Skid Row and the Cold War by Floris van Delft
I arrive at LAX with a ‘mission’. Actually, I have two ‘missions’. Number one. I’m in Los Angeles to get to know LAPD, to meet the people, learn about their way of working. Number two. I’m in Los Angeles to research the Cold War. Two completely different goals with one thing in common: with both of them I don’t have a very clear idea about what I will find or where to start exactly. I’ll just start and, depending on what I will find, decide on the next step.
My research on the Cold War leads me to a string of completely different places. From a professor in political science at UCLA, to the left wing Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research. From the Reagan Library to the Titan Missile Museum in Tucson. From the Wende Museum in Culver City to veterans on Skid Row. The Cold War as a topic for research is quite a big one. So I try to focus on different events every time. The Berlin airlift, the Cuban missile crisis, the development of nuclear weapons and the meetings between Gorbachev and Reagan.
Trying to see ‘the big picture’ by zooming in. After taking a lot of pictures, meeting with a lot of people and filling a lot of pages with facts and stories there seem to be even more questions about what exactly the impact has been of this period on the world. Because, fortunately, the Cold War never became a ‘hot’ war, it seems almost easy to forget it took place. All that ends well…
And while driving miles and miles to visit all these different Cold War places, there’s one point I keep coming back to: Skid Row. LAPD’s rehearsal schedule gives a nice rhythm to the week. Tuesday and Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon I know where I’m going: to the rehearsal space at UCCEP on Skid Row.
Skid Row works like a mirror. While getting to know the people and the neighborhood, you have to deal with all the stereotypes you have in your head. The first evening I came to Skid Row, I saw streets full of potentially violent and definitely crazy people. But then I met the LAPD group, which consists of… the same people I just saw walking around. And during the weeks I worked with them, heard their stories and found out how all these ‘crazy’ people are part of a community. All my stereotypical thoughts about ‘these’ type of people were put to the test and failed.
And four weeks later when I was line dancing with eighty Skid Row inhabitants at the weekly karaoke night, I realized how simple it is to connect to people. It’s like the way I did my research. You start with saying ‘How are you?’, see what comes and then take it from there.
Skid Row gives purpose to the work of LAPD. With so much going on, so much to fight for or against, there’s no question why the stories they tell should be told. Prison overcrowding, aggressive policing, real estate fraud, political mistakes. It automatically raises the question of purpose in what I do. With Skid Row LAPD also works as a mirror for me as a theatre maker. It’s not that I feel I should do the same kind of work: it’s the question why I do what I do. A question I have asked myself many times before but that has been renewed seeing LAPD working with the community, stories and problems of Skid Row. A question that I took home with me on October 30th and will keep trying to answer.