Meet the Artist
All’s Wells for The Secret City
Chris Wells returns to town, his very spirited services in tow.
by Travis Michael Holder
Beloved and much-admired ex-Angeleno actor Chris Wells took flight to the Big Apple a decade ago to further his acting career. In 2007, he officially called it quits and gave up his dream to stand on a New York stage and accept an award for his efforts. Instead, he founded The Secret City, a secular church-like meeting place where artists could join together to worship art and celebrate their talent, no matter what that talent may be. In a wild twist of fate, in 2010 Wells found himself rushing to the stage at the Obie Awards ceremony to accept a special Obie for Service to the Creative Community. The irony is not lost on Wells—nor to any of the legion West Coast Secret City revelers gathered March 16 at Bootleg Theater for the third of the now ongoing Secret City “services” packing the place once every three months.
The theme Sunday at Bootleg was “Passion” and, without a doubt, there was enough passion in the room to start a mass orgy, even including a passion fruit love potion created by Mike Anderson, handed out in little plastic cups so everyone assembled could toast one another and themselves.
The New York Times called The Secret City “sort of a salon, sort of a church” and noted that, since its inception seven years ago, it has “grown into a half-irreverent, half-earnest blend of revival meeting and group meditation session.” Wells, however, was advised not to refer to the event as a church, even though it’s obviously patterned after one, if he wanted to be eligible for grants and public aid.
Still, there’s a cultural calendar to read, a benediction in which congregants are asked to intone, “And so it is,” after each declaration, the passing of a collection plate, and even a choir called Secret City Singers, most members of which would be familiar faces to Bootleg/Evidence Room aficionados. All are welcome additions to the event, although the musical director might next time gently advise one particularly enthusiastic choir member to move a lot farther away from the microphones where her obvious passion can remain but her flat notes could be buried.
The offerings Sunday were wildly eclectic and without guidelines, beginning at 11:30am with a knockout musical riff by guitarist Jeremy Bass and his Secret City Band. Included was a striking Argentine tango from Moti Buchboot and Ayona Weaver; a question-and-answer session with featured painter Paul August Bruins Slot, whose oils of sphinxes dominated the room; an amazing turn from singer-guitarist Kera Armendariz from Kera and the Lesbians, joined by trumpeter Brandon Burns for her bone-chilling “Gypsy Song”; and a reading of the gossamer “Found Poem on Passion” by Wendy C. Ortiz.
A heartfelt recitation adapted from Rachel Carson was brought to life by the Right Reverend Wells, which began with, “Those who dwell among the mysteries of the earth shall never grow weary of life,” and ending with reminding us that the “clearer we see the wonders of the earth, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Wouldn’t that be nice? Talk about preaching to the choir.
What a treat to have sorely-missed Wells and his Secret City back in LA for quarterly gatherings to inspire us, rock us all out, and prompt us to remember that, despite the struggle of generating and maintaining a life in any creative field, “Art is what artists do for the world.” As he reminded us from Bootleg’s stage, “We remind the world what it is.”
The Secret City will return to Bootleg June 22, when the theme will be “Adventure”—something, my friends, that would purdy much be guaranteed.
March 17, 2014
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