Skirball Cultural Center, Los Angeles
September 26 – October 1, 2006
Los Angeles 2006
The Skirball Cultural Center is a Jewish cultural institute in a beautiful setting in the hills above Los Angeles. The center has a museum and changing exhibitions and aims to “…explore the connections between four thousand years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American democratic ideals.” Here statistics about immigration and cultural identity took on a real significance. The long thin line representing the millions who passed through Ellis Island drew much attention. It was great overhearing people talking in the cafe after they had seen the show about where their parents or grandparents had come from. The show took on quite a linear quality here as there was a very prescribed route through the gallery which was made up of a number of ‘rooms’. Initially this proved difficult to kick off but then we really enjoyed having those parameters. In some ways this became quite a pared down version of the show with just a few piles in each ‘room’ to illustrate a theme.
The show began with a brief history of immigration into the USA before the audience confronted us at the table tucked round the corner. It then moved through statistics looking at prisons and gated communities, wealth and homelessness. Our two largest piles sat on their own – England and McDonalds eaters in the world each day. We used to use Poland for this comparison but the number of McDonalds customers continues to rise so England is a closer match. The show then moved through statistics about heath, conflict and the world’s troubles before leaving the audience with some more fun stuff about Hollywood, plastic surgery and moments of human celebration.
The audience at the Skirball tended to be older than people that perhaps usually visit the show (particularly after the arts school setting of Portland). They gave us some of our most enthusiastic responses and some of our most fervent grillings. They really wanted to know why particular things had been chosen, why others had not and why piles were placed in the way they were. We thought this meant they didn’t get it or like it but in fact it was very much the reverse. Apparently we broke records for audience numbers for the length of time we were there. School workshops in the mornings were great fun and enlightening. It was amazing too see how the USA is still a place of immigration and how diverse it is. When we asked groups the question “How many of you were born in another country?” hands always went up and in a couple of schools every hand went up. This really made the show resonate. I regret not finding a way of dealing with the historical and current situation in Israel but it seemed hard, in fact almost impossible, to do this sensitively with an eye on all the issues.
Performers: Heather Burton, Charlotte Goodwin, Amanda Hadingue, Karen Stafford, Craig Stephens
with Maggie and Heidi
Concept: James Yarker
General Manager: Charlotte Martin
Advisory Producer: Nick Sweeting