IF STORYTELLING’S YOUR THING, SKIP SCOTCH
French poet and essayist Charles Pierre Péguy wrote, “It is the essence of genius to make use of the simplest ideas.” Yuval Sharon, director and creator of Hopscotch, “the world’s first-ever opera to take place in cars,” is the essence of genius. Only a genius of this kind could inspire six writers, six collaborators and over one hundred artists to deconstruct an original story into 36 chapters, and then have them performed simultaneously around central Los Angeles. There are 3 geographic routes with a separate admission for each. Patrons tour in their private limos to see 8 non-sequential chapters at a time—skipping forward or backward with a significance that will surely go over the viewer’s head. 10 of the chapters are animated for viewing online or at the central hub, where one can also witness live feed from the performances on monitors.
And Mr. Sharon, with the aid of angels, grants, and philanthropists, and hundreds of volunteers, limo drivers, stage managers, etc., actually pulled it off—the coordinates, that is. How amazing to get into your own posh limo with three other patrons where a musician, singer, or actor performs inches from your face. How exhilarating to get out of the car and find yourself, for example, in the middle of an East Los Angeles street fair, being whisked by a volunteer to your next car while wearing headphones listening to an actor in the crowd.
The great idea here is not the deconstructed storytelling (Pinter, anyone?); the great idea here is not the work itself (watching all 36 chapters chronologically would not make this mystifying mishmash magical); the great idea here is not the part tour / part show (The RIDE in New York has been at it for years); and the great idea here is not theater in a car (Moving Arts’ The Car Plays already did that).
The genius idea here is to take these other ideas and smoosh them together into an event so thrilling in concept (utilizing a budget of hundreds of thousands if not a million) that the show practically sells out before it opens—even with ticket prices averaging $125-155. (Tickets for a one-weekend extension go on sale Thursday.)
Yet while some sections positively thrill in design (never in music, which is par for the course for “new” opera—if you can call this an opera), and the overall 90-minute experience of hopping in and out of cars is more than just cool, this massive immersive theatrical event is incoherent to the point that it left me cold. All the king’s men would have better luck putting together Humpty Dumpty than you will piecing together Hopscotch’s storyline.
Sharon’s company, The Industry, has already produced two complex world premiere operas. Each time, the actual scoring and writing of the works played second fiddle to the event itself. Crescent City, which was staged on separate art installations, and Invisible Cities, which had spectators roaming among the action in Union Station, were inspiring events, but the storytelling left me indifferent. The story of Hopscotch—sort of a self-discovery, philosophical hooey, love-triangle thing—is constructed around Angelinos and sections of their city. The irony here is that Mr. Sharon couldn’t care a whit about storytelling as far as his audience is concerned. His main interest lies in taking a nugget of a story and turning it into one of the most logistically complicated productions on record.
This is experimental theater that is nothing more than a very expensive ride, because Mr. Sharon is not a genius at combining his device with intriguing storytelling. Nor is that his intention. But while our fast-paced technological world destroys storytelling, it is in our DNA. We need it. Since civilization began, Man has used storytelling for survival and instructing—entertainment was a byproduct. Here, it’s all about the million-dollar experience, one which utterly fails to move or touch us.
In my review of Invisible Cities, I wrote, “As breathtaking as this shebang is, I can’t help hoping that all of this interactive theater will one day offer a story that we can sink our teeth into and touches our heart. In the meantime, a cerebral blow job is nothing to scoff at.” But Hopscotch isn’t even a cerebral blowjob. Through no fault of the dizzying array of talent at hand, it’s artistic masturbation; and while I like to watch up close, I’d rather participate with my soul.
photos courtesy of The Industry
departure points (varying depending on route) will be
sent out the Monday before that weekend’s performance
Central Hub, 960 E 3rd St
Saturdays and Sundays at 10:45am, 12:45pm, and 2:45pm
ends on November 22, 2015
for tickets, visit The Industry or Hopscotch Opera