Bridging Old and New

By Zachary Cantrell

Earlier this month, I closed my first professional show in Los Angeles with Downtown Repertory Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Though one of The Bard’s most treasured comedies, this production was far from typical. In an attempt to bring the story to a modern audience we decided to contemporize it, setting it in an Orange County luxury resort called The Messina.

And what better place to put on this show than Olvera Street?

Photo by Kevin Stanchfield on Flickr

Also referred to as El Pueblo De Los Angeles, Olvera Street is considered the birthplace of the City of Angels. It is a place
that seems simultaneously frozen in time and humming with everyday modern Los Angeles activity. I did not know what to make of it. Business men and women bustle to and from Union Station (located across the street), and tourists snap pictures of themselves on the back of a painted stone donkey, while local families salsa dance in the square. On this tiny street, all walks of life mix and weave among each other, creating a bizarre collage of Los Angeles life.

Photo by Joits on Flickr

As rehearsals progressed, I had to spend more and more time in this wacky centre, allowing me to really take note of all the intricacies of the community and the welcoming of new people into a world not quite their own. The dancing in the square was enough to lift my spirits, even while walking past; the museums added context to the place and my appreciation deepened; the food grew increasingly tantalizing as I began to branch out and try more of the restaurants. I had a castmate who would always come into rehearsal with his script rolled up in one hand and a Mr. Whippy ice cream cone in the other, purchased from a restaurant that also served margaritas in glasses the size of fruit bowls. Many a time, I explored the vendor’s carts in search of a specific prop I needed that day in rehearsal, and they hardly ever let me down.

By the time our show was ready to open, I found that I could not imagine this show in any other place. Sure, the Pico House may not be the Ahmanson Theater and, every once in awhile, Aztec dancers would beat their drums during our weekend performances, but the street’s vitality is enough to make up for anything it might lack. There aren’t too many places where people can encounter the past while never quite leaving their own time and place, just like our show. We bring the past to the present as a reminder of the timeless struggles and desires that make us human. Though it pains me to leave, I will never forget the memories I made and the sense of community I encountered on Olvera Street.

Featured image by Kent Kanouse on Flickr

Zachary Cantrell, born and raised in Dallas, Texas, is a senior in the BFA Acting program. He has been in countless shows spanning his three previous years at USC and he is taking a minor in Cinematic Arts. In his free time he enjoys catching up on reading, playing racquetball, and bouldering.