An Echo Park house filled with drama

The Echo Park home of Celeste Den is filled these days with tension, mystery and an audience. That’s because Den’s two-story house on palm-lined Laveta Terrace serves as the stage for “second,” a dark comedy and multimedia performance. The actors perform different scenes in the living room, dining room and a bedroom of the nearly 90 year-old house that Den and her husband, actor Chad Christopher, have lived in for nearly two years. Live camera feeds and video monitors allow the actors and audience to see and hear the action taking place in the other rooms. The decision to stage the play in the couple’s home was a practical one – it’s free. But it does mean that Den and her husband have to live with their work -and audience – for a couple of days.

“My husband (who is an actor in the show) and I live here during the show,” said Den in an email. “Co-habitating with theatre. Challenging but quite exciting.”

Click on the link below for a Q&A with Den about her home theater. Tonight’s performance of “second” is a pay-what-you can” event.

How was the play adapted to take place in your home or was it written specifically with it in mind. What rooms are used?

“second” a published new American work that’s been adapted to take place in my home. It is a play that is essentially 3 scenes interwoven…originally written to be performed on one unit set with the actors flowing in and out (and when the scenes overlap – actors all on stage at the same time). What we’ve done is taken those three scenes and pulled them apart into 3 different rooms of the house – the living room, dining room, and the bedroom (to represent a brownstone, a tenement, and a hotel room, respectively). All 3 scenes now happen separately but simultaneously – connected by the text and by live camera feeds into the other rooms…and although the actors are separated into these different rooms, they are all operating as one unit. It’s quite spectacular, if I do say so myself.

The playwright Neal Utterback, the director Joe LaRue, and myself (the producer) met while we were attending the University of Florida over a decade ago. We’d remained friends and supporters of each other’s work despite being on different coasts (Utterback & LaRue were in NY – where they created and premiered “second” together in 2004 – and I was here in CA going to grad school at CalArts). When LaRue moved here a few years ago he and I began working together on various creative projects, and it’d always been in the back of my mind to do the West Coast premiere of “second.” When my theatre company, Filament Theatre Co. (founded and operated by myself and other CalArts alum), came out of hiatus – I suggested this project and everyone jumped on board. Everyone involved with this production of “second” is essentially family…it is the definition of “home-grown” and a real manifestation of my creative community. I could not be more proud of it.

Did you have to change decor, furniture, etc for the piece?

We did not have to change the house very much to accomplish what we wanted. Part of the pre-show set up is the moving around of certain pieces of furniture, strategic placement of practical lighting, and the set up of the monitors, cameras, and speakers in each room. A big part of figuring out how to execute our idea for this project lied in how to make the technology work – aside from the live camera feeds and the monitors, we also had to create a “mission control” area from which I could run the sound board (all actors are body mic-ed) and control the practical lights we use for the show. Needless to say, there are a multitude of cables and extensions running all over the house – but we’ve dressed them all very neatly and now you hardly even notice they are there – thank goodness!

Will you still live there while the piece is taking place?

Yes, my husband (who is an actor in the show) and I live here during the show. Co-habitating with theatre. Challenging but quite exciting – and TOTALLY fulfilling.

Why did you decide to use your place?

The cost of renting a venue in Los Angeles is always the biggest line item in any budget for a homeless ensemble such as Filament Theatre Co…and we really just didn’t have the money. Nor did we believe that we could only create art if our bank account was fat enough. Theatre happens in the moment, not in a blackbox. So we decided to look at what would be considered limitations/restrictions, and turned them into the anchor of our work. Fortunately my husband and I have a nice size house with not a whole lot of furniture, and the director generated a great concept around it that we could all get behind.

Filament Theatre Co (www.filamenttheatreco.com) is also – in its essence – an ensemble more interested in process than in structure, so we happily embraced exploding the traditional theater-going experience. We personally think it’s much more fun to go to a friend’s house and be entertained.

Do you own or rent the place?

My husband and I bought this house in Aug of 2008, and we have fallen more and more in love with Echo Park everyday! The vibe of the neighborhood, the sense of community among local merchants, amazing food, thriving art and music scene…I could go on and on. Nestled here on Laveta Terrace between Echo Park and Elysian Park is really our own little piece of paradise. That’s why we named our home the Laveta Villa.

Photo courtesy Celeste Den

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