header image

[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail


Today in
S.C.V. History
May 24
1860 - Colonel Thomas F. Mitchell arrives in Soledad Canyon [story]
T.F. Mitchell

Los Angeles-based artist and California Institute of the Arts grad Edgar Arceneaux (Art MFA 01) performed his award-winning, critically acclaimed theatrical work “Until, Until, Until…” in three sold-out shows this week at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

The piece was originally commissioned by Performa in New York City for its 2015 Biennial, and after its premiere there Arceneaux became only the third winner of the organization’s prestigious Malcolm McLaren Award.

The CalArts Center for New Performance assisted in development of the work through a 2015 residency, during which Dean Travis Preston called Arceneaux’s subject matter “absolutely compelling and really quite personal.”

Its LA debut came last summer at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects in a series of performances as part of Arceneaux’s seventh solo exhibition at the gallery. An installation featuring elements of the work at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Cambridge in fall of 2016 was lauded in The New Yorker.

“Until, Until, Until…” uses video and live performance to explore an almost-forgotten and fascinating moment in American television history: entertainer Ben Vereen’s controversial tribute to African-American vaudeville legend Bert Williams — whom W.C. Fields called “the funniest man I ever saw and the saddest” — at the All-Star Inaugural Gala for President-elect Ronald Reagan in January 1981.

The event, broadcast in a tape-delayed two-hour special by ABC, featured a series of celebrities taking star turns as President Reagan and his wife Nancy looked on, beaming.

Viewers at home saw Vereen, introduced by Johnny Carson, walk slowly onstage in an eerily vivid portrayal of Williams’ turn-of-the-century stage persona—brown topcoat, white gloves, old top hat and blackface makeup with whitened lips. Then Vereen danced and sang his way through “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee,” an Al Jolson number, and quickly, after a commercial break, the TV special moved on to a few bland numbers by Donny and Marie Osmond.

What viewers didn’t see, because ABC cut it, was the critical second half, which was intended by Vereen to be a powerful statement about the racism Bert Williams had faced.

In that section, Vereen-as-Williams attempts to summon a bartender to buy a drink for the Republican audience to thank them for their generous applause, and his one-way conversation with the imaginary bartender makes it clear he’s been told he can’t drink there because he is black.

Vereen then slowly and sadly moves to a small dressing-room table, sits before it, slowly removes his hat, coat, and gloves, begins to wipe off the blackface, and finally somberly — and then stirringly, as Vereen himself — sings Williams’ melancholy 1905 hit, “Nobody.”

African-American viewers were outraged by the broadcast, and saw Vereen’s appearance as a baffling and demeaning throwback to the days of blackface minstrel shows, especially given the sense that the incoming Republican administration was not thought to be sensitive to the concerns of black Americans.

This being before YouTube and Twitter, Vereen had no way of quickly correcting the mistaken impression that had been created by the truncated clip, and despite his immediate and repeated insistence to journalists that he had been misunderstood — and that ABC had violated its original agreement to show the performance in full — Vereen’s career never recovered from the outcry.

Arceneaux became fascinated with this moment and its repercussions and permutations through two chance encounters: first, he saw a brief clip 20 years or so ago of Vereen’s performance as part of a PBS documentary on the lives of African-American artists; then, four years ago, he bumped into Vereen at an event and worked up the nerve to introduce himself and ask about the performance.

Vereen was not initially enthusiastic about revisiting that moment, but came to trust Arceneaux’s growing interest in exploring the incident and its aftermath and eventually agreed to meet with him.

At Vereen’s North Hollywood home — full of awards and memorabilia from his Broadway shows and his famous “Chicken George” portrayal on the Roots miniseries in the 1970s — they watched a clip of the performance together.

“I was sitting behind him,” Arceneaux said, “and as the video began to play he began to say, ‘Look at what I could do,’ ‘Look at those kicks…!’ I felt like when I was sitting there, I could see an alignment of windows, showing me a view of a 100 years of time: here he is, in 2015, in his late 60s, watching himself in his 30s, performing a man from the 1920s…

“I started asking myself, ‘When did the performance end, and when did it begin?’” (Recent allegations of sexual misconduct against Vereen prompted both the Yerba Buena Center and Studio Edgar Arceneaux to release statements affirming their solidarity with “the countless victims of sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct whose bravery sparked a cultural shift that will change society for the better.”)

Arceneaux co-wrote the script with an old Art Center friend, artist and filmmaker Kurt Forman, and they brought on Los Angeles actor Frank Lawson to play Vereen-as-Williams; the production team is “90 percent CalArtians,” Arceneaux says.

Along with the usual art-friendly hot spots, they hope to tour the play through the Midwest — “the red states — and eventually perform it in Washington, D.C. In the meantime, Arceneaux and Forman are writing five new scenes that add more insight into Bert Williams’ life and how Ben Vereen came to study his career.

The creative team has hopes of eventually turning the stage production into a feature film; meanwhile, the piece continues to grow as they continue to experiment.

“The way in which I tried to tell the story was kind of like a big loop,” Arceneaux said. “If you spin something around in the air, like a pizza pie, its shape can kind of wobble in differing directions….We’re still writing the piece, and still performing it, so it’s still kind of spinning in the air.”

It was this idea of things coming around again—images, moments, history, encounters, dreams, longings, racism, hope—that gave idea for the title of the piece. “It’s about longing,” Arceneaux says, “and waiting… waiting for some sort of resolution that may never come.”

While all performances of “Until, Until, Until…” are sold out, the accompanying exhibition is on view at the YBCA’s First Floor Galleries until March 25.

— By Clayton Stromberger

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.


You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment

Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Society Comedy Troupe Improv Night: April Foolsish Show will appear on stage at The MAIN in Old Town Newhall on Saturday, June 1 at 8 p.m.
Thursday, May 23, 2024
"The Play That Goes Wrong" will open 8 p.m. Saturday, May 25 at the Canyon Theatre Guild in Old Town Newhall. The opening night performance will also feature a free wine and champagne reception for ticket holders.
Thursday, May 23, 2024
The city of Santa Clarita and GreenSantaClarita.com will host a fun, free Eco Hero Show on Friday, June 21 from 11 a.m. to noon.
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Ditch the predictable and dive headfirst into the Liquid Courage Comedy Hour, Friday and Saturday, June 7 to 8 at 8 p.m. in Old Town Newhall.
Thursday, May 16, 2024
Mission Opera is looking for volunteers for front of the house at the performances of the "Merry Widow: Madonna" June 6-8.
Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1860 - Colonel Thomas F. Mitchell arrives in Soledad Canyon [story]
T.F. Mitchell
The Society Comedy Troupe Improv Night: April Foolsish Show will appear on stage at The MAIN in Old Town Newhall on Saturday, June 1 at 8 p.m.
June 1: Society Comedy Troupe Improv Night at The MAIN
"Splash in the Water" at Castaic Lake is a free boating and water safety event for children ages 7 to 14. Presented by California State University, Northridge, and Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation. The program runs on Fridays now throuogh Aug. 9.
‘Splash in the Water’ at Castaic Lake
"The Play That Goes Wrong" will open 8 p.m. Saturday, May 25 at the Canyon Theatre Guild in Old Town Newhall. The opening night performance will also feature a free wine and champagne reception for ticket holders.
May 25-June 29: ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ at CTG
The American Public Works Association’s Southern California Chapter once again recognized the city of Santa Clarita for its accomplishments, honoring the city with three prestigious Public Works awards in 2023.
APWA SoCal Chapter Recognizes Santa Clarita with Trio of Awards
The 55th Annual Los Angeles County Peace Officers' Memorial Ceremony was held on Wednesday, May 22, to pay tribute to the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty and formally inscribed two new names to the memorial wall at the Biscailuz Training Center in East Los Angeles.
Peace Officers’ Memorial Ceremony Honors Clinkunbroomer
SCV Veterans Memorial Inc. and Eternal Valley Memorial Park will present the 36th annual Santa Clarita Valley Memorial Day Ceremony honoring fallen American heroes on Monday, May 27 at 10 a.m.
May 27: SCV Memorial Day Ceremony at Eternal Valley
The city of Santa Clarita and GreenSantaClarita.com will host a fun, free Eco Hero Show on Friday, June 21 from 11 a.m. to noon.
June 21: Free Eco Hero Show for Ages 5-12
For the second consecutive year, The Cube – Ice and Entertainment Center | Powered by FivePoint Valencia, will host a Memorial Day Weekend Hockey Tournament. This year’s tournament will feature 43 teams, from across California. Games will begin Thursday, May 23 and end Monday, May 27.
The Cube Hosts Memorial Day Weekend Hockey Tournament
The College of the Canyons track and field program had a combined 16 student-athletes from the men's and women's teams earn All-Western State Conference honors based on their individual performance at the WSC Championships earlier this month.
Cougar Track & Field Honored with 16 All-WSC Selections
While the first day of the NAIA Track and Field National Championships was mostly about the prelims, there were a few finals that saw The Master's University athletes do well.
TMU Athletes Compete at NAIA Track & Field Championships
The Master's University Men's Gold Jonathan Larson shot a 1-over 73 in the second round of the NAIA Men's Golf National Championships, giving him a two-day total of 5-over 149 to make the cut in Dalton, Ga.
TMU’s Larson Makes Cut at NAIA National Championships
Throughout American history, few occasions resonate with as much solemnity and reverence as Memorial Day. Originating in May of 1868, to commemorate the losses in the Civil War, this revered day serves as a reminder of the countless sacrifices made by generations of servicemen and women in defense of our freedom and democracy.
Laurene Weste | Honoring Our Fallen Heroes
The inaugural Santa Clarita Valley Festival at College of the Canyons will be held Saturday, June 8, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at 26455 Rockwell Canyon Road, Santa Clarita, CA 91355.
Volunteers Sought for Inaugural SCV Book Festival
California State Parks is honoring the service of veterans and active and reserve military members, by offering free admission to 143 participating state park units, including the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve, Fort Tejon State Historic Park, Malibu Creek State Park and other Southern California locations, on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27.
State Parks Offer Veterans, Military Free Admission on Memorial Day
The Santa Clarita Valley Media Collaborative's inaugural NextGen MediaMakers Festival was held Saturday, May 18 at the Canyon Country Community Center.
Inaugural NextGen MediaMakers Festival Celebrates Young Creatives
1941 - SCV's first real movie house, the American Theater, dedicated in Newhall [story]
American Theater
Representatives from The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health's Office of Violence Prevention today joined other members of the National Offices of Violence Prevention Network at an event hosted by the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.
Public Health Attends White House Event on Community Violence Intervention
Circle K will offer 40 cents off per gallon of fuel between 4 and 7 p.m. local time Thursday, May 23 during Circle K Fuel Day Pop-Up and 50% off on car washes all day at over 200 participating Circle K locations including Los Angeles.
May 23: Circle K Offers 40 Cents Off For Fuel Day Pop-up
Ditch the predictable and dive headfirst into the Liquid Courage Comedy Hour, Friday and Saturday, June 7 to 8 at 8 p.m. in Old Town Newhall.
June 7: The MAIN Hosts Two Female Lead Comedy Performances
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond today joined Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego) and Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), Chair of the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, along with teachers, parents, and LGBTQ+ advocates, to announce Assembly Bill (AB) 1955, the Support Academic Futures and Educators for Today’s Youth (SAFETY) Act, to ensure all students have a safe and supportive environment to learn regardless of gender identity. 
Legislators and LGBTQ+ Advocates Announce New SAFETY ACT
 Sen. Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) announced that his second school transparency bill, which mandates the California Department of Education to publish information on its website about the members selected for its Parent Advisory Council, was approved on the Senate Floor.
Wilk’s Parent Advisory Council Transparency Bill Passes Senate Floor
The Department of Motor Vehicles is making it so easy for Californians to take care of business as part of its customer-focused digital transformation that the DMV will no longer process simple transactions in offices that can easily be completed online or through other convenient options.
DMV Innovations Making it Easier than Ever to Skip Office Trip
California Nurses Association applauds the California Senate’s passage (31-8) of S.B. 1061, which would prohibit consumer reporting agencies from including medical debt on credit reports.
CNA Applauds State Senate’s Passage of S.B. 1061 Removing Medical Debt From Credit Reports