Theater Preview: 'Love On San Pedro' At Cornerstone Theater Company
As the third play in Cornerstone's Hunger Cycle, the play focuses on aspects of the Skid Row community that audiences may otherwise overlook. The plot centers on a love story that takes place amongst the chaos of Skid Row.
“You can find love in any situation,” community actor and cast member Cynthianne Kofell, who plays the role of Queen, said. “That’s exactly what it is on Skid Row, so much chaos, and death, destruction, but there’s still that bud of love and hope. Even when you walk down the street, there’s so much love and compassion, you feel it, in the midst of all of that chaos.”
In the hopes of creating a more truthful final production, Cornerstone organized between 100 and 150 interviews with community members through organizations on Skid Row. Although he fictionalized elements of their stories, playwright James McManus relied on the interviews for inspiration during the writing process.
“You feel this kind of awesome responsibility when people are sharing these very dark stories about themselves,” McManus said. “You feel like you want to do them right. You want to do them justice.”
After McManus completed his first draft of the play, Cornerstone staged readings on Skid Row to gather feedback from community members. Cornerstone continued to involve community members in the stage production. Of the 26 actors cast in the play, 22 are community members.
“It’s the most exciting process I’ve ever been a part of, because they are so invested in this story which they have taken as their story and they want to get it right,” McManus said.
Because most of the community actors lack professional knowledge of theater, director Shishir Kurup provided explanations of theater terminology. In some cases, Kurup created new terms that best fit the actors’ level of knowledge and the unique runway-style stage, with audiences situated on either side. Kurup, who has worked with community actors in the past, said that the cast is as capable of acting as professionals.
“We try to make sure that is within the capacity of people to do certain things, like choreography or singing or any of that stuff, and do it in a way that will make them feel good about themselves but also push them a little bit to go beyond their comfort zone,” Kurup said. “When I work with any community, I don’t treat them any differently than I would other actors.”
Despite the challenges of community actors’ unfamiliarity with theater terminology, Kurup said that the community members reached a level of honesty and authenticity that professional actors cannot always achieve.
“At any given moment, any of these folks saying any of these lines is as good as any professional you will see in a film, in a play, on a stage,” Kurup said. “In some cases, I think it would be hard for people who haven't lived what this community has lived to reach the level of authenticity that this cast is engaging in."
After several weeks of rehearsals, Kofell expressed her happiness with Kurup's efforts to ensure that community members had a positive experience.
"The director is very patient with the cast," Kofell said. "He has a found a way to make everybody feel equal, [and] make everybody feel like they’re important if they have something to say.”
With opening night only a few weeks away, McManus, Kurup, and Kofell hope to remind audiences that the residents of Skid Row are not so different from themselves.
“I want people to see the play and view Skid Row in a different way,” McManus said. “I want them to view poverty in a different way. I want them to see the people for people, for the humanity that they bring to it. I still believe that art changes lives.”
Cornerstone Theater Company's production of "Love On San Pedro" is playing November 7-24 at the Los Angeles Mission (303 East 5th Street Los Angeles, CA 90013). Previews are October 31 through November 6. Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can, and the suggested donation is $20. For more information, visit Cornerstone Theater Company's website.
Reach Staff Reporter Sarah Allen here.