The Saban Theater is one of those awesome Art Deco theaters I am so happy hasn’t been torn down yet. And a place I’ve been driving by for years without any idea what goes on inside. Independent film? Children’s puppet shows? Miss Philippines Pageants? Located in an awkward stretch of Wilshire that isn’t quite Miracle Mile and is technically (and weirdly) a part of Beverly Hills, it really could be anything.
Last Friday I finally made it to the Saban to check out the Grand Slam Poetry Finals, part of the Brave New Voices festival that airs on HBO. I’m not exactly a big fan of spoken word or poetry, but in the name of trying new things I agreed to tagalong with a more cultured friend. We arrived to find an impressive line stretching down a block and a half, mostly giddy teenagers with a splash of middle-aged poetry stereotypes (wild graying beards, wearing mostly black). And since this is LA, I’m sure some of the line was just there because Common and Rosario Dawson were hosting.
So how was it? The theater lived up to my Art Deco hopes with its ridiculously ornate silver frame around the stage – which the internet tells me is called a “proscenium” – and intense plaster detailing. The poetry was a mixed bag. There were parts that really rubbed me the wrong way and reaffirmed why I have avoided spoken word. Namely: the overblown fire hydrant of emotion, tangled metaphors that confused more than enlightened, and theatrical arm movements. On the plus side, there was barely any snapping in the audience, and I’m pretty sure the little I heard was a joke. But I have to admit that some of the performances really shook me, mostly when the poems focused closer to themselves and not the bigger world problems (Iraq, the evils of consumerism, the planet). There were some really heartbreaking performances about a “picture perfect” family and brutal mother-daughter relationships. From those moments, I have a (slightly grudging) newfound respect for poetry…not to mention these insanely impassioned teenagers. Like the work or not, these are some intense and brave people.
So thanks, Saban Theater, for hosting my introduction to slam poetry…and giving me the chance to see Common freestyle during some kind of technical mishap. I think it’s time to give poetry a second chance and to hunt down some more surprising events in the old time LA theaters.