late husband, Leonard Nimoy. While Taylor Mac deserves a place at the center of a public University - daring art needs a welcoming home.  For all it’s grandeur, Royce Hall isn’t that. Even the most dynamic performances feel “over there” rather than “right here.” The massive volume above the audience and the oddly distant balcony of Royce may create room for scholarly contemplation but fail to embrace a work of art with an eager public (surely, the goal of any performance space).

My hope is that the Nimoy will provide the Center for the Art of Performance with several key ingredients to extend their programming.  First, it breaks the edge of campus and brings the art out into the city. Second, a more intimate size should offer a little more programming flexibility that allows artists more room to challenge an audience. And third, it’ll be a space renovated to match the program’s aesthetic - which is crucial.

The only downside, we have to wait at least two years to sit in the Nimoy.