In the parking lot of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles, an 80-foot-wide donut-like structure recently appeared. With a cylindrical opening to the sky, the temporary structure is a viewing pavilion for Hopscotch, a "mobile opera" set in 24 limousines driving around L.A. Though the ticketed audience is riding around with the singers and musicians inside the limos, the viewing pavilion is an auxiliary space where non-ticketed audience members can experience the spectacle.
The inside of the pavilion is ringed with 24 video screens, each carrying a live video feed from the performances happening in the roving limos. Audience members gather in the donut hole to don headphones that can tap into the audio feed of any of the limos. Tucked in a back nook, out of view, is an intense audio/video control room where a team of technicians wrangles the two dozen video and audio feeds that are streaming in over a cellular network throughout the three performances held each performance day. Entry to the viewing area is free but first come-first served.
Designed by SCI-Arc faculty Constance Vale and Emmett Zeifman and constructed by carpenters and students during the first half of the fall semester, the wooden joist-based structure, called the Central Hub, is covered with woven strips of vinyl from old billboards. "We're borrowing from Los Angeles car culture to produce the structure," Vale says.
Hopscotch is the sort of unconventional show that's become the trademark of its producers, the experimental opera company The Industry. In the Central Hub, people can try to experience each of the 24 chapters as they are performed over and over again for the rotating groups of mobile audience members who'll be getting into and out of the limos throughout the performance. Each limo ride tells one of the opera's 36 chapters. Yes, 36 chapters: in addition to the 24 chapters that play out in the limousines, there are 10 more chapters available online as animations, plus the finale—and, if you're not already confused, a "missing" chapter that leaves the story forever incomplete. Audience members—four per limo, 96 per performance—will experience only eight of these chapters, each from a non-sequential part of the overall narrative. Inside the Central Hub, people will technically be able to watch each of those 24 chapters, as well as the finale. "It's a choice for the audience how they want to experience it," says creative director Yuval Sharon. "There's no right way."
In the shadow of the dark crystalline form of SCI-Arc's graduation pavilion, designed by faculty member Marcelo Spina, Intl. Assoc. AIA, and Georgina Huljich of L.A.-based P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S, the Central Hub structure is almost trapezoidal and seemingly impenetrable. But around the corner are a few large openings that bring audience members into its open center. These entry points are wide—wide enough, in fact, for the limousines to drive through, which they all do at the end of the day. One by one, all 24 limos drive into the central hub to unload the performers and mobile audience members for the opera's grand finale. "The idea is that the artists that you’ve been seeing on the screen sort of pop out of the screen and into real life right in front of you," Sharon says.
Vale says designing the structure offered many chances to interpret L.A.'s driving culture. "It's hovering between a couple of different [building] types perhaps, but it is in many ways a stage set. It's also this kind of auto reception, an inverted façade in which autos are received inside rather than at the front door," she says. Much of the challenge in designing the structure, Vale says, was to efficiently accommodate the audience and all the technology and wiring and antennas—only to have a bunch of cars drive through it all. "They destabilize the center of the Hub for just a moment when they pull through. It reconfigures the interior, in a way."
And, for that brief final moment, the dispersed, somewhat chaotic mobile opera converges in on itself, and the Central Hub transforms from a high-tech live-stream viewing station to play a more traditional architectural role: opera house.
The final performance is scheduled for Nov. 22. "Plans concerning the removal of the project are not yet finalized, but SCI-Arc intends to donate the used wood and hardware to a charitable organization," Vale says.
The remaining performances of
Hopscotch will be held on Nov. 14, 15, 21, and 22, at 10:45 a.m., 12:45 p.m., and 2:45 p.m. According to the Hopscotch website, tickets are sold out, but there is a
discounted ticket lottery. Viewing at the Central Hub is free.
This post has been updated.