How influential are bad role models in one’s life?
Writer Polly Frost, who was born in Pasadena and spent the first 15 years of her life in Altadena, is giving them significant credit.
Frost’s upcoming show Bad Role Models and What I Learned From Them shares her tales of growing up in Altadena and Pasadena, the differences between Pasadena and West Los Angeles—where do we begin?—and the colorful local characters who, perhaps unintentionally, changed her life.
The one-woman show starring Frost will take place on Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. at 857 West Mariposa Street in Altadena—a spot Frost references in the show. The cost is $15, cash only, at the door. For reservations, call: 805-450-9955.
Frost now lives in New York and has been published in The New Yorker and The Atlantic, among other publications.
Patch asked Frost more about her show, local connections and thoughts on bad role models and she shared her answers below via email. Some answers have been edited for length.
1. You mention your show is not stand-up comedy. What format is it in? Is it a one-woman show in which you talk to the audience or do you or others play the role of these bad role models?
In my show "Bad Role Models and What I Learned from Them" I talk directly to the audience as someone who's sharing life experiences, observations, stories and history with them. Much as I admire people who stand up comedy, I wanted to explore the full range of emotions in this show: some funny and some touching. And I wanted to impart some information about Altadena and the L. A. area and what it was like when I grew up here in the 1950's through the 70's -- to people who might not know about it.
I've been a published writer for over twenty-five years. Much as I loved all that, I realized that I needed to connect more directly with audiences in live performances. Not as an actor but as a writer. I think it's really important for writers to talk directly to audiences right now. I'm as much of a digital person and a social networker as anyone else -- but I feel it's important to have that live connection with people.
I started doing one-person shows in 2011. My first show was called "How to Survive Your Adult Relationship with Your Family" and I toured it around the country, from NYC to Kentucky to Iowa City to Southern and Northern California. One of the things that I enjoyed most about doing it was that audience members would come up to me afterwards and start talking about their own similar life experiences.
There's another aspect to the ways in which I do my shows. I believe in celebrating local communities and culture. The show I'm doing in Altadena is also important to me because I'm having a chance to talk to people in a local, intimate setting -- in a setting that's a place I spent a great deal of time in as a teenager, so there's emotional resonance for me in performing there! Plus, I pay tribute to the wonderful town of Altadena.
2. Who are some of the bad role models you encountered while living in Altadena and how did they affect you?
Well, I can't give away too much of my show! But I do pay tribute to four "bad" role models in my show. Three were people who lived in Altadena. One was a neighbor, one was a friend of my family and the third was my horse riding teacher, Aloha Robinson. Aloha was quite a character! As I say in my show, she was a chain-smoker who never saw a glass of Scotch she didn't like -- and she was also a female horse trainer who succeeded in the show world of that time which was dominated by cowboys and rich people. Aloha taught me a lot about the importance of pursuing your passion and making it work -- in whatever way you can!
3. What are some of the main differences between Pasadena and West L.A. and Altadena and Pasadena, in your mind?
One of the things I talk about in my show is how distinctly different the identities of those three places were when I was growing up. Pasadena has a changed a lot since the 1960's when it was considered a much more provincial place than the West Side of L. A. I've been pleased to see that the essential character of Altadena hasn't changed over the years. It's still a terrifically eclectic place, with quirky mansions standing alongside single story homes, nestled into the mountains. What a great place to grow up in! It's a town that has always welcomed all kinds of people, including some of the fabulous oddballs I celebrate in my show!
4. Do you think people are more shaped by good or bad role models? What was your experience?
I think we're told that we need "good" role models. And certainly a lot of people fret over whether or not they are good role models for the younger generation. In fact, I was inspired to write my show because I knew so many people who worried about that! Because when I started to think about it, I realized that I had learned many more worthwhile life lessons from the people who weren't the conventional "good" role models. Making mistakes is what makes us human! And letting other people learn from your mistakes isn't often seen as a generous thing to do, but I believe it is.
5. Where did you move after Altadena and, other than this show, do you often return to the area?
My parents moved to Santa Barbara from Altadena when I was fifteen. Then I lived on the West Side of L. A. in my twenties. In my show I talk about being first a horse crazy teenager and then a high-art obsessed young woman studying avant garde art and music in Los Angeles. And that's another thing I pay tribute to in my show: the cutting edge culture that is truly remarkable in Southern California. When I became a published magazine writer, I needed to move to New York City, where many magazines were based. I've lived in downtown NYC for over a couple of decades. I'm used to New Yorkers making jokes about Southern California, but I'll always be a SoCal gal at heart!
What do you think of a show highlighting bad role models? Are you interested in seeing Frost's show in Altadena? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.