I must have walked past The Improv Space on Gayley Avenue a hundred times before I actually walked inside.
But when I did finally wander in on a Wednesday night last month, three years after the first time I walked past, I stayed. I sat in a plushy theater chair in a cozy, dimly lit room, feet casually propped up, and laughed for hours, for free. Then I walked home with the strange sense of pride that I could be in my final year at UCLA and still be exploring new hole-in-the-wall gems in Westwood.
This came as a surprise to me. There is a tendency on a college campus, with a talented student body and flourishing arts programs, to look toward one another for free entertainment. And while that is a beautiful part of college, it can also limit our chances to explore the neighborhood outside of our immediate campus bubble.
When it comes to seeking out cheap entertainment, we shouldn’t just default to campus events, like student plays or choir performances. In our short time here in Westwood, we must appreciate that there are places of entertainment in the Westwood Village – outside of campus, but not so far out in the greater Los Angeles districts – that can fulfill our entertainment desires.
By engaging with these Westwood staples, from the Geffen Playhouse to the Hammer Museum, we can develop an intimate relationship with the arts in our own home, and wipe the mental dividing line between the campus and the Village.
We have a strong arts program on campus, but even that has its limits. For all the rehearsed shows put on by classes or club organizations, students have few opportunities to spontaneously perform for strangers seeking a cheap laugh. It takes a different kind of courage to engage in community arts, and that challenge rewards us by offering a culture different from the one we share among our peers on campus.
Growing familiar with our own neighborhood is easy and accessible, or at least much more so than a trip to downtown Los Angeles. In the past years, various arts locations have been doing their part by being increasingly accommodating to student budgets. The Hammer Museum now offers free admission, and the Geffen Playhouse has reduced student prices for rush tickets for remaining seats right before a production starts from $20-25 to just $10, making an intimate theater production the same cost as going to the movies.
And beyond convenient amusement purposes, places like the Geffen Playhouse, a non-profit theater owned by UCLA, and The Improv Space can serve as professional resources, too. Even now, various directors at the Geffen take turns each week teaching a UCLA class to students from the School of Theater, Film and Television in their own theater. There, students are taught by professional directors, not just teachers, in a setting that is a production space, and not just a classroom. This gives aspiring students the opportunity to work outside of a campus theater and prepare for productions beyond UCLA.
In the same way, The Improv Space gives students the opportunity to perform with improvisers on Wednesdays and the chance to watch free stand-up comedy on Mondays. Without the pressure of a professional or critical audience, or anticipation of a letter grade, students can develop their skills in a relaxed and friendly environment.
It shouldn’t feel like we are going “into Westwood” when we’re leaving the campus or even the North Village. There is no physical boundary between UCLA and Westwood – especially considering there are buildings in Westwood owned by UCLA, like the Geffen Playhouse. The two should naturally spill into one another, particularly when it comes to recreational activities.
We tend to overlook Westwood when we’re seeking a day out in Los Angeles. But Westwood has its own share of culture and entertainment, and taking part in the neighborhood’s museums and theaters lets us be part of the history in our own home.
That starts with walking into seemingly negligible places on the way home from Fat Sal’s instead of just walking past.