Can Public Art Change the Conversation?

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“Baby, you’ve got to see the game like it is.”

Keith A. Wallace transforms into an African-American mother and son for his dynamic one-man show, The Bitter Game. After Pam catches Jamel playing with a toy gun, she breaks down three important rules: “Keep your head up. Keep your eyes forward. Keep your ego down.” The jarring incident prompts Pam to deliver some tough love in the form of important instructions that could mean the difference between life and death during an encounter with the police.

Keith A. Wallace performs 'The Bitter Game' | Photo: Richard Termine for The New York Times
Keith A. Wallace performs ‘The Bitter Game’ | Photo: Richard Termine for The New York Times

Wallace embodies both characters and invites full audience participation for his critically acclaimed piece, The Bitter Game, which makes its Los Angeles debut with a limited run at the Skirball Cultural Center Friday. The New York Times hails the show as a “sharp reminder of the persuasive powers of live theater.” Originally developed for La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls Festival, the visceral work recently enjoyed a much-talked-about run at NYC’s Under the Radar Festival. The Skirball’s VP and Director of Programs, Andrew Horwitz, was familiar with the project from its earliest development stages and knew it would be a good choice for a new series he was conceiving for the Skirball: its first-ever Performance Lab.

The Bitter Game is the first show in the five-part series, debuting Friday at the Skirball Cultural Center. The Performance Lab, which also includes The Bumps by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, Lula del Ray by Manual Cinema, Unexploded Ordnances (UXO) by Split Britches, and Inflatable Trio by Lionel Popkin, is a bit of a departure from the cultural hub’s traditional offerings.

Manual Cinema—Lula del Ray | Coming soon to Performance Lab at Skirball Cultural Center
Manual Cinema—Lula del Ray | Coming soon to Performance Lab at Skirball Cultural Center

The Performance Lab signifies the Skirball’s commitment to innovative programming with a nod to dance, theater, and multimedia performances, doubling down on new voices and diverse storytelling during a tense period in our political and social climate. The series touches upon the complex concepts of motherhood, aging, global uncertainty, feminism, alternative perspectives, and more with a thoughtful approach that invites spirited conversation.

It’s an exciting time to be in the arts. With the Hammer’s The Workshop Years: Black Film + Video Before 1981, MOCA’s Mickalene Thomas: Do I Look Like A Lady?, and MoMA’s Alexandra Bachzetsis’s Massacre: Variations on a Theme, it’s clear that alternative programming is part of a larger national trend. Museums and cultural venues are now, more than ever, creating inclusive spaces that provide community and open discourse, breaking down the often-perceived atmosphere of elitism and encouraging engagement and conversation. And the Skirball is right on time with palatable offerings of thought-provoking live entertainment that engage, inspire, and challenge conventional perspective.

While tickets for both showings of The Bitter Game have now sold out, tickets are still available for all other Performance Lab programs. Click here to snag tickets and for more information on the Skirball’s intriguing programming.

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