Poets and playwrights Jerry Quickley and reg e gaines return to the Douglas on February 8, 2016 with Through the Looking Glass, a collaboration with community members from Leimert Park and Montebello that explores their lives and neighborhoods.
Quickley and gaines have been friends for a very long time. “We’re friends from the spoken word/poetry scene in the early 1990s,” said Gaines. “We were voiceless, and suddenly got an opportunity to get our voice heard.” Since then, their voices have traveled around the world: Quickley has collaborated with Philip Glass, held a fellowship at Stanford University, and had his work performed from Big Sur to Baghdad, while gaines wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics for the Tony Award®-winning musical Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk. In 2006, Center Theatre Group audiences were treated to their first taste of a Quickley-gaines collaboration when gaines directed Quickley’s solo show Live From the Front at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Quickley and gaines return to the Douglas on February 8, 2016 with Through the Looking Glass, a collaboration with community members from Leimert Park and Montebello that explores their lives and neighborhoods—and how people from these two unique Los Angeles places see one another. After seven months of co-facilitating writing workshops with participants, Quickley crafted a script based on their work, and gaines is directing a presentation at the Douglas as well as readings on February 2 in Montebello and February 3 in Leimert Park.
Quickley and gaines agree that their nontraditional theatre backgrounds and the strength and length of their friendship have made Through the Looking Glass work. “Most folks who spend a great deal of energy in traditional theatre models are at best uncomfortable with parts of what we’re doing—and more often than not terrified,” said Quickley. They’re spending just a few weeks writing and rehearsing Through the Looking Glass, although the workshops took place over the course of months. “I needed a counterpart who understood that process and was OK with it,” said Quickley of his director. “You need someone who understands and is comfortable with and doesn’t freak out about shortened time frames, not-traditional writers, not-traditional actors. And you need someone who’s very flexible and community-based and has a tremendous amount of theatre insight and intelligence. And fortunately for us, reg e gaines is that person.”
The process of making Through the Looking Glass is not dissimilar to the one that produced Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk. “There was no script. Six days a week, six hours a day for 90 days, we put a piece together that eventually went to Broadway,” said gaines. “That’s my Ph.D. Everything I work on is like that to a certain extent.”
Working with Quickley “in an artistic situation is a piece of cake,” said gaines, thanks to their long friendship. “If he says something, I don’t have to doubt a word that he says; I know that it’s true. Or if I say something and he doesn’t agree, he’ll tell me. There’s no filter or anything like that. That’s a great thing.”
Their ease with one another and the process has been felt viscerally by participants. “They’re absolutely brilliant,” said V. Kali, a Leimert Park community member. She described Jerry as “fearless,” and lauded gaines’ “stellar” listening skills. “They hear things that nobody else hears,” she said. “They’re like musicians in that way. It’s just a joy to work with them.”
Quickley and gaines hope that audiences experience the joys participants experienced in the process of creating Through the Looking Glass. “Courage, fearlessness—and that means community, family, trust, and love,” said Gaines. “That’s all got to come through.”
“My hope,” said Quickley, “is that that process generates hope. My hope is that that process generates more humanity. My hope is that that process generates more understanding.”