month ago, city official Angie Banks started menopause.
it's given her a terrible case of the "weepers."
dabs her eyes and has a nice little cry.
is a character in an improvisational play titled "Town
Meeting (When Life Imitates Art, Starring: You the Audience)"
onstage at the Creativity Arts Center and CyberCenter in Santa
the fire chief, jumps to his feet from a white plastic lawn
chair to register his disgust at the outburst.
it's embarrassing," he snorts.
Treasurer Ray Aspires breaks into a cornball rendition of
Pervert!" somebody bellows from the audience.
is back at the mike. The audience indulges her.
on your doorstep."
to Creativity, the newest and most eclectic bibliohappening
in L.A., a bookstore that has a built-in stage--but very few
the name implies, it is dedicated not to reading or to prowling
through musty stacks but to nurturing creativity--from songwriting
to storytelling, from the slapstick to the sublime.
is, of course, nothing new about the mutation of the bookstore
as a kind of thinking person's rec center. In recent years,
bookstores have become havens of coffee, conversation and
culture. Poetry readings and book signings are de rigueur.
Today's bookstore customer is accustomed to the aroma of muffins
and latte and the sound of music and laughter.
some of the chummiest, children are invited to come to story
hours in their jammies, a literary concept that probably never
occurred to Sylvia Beach.
which has dropped the words "book" and "store"
from its identity, just upped the activity ante, and raised
it again. Here, in an open-beamed, 4,000-square-foot space,
a full transition has been made from book emporium to community
meeting spot and intellectual center. Customers can buy specialty
books on art and creativity, shop for arts and crafts, vent
social outrage, hold a political rally or debate, perform
a comedy routine, join a songwriter's circle, listen to jazz,
deliver a poetry reading, tell a story (or a joke), design
a Web page, take a class in writing or art or desktop publishing.
cappuccino and used books are next door at the Novel Cafe.
And soon customers will be able to rent computers by the hour
or participate in a range of cyber activities when Creativity's
computer education center opens in the loft.
especially interested in community," says Creativity
owner John Gabree, cultural patriarch and former owner of
L.A. (The Bookstore). "We not only want to present art
like you can in galleries and museums and even movie theaters.
This is a place where people can participate.
society is deeply alienated," he adds. "This is
a place for people to connect with one another."
opened Creativity in December. He says he wants to nurture
creativity at an earlier stage than is possible in more commercial
and institutional settings, and to develop an educational
resource program specializing in art and computer classes
modeled it after places like City Lights in San Francisco
and Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare & Company in Paris, literary
hang-outs long associated with fictive minds and creative
a gentle man of 53, is a Brown University educated writer-politico
with roots in New England and New York and a passion for Anthony
Trollope. Like the British novelist, he is a highly political
animal with a taste for satire and a reputation for viewing
people with tolerance and affection.
once wrote a book on rock 'n' roll; he's also spent time in
the classroom as a special ed teacher.
is Creativity," says Eric Vollmer, a friend who directs
Arts-InFormation, a foundation the bookstore launched to raise
public and private money for educational programs. "He
keeps track of everyone. He's the community archivist. He's
a Jewish mother."
is widely known in the Southland for fostering local talent.
He's a nurturing presence who knows everyone in the tightknit
neighborhood of Ocean Park, and is as attentive to the homeless
flute maker as he is to the hippest of Hollywood screenwriters.
why artists are so drawn to Creativity, says producer-director-performer
Gary Gordon. "John is a visionary."
Monday, Gordon runs Free Expression Nights, a five-hour open
stage event where poets, comics, musicians and performing
artists--both amateur and professional--can get up for seven
minutes--or two songs--to say whatever they want or to test
is a place where market forces are secondary and maybe don't
exist," Gordon says. "When you start charging money,
artists take fewer risks. They go less for new material and
more for the tried and true. The fact that there's no cover
charge has made all of the art truly accessible.
a struggle for all of us to feel like we're members of a community
or a tribe," Gordon adds. "We're all working hard
to make our careers work. But I think we all want something
more than 9-to-5 jobs and computers and phones.
seen people come here and change. People develop and express
ideas here. Things percolate. It brings out the humanity in
Shore, who presents a short fiction series at Creativity,
says it isn't surprising that bookstores are broadening their
town craves quality live entertainment at little cost,"
she says. "Ever since the L.A. Festival of 1990, bookstores
have become important venues for artists. They have built-in
literate audiences. It's not like performing at a comedy club
where you're dancing for drunks. At a bookstore, the audience
is sober and intelligent."
comic Carol Ann Leif would go even further. She says she goes
to Creativity when she wants to be with other comics who aren't
competitive and unsupportive, or when she wants to try out
a political joke she doesn't have to explain, or when she
doesn't feel like listening to misogynist humor.
have become a braver performer with a stronger voice because
of the time I have spent on the Creativity stage," she
writes in a letter to potential bookstore donors. "When
I want to go to the only place in Los Angeles where artists
on all levels can find their voice--I go to Creativity."
big chains gobble up more and more local bookstores, Gabree
says he doesn't kid himself about the economic realities of
running a venture where the concept is more about free expression
than the free market. Nor is he particularly concerned about
says he has every faith that Creativity can sustain itself
with retail sales of books and CDs, arts and crafts, and the
expanding number of classes it offers. He hopes to attract
corporate and private contributions and government grants.
there's the donation pot and the donation vase he keeps near
the front of the store. Creativity can seat 50 at its various
performances. Since members of the audience--a diverse assemblage
of ages and styles ranging from the decidedly ordinary to
the very hip--don't tend to be rich, the pot and the vase
don't exactly runneth over.
Gabree says Creativity has already surpassed his dream of
creating a vital community center.
been magical," he says. "Creativity attracts a real
mix of neighborhood people and film industry people. We try
to extend people's ability to share and relate to each other.
role is to provide an opportunity. It's the artists who do
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