Nicole Disson: Leading the Los Angeles Art Scene

ND_Brandon_Harman_15 NICOLE DISSON takes the term “multihyphenate” to the extreme: she’s a performer-producer-curator-director-actor-dancer-singer who works cross-discipline in film, theatre and music, subverting and cross-pollinating along the way. She is known for producing some seriously interesting events around LA, like The Series — a rooftop performance art show featuring belly dancers and acrobats (amongst other things) — which recently moved from The Standard Hotel in Downtown LA to The Ace Hotel.

Lady Clever caught up with her on a rare day off to chat about why this originally-DC-based Jane-of-all-trades decided to make this city her home:

Tell us about your current and future LA-based projects.

It’s been a whirlwind of late. There’s something special about the month of September in Los Angeles as a sweet spot for productions. I — just this past weekend — finished working as project manager for LA Dance Project’s show at the Ace Hotel Theatre. Leading up to that, I curated and directed and produced (it’s like so many things it’s laughable, I never know what to put on the flyers!) The Series on the rooftop at the Ace Hotel, partnering with LA Dance Project and a variety of other artists including Harper Simon and Mandy Kahn. I had not done one in a while so it’s fun to bring that concept back.

Two weeks after that, I was directing and curating the opening night of LAX (Live Arts Exchange) at the Bootleg Theatre, a contemporary performance festival. It’s similar to The Series but with different artists and a different energy. I also produced a really fun special production for a musician called Henry Wolfe. It was a release performance for his new album and rather than play at a bar, he wanted to create a sit down experience with a lighting design, creative choreography and a video artist. It was really something unique.


Next for me is a Flux event for the Hello Kitty 40th Birthday Party at the Line Hotel and I’m working again with Lita Albuquerque, a radical ephemeral artist, producing a piece for her for the Laguna Arts Museum’s Arts & Nature Festival on November 8th. I haven’t had a chance to catch my breath, fortunately!What’s it like to be producer of these kind of unusual events in a town that’s home to mostly movie producers trying to make mainstream movies?

I consider myself to be really fortunate to live in a community of creatives. I came to LA as an actor in the theatre and I caught word that there was a ripe, fertile, creative community here. I wanted to engage with people and feel inspired by others. LA is just that for me. People are a lot more accepting of artists stepping in and out of different fields. There are actors who are also musicians, musicians who are lighting designers, and so on. They experiment outside their own fields. People are very much game to collaborate with other artists and find ways to work together. There’s such a positive energy of sharing. The Series has always been a good excuse to invite all my friends to come together to create and and celebrate the community that I love.

ND_Brandon_Harman_03How do you think LA’s culture differs from other cities? I feel like, from an outsider point of view, people don’t see LA as a cultural city.

I think that perception is changing. LA is continuing to prove to itself and other cities that it is rich and ripe with culture, artists and creatives. The big distinction is that there’s more room, literally and figuratively, for people to create and try new things with other artists without being knocked down. In other cities it is more challenging, because, partly, the cost of living is so high. I love New York City, I just think LA still has a Wild West vibe and people are more inclined to say “yes” to ideas that might not even be fully developed, they just like the person’s energy and what they’ve done so far. I think some of the corporations I have gotten to work with and produce events at, I can’t imagine that in New York they would be as willing to say “yes” to me as quickly. I think here there’s a rebirth happening among the community of artists. There’s such a positive vibe of encouragement here. There is a layer of superficiality in the Hollywood entertainment industry and it can be cut-throat, but I have engaged with another part of the city that is encouraging and supportive.

Does LA inspire you in any specific ways or do you feel what you do could easily be transported to any other US city?

I definitely want to take my work to other cities. I am excited for that to happen. I feel very inspired by LA, it’s just such a relaxed environment. I can meet someone down the street and grab a juice and it becomes a four-hour-long brainstorming session about the next creative project. It’s a melting pot. So many people are based here that do have a national or international presence and it’s so fun to go to parties and events and reconnect with them. It’s so true to living in Los Angeles that you can hear about what people have been doing all over and then see them perform a few songs from their tour here in LA. It’s a hub.

Who are some of your favorite artists based in Los Angeles?

I will tell you all about my best friends! I love Shelby Duncan, she’s a photographer and one of my [longest] and dearest friends in LA. It’s been fun to share in the process of her work with her as she has developed her eye. She is so loved by so many people, her energy as a photographer is super contagious. My poet friend Jacqueline Suskin who moved here from up north recently is wonderful. I have two great poet friends, the other being Mandy Khan. Both recently published their second books. They have very distinct voices. Mandy is a long-time collaborator. Jacqueline goes around farmer’s markets with her typewriter and tells people they can pick their topic and their price and she produces poems on demand. Jacqueline makes her poetry interactive and Mandy collaborates with musicians and provides her poetry as though it were a score.

Tessa Thompson, an actress and musician, is a great friend. We met, along with Mandy, at the LA Ladies Choir. She is a budding starlet on the big screen – her film ‘Dear White People’ came out this weekend and then ‘Selma’ is coming up soon. Also, Mariana Blanco is a great filmmaker. I recently assisted her in Africa on a documentary about an orphanage. She went on tour with our dear friend Jena Malone, who is an actress, but also in a band. She documented the whole tour and edited together these beautiful snippets of the experience. She adds so much heart to her stories and has a gift for getting down to the essence of the subject and what they are truly passionate about.ND_Brandon_Harman_08One of my questions was going to be – do you like to support female artists and in what ways? But I guess you’ve shown that here!

I could spout off the names of 20 other women just like that, women who I am inspired by and like to create with. I host these lady potluck dinners, which I really enjoy as a good opportunity for friends to come together and update each other on what they’re working on and what they want to be doing. I was never in a sorority in college and I missed out a bit on female friendship there, I just love to have a strong core of female friends and I’ve found that in LA. I love collaborating with my lady friends.

Images Credit: Brandon Harman

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