header image

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

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Mostly cloudy
Mostly cloudy
88°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
August 3
1975 - Henry Mayo Newhall (Memorial) Hospital opens with 100 beds [story]
HMNMH


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.

0 Comments

You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment


ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT LINKS
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
Tuesday, Aug 3, 2021
Officials at the Santa Clarita Film Office said they have been “busy” in the last few months, a change from the March-June period from last year in which no productions were allowed to roll their cameras.
Monday, Aug 2, 2021
Rancho Camulos Museum has launched a new visitor experience at the Rancho Camulos National Historic Landmark, "Last Sundays at the Landmark."
Monday, Aug 2, 2021
The city of Santa Clarita’s Film Office released the 11 productions currently filming in the Santa Clarita Valley for the week of Monday, Aug. 2 - Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021:
Monday, Aug 2, 2021
Do you believe in magic? Then join The MAIN, located at 24266 Main Street in Newhall, for “Enchanted: An Evening of Magic” on Friday, Aug. 20, at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, Jul 30, 2021
The city of Santa Clarita is excited to host “Moments of Zen” as the latest art exhibition featured in City Hall’s First Floor Gallery, located at 23920 Valencia Boulevard.
Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
The Castaic Education Foundation Welcome Wagon announced it will be touring the Castaic community on Monday, Aug. 4, and Friday, Aug. 6 to visit students and their families as the first day of school closes in.
Castaic Education Foundation Welcome Wagon to Tour Castaic Community, Visit Students
Officials at the Santa Clarita Film Office said they have been “busy” in the last few months, a change from the March-June period from last year in which no productions were allowed to roll their cameras.
Santa Clarita Film Office Reports Over $34M Generated in 2021 Fiscal Year
Public comments from local organizations and residents submitted to the Los Angeles County Citizens Redistricting Commission this summer sent a uniform message to commissioners: Keep Los Angeles’s north county communities together.
SCV Residents, Groups Ask Redistricting Commission to Keep North County Communities Together
During Hispanic Heritage Month this year, Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares, R-Santa Clarita, will recognize constituents of Hispanic descent who have contributed to their community in the 38th Assembly District.
Valladares Opens Nominations for Hispanic Heritage Month Honorees
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has identified the first case of human West Nile virus infection in L.A. County for the 2021 season.
Public Health Confirms First 2021 Case of West Nile Virus in LA County
On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Public Health officials confirmed 20 new deaths and 2,293 new cases of COVID-19 countywide, with 30,273 total cases in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Tuesday COVID-19 Roundup: 30,273 Total SCV Cases; Public Health to Host Virtual Town Hall on Schools Wednesday
The Los Angeles County Health Officer has issued a Heat Alert for the Santa Clarita Valley beginning Wednesday, Aug. 4.
LA County Health Officer Issues Heat Alert for SCV Beginning Wednesday
The Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation is inviting the public to provide input to help inform future planning and funding to address regional and rural park and recreation needs.
Countywide Effort Encourages Residents to Help Identify Regional, Rural Park Needs
Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital is now offering Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), a cutting-edge minimally-invasive procedure to replace narrowed aortic valves that fail to properly open.
Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Acquires TAVR Technology
Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin has been recognized with the 2021 Award for Career Excellence in Memory of Mark E. Keane, a prestigious award given to one honoree each year from nominations of city managers across the country and around the globe.
City Manager Recognized With International Award of Excellence
As you drive around Santa Clarita, do you ever wonder what work is being done at your neighborhood park? Or when the new Sheriff’s Station will be complete? Maybe you want to go ice skating at The Cube or find out what issues are going before the City Council. There are several ways you can discover what’s going on in your city.
City Manager Ken Striplin: Connect With Your City
1975 - Henry Mayo Newhall (Memorial) Hospital opens with 100 beds [story]
HMNMH
Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital reported an additional death on Monday, bringing the total of COVID-19 related deaths to 153, hospital spokesman Patrick Moody said.
Monday COVID-19 Roundup: Henry Mayo Officials Report 153rd Death; Urge Those Eligible to Get Vaccinated
The Santa Clarita Public Library is excited to announce the return of the Summer Book Bag Sale!
Aug. 7-15: Friends of Santa Clarita Library Hosting Summer Book Bag Sale
Rancho Camulos Museum has launched a new visitor experience at the Rancho Camulos National Historic Landmark, "Last Sundays at the Landmark."
Rancho Camulos Launches ‘Last Sundays at the Landmark’
The city of Santa Clarita’s Film Office released the 11 productions currently filming in the Santa Clarita Valley for the week of Monday, Aug. 2 - Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021:
Filming This Week in SCV: ‘NCIS,’ ‘Leviathan,’ ‘MTV Cribs International,’ 8 More Productions
Registration Now Open for River Rally Volunteers
Registration Now Open for River Rally Volunteers
Mission Valley Bancorp announced Monday a net income of $1.6 million, or $0.48 per diluted share, for the second quarter of 2021, compared to net income of $398 thousand, or $0.12 per diluted share, for the second quarter of 2020.
Mission Valley Bank Releases 2Q Earnings
Saugus High School graduate Abbey Weitzeil anchored Team USA to a silver medal in the women’s 4×100 medley relay in her final swim of the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.
Saugus High Alumna Abbey Weitzeil Anchors Relay Team to Silver
Santa Clarita is known throughout the state and the nation as a beautiful, safe community.
Mayor Miranda’s August Message: Enjoy All that Santa Clarita Is Offering This Summer
The Governing Board of the William S. Hart Union High School District will hold its Regular Meeting Wednesday, Aug. 4, beginning with a closed session at 6:00 p.m., followed immediately with open session at 7:00 p.m.
Hart District Returning to In-Person Meetings; Public May Now Attend
Do you believe in magic? Then join The MAIN, located at 24266 Main Street in Newhall, for “Enchanted: An Evening of Magic” on Friday, Aug. 20, at 8:00 p.m.
Tickets Now Available for ‘Enchanted: An Evening of Magic’ at The MAIN
Majestic Princess returned to Seattle on Sunday, concluding its sailing to Alaska and marking the first successful United States voyage for Princess Cruises following the extended pause in operations.
Princess Cruises Concludes First Successful Voyage Following Operations Pause
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn announced Saturday morning that she’s planning to introduce a motion requiring all county employees “to get the vaccine or face weekly COVID testing.”
Hahn Announces Plan to Propose Vaccine Mandate for L.A. County Employees
%d bloggers like this: