Los Angeles on Fire by
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(150 Stories)

Prompted By Group Photos

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Photos of families, couples, and mobs, shuttered or pixilated images preserve decades of life, love, and memory, chaos captured, order performed. Random or planned, group photos reflect group purpose.

We gathered to chronicle the choking, smoke-filled days and siren-screaming nights of ’92, to project a cinematic family photo, to replicate violence against a lone black man, to trace the source of rage at injustice over abusive acquitted authority.

We recited text, struck LAPD tableaus, snatched court proceedings, sketched out Rodney King, a white suburban jury, and Los Angeles on fire. On purpose, I played the only white guy on stage.

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RetroFlash

Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

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Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Thanx Charles, for always being our conscience.

    I bet you’ve seen the amazing Anna Deavere Smith’s theatre piece on the LA riots.

  2. susanrubin says:

    The way you say things is so smart. So insightful and compassionate. Can you write more please? I could really use some humanity in these strange times.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your smiling faces bely the purpose of your onstage work. Those were days of rage, overshadowed by King’s own request, “Can’t we all just get along?” It seems a harbinger of things to come. Would that we could.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Beautifully powerful, Charles. You say so much in so few, perfectly chosen words. And that last sentence….

  5. Suzy says:

    Wonderful group photo, and 100 carefully chosen words that express so much. A perfect RetroFlash! I would have loved to see your production!

    • Thanks, Suzy! It was a timely, portable show that traveled around L.A. for several months. As I finished this retroflash, I realized how appropriate it would have been to have covered the family portrait of George Floyd, on the ground, surrounded by his murderers and the young woman who took a different kind of group ‘photo’ with her cell phone.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    As always, excellent and powerful.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    Your story evokes the power of people coming together, instead of just shaking heads and bemoaning how awful things are. I wish we weren’t assured of future similar tableaux, George Floyd or whomever, but there is always a place and need to counter that narrative.

    • Yes, Khati, the company in the photo were driven to say something about that long, drawn-out stumble toward injustice. We did get a grant from the LA Cultural Affairs Department to mount the show, largely because most of LA understood the iconography of Rodney King, the beating he took, the inability of LAPD to protect the community after the uprising began, AND the understanding that the citizen video that provided proof of the beating set a precedent that has been reflected in police body cams and the remarkable use of graphic recording to present evidence. The recorded murder of George Floyd and the conviction in the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery tell us we are in a new era, where group photos yield the hope of justice.

  8. Susan Bennet says:

    Very powerfully expressed, Charles. Did you write the play/theatrical?
    (I have a feeling you did.) On a different note, I am always struck by the bitter/sweet of live theater. Such power and emotion, expressed and received, but in the end and of necessity, ephemeral. This is a great cast photo, and, as you say, reflecting your troupe’s purpose.

    • Thanks for your clear and kind words, Susan. The play was taken from interviews and snatches of quotes from Angelenos as they spoke about Rodney King’s beating, the trial, the verdict and the uprising. It was more a cut and paste with contextualizing narrative and was written collectively by me, my partner (also a Susan) and one or two others. It was shaped in rehearsal by the cast. Yes, creating drama brings mixed excitement and sadness as, at the closing curtain, all is destroyed in a process aptly named a strike. Then the spirit of the play flies up into the shadows above the light grid and disappears into the ether.

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