A Poet-Performer Who Does 'Cruel Work for a Kind World'

Moffet is a regular contributor to Calendar

Linda Albertano is memorable--for her appearance (6 feet, 4 inches, with bleached blond hair and a very expressive face), for her intense performances and for the curious things she says. "Someone said poets do kind things for a cruel world," she sweetly told an Orange County audience once, "but sometimes I feel I do cruel work for a kind world."

She will present two half-hour sets about "love and limerance" at Van Go's Ear Coffee Bedlam, a tiny new cafe in Venice, on Wednesday. Limerance, Albertano explained in a recent interview at her Venice beach house, is psychobabble for infatuation or love addiction, a topic in which she claims some expertise. The evening will include a new piece, "The Skin of the Western World," about a love affair between an American Baptist and a Brazilian.

"I like being irreverent," Albertano said, "and in a way I think I do this kind of writing because I was never allowed to speak as a child, and at the same time I was raised as a Baptist. Hmm. 'The Brazilian and the Baptist.' You can tell the work is autobiographical.

"Being a Baptist has shaped me. I really intended to be a missionary. I have to temper my zeal with humor because I can be very didactic. Sometimes I really have a mission, I just want people to see things in a new light so bad."

Albertano will also participate in group readings Tuesday at Highland Grounds in Hollywood and March 20 at Van Go's Ear, and will solo March 21 at Beneath Broadway in Long Beach.

She has been drawn to the arts since she was a child growing up in Colorado. There she began teaching herself guitar and piano. Later she "sang folk songs in pizza joints," she said, while studying filmmaking at UCLA. After graduation, she had regular gigs singing with a ragtime jazz trio in what she called "Valley dives," then began appearing in friends' performance art pieces.

Albertano started presenting her own brand of cabaret performance art in 1980, and has performed at the Lhasa Club, Club Lingerie, the Los Angeles Theatre Center, Barnsdall Art Park, UCLA's Schoenberg Hall and many other venues. Her readings of her poems have also been featured on several spoken word albums from Barkubco Music (formerly Freeway Records), including the recently released "Hollyword."

Although she earned a bachelor's degree in film in 1974, Albertano didn't pursue much movie work after college: "I never wanted to work in the film factory," she said.

For a while she worked as a boom operator on American Film Institute films, but wasn't attracted by "getting up at 5 a.m. and all the coffee and doughnuts, it just didn't suit me," she said. "I'm a night person." She portrayed both a malevolent nurse and an executioner on two world tours with Alice Cooper in 1987 and 1988, and in 1988 appeared on a short-lived NBC show, "2HIP4TV." Recently she played a role as a large angel in a not-yet-released, low-budget film called "The Rapture."

She was one of three writers to work with radio producer Jacki Apple on a many-layered audio piece, "Redefining Democracy in America: Episodes in Black and White." That show, which focuses on racial politics in the United States, also featured poets Akilah Nayo Oliver and Keith Antar Mason. It premiered at Highways and aired on KPFK and other stations in February.

However, most of Albertano's work over the last year has been stripped of its more theatrical elements and special effects. These days, she usually presents her work in fairly straight readings, sometimes mixed with a few unaccompanied songs.

Economics had a lot to do with the change in her presentations, she says. Performance art "became so time-consuming, I didn't have time to earn money to live on," Albertano said. "I started to think like Michael Cimino. Once I thought of something, I had to do it. If it had occurred to me to want an elephant onstage, I'd have paid whatever was necessary. I got my mother's life savings out of her, I maxed my credit cards to the limit. I had stripped my life and my family's life bare of every resource. I had to quit, I had to go cold turkey."

Now she longs "to write about things of a personal nature, but I feel like I need bigger blocks of time. What has always happened before is that I've been seized, and just had to write something in its entirety. I think I'm suppressing that now because I have to make money."

She's working odd jobs--designing and laying tile, managing apartment buildings, selling nutritional products--to try to put her financial house in order, because "woman cannot live by poetry alone."

Her readings in Los Angeles sustain Albertano's creative spirit while she figures out how to pay the bills. With readings, she says, "you can move fast and light, you're never in debt, and you can say anything you want to say."

Linda Albertano will perform at 9 and 10 p.m. Wednesday at Van Go's Ear Coffee Bedlam, 9 Westminster Ave., Venice, (213) 399-6870. Admission is $2. (Parking available at Speedway and Market Street.)

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