Art & Culture Journalism Radio Work

SKID ROW THEATER: Red Beard, Red Beard Examines Cycles of Poverty

This radio piece was created from a panel interview with the founders of Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) — a performance group and theater company from the Skid Row neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles. LAPD is made up of primarily homeless and formerly homeless actors. It was the first performance group of its kind in the nation and is internationally recognized for its raw, socially-conscious performances.

LAPD not only provides an outlet for individuals to grow in a supportive community, but offers the community a canvas on which to tell the narrative of Skid Row. The group is as much about activism, as it is about acting. By giving its community a voice, LAPD hopes to shape the social and political forces that affect Skid Row.

For the company’s 30th anniversary in January of 2015, LAPD produced Red Beard, Red Beard, a play based on the film by Akira Kurosawa. The story takes place in Feudal era Japan at a rural clinic for the indigent and poor. Red Beard, the head doctor, mentors an arrogant young doctor, teaching him lessons about people, compassion, and the nature of suffering and poverty. 

While the film is 50 years old and takes place long before that, Red Beard’s themes transcend time. It shows the cyclical nature of poverty, despair and suffering, but also exposes the healing power of human compassion.

produced & photographed by DANIELLE CHARBONNEAU

Interviewed in this piece is: LAPD’s artistic director, John Malpede; associate director Henriëtte Brouwers; and actor Anthony Williams, who played Red Beard.