Sam and his cousin Sasuke make templates for plywood that will be used to cover the walls and ceiling.
With graduation over, work on the Trailer Trash restoration has heated up. The 1951 Spartan Royal Mansion left it’s CalArts home on June 15 and was towed 10 miles to a canyon on the the outskirts of Santa Clarita, where lizards and coyote are almost as plentiful as motorcycles rushing to the Angeles National Forest.
In June, Sam’s cousin, Sasuke, came from Japan to help out. A recent graduate in geology from Kyoto University, he spent a month working with Sam inside the trailer. (Sasuke has an interest in nuclear energy and hekept us posted on recent happenings at the Fukushima nuclear reactor.)
The task at hand was to the walls and ceiling. First, Sasuke attached wooden strips to along the ribs where the cabinets and closets will eventually be installed. Then he fashioned carboard templates which will be used as a pattern for the plywood that will cover the walls. The job isn’t as easy as it looks; it requires lots of measuring, precision and patience. Although he had little building experience, it is hard to imagine how Sam would have gotten the job done without Sasuke’s help!
If you are considering volunteering your time with The Trailer Trash Project, this slideshow might show you the kind of work we’re involved with now:
With graduation over, work on the Trailer Trash restoration has heated up. The 1951 Spartan Royal Mansion left it’s CalArts home on June 15 and was towed 10 miles to a canyon on the the outskirts of Santa Clarita, where lizards and coyote are almost as plentiful as motorcyclists roaring up the road to the Angeles National Forest.
Sam’s cousin, Sasuke Breen, came from Japan to help out. A recent graduate in geology from Kyoto University, he spent a month helping Sam get ready to install the walls and ceiling. He crafted and installed wooden strips to reinforce the studs on the walls and ceiling. Then he made cardboard templates for the walls and ceiling – not as easy as it looks. The job requires lots of measuring and patience. It’s hard to imagine how the job would have gotten done would have gotten done without Sasuke’s help.
This week I will graduate with my MFA in acting, so we are turning the page on the last chapter of the trailer’s involvement at CalArts.
Every year, the Theatre School sets aside the last two weeks of the academic calendar for New Works Festival, an event by and for the students. The trailer was chosen to be a venue for the event. Three shows were performed in and around the Spartan: “The Nomad Project”; a dance piece about the transformation of the dancer’s body; “True Love,” a reading of Chuck Mee’s play that also involved a BBQ and water-gun fight; and “Outbound to Wonderland” a play written with the trailer in mind about a 9-yearl-old girl’s subway journey to a stop called Wonderland.
As with Arts in the One World in January, I was amazed at how people came together to make this event happen. When one of the artists was worried that her computer speakers wouldn’t be powerful enough to be heard, she made a phone call and an hour later she had a sound designer – a PA system and a couple of professional speakers on booms – in time for the performance of her show.
Another example: the cast and crew of “Outbound to Wonderland” decided it would be best to set up their outdoor stage in the middle of the night, when they could properly test their lights and visual effects, and still everyone involved in the production (actors, designers, crew etc.) showed up to help out.
New Works took care of much of the logistics and the scheduling at the trailer, so I was able to relax a little and be a spectator. I watched the shows and witnessed how, over the course of the semester, the trailer had become much more than an elaborate backdrop—it was now a central character. The Spartan had evolved into something of a mobile landmark at CalArts and a symbol for the creativity and unique collaborative nature of this school.
Sam's 1951 Spartan Royal Mansion, viewed from a hill at Cal Arts. Photo credit: Scott Groller
My trailer, our trailer, which I inappropriately refer to as “The Mansion”, was acquired in August 2010, in Torrance CA. Shortly before, my mother– a one time filmmaker for the United Nations, once a Katrina refugee, currently a freelance journalist with a fervent passion for social justice and a newly developed interest in sustainable living – and I, a one-time private banker employed by philanthropist and all around jolly good guy, Mr. John Pierpont Morgan.
Well, my mom and I we’re on the phone..Truth is we’ve grown apart quite a bit over the last 10 years. More often than not we’ve been on opposite sides of the country, opposite sides of the Atlantic, sometimes unintentionally (and admittedly) sometimes with quite a bit of intention.
We’ve been through a lot, and it’s just the two of us. So, you know, tension ensues, occasionally, sometimes, often, whatever. So we’re on the phone, and the topic of this particular conversation is one that comes up every couple years.
It goes something like this: “So, whaaaaaat’s next ?” You see, my mom’s been a nomad for a little while now. That tends to happen when a storm like Katrina hits an already fragile community like New Orleans.
But me? I’ve been in denial about my nomadic nature. I had a proper desk job for a couple years before coming here, a serious girlfriend. I had a PLAN, a checklist, which I adhered to methodically: a sequence of suit-and-tie jobs, then auditions, which eventually, allowed me to be here, right here, at this very moment.
At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2010, Sam played Godzilla in Eric Ehn's adaption of the play. Here he hawks the production in the streets of Edinburgh.
The thing is, I’m about to graduate, as an Actor. (Did I mention that?) And my future is quite uncertain again. And so…
My mom and I are on the phone, my grandmother has passed away and left her a little bit of money, and she wants to buy a trailer and live in it. And I have been wanting to restore a trailer – I want to MAKE something, something living, and useful to someone, something longer lasting than a two-hour play. And that’s as far as my thought process went ..
So a month later we buy the trailer. And I park it on campus, THIS campus, tucked away behind the basketball courts and I start BUILDING and my mom starts BLOGGIN’ and we call it “Trailer Trash” because it’s a GREEN restoration, and we’re using recycled materials.
So after having grown apart over the years, here we are collaborating, truly collaborating, in a way that’s completely new to me. We’re collaborating on a project that’s very personal to both of us. We are building, in fact we are RE-building from old fragments, a new home that is both unconventional and yet, in the most American way, as conventional as can be.
I don’t know about building houses, or little. I don’t know about trailer living. I don’t know about doing all this while going to school full-time and sometimes feeling like I’m losing my mind!
This project has been a true experiment, from the beginning. The most amazing thing about embracing the experimental nature of this project has been to watch it grow and evolve. What began as a guerrilla building project has become–because of this place [Cal Arts] this faculty, this student body– a PERFORMANCE PIECE. (Why the hell not?) And it’s about building a HOME for a family that’s been without one for a while. About learning to work the system of a higher education establishment [to get permission to put the trailer on campus.] It’s about learning to become an artist- and not just a performer. Learning to put my thoughts into words (believe it or not this is not something that comes naturally.) It’s about figuring out what this project is, what it means to me, to us, and so this thing is THERAPEUTIC, baby.
I’m starting to ask myself, with no real expectation of reaching any answers: Why is it that I still haven’t unpacked my stuff after Katrina? And why do I still refuse to settle down and put pictures up on the wall?
…maybe it’s not just me…[he stops to address conference participants] If I were to stop and ask: How many of you in this room consider yourself in TRANSIT? How many of you have ever lost a home?
I realize that most artists are nomadic by nature. We have to be, to survive, to pursue our dreams, to make, to MAKE .. We gotta’ keep on moving. And if possible, we ‘gotta do it in STYLE.
Kenyatta Hinkle says she thinks Sam’s trailer has a life of it’s own. As the Trash On Wheels’ first Artist In Residence, she was asked to tells us what it’s like to make art inside the trailer. With her husband and friends playing soulful, spiritual jazz, she set up shop one afternoon during the Arts In The One World Conference, January 27-29.
“The floorboards move. There’s energy in there,” she said, stopping to take in the vibe of the sixty-year old structure. “There are some stories here. It even smells like my grandmother’s attic. It’s high and low art – it’s a home and not a home. ”
Born in Louisville and raised in Baltimore, Kenyatta came to CalArts as a visual artist. She switched to a major in multimedia interdisciplinary art to give her more tools to work with. As she sat outside with her back leaning against the trailer she tried to figure out how to attach one half of a straight-haired blond wig to half of a black curly one.
“You wear this when you go for a job interview. The black half works works for the employer looking for diversity. The blonde one…” she said, her voice trailing off. “Before I came to CalArts, I did a lot of work around the power of hair. When Delilah cut Samson’s hair, he lost his power. Hair can also have a religious aspect; in some cultures, people in mourning don’t comb their hair.”
She studied awesome pictures of African women with elaborate hairstyles. “If you see a deer with horns you don’t mess with it,” she said.
Her mother was always strict about hair. “We weren’t allowed to go out of the house unless our hair was combed. In traditional African culture, you have to be aligned before you got out into the world. That means your hair has to be combed.”
Kenyatta’s mother creates elaborate hairstyles that take hours to create. “A while back I found pictures of women in Africa with the exact same hairstyles. My mother had no idea!”
When Kenyatta got married she cut off her husband’s lock and wove it into her own hair. It was kind of a present. “In certain tribes women pass down their hair extensions,” she explains. “It’s called the gifting of hair. There’s power in hair,” she explains. “Sampson lost his power when Delilah cut off his hair.”
Her current work consist of creating her own continent. She plans to mix a little piece of Kentucky, where some of ancestors are from, with a little piece of West Africa, where others originated. A lot of her history is unknown to her, so she’ll just make that part up.
“I like to subvert things,” she says. “It’s kind of like Photoshopping.”
Click to view slideshow.Gallery Photos by Karina Yanez– To control slideshow speed, place your cursor over the slide and press the pause/start button.
As part of the Trailer Trash Project, Sam will be working with the Nomad Lab Art Project, a program for at-risk children aged 6-14. and their parents from the Valle Del Oro Neighborhood in Santa Clarita, CA. The program currently offers art classes or labs) in writing, photography, guitar and public art. Computer and cooking classes are available for parents. It is run under the voluntary direction of Evelyn Serrano who also teaches a class on art and activism at CalArts.
The classes focus on the meaning of home – a theme Serrano has previously explored in her work as an artist and curator. Coincidentally, it is also the theme that Sam is focusing on in his Trailer Trash project. On November 6th, Sam brought the Spartan to the Nomads, asking for their help figuring out what makes a house (or a tin can) a home.
The following article describes how the NOMAD LAB Art Project got started. Over time, Sam’s Spartan Revival will keep you posted on the design ideas the Nomads come up with for the trailer.
They gather in empty spaces to turn dreams into art. And as they draw and write, they are planting the seeds of a peaceful community.
Meet The Nomads, children aged 6-14, who gather Wednesday and Saturday mornings at The Village Apartment Complex in Santa Clarita’s Valle del Oro (VDO) Neighborhood. Here they have time to slow down, to get to know and trust each other.
The NOMAD LAB Art Project offers labs (or classes) in photography, public art, story telling and guitar. At the same time, their parents can participate in cooking and computer labs. But art is just a starting point. It provides opportunities for neighbors in Santa Clarita’s troubled Valle del Oro Neighborhood to come together to explore what they like and what they want to change in their community.
“If we are successful, the kids and their parents will get to know each other,” says artist and NOMAD LAB organizer, Evelyn Serrano. “They will learn to be tolerant and respectful of each other.”
The program started off modestly enough last year with 30 children and Serrano as their teacher. Since then attendance has doubled to 60 kids and their parents, with five teachers, some from Serrano’s class at California Institute for the Arts. Classes are free and everyone works on a volunteer basis.
“It’s a great program,” said Cynthia Llerenas, Community Services Supervisor for the City of Santa Clarita. “I would like to see it modeled in different locations.”
Llernas, who also head’s the City of Santa Clarita’s Anti-Gang Task Force, was an important force in helping Serrano get the program up and running. Two years ago she was attending meetings with the Valle del Oro Neighborhood Committee to address problems of crime and racial tensions in their community. Neighbors were feeling unsafe and they were their fingers at the young people.
Serrano, who was living in the Valle del Oro Neighborhood at the time, was aware that youngsters were joining gangs in the 5th and 6th grade. As an artist and teacher committed to community art, she agreed to run a program for at-risk youth in the neighborhood.
“Having worked with kids, I knew we shouldn’t place all the blame on them.” she explained. “The truth was more complex. There were no after-school or weekend programs in that area of town. We needed to provide positive alternatives to gangs. And the voices of young people needed to be part of the solution.”
She went in search of a venue for classes, approaching the local elementary school and a youth organization. All requests were denied until she got a green light the management company at The Village – an apartment complex where much of the trouble was taking place. Classes could meet in a vacant apartment until it was rented out and they would have to move into another one that was vacant. The changing venues inspired the name, The Nomads.
“It’s like we are a gang,” explained Serrano. “But what we offer is another way of being together. A lot of our kids see violence in their homes. Art is the starting point for them to learn how to be together respectfully, to learn to collaborate successfully when we work.”
Nomads who participate in the writing, photography and music labs sit on the floor or in folding chairs. The minimalist, temporary nature of the venue creates a setting that seems conducive to creative output.
The public arts lab, taught by Serrano, takes place outside in the apartment courtyard. They are encouraged to closely observe their community and think about what they like about it and what they would like to change.
“I want the labs to be a special opportunity for the kids to re-engage with their neighborhood. I want them to re-consider what it takes to make their home and community safe, healthy and sustainable,” Serrano explained.
Cynthia LLerenas is pleased with how all the pieces of this program are falling into place, and she wishes similar opportunities were open to other young people. “If we had recreational opportunities for kids in every apartment complex it would eliminate 95% of our problems,” she says.
Her experience working 17 years as a prevention specialist has taught her a thing or two. “Kids don’t want to be involved with gangs, but they get sucked in, partly because there aren’t other viable alternatives, partly because the parents have lost control at home. But there are no easy fixes. A program like the NOMAD LAB requires on-going commitment from organizers, teachers and parents: “You have to be passionate and you have to have a vision.”
“These kids are finding their niche,” she says. ”Some of them come from a background where they have no self-esteem. Now they are raising their hands in class and trying out for sports. It’s all about building confidence.”
A big part of her job is to help parents and youth to learn how to access resources that will help them keep their neighborhoods safe. In meetings that take place after the labs, parents learn how to access social and legal services as well as employment opportunities. For communities to be sustainable, so it is important the talents and resources of people who live in the neighborhood must also be utilized.
Serrano says the mothers are in the cooking lab are “incredibly bright and resourceful.” Their energy and organizing talents help make the whole project run smoothly. It’s not just the moms. When Nomad dad Jose Chunga proposed labs for parents, he volunteered himself to teach a computer class which has become a success.
Serrano says the NOMAD LAB Art Project is all about breaking down walls of fear and insecurity between neighbors. “It’s hard for people to invest in their community when they are afraid of each other. We are trying to create a safe context for people to interact and see each other as people who are very rich in resources.”
As for the kids, Serrano hopes that the observation skills she is teaching them as artists will carry over to change the things they don’t like about their community. “I want them to learn to be critical observers in a positive way. I would like them to ask themselves: ‘What is my say? Even though I am young, I have a lot of power.’”
“If we do anything right at least we can give them models and other alternatives about what a home can be. We can encourage them to become dreamers. And their dreams can influence their lives and the lives of other people.”
The NOMAD LAB Art Project is a collaborative effort between the Valle Del Oro Neighborhood Association, the City of Santa Clarita, the Los Angeles County Human Rights Commission and The Village Apartments.
This trailer restoration started out as a Zen affair. I had a strong sense of purpose. I was fulfilling my need to create something tangible, useful for someone else but myself. After studying acting for two years, and spending a whole lot of time thinking about myself (how to carry myself, how to market myself) I began to feel as though I was missing something truly vital.
The project wasn’t only about giving back. It was also about adding a dose of humanity to a learning process that can easily become contrived. So I was convinced that the Spartan was my key to success. Now a month and a half later, more often than not, I feel as though I might just be losing my mind.
There’s so much to keep track of that I’m making many lists. But I have too many lists to keep track of. There are too few hours in the day. I get out of class in the evenings and work on the trailer till late at night.
My mentor tells me I need a plan but it’s a whole lot easier to paint a chassis than to
Sam and his mentor, sculptor and CalArts faculty member Michael Darling who came on his day off to help Sam weld a replacement rib onto the chassis.
make a plan- so most of the time I put it off. I’m not a planner, but I’ve been doing my best at it – even though I think I might actually have some allergic reaction to that activity. My plan, when I make one, goes like this: week 1: prep chassis for new floor, order plywood floor for next week’s installation etc.. I can think about the next 2 weeks or so, but I have a hard time getting my head around the big picture- it feels like a distraction. I know, that sounds absurd. It’s just that there’s so much going on and so many windows and screws and paints and materials to think about that I fear I’ll get lost in all the planning and never actually get any work done. So I start working… furiously. And then, of course, I end up hitting brick walls. I’ll start thinking about the configuration of the sub-floor but I get stuck because the gray water holding tanks have to be welded on to the chassis and installed before the floor can get laid over.
So I’m finally starting to warm up to the (basic!) notion that the more I know what the trailer will look like as a final project the less overwhelming it will all be.
I view this week as a test. Next Saturday, I will be towing the Spartan about 6 miles away to Newhall. Students in the Arts and Activism class at Calarts (who volunteered to be on the trailer committee) and I, will be giving a workshop to the kids and parents of Nomadlab. We are planning a series of games and exercises for them that will take place in and around the trailer, and center around the idea of “home”. I hope that the trailer will be an opportunity to talk about what home means for them and what their ideal home would look like.
I have 5 days to get a floor in!
Trailer Trash: 60-year-old fiberglass insulation headed for CalArts’ trash bin for building materials than can not be recycled.
As part of the Trailer Trash Project, Sam will be working with the Nomad Lab – children and their parent from the Valle Del Oro Neighborhood Association in Newhall (Santa Clarita) CA. The Lab offers all kinds of art workshops in graphic design, print making, music, acting, etc. It is run under the direction of Evelyn Serrano who also teaches a class on art and activism at CalArts. Sam recently met with the class. Here are his notes: [ed.]
-by Sam Breen, October 17, 2010
I met with Evelyn’s class, and we are starting to make a plan. Our first date with theNomads and their parents is in Newhall on Nov 6 . There should be about 30-40 students there, ranging in age 6-14. Evelyn wants me to bring the trailer, so I will need to install a work-floor in the Spartan by then! Nomad workshops in photography and creative writing are already under way. Teachers are exploring the idea of what home means to them. So they’ve begun thinking about this theme (which is great ’cause that’s my theme, too!) I’ll give the kids a small presentation of the projectand take them
What makes a house a home?
on a tour of the Spartan. Then the photography kids will take pictures. Some will start writing, some of the Arts and Activism students from CalArts will lead theater games (with the idea of home in mind). Some of the Nomad kids will be commissioned to talk about what they’d want in the trailer if it was their home (they could draw, write etc.) We could have a projector in there, so I might put up some ideas for my wish list – things like solar panels, a grey water system, compost. I’ll also be asking them about ways to use the trailer as a performance space – even before it’s finished.
On Oct 20, well’ll have another meeting of the Arts and Activism Class. Stay tuned. [Sam will have got to install a temporary floor in the Spartan in the next three weeks. That also means floor insulation, a belly pan, and tanks for storing clean and water. -ed.]