Los Angeles has long since been a landscape for people to journey to in their process of becoming. As many travel for opportunities within Hollywood or theatre, lasting foundations such as the Robey Theatre have been there for Black and people of color (POC) artists of all sorts. With a principle of growth and collaboration, they’ve found ways to stay current as they push forward as a company. Now making even more history, they’ve collaborated with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) for the first time ever in LACO’s Close Quarters digital episode “Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale.”
This story which began at the end of WWI starring just three actors and septet is based on a Russian parable about a soldier who trades his magical violin in a dangerous bargain with the Devil. The film features three figures from the Robey Theatre including Ben Guillory as narrator, William Warren as the Devil, and Julio Hanson as the Soldier. This history marking moment is the first of its kind for these two entities which was an idea brought into fruition by Guillory himself and Ben Cadwallader, LACO’s executive director.
“I do not believe that excellence, without diversity is possible,” Cadwallader stated. He explains that the LACO has had full intentions over the past years of diversifying classical music and it’s art form. This special project allowed them the ability to tap into that belief, birthing a new relationship with the Robey Theatre and LACO’s talent base. “The more I learned about the Robey, even after the first conversation that Ben and I had, it was clear to me that this is an organization that not only has a whole lot of talent, but that also really prioritizes relationships and community building, which is really important to LACO as well,” he continued. “It always felt like a match made in heaven.”
Guillory continues to second his now friends’ thoughts, detailing the reasons Robey was found in 1994 and named after Paul “Robey” Robeson. He details upon his arrival to LA, there were over 230 theaters full of talented artists who wanted to get into Hollywood, theater for some was a necessary step before entering Hollywood’s doors. He continues to connect the dots between history and how it’s foundation of creating pure art helped solidify the connection made in 2021, “it’s music,” he states. “No matter where it comes from, it is an aesthetic. It is something that lifts us, that inspires us, and makes us feel right. I want to be a part of that. I want the Robey Theatre Company to be a part of that.”
Though still in a pandemic, the two organizations were able to collaborate to bring to life a new experience under the circumstances for each group. “We didn’t seek to recreate a live experience. We were for all intents and purposes, making a TV show,” Cadwallader shared. In order to be as safe as possible he lays out the ways the show was created in studios where they practiced social distancing, all for the sake of art and a very important moment for LA’s diversification of the arts. As far as the theater side, Guillory says it was magical. “It’s very different. It’s limiting in some ways, but we’re finding ways to action, punctuate, and create a whole other kind of aesthetic which is not going to go away when live theater comes back, which will always come back because there’s nothing like it.”
As both would tell it, “Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale” has been met with great reviews, which inspires both parties to continue to build and require other programs to prioritize inclusion. “I’d love to get to a point where the expectation is, if you’re an arts organization that prioritizes excellence, then it is expected that you are a diverse organization — not just in your programming, but in your staff and your board structure,” Cadwallader expressed. “This collaboration with the Robey is very significant. [It] also represents a point of progress, while also acknowledging that we have a lot more work to do, we LACO, we classical music, we legacy arts organizations have a lot more work to do.”
Speaking to the change, Cadwallader would like to see, Guillory adds while those expectations are high as this isn’t a perfect world, “we can work towards a perfect world because that’s what we do in theater. That’s what we do in music. That’s what we do in all the art forms,” he explained. “The whole definition of an art form is bringing things up to a perfection that reality can never really be because we’re human, but we all desire a certain kind of beauty, a certain kind of perfection. We desire that and we work towards that. That’s what the arts do. Work towards that.”
To watch LACO Close Quarters digital episode “Stravinsky: The Soldier’s Tale,” visit https://www.laco.org/close-quarters/.