Undressing Hopscotch: Costume Designers Reveal their Aesthetic Vision

Ann Closs-Farley and Kate Bergh haven’t eaten all day. The North Hollywood sun droops low as the two costume designers return from Olvera street. At Closs-Farley’s front door, a schnauzer and a dachshund leap to greet them. They kick off their sandals, and Closs-Farley shakes out her pixie hair. Bergh sinks onto a wooden chair in the dining room. Sitting down for take-out Thai, they chit chat about the trickiness of wigs and spatted tennis shoes. In a few minutes, they’ll head out again in search of 36 leather jackets.

Closs-Farley and Bergh were tapped to design the costumes for Hopscotch, Yuval Sharon’s newest space-specific opera. Based on a loose fusion of Julio Cortazar’s novel of the same name and the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, Hopscotch is a mobile opera, which means instead of playing on stage, the show takes place inside moving vehicles. The setting is hardly conventional, but experimental operas are the hallmark of Sharon and his company, The Industry.

In 2013, Sharon provoked Los Angeles with The Industry’s operatic adaptation of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. The opera took place in Union Station; audience members and unsuspecting passersby watched awestruck as Invisible Cities characters Kublai Kahn and Marco Polo moved among commuters and audience members, distinguished by the headphones on their ears through which they listened to Christopher Cerrone’s opera.

A feat, to be sure, but Sharon seeks a greater challenge with Hopscotch. The adventure unfolds in 24 limousines that stop at iconic LA locations including the Bradbury Building downtown, Angel’s Point in Elysian Park, and Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights. Performers and audience members share the intimate limo space as they drive, witnessing the musical story of protagonists Lucha, Jameson, and Orlando. As this moveable feast rolls through the Los Angeles streets, eventually converging at the Central Hub, a temporary home base at Sci-Arc, audience members  reacquaint themselves with their city or, most commonly, see it for the first time.

At the first Hopscotch rehearsal, cast and crew, more than 120 strong, gathered to hear Sharon’s vision for his production. Emphasizing collaboration, Sharon said, “This is a project that can inspire the people that think they don’t even like opera, the people that have never been to an opera before, people that just think, ‘I never thought something like this was possible.’ And the only way its possible is with our communal effort as a team.”

As Sharon spoke, Closs-Farley scribbled notes, crafting her design plan for costuming a cast that includes 22 Luchas and 17 Jamesons of different ages, body types, and ethnicities. The story is split into 36 distinct chapters, so to keep the narrative clear, she must consider, “what would keep the audience from thinking that [Lucha’s] sister showed up, or her mother showed up, or someone related to Lucha, and how do we keep that with Lucha?”

When it’s her turn to address the Hopscotch cast, Closs-Farley exclaims, “We only have a couple times to get it right. So I’m not gonna be fitting you very often, so its gonna be kind of magical. But that’s what I do! I’m really good at getting to know people, and I’m scanning you like a computer. I’m like superhuman right now!”

Her infectious positivity and ability to maneuver what she calls a “kooky” budget for Hopscotch are surely reasons why Sharon chose her for the project. Sharon and Closs-Farley have shared a mutual respect for each other’s work since he “came to town a couple years ago.” She designed for Sharon’s animated opera project, Cunning Little Vixens.

In the spirit of collaboration, Closs-Farley told the cast, “I brought on a partner because I just don’t think that I can do this all by myself. Because there’s one of me, and a lot of you.”

Kate Bergh eagerly volunteered to sign on as co-designer.

Bergh (left) and Closs-Farley on Hopscotch opening day.
Bergh (left) and Closs-Farley on Hopscotch opening day.

“I forced myself on her. That’s basically what it was. She was doing the show and I said ‘when is it?’ She told me, and I said, ‘I’ll come over and help you.’ That was it. It was crazy,” Bergh recounts, smiling sideways. She ruffles her feathery blonde hair gracefully, and adjusts her Homeboy Industries t-shirt.

The two women have been “shopping the show” all day. Pausing now to assess their obstacles, they perch like cats on Closs-Farley’s living room couch.

Closs-Farley muses, “Normally you go through a period where you get a script, and you dream about it. You see it in your head, and you have these ideas for the show– Kate’s been…trying to organize like, how do you make sense of it.”

“I think the more organized we are, which is creative in a way, the better its going to be,” Bergh says.

Uncurling her legs, Closs-Farley laughs and blows pink bangs from her eyes.

“This is different form of theatrical-when you put something in the street, especially in Los Angeles where everybody is spectacular… When Yuval told me about it at first, [I thought], ‘this is guerrilla theater; this is the stuff we used to do in the 90s.’ I’m considerably older, and I also want to know, well, that I could hack something guerilla style again. I mean, believe me this is kind of like a show you do in your 20s and you’re naive to the amount of work it is… At the same time, I think if we pull this thing off, it’s going to open the door to other people doing this sort of site specific work that LA deserves, because it does have such a vast amount of space to play in, and there is no reason why you can’t do theater anywhere here.”

Closs-Farley has always reveled in the mutineer climate of the Los Angeles art scene.

“When my husband and I were first married, we would go see concerts at the Greek, but we wouldn’t actually go into the Greek, we found out about this place where if you climb down from the observatory, its carved out in the mountain. You could see concerts for free, but then there’s a ton of people secretly sitting in these carved seats out of the mud.”

Ann Closs-Farley describes Hopscotch to daughter Violet at the Central Hub on opening day.
Ann Closs-Farley describes Hopscotch to daughter, Violet, at the Central Hub on opening day.

Closs-Farley and Bergh envision that the Hopscotch characters will look like ordinary Angelenos, but perhaps a little brighter.

“We chose the colors,” she says, “specifically for each character, such as Lucha (this is environmental as well), Lucha would be yellow as the sun, joy…it’s a color that holds is self present all day… Orlando is brown, of the earth. Jameson is black and white as if it is a distant, noir character… We have our musicians in blue, which are of the sky, and of the things that are very California.”

Bergh leans forward when she speaks about how even coincidental audiences can experience the show if they happen to be at the secret locations. She loves how its open to everybody.

“[This is] a more interesting piece of work than I had done in a long time…and it shows a lot of Los Angeles, which I love. I’m from the Midwest, so this city is very odd to me. You have to really seek out things in order to find it a beautiful city sometimes.”

When asked about contingency plans Closs-Farley and Bergh pause and agree. There is no contingency plan. “Its all an experiment,” Closs-Farley says, “the whole thing is an experiment, it’s never been done before.”

But they have faith that it will succeed. In fact, to them, “[Hopscotch] is already a success.”

Comparing it to live television, Bergh remembers, “When someone screwed up, it was funny, and kind of wonderful. There’s bound to be something that goes wrong in this, and I think that’s going to be part of the charm of it, and part of the interest, and part of the life of this project. I think its going to be good.”