The Poetry on the Marquee at the Coast Playhouse came down earlier this week on Monday, February 20, 2023, as the theater gets ready for redevelopment in the near future. Former West Hollywood Poet Laureate, Kim Dower, remembers what it was like to have her words in lights just a few months short of four years.
Kim Dower was West Hollywood City Poet Laureate from 2016 to 2018. The City acquired The Coast Playhouse, now called the City Playhouse, in 2018. WeHo Arts Coordinator Mike Che came up with the idea of putting up poetry on the marquee after being inspired by photos of a public art project where they put haikus up on vacant theatres in Times Square.
“I asked our then City Poet Laureate Kim Dower if she could provide poetry that would fit, and she provided two beautiful excerpts – because one mentioned morning and one mentioned sunset,” said Che. “I thought it would be nice to play off that dichotomy by designing one to be white text on a black background and the other with those colors reversed.”
Dower says seeing her words on the marquee of a theater made her feel connected to the city in a special way. She didn’t know how long the poems would be on display, but that over the years they have become a part of the neighborhood. “I was stunned when I first saw them” she told WEHO TIMES. “I was overwhelmed. It’s sort of unbelieving because you rarely see poetry in lights and on a marquee. There was something about the way Mike did it, one side going west and one side going east–the moon on one side and the sunset on the other. I realized how poetry can be used in so many different ways for people to enjoy.”
She says the feedback was always positive. People would send her pictures and messages thanking her for brightening their day. She also felt a shyness when she’d see people reading the lines. However, there is one story that stands out to her in connection to the lines on the marquee.
“For me the wonderful thing about it–besides seeing my poetry every time I go to Gelson’s–was back when I was Poet Laureate, part of what I did every Saturday morning was host a free writing workshop at the West Hollywood Library,” she said. “I taught people with various levels of writing skills. I man was in the class, who it turns out, is a surgeon at Kaiser, he said his partner told him that he didn’t really understand poetry as some people will say. He didn’t get it. Then one day his partner was driving and he saw those lines. He stopped and he wrote them down. It really touched him. He went home and told his then fiancé that he really liked these lines. And his partner told him ‘That’s my teacher in West Hollywood!’ They got married and at the ceremony they had these lines as part of their vows. How amazing is that?”
On a side note, a fond memory she has from being West Hollywood City Poet Laureate was a time when she taught her workshop and two individuals attended her Saturday workshops. “I was shocked when the Poet Laureate before me Steven Reigns, and Brian Sonia Wallace, who is the poet laureate now–they both came and took my class. I thought that was the biggest compliment I could ever have. I thought they were coming to say hello, but they were in the workshop. They did everything with everybody.”
Dower says the lines on the marquee, “I love the moon, how it empties its shine into morning”, is one of the most favorite things she has written. The words come from her book “I Wore this Dress for You Mom” which was released last Mother’s Day and will be featured in poetry readings in Book Soup later this year.
“Hurry before the sunset goes bad. Join me on the last train to the missing planet”, are lines in her book “Join Me on the Last Train to the Missing Planet.”
The marquee came down this week (it was on the verge of collapsing) and Dower says she is overcome with sadness. “I’m really sad it came down,” she said. “That’s just the truth. I kind of dissociated myself from those lines, so they just became these lines of poetry that made me happy to see. It wasn’t because they were my lines of poetry. I just felt comforted by them and felt like everything was OK because they were there. They were my old poetry friends up there on the marquee. ”
Sadness aside, the poet also acknowledges that the poetry had a good run. “I’m sad that it’s down, but I’m forever grateful for the amount of time the City of West Hollywood kept it up. Not many art installations have a lifespan of four years. I wonder how many people will miss them and how many people never even noticed them. Poetry is all about what we notice and what we see.”
The City contracted with architecture firm Perkins & Will which is conducting a community-oriented process with the City to develop final designs for the new playhouse. The next community design workshop will take place on Tuesday, February 28, 2023 at 6 p.m. at the Plummer Park Community Center in Rooms 5 and 6.
The new City Playhouse will be a 99-seat, approximately 5,000 square foot facility that will serve as an arts and cultural event center supporting nonprofit arts organizations and artists by providing an accessible venue in the city’s center. The project will include street level public programming and a landscaped civic space. In addition to providing the local community with a versatile and state-of-the-art performance venue, the City Playhouse will demonstrate the City’s sustainability goals through high-impact, cost-effective strategies.
This is the second of two community design workshops as part of the new City Playhouse design process. The first meeting took place on February 14, 2023 at Kings Road Park.
The purpose of the follow-up design workshop will be to gather input from performing artists in the community to identify opportunities for community-based programming, and to collaboratively discuss the general vibe, functional requirements, and spatial constraints of the various spaces within the Playhouse.