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Hopscotch: Riding through LA in The Industry's mobile opera for 24 cars

by Michelle Lanz | The Frame

Yuval Sharon is director of the mobile opera "Hopscotch." Sharon first came up with the concept and the story was created collaboratively with six composers and six writers. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

When you think of opera what pops into your head? An ornate concert hall with a well-dressed, largely older crowd, perhaps? 

Well, in a new production, The LA-based experimental opera company The Industry is taking opera out of the stuffy concert hall and onto the gritty streets of Los Angeles.

Called Hopscotch, this new opera will take place inside 24 cars. Ticketholders will be whisked from scene to scene in different cars — mostly limos — to different locations throughout Los Angeles, while various singers, musicians and actors perform both inside and outside the cars.

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around this concept, don’t worry. The Frame’s Michelle Lanz will clear it all up with this report.

A day or so before I attend a preview of the Hopscotch Opera, I get an email with GPS coordinates of where I’m supposed to be at exactly 2:30PM. The coordinates are important, because where I’m going doesn’t even have an address.

I follow my trusty Google Maps, and I end up on top of a hill in Elysian Park overlooking Dodger Stadium and downtown L.A. There’s a Hopscotch flag and an airstream trailer marking my destination. But this is hardly the place you’d expect to find one of the most ambitious operas ever produced in Los Angeles.

Yuval Sharon, Artistic Director of The Industry opera company, and the mastermind behind Hopscotch, describes:

Every single car ride is kind of a different opera. It’s 24 10-minute operas basically.

That was part of the initial concept, that every time you switched cars you felt like you were going into a different universe. A different sound world, different artists, obviously because they can’t be in more than one car at a time. Some of them have pre-recorded music with a live singer in it, some of them have 13 musicians involved. You will never know what to expect when you get into the next car.


Here’s how it works: One ticket gets you on one of three performance routes, labeled Red, Yellow or Green. Within each route are 8 chapters — or scenes — of the Hopscotch story, told out of chronological order. You start off in a limo with an opera singer or a musician. Then you’re driven through the city to the next location. 

If you're curious, you can read a full summary of the plot and characters via the Hopscotch website. You'll also find a series of animations summarizing the chapters.

Production Manager Ash Nichols is in charge of overseeing all elements of the show. She says:

It’s an opera, but it’s also very much like a new play; it’s also very much like a film shoot with 24 locations. It’s got a foot in every world, we’ve got dancers, we’ve got an aerialist, we’ve got actors and opera singers.

And this isn’t just a leisurely car ride. You’ll exit the car and walk to a scene along the LA River or near train tracks in Chinatown. Next, you’ll get into a limo that will race you through Boyle Heights to a scene in a parking lot. Inside the car with you are 3 or 4 other audience members, like Philip King, a harpist.

“I’m the harpist in the limo that the audience is riding with while they are watching the scene in front of them, and that scene is being mic’d into the limo. They will have a once in a lifetime experience with me. You don’t get beatboxing harpists. Too much.”  

It might seem crazy, but the chronology of the story doesn’t matter with Hopscotch. The point is that each participant is thrown into a scene and a location unexpectedly. 

HOPSCOTCH Chapter 10 from The Industry on Vimeo.

Yuval Sharon explains:

We want the audience to be surprised. In many ways the core idea of this project is a sense of disorientation, quite literally. So if you get into a car and not knowing the destination, how does that change the way that you view the city?

Hopscotch isn’t the first Industry production that challenged the way we view both opera and the city of L.A. In 2013, the company staged Christopher Cerrone’s opera, Invisible Cities, inside LA’s Union Station.

For that performance, ticket-holders wandered freely throughout the fully operational train station while actors performed their scenes in different areas throughout the station. The music and vocal tracks were mixed live and fed into wireless Sennheiser headphones (Sennheiser is also providing microphones and other technology to make Hopscotch work). 

It was actually in the months leading up to the premiere of Invisible Cities when Sharon and his collaborator Jason Thompson had the initial idea for Hopscotch.

Invisible Cities at that point was so hard and seemed like a pipe dream . . . and we started thinking, what’s going to be harder? We thought, 'What about an opera in cars, in which the audience has an incredibly intimate experience with a singer and they keep switching cars over and over again?' I thought, 'Whoa. That would be so hard.' Unfortunately, the idea seemed so exciting that I couldn’t let go of it.

Two years after that initial spark, Hopscotch is now a fully formed — and quite complex — production. A total of six composers and six writers collaborated on the story.

The final result spans 36 chapters, or scenes, and follows several years in the lives of the three main characters: Lucha, Jameson and Orlando.

Ninety-four crew members and 128 performers will bring the story to life each day of the opera’s three-week run. By the time it’s all over, the cast members will have performed their parts 192 times.

A so-called Central Hub in the parking lot of the Southern California Institute of Architecture acts as opera headquarters as well as the finale of the show. It's also free and open to the public to attend, and large TV screens will be showing video streaming in from the various cars and locations. Sennheiser headphones will be available for people to listen in on the action. 

Taking the opera out of the opera house and into the streets — and in cars — comes with its own challenges for the six composers. Some had to tweak and rethink their works once rehearsals moved into the streets.

Composer Marc Lowenstein describes, the challenge was "mostly acoustics."

You’d think a car is a dead acoustic space, but a limousine has just enough space that the singers can really sing and sing lightly and it's wonderful . . . You really have to be willing to write what you love and then be prepared to let go and constantly reshape. For me personally it took a lot of work to figure out what would work compositionally.

And then there’s the fact that the scenes take place on busy streets and in public places —something production manager Ash Nichols has to coordinate:

We’re not going through quiet residential neighborhoods that don’t have much traffic. We’re in very iconic L.A. places that are busy and full of people and that’s what makes it exciting. And that’s what makes it amazing — that we have these stories that are designed around these places. But it’s also a big risk.

After previewing the show myself I can tell you that it definitely isn’t a hot mess. But does Hopscotch succeed in making audiences experience both opera and Los Angeles in a different way?

Audience member Tammy Silver seems to think so:

It was so peaceful and interesting and it made me look at the city, passing by in our little capsule of a car hearing opera music and maybe a flute or a violin and realizing no one else know what’s going on in this car. And that’s kind of how life is here in L.A.

For ticket info check out the Hopscotch website. You can experience the opera for free at the central hub located at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in downtown L.A. 

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