It’s being hailed as “the asphalt opera“, and is certainly one of the most original theatrical conceptions of our time. Carefully orchestrated in 24 cars tooling around Los Angeles, plus a central hub where visitors can get the video-driven big picture, Hopscotch is in previews now, and is one of the hottest tickets in town. (If you don’t have your tix yet, get on it!)
We managed to talk The Industry‘s artistic director and lead idea guy Yuval Sharon (pictured left) into a little e-interview amid all the production fuss, and he shares with us some behind-the-scenes deets about what it takes to take a maverick idea and make it a reality:
Where did the idea come from?
Six months before Invisible Cities opened, I was working with Jason H. Thompson, Hopscotch‘s Production Designer, on a production of Cunning Little Vixen with the Cleveland Orchestra. We had the afternoon free and wandered over to the beautiful art museum there. As we were sitting in the atrium, we started thinking about what would be the next great artistic challenge after Invisible Cities. So we started thinking about cars and how much our perspective of our city and ourselves is defined by the experience of driving in a car. What would happen if we could transform that view of the city by turning a car ride into a performative act? Within an hour, we jotted down on a napkin the core mechanism of what would become Hopscotch — a series of isolated car rides throughout the city that find their way back to a central point. In the course of the two-and-a-half years between then and now, the project has evolved and taken on deep philosophical layers for all of us connected to the work. But the general construct has stayed exactly the same.
The idea of “experience as narrative” is something I have really wrestled with, ever since starting The Industry. I don’t believe a rich theatrical performance can be only about experience — and yet the disorientation of an unusual experience offers dimensions and layers that have great, unpredictable depth. I knew that for Hopscotch to be more than just a fun ride, we would have to create something where the sum of the parts is greater than the individual elements. Here is where narrative became essential for the project.
The real experiment of Hopscotch for me is ultimately a narrative one. There is one master story, dispersed geographically on three distinct routes. They all tell one story but in a highly disjointed way — every moment of the story needs to serve as a port of departure for the audience. The ten most expositional chapters are available to everyone online as animated chapters [see Chapter 10 below]– we are releasing them two at a time every week until Opening on October 31. I am excited to see how audiences piece it all together.
Do you anticipate that most people will try to do more than one route or option, or that they’ll pick one and go with it?
I’m trying to create a piece where just seeing one route will feel like a complete experience. Each route has a piece by each of the six composers; each one includes visits to “secret sites”; and there are several other elements that make it impossible to decide on a “best route.” I can imagine people will want to see more than one route, and it would be great if they do — but there is always the Central Hub, where everyone can experience all of the pieces for free. I imagine most people will buy a ticket to one route and then come to the Central Hub to see what happens on the other routes.
One of the things I really love about how this experience starts for the audience is a blind choice: you are asked to choose between RED, YELLOW, and GREEN, without knowing anything about what distinguishes one route from the other. It’s a leap into the unknown — and it’s the beginning of letting go of control that is really essential to this experience. (For those trying to see an individual singer or performer, our website lists exactly who is performing on which route.) Audiences will only find out their Departure Point, where they are starting — they won’t see the map their drivers will take, nor the sites they will be visiting. I hope it helps the audience begin the process of looking at their city with fresh eyes, and influenced by this new music.
Would you consider this an ode to the automotive lifestyle, or a reaction to it? (i.e. how much do you love your car?)
It’s not an ode for or against driving, but rather an investigation of the state of driving, how our inner and outer landscapes influence one another as we navigate the city. I’m more interested in exploring the way driving effects our perspective of our city and ourselves — and vice versa. Music is a perfect vessel for that exploration. Some scenes will feel exhilarating, the way that sometimes driving can feel so liberating; other scenes will remind you of how disconnected and isolated driving can make you feel. I think that if I had a particular message for or against cars, the piece could never stand a chance at artistic success.
One of the things The Industry has done very well is planning ahead, and it seems this production has been “in the works” for quite some time. How has that long-term thinking helped or hindered you as you develop a new project, and this one in particular?
A project like this is 99% logistical preparation and 1% actual execution — which might sound crazy, but I don’t think that’s too different from conventional opera. This project, like all opera, is all about the grace of a coordinated moment of time. Bringing so many individual forces into harmony is a major effort, but when it all aligns, the result is transformative.
Every element of this production is a challenge, from the box office to the casting. We spent hours trying to figure out, chapter by chapter, where all the singers are going to get changed and where they will be told to park. What I didn’t anticipate is how every interaction with our civic agencies has been inspiring, from the Department of Transportation, to the Mayor’s Office, to the Department of Cultural Affairs, to the Department of Parks and Recreation, and more. There was such a spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm everywhere we turned for help for this project — it has made me so happy to be living in Los Angeles. I don’t know any other city that has this much of an appetite for bold new ideas.
With six different composers, you’ve obviously tried to make sure each creator’s work is included in each route. Did this factor show up earlier or later in the show’s development? Are there additional considerations when you’re working with multiple authors?
Different composers and writers was crucial to the experience from the very beginning. I wanted the audience to notice how, within a 10-minute car ride in Los Angeles, you traverse completely different worlds. Having such disparate musical voices is so important to the diversity of this project. I also love the challenge this presents our audience: they will have to constantly find their footing anew, each time they enter a car.
This has been an enormous experiment in collaborative creation. Through the development of the piece, there has been a constant and highly individual back-and-forth between me and each of the composers. I want the work to feel like an extension of their own interests and explorations, while also staying in line with the bigger picture. It was a back-and-forth of restriction and freedom — a tension I think of as essential to any creative enterprise.
What’s next for The Industry?
We have a number of collaborations with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the works as part of my three-year residency there as an Artist-Collaborator. Those are going to be thrilling. Independently, our next project, for Fall 2016, is well underway…but we’re saving the announcement for after Hopscotch. It will be big and exciting in a totally different way. I’m bad at keeping secrets so I will just stop right there…
(Finally, a couple of questions just for fun:)
If you got the chance to rename a street in LA, where would it be, and who or what would you name it after?
I wish there was a Schoenberg Street. Visiting his house in Brentwood was an incredible reminder of how much important musical history happened here in Los Angeles. It was part of what inspired me to move here.
When driving for extended periods, what do you do in the car to amuse yourself?
Although I’m a terrible singer I absolutely love singing along with music while I’m driving. It’s so freeing, even though I’m sure the drivers next to me assume I’m a lunatic. Maybe that’s why I think of the streets as such a great stage for music…
Many thanks to Yuval for his time, and to The Industry for continuing to reinvent one of our most beloved art forms. We look forward to seeing the end result of this monumental endeavor!