USA Part 1

 

Hollywood is a mecca for performers all over the world and Australia has supplied a steady stream of actors, many of them from my show Neighbours, all looking to ‘make it big’.

One of those actors, Ashleigh Brewer, moved from Neighbours to the famous US soap The Bold and the Beautiful and I planned to track her down at work and try and compare our two drama programmes.

Seeing Ashleigh again was a joy. She is a bubbly, funny and talented performer who lights up the screen and her work on ‘Bold’ is superb. I gleaned enough tips from Ash to prepare for my audition for this iconic programme – yes, a starring role on Bold and the Beautiful could be just what the doctor ordered. I performed my audition with everything I could muster hoping for an on-going role. I had the usual agonising wait all actors face to see if they have won a role.

We were greeted warmly by all the actors and crew at ‘Bold’. I particularly enjoyed watching Heather Tom working with Darrin Brooks because I admire her work so much. My audition didn’t quite reap the rewards I had hoped for but I did get myself on screen for a minute – until my scene was mercilessly cut!

Bold and the Beautiful functions at breakneck speed yet the cast and crew approach the work in a relaxed way similar to Neighbours reinforcing my view that the best work is created using a co-operative and fun approach.

My interview with Bold veteran John McCook was a highlight of the visit for me. What a gentleman and true showbiz royalty. There is nothing I enjoy more than chatting through old show biz stories.

At the end of the day I found Bold and the Beautiful and Neighbours to be very similar programmes in terms of their work methods, work ethic and speed of production. No surprise that both shows seem to be on a winning formula since they have both been around for over 30 years.

 

At Photo Number 6 we are always looking for experiences that are a little off the main tourist route. I had stumbled across an extraordinary artistic feat in the City of Angels that defied belief. Watts Towers is a massive sculpture comprising 17 large and small towers and architectural structures made of twisted metal and adorned with stucco and tiling. Created entirely by Italian immigrant construction worker and tile mason Simon Rodia over a period of 33 years.

After a stroke and a serious accident Rodia quit the site of his towers passing ownership to a neighbour. The towers were saved from a condemnation order by an enthusiastic collection of artists, academics, architects and community activists. An extensive restoration program is now being undertaken by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The towers are a wonder. They are structurally incredibly strong even though they are anchored only 2 feet into the ground. Rodia scavenged for materials for the sculpture over a range of 20 kms and most of the decoration is comprised of fragments of ceramic tiles, crockery and glass. I would highly recommend a trip to see this amazing architectural and artistic feat.

 

I’d also heard of another grand art installation in suburban LA that was inspired by Simon Rodia’s work. Artist Randlett (Randy) Artlett had constructed a massive structure at the front of his property that he intended to be an homage to Latin American women. What makes this installation unique is that it uses coloured glass bottles in a teardrop shape filled with water that are then wired into position on a grill. The sun shines through the coloured bottles profoundly radiating light and beauty into the world. An afternoon with Randy was absorbing and very amusing. His eccentricity is on full display and a perfect reminder that a beautiful world needs artists like him to inspire and uplift.

 

After our cultural LA experiences I was craving a little great outdoors action. By design our road trip across the west coast states of the USA took us directly past Joshua Tree National Park. The Joshua tree is actually a yucca plant, albeit a very tall one. Architecturally they are one of the most fascinating trees on the planet and they proliferate in this National Park because the altitude is perfect for their cultivation.

Although the park is beautifully compact it contains a number of distinct environments. In the southern area lies the Cholla Cactus Garden. This cactus is an extremely dangerous plant. Scores of tales of unfortunate encounters with the needle thin spikes of this cactus were related to me. People who, having fallen into a Cholla bush or even brushed against one, experienced extreme pain for years. No matter how careful we were walking through the Cholla garden we could not prevent the balls of spiny misery attached themselves to our clothes and gear.

A key photographic goal I had set for this experience was to explore Astro-photography. To assist me in this I have called on photographer Pamela Ann Berry. Pamela conducts Night Photography workshops and, while I hoped there might be a scientific formula for capturing the night sky, I quickly learnt much of this exercise is trial and error!

Pamela was able to impart some crucial tips though: exposure no longer than 30 seconds to prevent star trails, aperture wide open at f 2.8 and ISO at  around 1000. A great tip was to use the light from the iPhone flashlight,  diffused by a pillow case, to paint the foreground with a soft light. The result below was very pleasing.

Next stop on the road trip was the Nevada gambling metropolis of Las Vegas. Our plan here was to experience Las Vegas from many angles but first I wanted to learn more about the neon signs that have been a hallmark of the city for decades. My interest in signage stemmed from a previous trip to Vegas when I had visited the Neon Boneyard, a makeshift storage lot for decommissioned and discarded neon signs. The boneyard has now been expanded and modernized to become the Neon Museum, that provides a fascinating perspective on the history of signage in Vegas.

To expand fully on this history we visited Yesco the biggest manufacturer of signage in the USA. Yesco was granted a licence to manufacture Neon signs in 1927 and the business took off like wildfire. Today most signs are LED based but Yesco still manufactures and maintains neon signs as well. I tried my hand at bending and blowing the glass tubes used in Neon signs with mixed results.

Advertising is the fuel for a consumerist world and signs do the heavy lifting of selling the glamour and fun message that Vegas is keen to promote to keep the bucks rolling in. Neon is a huge part of advertising heritage and it was fascinating to explore it’s history and effect.

Our next experience was shaping as the most varied of the trip. We resolved to explore as many aspects of Vegas as we could find. The obvious place to start was gambling but we were looking for the slightly less obvious angle – one were we could make some serious dosh. Stop 1, The MGM Grand classic gambling experience, going old school betting on a mechanical horse race game. A lot of fun I have to say although the vagaries of the horses were bewildering and poverty inducing. Then we heading to a dealer school run by Alex Kim to gain his perspective on gambling. We were hoping Alex could give us the inside running on how to beat ‘the house’. No such luck, Alex confirmed that, in the casinos of Vegas money moved in pretty much one direction – back to ‘the house’. Our last hope was professional gambler (retired) Tom Gark. Tom did his best to educate me to bet wisely, carefully and profitably but I turned out to be as much of a smuck as most tourists to hit this tinsel town. I walked away from my gambling experience with Tom’s advice ringing in my ears – when you come to Vegas have dinner and see a show!

Later that day we met up with Elvis impersonator Kent Ripley at the Elvis Wedding Chapel. Thousands of people come to Vegas every year to get married quickly, and sometimes divorced quickly too. Kent performs countless wedding renewal services as well and we were welcomed to one by a lovely couple from Brazil. For any Elvis fan a wedding service made up almost entirely of the titles of The King’s songs will be a hit.

Our next experience was a little more sobering as we entered the stormwater drains under the city to meet Tim and Mary, two homeless citizens of Vegas who, like hundreds of other people, use the tunnels for shelter. Clark County, the area that encompasses Vegas, is in the top 10 for homeless numbers in the USA. Even though the city lies in a desert flash, flooding is not uncommon and the tunnel’s residents face the ever present danger of drowning and loss of all their belongings. It will be difficult to look at Vegas the same way again knowing so many people eke out such an existence beneath the glamorous streets and hotels.

Our last taste of Las Vegas was in ‘Old Vegas’ down at Fremont Street and environs where gambling takes a back seat to having fun and fabulous culinary and cultural experiences. A ton of money has been poured into this area to revitalise dead spaces and provide a top class entertainment experience. Riding the zip-line down Fremont Street was a capital way to finish our USA Part 1 road trip.