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Culture and Trump: The Actors' Gang joins theater world's national call to create light for 'dark times'

Culture and Trump: The Actors' Gang joins theater world's national call to create light for 'dark times'
Members of the Actors' Gang in Culver City gather in front of the theater Thursday night to turn on a "ghostlight" as a gesture of tolerance. (Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times)

Less than 12 hours before Donald Trump was scheduled to be sworn into office in Washington, about three dozen actors, writers, directors, crew members and others affiliated with the Actors' Gang theater in Culver City gathered in the plaza outside its building to turn on a light.

The sky was turning cobalt and the wind had picked up a chilly edge as actor Brian Finney read from a short statement.

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"When our theaters go dark at the end of the night, we turn on a 'ghostlight' — offering visibility and safety for all who might enter," he stated. "Like a ghostlight, the light we create tonight will represent our commitment to safeguard — it will symbolize safe harbor for our values and for any among us who find ourselves targeted because of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, [dis]ability, gender identity, sexual identity or dissident actions in the coming years."

The light switched on, and the group's members turned on their cellphone flashlights and held them overhead.

The Actors' Gang was one of dozens of theaters around the country to participate in the Ghostlight Project on the eve of Trump's inauguration — a way for members of the theater community to "create 'light' for dark times ahead" by proclaiming a commitment to tolerance.

Members of the Actors' Gang in Culver City turn on a "ghostlight" as a gesture of welcome.
Members of the Actors' Gang in Culver City turn on a "ghostlight" as a gesture of welcome. (Carolina A. Miranda)

"Social justice is an important part of what this company is about," said Simon Hannah, the theater's managing director. "The diversity in this company had people worrying. We have a lot of people from other countries — of all backgrounds."

Cynthia Ettinger, who serves as the co-artistic director says in the wake of the election, said members of the troupe were "shocked, despondent, concerned and wondering what we could do."

Participating in the Ghostlight Project offered an opportunity to come together symbolically — not so much in repudiation, but in affirmation.

Standing in a circle, as rush-hour traffic grinded by on nearby Venice Boulevard, members made short declarations. A man commits to never giving in. Another says, "I have faith in the human spirit."

Cultural sectors have responded fiercely to Trump's election — from singers who have refused to play at the inauguration to visual artists calling for a strike on the day of his inauguration.

Over the course of this inaugural weekend, I will follow L.A.'s cultural institutions, big and small, to see how they are responding — or not — to the advent of the Trump administration.

At the Actors' Gang, that response included actor and singer Cameron Dye leading the group in a rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

The group reached the final stanza, which ends with the line: "Is this land made for you and me?"

Dye held up his guitar and answered the question: "Hell, yeah!

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