Artistic Director Yuval Sharon at the first “Hopscotch” Red Route preview (Photo:Corinne DeWitt)
On September 12, Yuval Sharon faced a room of over 100 artists for the first all–cast and crew rehearsal for Hopscotch and called them “an army of people ready to dispel what they think of their own personal limitation.” If they weren’t ready then, they certainly were by the time Sharon finished.
This was his chance to get them on the same page, to have them understand his vision for his new mobile opera and see their part in it. Ampersand is publishing Sharon’s address verbatim (slightly modified to skirt repetitions and enhance clarity). Why? Because I was fortunate enough to be there with a recorder and this speech is too good not to share. I stand for those among the 3,000 who will be audience members for Hopscotch, either riding inside one of 24 limousines with three other passengers or experiencing it through headsets for free at the central hub at SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture).
Sharon’s language, passion and insight provide a way into understanding not just this opera, but why art and the making of original work are important to a meaningful life. He also outlines his thinking behind Hopscotch and its intellectual provenance. We believe this will help others appreciate the opera more. But don’t worry, we end before Sharon discusses plot, characters, or divulges any of the specifics that might spoil the many secrets of Hopscotch.
Address by Yuval Sharon, founding director of The Industry and director of Hopscotch, an experimental mobile opera that he conceived
What about opera can inspire us? Can take us to the next level? Take us beyond what we thought we could do? If we are part of that transformational process as artists, then think about what’s going to transmit to audiences. I think that we all want the audience to be transformed by the art that we’re making all the time. I think that begins with the process, and for me it’s always been about thinking, “Then how can the process be as challenging as possible? But how can the challenge also be a pleasure? How can the challenge really be a joy? How can it be something that says, ‘I never knew I was capable of something like that?’”
A friend of mine was recently working on the Banksy Dismaland and he created a poster that said, “if there isn’t the potential to be a disaster it’s not art.” And I thought, “Oh, I completely sympathize with that!” I’m creating a scenario [with Hopscotch] that is open to a lot of risk and a lot of challenges.
I want explain what that’s about. The most important things I hope you’ll take away from with you today, in terms of what this project demands of you, are: on one hand, each of you will memorize one ten-minute piece, right? Not so bad. For some of the singers, you’ve done Wagner. Piece of cake. So that part’s easy. The challenging part, as we all know, is how often you have to do [your ten-minute piece for Hopscotch]. The repetitions, the number of times it’s going to be happening. Because you’re going to be doing it again and again and again.
From the performers’ point of view, I would love for you to think of the performance as not a repetition, but as a real meditation. That what you’re doing during this performance will never actually be the same thing twice. The music will be the same, for the most part. But those four audience members who are in the car with you, or outside with you, will bring a totally different energy. You know what it’s like as a performer when you get a different energy from the crowd and what that gives to you. Here, you’re going to have an intimate experience with those four people and that will be constantly changing.
The other aspect of this that’s like a meditation for me is: the more that you can get in the frame of mind that the present moment is the only one that exists, the more that I hope that series of repetitions will stop feeling like a taxing experience and more like joy. The ability to be plugged into one moment in time so fully is something that I hope really liberates you, and something that I hope makes you feel like you could do it forever.
I think if it doesn’t end up feeling that way, that’s going to be part of my job to help you with it. I see that as one of my primary jobs. To get you to that state where you can be open and transparent and ultimately in a state that’s very full of grace. Grace has a lot to do with spontaneity. I think the ability to be spontaneously responsive to the work around you, to the environment around you, to the audience members around you, is going to be a state that is incredibly special. [I hope for you] to be rooted in it, and also I prefer the audience to be able to share [this state] with you.
We have this amazing opportunity to inspire so many people beyond just those four people in the car for a number of different reasons. I think this is a project that can inspire the people who think they don’t even like opera. People who have never been to an opera before, people who just think, “I never thought something like this was possible.”
The background for this project is our last project, Invisible Cities. For those of you who don’t know The Industry, Invisible Cities was the large-scale opera that we did at Union Station. A core element of [Hopscotch] was thinking, “How can I come up with something harder than Invisible Cities that will make Invisible Cities look easy and allow me to complete the picture of Invisible Cities?” This was April of 2013, when Jason Thompson, [the production designer for both], and I thought, “You know what would be really hard, is an opera that’s in cars, and people have to change cars and move from one car to another.”
When an idea like that comes up, it’s very hard for me to let go. Why cars? I think that’s actually a pretty easy question to answer in Los Angeles. One of the things I think about a lot in LA is, how can we use the experience of driving that we sometimes see as a major burden living in LA and see that as an opportunity to really investigate the city that we’re actually living in?
If we took driving as a metaphor for life and really tried to investigate that, how will that spell out? So some of the Hopscotch themes include trying to explore the inner life of you as a driver versus the outer life of the city around you. How would those two intersect with each other? How would they link to each other?
The idea of life as a continuous or disjointed experience — that’s another major thematic element. The idea of a search for a center. (By the way, everyone involved with this project, except for four total, live and work in LA.) How do you deal with a city that doesn’t really have a center? What does that mean about your psychic life? Does it challenge you to find a deeper, richer, inner center? I feel like that’s a big part about what my experience in LA has been about. I think a lot of people can sympathize with that. As some of you already know, that’s one thing we’ll do with this project. We are actually building a physical center, temporarily for the show [at SCI-Arc in the downtown Arts District].
Someone who’s been a big inspiration to this project is a French theorist named Guy Debord [French Marxist theorist and author of “The Society of the Spectacle”]. Debord wrote about an idea called the psycho-geography of the city, which basically implied: what is the world, the cityscape, when you take away the physical geography? What about the layers of memory and the layers of history and the layers of fantasy? How does that all lay over each other to create your sense of the city?
Debord created a series of performances, which was like a walk. What happened was you would walk through the city and, ideally through that experience, you’d have this transformative experience, noticing the city in a brand new way. But [with Hopscotch] we couldn’t do a walking show in LA, I mean, that’s weird. So we wanted to do sort of a 21st century [version of Debord’s walk] and a psycho-geographic exploration, which of course had to be in cars.
One of the things we really want to invite the audience into is a sense of total disorientation, and hopefully in a way that’s very pleasurable, might also sometimes be a little scary. The very streets that people drive every single day — [they are usually] not paying attention to the life of them. Suddenly we’re giving people the opportunity through your performances, to experience the city in a brand new way.
Another major method I wanted to talk about was the idea that diversity and plurality is the center of what makes LA so exciting. It means that a lot of you are playing the same exact character. So if some of you have been curious when you’ve seen your friends posting, “I’m playing Lucha!” [And you respond with], “Wait, well, I’m playing Lucha.” Obviously none of you can be in more than one car at a time, so we needed multiple people [35 performers in total] to play the same exact three characters. There are three central characters. I hope that the effect for the audience is that the single identity of each of those characters is incredibly multitudinous.
I think that that’s a beautiful way to look at our own identity. Each of us has a wealth of worlds in us. I know I feel like a different person every day when I wake up, like, who is this person? How does this person relate to the person I was yesterday or even a year ago? I feel like that’s a big part of [Hopscotch]. The relationship between that inner and outer world. How much does the city change the sense of your own identity? How much does it fill your identity, and vice versa, how are we putting our own identities into what the city’s about?
I have answers for these. I’m just saying these are the ideas I’m excited to explore with you.
Another key element about all of this was that it needed to be one story. The real adventure is the narrative adventure that we’re undertaking and the idea that we’re all creating one story together. A story that’s divided geographically and divided in time, but that nonetheless works together. That’s actually [the] part of this experiment that to me is actually the most exciting.
I just want to close with one thing, ‘cause I think it’s really, really important. The Irish poet, John O’Donohue, if you’re familiar with his work, writes a lot of these poems that are like blessings. He started this one poem with this kind of blessing, saying, “may the road rise to meet you.” Wow. That’s a beautiful idea. That’s a beautiful sentiment. Reading it this week was exactly what I needed to hear. I wish that for all of us now. That the road rises to meet us.
What I mean by that is, we’re going to be facing a lot of challenges in this project. As you can tell, this is the kind of project that has obstacles and challenges built into it, but if we can meet those challenges with humor, with grace, with joy, then hopefully the road will rise to meet us. That’s ultimately how the theater we practice, the music we practice, have ultimately become the reflection of how we want to live our own lives. That is what’s, I think, at the core of what we’re doing.
Hopscotch performances are Saturdays and Sundays from October 31 through November 15 at 10:45am, 12:45pm, and 2:45pm.
More information and tickets are available at hopscotchopera.com.
The animated chapters are also posted on hopscotchopera.com.
Hopscotch previews are sold out. View livestreams of all 36 chapters at the Central Hub at Sci-Arc, 960 E. 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA.