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Home / Life! / Entertainment / New LA plays investigate relationship of art to rise of fascism, anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany

New LA plays investigate relationship of art to rise of fascism, anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany

by Staff
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Two new productions look at the rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in pre-war Germany and its effect on art, as well as at the artists who resisted, or — in some cases — contributed. A group of struggling Southern California art students creates a dramatic presentation on the history of the famous Bauhaus School in “The Bauhaus Project” by Tom Jacobson, a world premiere theatrical event presented in two parts (“Part 1: Bauhaus Weimer” and “Part 2: Bauhaus Dessau and Bauhaus Berlin”) by Open First Theatre Company at Atwater Village Theatre. Filmmaker and Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl meets Walt Disney in the world premiere of Jacobson’s “Crevasse,” a co-production of Son of Semele and The Victory Theatre Center at the Victory Theatre. A series of related events will take place throughout the summer at the ArtCenter College of Design, Skirball Cultural Center and more under the collective title “Reflections on Art and Democracy.”

“The Bauhaus Project takes place on several levels,” explains Open Fist artistic director Martha Demson, who worked closely with Jacobson to develop the piece and is directing. “The framing device is a play within a play in which modern-day art school students trace the historical narrative of the Bauhaus, a groundbreaking art school committed to ‘marrying beauty with utility’ that was closed by the Nazis in 1933. Meanwhile, the production design will emphasize the enormous influence of the Bauhaus and the exhilaration of cross-disciplinary collaboration.”

Roles portray multiple historic Bauhaus figures, many of whom later fled to the U.S. or died in concentration camps: architect and Bauhaus founding director Walter Gropius and his successors, architects Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; painters Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer and Lyonel Feininger; textile artists Gunta Stolzl, Maria Kipp and Otti Berger; furniture designer Marcel Breuer; photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy; graphic designer Herbert Bayer; composers Arnold Schönberg and Alma Mahler (widow of Gustav Mahler and wife of Walter Gropius); and architects Ludwig Hilberseimer and Fritz Ertl — the latter of whom would go on to design buildings at Auschwitz.

Nearby, in Burbank, Victory Theatre Center artistic director Maria Gobetti welcomes Son of Semele artistic director Matthew McCray, who will be directing Jacobson’s “Crevasse” in a co-production between the two companies. In 1938, German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl went to Hollywood to find American distribution for her award-winning film, “Olympia.” Only one studio head would meet with her: Walt Disney. Ann Noble and Leo Marks star in an astonishing true story of betrayal, Nazi propaganda and cartoons.

“In November 1938 there was public outcry about Germany, but full details were not yet known,” says McCray. “This was just after Kristallnacht, years before the U.S. officially entered the war. There is a perplexing draw toward autocracy again, so it’s important to explore issues around power, and the conflicting influences of money and ethics. In ‘Crevasse,’ the comparisons between the work and ideals of filmmakers Disney and Riefenstahl provide a compelling examination of business and power through film.”

“The Victory is thrilled to collaborate with Son of Semele on this provocative tale,” comments Gobetti. “‘Crevasse’ and ‘The Bauhaus Project,’ may be separate productions, but taken together they add up to a compelling warning in today’s political climate.”

“Reflections on Art and Democracy” is designed to raise awareness about the current rise of fascism and anti-Semitism in the U.S. and around the world, the power of art and design to resist them, and the confluence of visual and performative artworks to promote democracy. Events include “Education as Radical Political Act,” a webinar presented by ArtCenter College of Design (information and tickets at artcenter.edu); “Maria Kipp (1900-1988): Handweaver Ahead of Her Time,” a webinar hosted by Open Fist Theatre Company (openfist.org); and an illuminated lecture at the Skirball Cultural Center presented by theatre dybbuk [sic] (skirball.org / theatredybbuk.org).

Performances of “The Bauhaus Project” take place July 12 through Aug. 18, with previews the weekend prior, on July 5, July 6 and July 7. Part I, which focuses on the school’s founding and early years in the city of Weimar, will run Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 4 p.m., while Part 2, which looks at the school’s moves, first to Dessau, then to Berlin, in the face of increasing Nazi scrutiny, will play on Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. Audience members can choose to view the entire “Bauhaus Project” over the course of two evenings (any Friday and any Saturday at 8 p.m.); two matinees (any Saturday and any Sunday at 4 p.m.); or on a single Saturday, at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. (The history is sequential, so it is not advised to view the parts out of order.) Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Ave. in Los Angeles. A combination ticket to both Parts 1 and 2 is $50, while admission to a single part is $35. Students receive a $5 discount, and preview performances are Pay-What-You-Can. To make a reservation for “The Bauhaus Project,” call (323) 882-6912 or go to www.openfist.org.

Performances of “Crevasse” run from July 26 through Aug. 18 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m., with two previews set for Friday, July 19 and Saturday, July 20, each at 8 p.m. The Victory Theatre Center is located at 3326 W. Victory Blvd. in Burbank. Tickets range from $32 to $40; groups, students, seniors and union members are $25, and previews are $20. To make a reservation for “Crevasse,” call (818) 841-5421 or go to www.thevictorytheatrecenter.org.

A three-play package is available for $75 and can be purchased at either openfist.org or thevictorytheatrecenter.org.

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