Small room, giant sounds at Collage, San Pedro
by Garrick Rawlings
“We opened in 2020 with Victor Krummenacher (co-founder of Camper Van Beethoven) and (composer/multi instrumentalist) Eugene Chadbourne. It was utterly fantastic. We were really off to a running start. Two days later the pandemic shut down everything,” Richard Foss said of Collage: A Place For Arts and Culture, an imaginative performance venue he co-founded in San Pedro.
Despite the traumatic shut down, Collage reopened in similarly impressive fashion.
“We re-opened in 2021 with cabaret singer Christina Linhardt. She told me, ‘I’m bringing along my favorite pianist Bryan Pezzone.’” I look him up and find his most recent show was a solo Gershwin performance in Disney Hall. What is he doing in a 49-seat space in San Pedro? The answer is, anything he wants.
“We’re giving artists creative freedom, inviting them to bring their side gigs and experimental stuff, which attracts the passionate music lovers.”
“Tonight (April, 7, the day of the interview), we have the Argentinian artist, by the way of London Julieta Iglesias, who just flew in this morning. She’s on a world tour playing Argentine classical music by Astor Piazzolla. This is her only LA appearance.”
The classically trained pianist performed her interpretations of Piazzolla’s revolutionary nuevo tango compositions. Her solo piano performance sounded wonderful in this room, the volume and tempo dynamics of these tangos were divine.
Between pieces, the elegant Iglesias illuminated for the audience the magnitude of Piazolla’s compositions, and the challenges he faced from traditionalists who scoffed at his groundbreaking fusing of styles, and how she, herself would inject her own creative classical stylings into some of the arrangements.
This Sunday (April 16), Collage is presenting the Grammy nominated Larry & Joe, who perform a Venezuelan bluegrass fusion they call Latingrass.
Richard Foss, who is also Easy Readers restaurant reviewer, has been producing shows throughout Los Angeles for over three decades. But never in a venue he could call his own.
“I’ve been doing them in bars, living rooms, restaurants, and ballrooms. I ran cabarets at science fiction conventions. Until now, I was always having to pack the sound system in and out, but I kept doing it because I loved concerts of all types that I couldn’t find elsewhere in LA. I hosted a folk band from Finland in my Manhattan Beach home that absolutely packed the place. I thought everyone in LA who loves Finnish folk music within 50 miles was in this room.
“I thought how I’ve never had a permanent proper venue for performances that was mine, a place I could do something with, where I could leave the room set up, where I could book it whenever I wanted instead of around a restaurant’s schedule, and where I didn’t have to listen to the blender at the bar.”
In 2020, he found that place through what he calls “a ridiculously unlikely set of circumstances.”
“I was in San Pedro to visit a used furniture store with my brother when we walked by a really interesting place called It’s Showtime, at the corner of 8th and Pacific. It has movie memorabilia, including cameras from the silent movie era, and all kinds of steampunk stuff. A sign said ‘open by appointment only,’ but we took a chance and rang the doorbell. George Woytovich, the co-owner of the building with his partner Patti Kraakevik, answered the bell, and showed us through this wonderland of weird old technology. After talking a while he invited us to a charity event he was planning to hold upstairs. I said, ‘You’re running concerts at your house, too?’ He said, ‘I have a concert in a week or so in my basement”
Woytovich, Kraakevik and Foss became fast friends and began attending each other’s events.
“At some point they mentioned they had a vacant place next door that they also owned and very shortly the idea hatched, ‘Let’s create a place that will represent the arts.’”
The Collage space was constructed circa 1930. They removed the false ceiling to reveal a beautiful, rounded vaulted ceiling. They sandblasted the paint from the wood, and also blasted the plaster off of the walls, down to the original brick.
Now it’s a perfectly intimate 49-seat space for music and performance art, as well as art events and an ongoing art gallery curated by Woytovich.
“As much as I love music,” Foss said, “Collage is not just about music. We’ve had authors, poets, art classes, and culinary programs. It’s about all of the different things humans do as an expression of art, and culture. We adopted the rather unwieldy name Collage – a place for art and culture. We want to make it clear we an expansive definition of both art and culture. We had Tina Calderon, a Tongva native woman who tells creation stories of her people in both English and her living Tongva language, that was just a ‘shivers down the spine’ time. She sang songs, new music being composed with what was almost a dead language. Our business model is to introduce people to exciting things they never knew they wanted to know about.”
Along with a newly designed sound system, they’ve installed a multi-camera system to livestream/record HD (high definition) shows. Kids who aren’t into performing can learn by workshopping/interning with the audio and video equipment.
They also have a charity instrument drive
“I collect donated instruments for graduating seniors who are losing their school instruments, so they can keep on playing. We give them a place to play, too. San Pedro High has a garage band club, and we let them bash away in here, along with their jazz band, and junior high jazz bands. We host monthly concerts for them.”
Collage is at 731 South Pacific Ave., San Pedro. (424) 450-8239.