September 12, 2018
The Dutch Have Arrived!
Building upon our collaboration in March 2017, Cornerstone Theater is hosting six artists from the Stut Theater and Van der Hoeven Clinic, both based in Utrecht, Netherlands in Los Angeles, California from September 10-22. In addition to an in depth tour and introduction to the communities Cornerstone Theater engages with and the art we have created throughout Los Angeles, we will participate in an exchange of methodology, art making, experiential learning, and planning around a future collaboration. Our shared objective is to create a clear path for an 18 to 24-month international collaborative residency to make a new play. Our new community engaged theatrical work is planned to premier at the eighth International Community Arts Festival (ICAF) in Rotterdam, Netherlands in March of 2020. This journal will share a bit about the time and experiences we will be sharing with our friends during their stay.
September 10, 2018
Our friends from the Netherlands arrived. After a long process through customs, Paula and Cameron greet our Dutch friends at LAX. From Stut Theater is Nienke Jansen, Donna Risa, and Lilian Vis Dieperink and from Van der Hoeven Clinic is Fons Diepenmaat, Petra Van den Brand, and Eva Luining. They all pile in to the Cornerstone van for their first introduction to LA traffic as they make it over the hill to Highland Park to settle in to their home for the next two weeks and attempt to sleep off their jet lag.
September 11, 2018
Paula picked up our Dutch friends for a tour of the neighborhood we called home for 20 years, the Los Angeles Arts District, followed by a tour of our Hunger Cycle Love on San Pedro community of Skid Row. They met Ensemble members Peter and Page, and staff members Cameron and Ilia in front of 708 Traction Avenue. Together we took a short jaunt through the neighborhood sharing stories of our neighbors, friends and work in the area before hopping in to the van for an introduction to the Skid Row community, where we stopped at one of our community partners, the Downtown Women’s Center. After visiting and learning a little about the services they provide the women in the community, we head over to meet up with our friends at the Los Angeles Poverty Department, also know as LAPD. Here we met with Associate Director and Producer Henriette Brouwers. Cornerstone Ensemble/staff member Bruce, Cornerstone Community Council member Kenny and three of our Skid Row community members that have each performed in atleast two or more Cornerstone productions also met us here. Their space acts as an art gallery, theater, and community meeting space. Henriette shared about LAPD’s mission, their work and about the current exhibition on the walls that were surrounding us, Zillionaires Against Humanity: Sabotaging the Skid Row Neighborhood Council. After, we participated in various theater activities led by our Dutch friends, including one about the life of our shoes. We closed out the day with dinner at the Grand Central Market. We got food and drink and visited a bunch. Henriétte was with us and her husband (and LAPD founder) John arrived a bit later. Then we decided we needed to have a meeting, and decided that our End of Day meetings should include this framework:
-What did you see? Hear? Feel?
-Everyone share 1 take-away- a moment or discovery that resonates with them.
-A look ahead to at least the next day.
Closing out the day with a ride back home in our big white van to return tomorrow for some more Cornerstone adventures in Los Angeles.
September 12, 2018
Today was a bit of an emotional roller coaster ride, a good one, but nevertheless lots of different emotions were tapped with our planned activities. Our day started at our Café Vida partner, Homeboy Industries. Merely walking in to their place is quite the experience considering they serve thousands of people every week. The lobby had a constant ebb and flow of people, employees, volunteers, clients, and people like us who were there for a tour of their space and to learn more about their remarkable services. Most of the employees were and are clients of Homeboy, formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women that with the support of Father Greg Boyle and the many caring individuals that work there (both staff and volunteers) have changed their life around. One simply has to walk through the lobby to see and feel the impact Homeboy has on these individuals. Every person we encountered had a smile on their face, a spring in their step, respect and positivity for themselves and others in their voice and mannerisms. When we arrived, we were met by Cornerstone community actor (Café Vida and Where I’m From) and Homeboy caseworker Natalie who shared a little bit about her Cornerstone and Homeboy story and the impact that each of these organizations made on her life. We were then introduced to Lenny, a new member to the Homeboy family, but it was quickly apparent that he is someone who fits right in. Lenny graciously shared his powerful journey to Homeboy, born to a drug addicted mother and gang banger father, his first introduction in to the “life” was at the fragile age of 10, when with his father brought him to be initiated (jumped) in to his gang. He was first introduced to Homeboy when he was incarcerated at the age of 13 when Father Boyle would visit the youth in the juvenile detention center to provide hope and inspiration. He took Father Boyle’s words and locked them in a part of his heart, but would soon return to the only life he knew when he was released, a life of crime and violence. It wasn’t until 23 years later that Lenny would take his first step in to the doors of Homeboy Industries. It was his 2 year old daughter’s question to her mother while they were facetiming with him in jail asking, “who’s your friend ,mommy?” that would be the moment of truth for Lenny. He knew right then and there that he needed to make a change, not only for his daughter, but for himself, so he could be someone that his daughter would not only know, but be proud of. After our time with Lenny, Natalie introduced us to Jessica, who was wore a smile from ear to ear and had a twinkle in her eye. She gave us a tour and informed us about the many free services Homeboy provides, while also sharing a glimpse of her own story and the positive impact that Homeboy has had on her life. After the tour our Dutch friends generously treated us to lunch at Homegirl Café. Adorning the walls of the café was artwork from the Beyond the Blue: Prison Arts Collective, an exhibition of artworks created by incarcerated participants in the Community-based Art (CBA) program in eight California state prisons. The service was outstanding and the food was delicious. For many, this would be a full day already, but our day was only half way complete.
After lunch we walked to our next destination a couple blocks away the Twin Towers Correctional Facility. After turning over our IDs and signing a waiver which included waiving our rights if we were to be held hostage by a prisoner, we made our way to one of their classrooms for further instructions. LA Sheriff Department Deputies Flores and Johnson met us with a smile. They both had a great sense of humor, which is hard to imagine when they do what they do for a living, but they also had a lot of respect and camaraderie for each other as well as the other deputies we would encounter throughout our tour. When asked what their favorite thing about their job was, they replied their partner. When you spend more time with your partner then anyone else in your life, it makes sense. There obviously aren’t any photos from our visit, since its a misdemeanor to bring a phone/camera in to the facility, but the images we saw are images that will most likely be ingrained in our memories for a very long time. They took us to four different areas of the jail, where we were able to see the inmates and how they lived. We learned about the different levels of inmates and their daily routines. Some of the inmates could care less that we were there, while others made their feelings known. Fortunately, as Deputy Flores shared it was a “good day” for a tour, since there were no major incidents. All of the deputies we encountered on our tour and especially Flores and Johnson were very open and honest with their answers, which we all appreciated. We wrapped up our tour with a group photo, and headed to the local Los Angeles State Historic Park to process the days events with each other. Our Dutch friend Petra shared, “Today I saw a lot of beautiful angels… I never seen so much angels who lost there ways.” In the City of Angels, they come in all different forms. Joining us from Cornerstone today was Ensemble/staff members Paula (of course), Michael Garcés, Ensemble member Peter, staff members Ilia and Cameron, Community Council member Kenny, and for the jail portion Cornerstoner Michael Garcia.
September 13, 2018
Highland Park Day! Today we explored Highland Park a bit and convened at Occidental College where we invited students to learn more about our three organizations. After, we lunched at Hurache Azteca and then took a short hike through the Audubon Center in Debs Park. Joining us from Cornerstone today was Ensemble/staff members Paula, Michael Garcés, Board member Mark Valdez, Ensemble members Page and Nephelie, and staff member Cameron. Here’s a video that our friend Nienke created to share about our day.
Some of us ended the day at the Bovard Auditorium at UCLA for joyUS justUS, a world-premiere starring CONTRA-TIEMPO for the Visions and Voices Signature Event.
September 14, 2018
Our friends joined us at our bi-weekly Ensemble meeting where they learned more about our current work, followed by a fun-filled afternoon/evening at the L.A. County Fair. Fons shared this fun collage from our day.
September 15, 2018
Today we invited our friends to join us and share a little about their work and our collaboration with some of our donors and Board members at our Brunch Exchange. The Brunch Exchange took place at the lovely home of one of our former Board members in Pasadena. There was a “New York” style spread of bagels and lox, and all sorts of deli delights, and what’s a brunch without champagne. After an hour of mingling and meeting new people the program began, with clips from our work in the Netherlands and a presentation about our past, current, and future collaboration with our Dutch friends. The program then shifted to our Institute Summer Residency in Queens, New York this past summer. After the program there was a bit more time for mingling before leaving for Paula’s place for a workshop on Cornerstone’s Methodology. Another full day for our friends from the Netherlands.
Under the photos below are quotes from Lilian who shared the day’s activities with our company and her colleagues from the Netherlands in a daily report.
September 18, 2018
Today’s blog post comes from our Associate Artistic Director Bruce.
Yay Physical activity!
We met at the Skid Row Museum, home of the LAPD…no not THAT LAPD… the Los Angeles Poverty Department! The workshop day was split in two. Half led by Van de Hoeven and half by Stut.
We began in chairs. My body was thankful for the simple start, bringing focus inward as opposed to out. I thought to myself, “Thank you Fons. I need to slow down.” It worked.
When Eva took over we struck the chairs and got into some transformation exercises and played with my absolute favorite answer to any question, “I don’t know”. That’s not sarcasm. Answering, “I don’t know” when I don’t know has been the most freeing shifts I’ve made this year. I find it automatically sparks my curiosity and removes the pressure I put on myself to have all the answers.
Petra took us through ensemble building exercises aimed at teaching us to work together as one entity. We took a short break and jumped into Stut land of theater games, sharpening focus and playing with mimicry, and building off of one another. Lilian said she was going to experiment with us and I recall how happy that made me. I like to experiment as much as possible. After recreating family photos like this one…
Nienke led us through a writing exercise with a memory of our family dinner and we switched to the perspective of an object in the room.
I wrote about getting put on bogus punishment over Thanksgiving break after my Dad got an early print out of my grades. It was one of those printers that you had to tear the perforated edges off the side. It’s a terrible printer and all my B grades looked like D grades so I wasn’t allowed to eat Thanksgiving dinner. I tried to tell my dad that the grades were wrong, but he wouldn’t believe me. The real report card came in the next day and my dad let me make a platter piled high with all the food in the refrigerator and promptly put me back on punishment so my sister, who actually had bad grades, wouldn’t feel isolated. Apparently I’m mad about it.
Next, we had an end of day meeting that we finished at Grand Central Market talking about race relations and politics over beers. That may have been my favorite part of the day and I LOVE rolling around on the ground and playing all day.
Perhaps the perfect days are filled with physical activity, art, and political discourse.
Can we do this everyday?
Oh, wait. We do.
Life is grand.
September 19, 2018
I would add a community service activity to Bruce’s picture of a perfect day above, which is how we started today! Our day together began at 10:30am volunteering for the MudTown Farmers Market in Watts for two of our community partners Food Forward and the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. After checking in, we received our instructions, a demonstration and our tasks from Food Forward’s Volunteer Manager Michele. Our first task was to sort and clean 10,000-15,000 pounds of fresh produce. This took us a couple of hours, but Michele was happy to have so many eager volunteers on hand. After we were finished sorting we had a short break and Michele broke out the snacks which included peanut butter and jelly (or honey) sandwiches. Nienke really enjoyed trying the popular “American” sandwich, and it tied us over for the next couple of hours of work. After our break we began stocking and displaying the fruits and vegetables in bins in preparation for the families that were waiting in line. This market provides thousands of low-income families fresh fruits and vegetables twice a month, and also acts as a hub for other organizations and food banks to pick up and distribute to their communities throughout Los Angeles. We had a lot of fun talking with the customers, and teaching them about the new types of vegetables that were available, including Broccolini, a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower, which thrilled several of the customers. Our Dutch friends made lots of friends, as usual, including one client who asked to be renamed a common Dutch name, so Petra named him, “Hans Johnson”. From Cornerstone, we had staff and Ensemble members Michael and Paula, Ensemble member M.C., staff members Ilia and Andy, and Community Council member Kenny.
After the market, we hopped in the van and received an exclusive tour of Watts from M.C. aka the Mayor of Watts (or atleast one of them), that’s because every corner you turn you hear someone call out M.C.’s name. We started with a walk along the Watts Hall of Fame. Individuals that have made significant contributions to the city of Watts throughout the years. Although M.C. would argue that some of those names should probably not be there. Our walk led us to a public pool where M.C. reminisced about stories when he was a kid and learning how to swim. From there we headed for the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus. Before touring the marvel of the Towers, M.C. showed us an area where the history of Watts was engraved on plaques in a half circle on the ground. Unfortunately, the Towers were closed for renovations, but we still were able to enjoy the majestic Towers from the other side of the bars. We then headed for the gallery, where we visited the exhibit by Chukes, called “The Conductor”. M.C. then requested to speak to the Director Rosie Lee Hook, an amazing artist and community advocate/activist that of course knew M.C. for several years. She proceeded to give us a tour and tell us about the art services they provided to the community. She also shared with us a mural that she commissioned Cornerstone friend and artist Aise Borne to paint. The mural is depicting jazz musician and Watts hero Charles Mingus and was recently the center of controversy that caused Ms. Hook to be suspended from her job. She appealed the decision and won. You can read a bit more about it here. We then headed to Jordan Downs to share with our Dutch friends one of our current communities we are working with. M.C. gave us a short tour and we ran in to a security guard that he knew that provided some additional information that we were not privy too yet about the new housing being built. We wrapped up the tour back at WLCAC where some of us picked up our cars and left for the day, while others continued to an End of Day meeting. Community Service + Art + Great People = An Awesome Day!