Leigh Ann Hahn: Polyglot L.A. Is A Grand Performance

Leigh Ann Hahn Photo by Mitch Maher
Leigh Ann Hahn. Photo by Mitch Maher

Each week, Jeremy Rosenberg asks, "How did you - or your family before you - wind up living in Los Angeles?

Today we hear from Leigh Ann Hahn, director of programming at Grand Performances:

"Most people come to Los Angeles seeking fame and fortune. I have nothing against the idea of fortune, but I didn't want fame. I was looking to blend in.

"I was adopted when I was two-years-old into a German-English family. And I guess your readers don't know, but I'm Korean-American, I'm half-Korean. So I stood out in the little town that I grew up in in the Midwest, in Iowa.

"My goal when I was a child was to be blond-headed and blue-eyed like all the other kids I hung out with, but that was never going to happen.

"So eventually I realized I didn't necessarily want to change, but I did want to blend in. The idea of living in Los Angeles was really appealing to me because Los Angeles is a polyglot community.

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"I've come to realize that there is a place for everybody here, no matter who you are and what your dreams are. You can achieve almost anything you want.

"I remember driving across the United States. I was 24-years-old. I was driving the very first car I bought for myself. It was a 1977 MG MGB, taxicab yellow with wire split-rim wheels.

"When I made it out here, it was eleven o'clock at night and I was coming across the 10 [Freeway] and coming down out of the San Bernardino Mountains.

"I saw the city sprawled out in front of me, looking like a great big field full of diamonds. When I saw that almost mind-numbing beauty in front of me, I knew that one chapter of my life was done and another was beginning.

"Los Angeles has become home for a lot of different reasons. Partly, I think I was sort of born to be a city rat. I live in Downtown, I work in Downtown.

"This sort of - it's not decay - it's more of a weathering of communities, is an endless source of fascination. Brand new and sparkling and pristine isn't anywhere near as compelling for me as buildings and people and trees and other things that have seen years of age and decades of experience.

"Downtown is sort of a natural place for me. There's a real broad range of experience; you can have a really compressed and compact experience temporally and geographically.

"We have the largest collection of Beaux Arts buildings in the world; you see all manner of people when you are Downtown - whether it's the Mercedes-driving Merrill Lynch executive or wheather it's the homeless person I drive by every day on Fifth Street down on Skid Row.

"Some of the artists that we present at Grand Performances are experiencing the city for the first time. Among them, there is almost always a sense of wonder. I think Los Angeles installs that in people whether you're an artist or whether you don't have any aesthetic sort of sensibility. There's sort of this 'Land of Milk and Honey,' and 'the streets are paved with gold' idea.

Leigh Ann Hahn. Photo by Mitch Maher
Leigh Ann Hahn. Photo by Mitch Maher

"When these performers - or any visitor - arrive, they'll see these soldier-like rows of palm trees and that golden sunset over the Pacific. Or, they'll drive by the Hollywood sign and the Observatory.

"Our venue in Downtown is different, it's unusual, it's surrounded by steel and glass, classic office towers. But at the same time, it's got a very organic feel because of the water that surrounds the stage. So it doesn't feel as nakedly commercial; it's got a little more elegance and sense of place to it.

"The payoff is for me is the gathering of the audience where I can blend in. I think the opportunity to show up and be just a part of a crowd is a really unifying community experience in the way that we don't get to experience very often.

"We do this too when we go to Dodger Stadium. There's a certain amount of class distinction if you are sitting behind home plate then you know you have different kind of access then if you are sitting all the way up on the fourth tier. But there is still a sense of community; we are all still rooting for the same time.

"You don't think of yourself as being Latino or Asian or Caucasian. You don't think of yourself as being older or younger. You are just part of a crowd that's experiencing the same sort of communal moment. At Grand Performances, I know we've done well when the audience stops being side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder, and starts being face-to-face.

"You know, on other note: When I think of arrival, I don't think of one moment or that short period of time when I first came to the city. I think that we each arrive in Los Angeles and experience new things regularly. Especially when we are taking advantage of the city that's before us.

"If we live in a small confined world, then we don't think we have that opportunity. But Los Angeles is filthy, stinking rich with opportunity to see and hear and taste and touch and experience.

"Arrival for me can be walking through the door of the Islamic Chinese restaurant in Alhambra. It can be walking down the street on the piñata district on Ninth and eating the shard of the crispest chicharones that has just been pulled out of that fat.

"There are moments of incredible glory that I think we don't take advantage of because we get wrapped up in our own need to survive - or what we think of as survival.

"At least once a month, I try to go to at least one place I haven't been to. My goal is also to turn people that I know on to new experiences. That's in part an extension of the work I do. I'm just a proselytizer for Los Angles. I think our city is magic."

-- Leigh Ann Hahn
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)


The 2012 Grand Performances series runs through August 25. Concerts, dance, film and other performances take place at least twice weekly at California Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles. All shows are free-of-charge. For more information, visit here.


Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com. Follow Rosenberg on Twitter @losjeremy

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