UTOPIA / dystopia

Directed by John Malpede

Performed at REDCAT Theater

December 6, 7, 8, 9, 2007

Performance Excerpts


Excerpt Description: What is the best way to get people of the streets? Is it through aggressive enforcement of dubious laws that criminalize homelessness?  Or, is it through encouraging the further development of the recovery culture that has developed in downtown LA’s Skid Row area, during the last 25 years, through public policy and non-profit initiatives?

Excerpt begins with LA Police Chief Bill Bratton defending aggressive policing of “Safer Cities Initiative” , followed by refrain from song “41.18(d)”, with lyrics adapted from the Municipal Ordinance making it a crime to sleep on the streets. Then public comment at LA City Council meeting (Sept 20, 2006) after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that LA ‘s law, 4118.d, against sleeping on the street was unconstitutional. Judge Kim Wardlaw in her decision encouraged the City to settle the case with the ACLU.  City Council meeting scene starts with urging of Councilperson Jan Perry, to not settle the case, reasoning that the city can continue to “enforce” the now unconstitutional law until a settlement is reached.  Public comments include those of Tom Gilmore, a major developer, and Carol Schatz, a representative of a business-development group.  Then Carol Sobel, one of the attorneys working with the ALCU speaks.   Sobel’s comments are inter-cut with those of Jan Perry, and staged as vacuum cleaner fight.

Scene 9. Chief Bratton and Captain Andy Smith
They walk thru the beautiful sleepers — watching over them: whispering through microphone as they serve and protect the beautiful sleepers.

William Bratton:  The department does not target the homeless but only people who violate city ordinances.  “If the behavior is aberrant, in the sense that it breaks the law, then there are city ordinances. . . .  you arrest them, prosecute them.  Put them in jail.  And if they do it again, you arrest them, prosecute them, and put them in jail.  It’s that simple.” The power to arrest people for sleeping on sidewalks is helpful, but not essential, to policing downtown. “It’s a very effective tool.” but “this is not going to prevent the Los Angeles Police Department from enforcing the law on skid row. It will have minimal effect on what we are trying to do there.”

Capt. Andy Smith:  My officers don’t ask people if they are on probation or parole without reasonable suspicion of a crime. “Usually they are violating 41.18 (d) [blocking a sidewalk] or jaywalking or committing a violation — that is when the issue comes up,” he said.

Capt. Andy Smith:  Officers use sleeping on sidewalks as probable cause to question people, and that leads to the discovery of other crimes. Of course, we don’t do this when beds in shelters aren’t available.

William Bratton:  That’s right.  I said it.  We just enforce policy.  City council makes it.  The mayor makes it. Now after one year of safer cities:  you heard me again: ‘Safer Cities’ has been very effective:  it’s lowed crime in central city. There are fewer people sleeping on the streets. And yes, people have been dispersed to other areas of the city.  So what?  What’s wrong with that?  Why should all the burden of dealing with these service resistant homeless be concentrated in central city?


Song:  4118.d — part 3
we arrest them
prosecute them
put them in jail
and if they do it again
we arrest them
we prosecute them
put them in jail

don’t take your chances
with city ordinances

Scene 10: City Council Meeting
Perry, gets up, folds the comforter quickly and gives her first line.

Mrs. Perry: I recommend to the speakers to get to the point.  With two minutes you really have to pack in your position and say it up front.

Beautiful sleepers jump up, pack up their comforters, run them off stage, and return to their vacuums as council members and testifiers.

Mrs. Schatz: Thank you. Carol Schatz president and CEO of the central city east association the downtown center bid.  Both organizations oppose this settlement. If you condemn one area of our community you condemn the entire community.  We understand LAPD’s need for a tool. This is not a tool, this is not compromise, this is capitulation. The logic of the decision is perverse:  using the eighth amendment of the US constitution to say you cannot arrest someone who is laying or sleeping on the street.   That precedent will continue if this settlement is reached. Nothing prohibits the police from legally enforcing 4118 until the appeal is taken or rejected. Council member Perry’s alternative allows this appeal to go forward and enforcement to go forward.  If any of you would say that you would agree to have tents encamped in front, on the public sidewalk in front of your home or the businesses of your constituents: people peeing and pooping and probably shooting up, then go ahead and vote for this settlement.   But if you believe, and know in your heart, that you would never allow this behavior in front of your home or the businesses of your constituents you must vote no on this settlement.

Tom Gilmore: Thank you Mrs. Schatz, and thank you council members.  About eight years ago your predecessors on the council virtually begged me and begged other business people to begin the long and difficult process of revitalizing downtown.  We responded to that call and with that council’s help we invested, myself over $15 million on main street, and subsequent to that, over $150 new million were invested on main street.  Since that time over $6 billion of new investment has happened in downtown through the auspices of the city council and the city planning department and the good wishes of the people of Los Angeles.
moves forward 
Today if you vote for this settlement you will undo every single piece of good work that council did before you.  Let me assure you main street is part of the encampment zone; the newest, most vibrant, street in your city is part of an encampment zone now.  It is filled by people who are here today.  Could everybody from the old back district please stand up?
people clap 
These people live in downtown 24/7. they do not go away at 9pm.  They do not start working at 6am.  They are here 24/7 trying to create the newest most vibrant neighborhood in this city.  i beg of you listen to Jan Perry.  Come up with something that protects the city, protects the homeless, because that really is part of this.  I was on the Los Angles homeless services authority for six years.  This is the worst possible solution you can come up for the homeless. It is the worst you can do for this community, it is the worst that you can do for the city.  Please respond to Jan Perry and do the right thing. Thank you.

Bill Cooper: Good morning I’m Bill Cooper.   I am a resident and a businessperson who works downtown, lives downtown.  I represent probably hundreds of people who would like to have been here this morning had they been notified in time to be here to speak.  When your looking at me and the rest of these people that showed up, we cleared our schedule during the last 12 hours to be here to speak to you and ask you to not approve this settlement and to listen to Jan Perry.  We are watching your votes, were watching who’s going to vote for us the residents and taxpayers of la and who’s going to vote against us.

ImageCarol Sobol: My name is Carol Sobol. I am one of the council in the Jones case.  I want to argue against the Perry motion.  Perry short vacuum blast I think the settlement in this case is a fair one, it gives the city more than what the ninth circuit suggested. We’re giving up ten feet on either side of any entrance, any driveway, any parking lot, and that is an important…

(booing) all vacuums  on making noise in place 
…and that is important.  It is important for the council to know that the proposal being made now by councilperson Perry, through her attorneys, is nothing that was ever discussed in the mediation.

Mrs. Perry:  If you can turn my mike on for a second, I just want to correct the record on a statement that Mrs. Sobol just made.

Carol Sobol: And I think that if people are participating in a mediation they ought to participate fairly and not come in on the 11th hour with something that has not been discussed.

Mrs. Perry: I want everyone who’s in here to hear this.  I did make the statement that I was never going to abandon the appeal.

Carol Sobol: Its time, I think, for the city to address this in a way that it has not.  We’ve been engaged in litigation for three and a half years. We need to move forward.
Perry moves away. And I want to just point out in closing, that when we began this litigation we had a certain number of shelter beds and a certain number of transition beds.

Mrs. Perry: I want to pursue the appeal. I did say that in the context of the meditation.  I did say that within the mediation process.  It is a matter of record. You can check with the mediator, I absolutely said that.
vacuums up in air pushing on each other

Carol Sobol: Four years later according to the City’s own data, given to the mayor’s conference on housing and hunger, we have ten fewer transitional beds and almost the identical number of shelter beds — even though we have permitted for the Frontier hotel to empty 500 people into the streets and we are about to permit the Alexandria hotel to empty hundreds more families.

Mrs. Perry: I never agreed to abandon the appeal.  I asked to vacate the decision.  I asked that we reach a mutual understanding to vacate the decision because of what it portends…. and you can shake your head “no”, but the record will speak for itself.

Carol Sobol:  We are at that same stage we were four years ago in terms of shelter while the homeless population has grown.  So, whatever the outcome today, it is really time for the council to step up, because as chief Bratton said this week: this is not a police issue. This is an issue that the city council has to step up on.
(applause) all vacuums on.   Sobel walks  away.

Mrs. Perry: And if we need to we can get the mediator on the phone. He can substantiate that for me. Perry to audience.  But I want the public to know that I never agreed to abandon the appeal.  I want to pursue the appeal.  I ask that the decision be vacated.

Scene 12. Ambush on path to recovery
During Kevin Michael monolog, Chas enters and paces back and forth — upstage  ie, far in back of Kevin.  At first Chas is looking down, then embraces his own shoulders, and then opens his vision outward– reconnects to the world.

reading from article LA Times article 
“AMBUSH ON PATH TO RECOVERY”, it was late in the evening when Michael Key……” 

Hey, that’s me! Me and Joe Lieberman made the front page of the LA Times…………
Reads on “…landed on Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. He had just been booted from a S. Los Angeles drug program for getting high and was on his way to a detox center on Crocker Street.”

What started out as the worst day of my life was really the beginning of my best times.  After 42 years of drinking and using illegal drugs, and trying to get clean for over 17 years, on July 12, 2002, I joined Redd as a member of the largest recovery community in LA…in California, probably in the whole world.  Where?  Right here on Skid Row. In my community you see recovering folk everywhere being productive, living regular lives, working in hotels… managing hotels, as addiction counselors, case managers, medical workers. In my community even the security are working a recovery program. There are meetings going on here all the time everyday, AA..CA..NA.  There’s a meeting going on right now…guaranteed!   I began interacting with people everyday, listening closely to them in meetings, and more importantly, watching them living in the recovery process. I began drawing strength from these people who are fighting my demons…and guess what! They are winning the fight.  It was from them that I learned the difference between treatment and recovery.  Treatment takes place in funded facilities, but real recovery happens on these streets.
So 4 years later I agreed to show this writer my community….

reading from article: “Key, who now lives in a 1 room apartment ….pointed along 5th Street to a area notorious for marijuana sales…its within shouting distance from central division station…..”

I ended up being angry with what she wrote.  I wrote a letter to the editor.  It was never published.  What the writer and I witnessed were people openly hawking drugs while patrol cars rolled by ignoring them, that’s what was left out of the article.  I also pointed out the Lorraine hotel, which is directly across 5th street from central division, it’s open and notorious.  Word on the street has it that the drugs sold there belong to the police.  This article talks more about my individual strength and ignored the community resources that are helping so many people. The negative stuff gets portrayed as personal shortcomings and gets all the ink, while institutional failures are ignored.

Reading article “With all of the narcotics sales in Skid Row, it strikes me as nearly impossible to get clean. The expression I hear is that the wolves are not at the door, they’re in the living room,” said Capt. Andy Smith.” 

Well captain, Skid Row didn’t just happen by chance, all these services were put here by somebody…. all these services, for the homeless, the elderly, disabled vets, a safe haven, the women’s center… were put here by somebody.  And I see all kinds of people doing recovery here everyday.
If I hadn’t met Redd I probably would have believed all that crap, captain Smith.   Redd was my VOA counselor while I was in treatment and he’s been in clean for 10 years.  Before he got clean, Redd lived in a box on 5th and Crocker for decades. He would point out his little spot to us. See Redd lives recovery, he freely gives back what was freely given to him because his very life depends on it!
song: ‘Lorraine Hotel’ instrumental starts
Anybody living in a box, if they know Redd, they have hope.  Truth be told, Redd has helped more folk get sober, for free, than all them safer cities cops.

My name is Kevinmichael, I am an addict, thank you for participating in my sobriety.

Scene 18. Enlightened policy

Carol Schatz gets up and others get up.  They deliver lines in a meditative tone. They do slow motion ‘beautiful / utopian’ movements as they speak.   While they speak Joe from Vignes enters from behind the tower, moving slowly toward Gildmore, holding a set of keys in his arm stretched out in front of him. 

Jan Perry: Well Tom — you built more — but there’s no more people who can afford it. What we’re gonna do — is a bail out. —- Make this into luxury lofts —- for the homeless. We’ll buy it from you — at market rate — and play it off — as a plan to end homelessness.

Antonio: Que lindisimo es esta ciudad!  Que grande edificios tenemos.
I’m here today to announce the city’s “operation ending homelessness in style”.  This is our program to set aside 10,000 units of luxury lofts: in the historic core, and central city east, for formerly homeless people at such prestigious addresses as “the Santa Fe court lofts”; “the Rosslyn lofts”; and “the Pacific Electric lofts”.
And with me today is Ted Buildmore a man who’s invested millions of his own money in downtown. And who’s served the city, the county and the homeless with his selfless involvement on the Los Angeles homeless services authority.

Buildmore:  I’ve always been about building a village in the center of Los Angeles.  I’ve always been about everyone being a part of that village.  I couldn’t be happier than I was when I gave Joe from Vignes the key to his old bank district loft.  Together we shared an embrace and a vision.
Buildmore embraces Joe and then discards him.
But, my faith needed the visionary leadership of mayor Villagariosa, council woman Perry and the rest of city council, who voted unanimously in favor of Jan Perry’s bill to buy these buildings for affordable housing for all.

Song: 41.18D #part 4
adopted as the law
of southern California
if you think this song is wrong
and you cannot sing along
I tell you that every word
came to me from a bird
who got it from the chief, the judge and the law
I’m just singing what I saw

it’s the law!


UD_2007_utopiacast.psPerformers:  Henriëtte Brouwers, General Dogon, Lorinda Hawkins, Charles Jackson, Kevinmichael Key, John Malpede, Tony Parker, Riccarlo Porter, Ibrahim Saba, Sashae Siatui.
Musicians:  Piano: Ron Taylor. Guitar songs and lyrics: Weba Garretson, Ralph Gorodetsky.
Cardboard tower design: Richard Piscuskas and John Malpede
Images:  Fridgeir Helgason
Stage Manager: Pamela Miller Macias
Lighting Design:  Jeff Teeter and Henriëtte Brouwers


LAPD’s UTOPIA/dystopia project is supported by grants from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs; The National Endowment for the Arts, Theater; the California Arts Council’s Creating Public Value Program; The Los Angeles County Arts Commission; The MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation; Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts with support form the Kellog Foundation.