Eichlers Go Inside Out for the Sake of Art

An innovative art project films people living, or otherwise behaving, in their Eichler homes through the rear-window wall and then projects the results onto the front facades of the homes in a neighborhood-wide film showing. Photos in Greenmeadow by Dave Weinstein

Few film directors are as laid back as Nate Page. He doesn’t tell his performers where to stand or what to say, and he doesn’t call for retakes.

But Nate, who’s been filming all around Palo Alto’s Greenmeadow Eichler neighborhood recently, calls himself an artist, not a filmmaker. And what he is doing is collaborative and, in a way, all about community.

“It’s very open,” he told his performers just before a recent shoot. And then, rather than telling them what to do, he asks: “Did you have any idea you wanted to do something?”

As it turns out, they did.

On Saturday, June 10, from sundown to 11 p.m., you can see the results, as Nate Page unveils the California Living Project II on the streets of Greenmeadow, one of the best-preserved Eichler neighborhoods anywhere, and the holder of a coveted spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Nate and his collaborator, choreographer Chelsea Zeffiro, working with dancer Kaitlyn Petrik , will have filmed by that time 16 or so homes in the neighborhood, and the community center too.

Nate Page sets the camera up in the backyard of James and Eleanor's home while the participants and dancers figure out what to do.

The filming is like this: Nate sets his camera up in the home’s backyard, training it on the interior through the rear wall of glass. When it is time to film, he says so and the action starts, proceeding for 15 minutes or so.

Then it is a wrap.

For the first iteration, Project I, Nate filmed in the Los Angeles Eichler tract of Balboa Highlands in 2013, encouraging people in the homes to more or less act naturally. This time, though, it is a bit different, as Nate is accompanied by a pair of dancers who interact with the real-life inhabitants of the homes.

“I'm very excited about these next two because they will [involve the] addition of undercover dancers, performing scores based on movements of previous homeowner videos,” Nate said a few months ago.

"Chelsea and I are partners in constructing this iteration of CA Living Project," he said.  "Chelsea and I worked together to develop my initial concept into its current iteration which now includes home and homeowner-sensitive choreography which is developed on the spot. Chelsea and I had spent about eight months testing different score-based improvisational choreographic methods for the camera."

Also working on the project were dance artists Haylee Nichele and Angel Acuña.

If you visit Greenmeadow on the night of the showing, you can wander and find homes whose exteriors will be used as films screens, essentially taking what happened inside the house and projecting it on the outside of the house. Maps will be available by the community center, 303 Parkside Drive, showing the route, and may also be found at Nate's website.

Eric Bier, Eleanor Lin, Ember Lin-Sperry, Lynn Grant, Chelsea Zefffiro, and Kaitlyn Petrik chat before shooting starts and discuss the upcoming 'performance.'

Sometimes the projection will be on the house where the action was filmed, and sometimes it will be at a different house. The showing is free and open to all.

“I want people to project their own ideas about what the modern California lifestyle is like,” Nate told one publication at the time of Project 1. “I was thinking a lot about isolation and modern living in California. People still need to create boundaries when they have that much openness."

Nate, a Los Angeles artist, has done many other art projects that involve place, and displacement of place, including 'Storefront Plaza,’ which involved slicing a storefront open to turn interior space into exterior space; and ‘Suburban Reflecting Pool,’ from 2012, which involved attaching a mirror to a house built in 1956 in the San Gabriel valley.

“The piece intended to conflate the criticism of suburban architecture with perception of space and sky,” Nate’s website explains.

On a recent evening in Greenmeadow, Nate and crew did their thing in two homes. At the first, the home of James Sperry and Eleanor Lin and their children Liam and Ember, it had been Eleanor who committed the family to the filming.

Chelsea Zeffiro takes a look through the camera lens as the moment approaches, with Kaitlyn and Nate at the ready.

At first, she said, “Everybody was kind of, what did you sign us up for?” Her husband James expressed some reluctance, but as their daughter Ember explained, “He can’t say no to mom.”

In fact, as Nate prepared his camera, James seemed excited, skittering and doing a few dance moves. He and his friend and neighbor Eric Bier, who also owns an Eichler, had a plan. And Nate the director had no idea.

James and Eric would juggle lemons.

Chelsea Zeffiro, meanwhile, was looking through the camera, trying to decide whether she and Kaitlyn Petrick should wear red or yellow for their role in the proceedings.


“We could even do some improvisational tasks that aren’t very dance-y,” Chelsea said as she and Kaitlyn contemplated their roles.

“This is an on-site collaboration,” Cheryl said to the participants, who also included Eric’s wife, Lynn Grant, who, coincidentally, works in her real life as a theatrical set designer.

James and Eric let go with those lemons.

“In this community everybody has been super open and collaborative,” Chelsea continued. "It’s become a story of a community. You people get together a lot.”

Lynn emphasized the communal aspect of Greenmeadow, recalling how their real estate broker had told them, “If you like community, you’re going to like Greenmeadow.”

“Fences are high, so you can’t see into homes,” Lynn went on. “But people get together at the community center a lot. The community center brings people out.”

It is also a welcoming community, at least to visiting artists and choreographers. “It’s been really touching, actually,” Chelsea said. “Every time we walk into a [home], we’ve been so welcomed.”

The decision to juggle wasn’t a stretch, Eric said. “We’ve been juggling together for years for fun.”

“Let’s do it before they get tired,” Nate tells Chelsea.

Chelsea tells the performers, “You guys look great!”

“OK,” Nate said. “You guys are rolling.”

Neighbors and visitors to the neighborhood walked around Balboa Highlands when the first version of this Eichler exploration was revealed two years ago. Photo by Stuart Frolick from Granada Hills

The lemons fly, the seated dancers make subtle motions with their limbs. The dogs try to come inside. Outside it is cold.

As part of the action Eric teaches Chelsea to juggle – but we won’t spoil it by revealing with what success. Even after the camera stops rolling, the lesson continues. James professes satisfaction.

“Juggling is always worth it!” he says.

If you miss the showing at Greenmeadow, portions will be viewable on Nate Page’s website. Also, Nate hopes to do this whole procedure again in a mid-century modern neighborhood in Sacramento, and also another in the Bay Area within the next couple of years.

Watch the CA-Modernist blog or Nate’s page for more.

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