“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly” – Saint Exupéry
Deconstructing opera’s mega-material roots is a challenge.
Sharing an opera live with a group of roving wireless-headphone-wearing audience members? Sounds near impossible.
And yet, The Industryambitiously tackled all this and more through its Invisible Cities project in LA’s Union Station.
Composer and librettist Christopher Cerrone’s adapted a 1972 novel of the same name by Italo Calvino. The story depicts a host of fantastical cities the explorer Marco Polo narrates to Kublai Khan – unreal cities of desire, of memory, of the imagination.
You check in and trade your license for a pair of headphones before following a drove of listeners into a large room where an orchestra sits, no singers in sight. The overture sounds forth and even before the final notes of this first movement end, individuals exit through the large glass doors to search for the rest of the opera. There’s no traditional stage here. The train station itself houses the characters, and like a living giant that seems to expand and contract as singers reveal themselves from the shadows.
A man hunched over in a wheelchair, dressed like many of the homeless souls that take shelter in the station, begins to sing. And you realize that the performers are not so much hidden at all. Instead, you did not know what you should have been seeking.
A lofty soprano tone sounds from another room. Many turn to rush to find the source of the music and discover a janitor – with a voice of gold.
You traverse cities of the living, cities of the dead.
You follow in Polo’s footsteps and happen upon a dance core (seven dancers from LA Dance Project) as they guide and affront the viewer through a collection of miniature vignettes.
You wander into a hallway – the station’s old ticket lobby – and see no action, just a mist of light fog…
…Only seconds later to be bombarded by a procession of singers and dancers as the opera’s final scenes culminate around you.
You notice how each person in the room is now a character in the piece as well. An old man in his own wheelchair is not altogether different from the singer at the start.
The piece challenges the viewer to realize that the eye creates what it wishes to see. At every new port – there is a promise of hope, discovery, release. But we bring ourselves with us wherever we go, thus in order to find new things, we must truly see with new eyes.
Because there will always be one to fifty excuses to find.
Because your mind will rummage around and dig these up, presenting them to you with urgency.
Because you may forget, if only for a moment, that this new pile of worries are a gift from an anxious visitor who didn’t know exactly what to get you – so opted for this, and hoped you’d enjoy something to think about versus nothing.
Because you never liked stagnation anyway.
Because there will be days when your fear will masquerade as sensibility, never removing the mask to reveal its tiny, unsubstantial frame.
Because the voice of your deepest desires speaks in dulcet tones, quiet murmurs that could be drowned out by the cries of a doubtful side of you.
Because you will remember that acknowledging this concern always silences it, like a mother finally attending to a child.
Because you deserve to come alive, to set yourself ablaze with wonder, and never stop seeking.
Because there’s solid ground on the other side, no matter how many obstacles stand in the way.
1. Celebrate the ordinary and less than extraordinary. Because you can’t win the Nobel Peace Prize every day of the year. Cheer on the small moments in between the large ones, and you’ll start to notice how those peaks will advance towards you in rapid succession.
2. Get outside when it’s still light out. Summer’s official start date is tomorrow. How are you going to revel in it?
3. Make time for yourself. A whole good amount of it. Come to know yourself better than the tabloids know Justin Bieber’s whereabouts. Treat yourself to that manicure, bask leisurely for an hour doing absolutely nothing, and recharge. No point in running on empty.
4. Sing and dance like no one is watching/like the entire world is watching. These two should be one in the same. It’s often assumed that the scrutiny of many is a negative thing. If you truly approach whatever the task at hand is with gusto, people will notice, take note and maybe get a little bit inspired. Don’t apologize for loving the things that you do.
5. Unplug. From your cell phone, Facebook, from the endless internet to-do list. Go have an adventure. It’ll be there when you come back.
“If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.”
This playwright/composer/singer-songwriter speaks on life’s daily adventures. Hope you have a few this weekend!
“For me, the most memorable adventures are still the perils that we face daily in life and love, from the mundane to the meaningful. Where the comedy is often at our own expense, but where the drama, even if painful, reminds us that we are living and feeling here in the real time, with the ever-recurring possibility that this latest chapter will end with new understanding, hope and perhaps even happiness.”
The world does not need people more people who are halfway – halfway happy, halfway inspired, halfway thankful. Society is not in dire need of almost-smiles, of “oh we should sometime”s, and “maybe someday soon”s. We are in all too desperate need of people who come alive when sharing their joy, who can let light find a way through them, and who can weave hope from the fragile threads of pain.
If the world asked you a single favor, to quench your thirst for happiness by allowing yourself to bring happiness to others, would you comply?
Or would you again reply “maybe,” “someday,” “soon?”
You walk into a party and the host takes your coat, slings a drink into your hand, introduces you to a few people – makes you feel comfortable, gets you prepared for what the night has in store. Theatrical experiences should be no different. You are already prepared to enter another story for the evening – best to ignite the senses the minute you walk in the door.
The best example I have seen lately was the interactive wonderworld before a performance of The Nether, a show dealing with the danger and imperceptibility of the digital realm and its communities, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.
Upon arrival, guests were immediately invited to create their own “avatar,” the ideal virtual version of themselves that would represent them for the evening. There was a pinboard to select your favorite character from a variety of games and online communities. Large glass bowls were set out with titles such “I met someone that I only had ever spoken to online,” and “I have friends that I only know through the internet,” with a bowl of round markers in front that guests could drop into whichever corresponding questions matched their own truths.
Most notably, there was a wall hung with clothesline and a large stack of cards entitled “nobody knows I dream about.” Over the course of the evening, the wall quickly filled with secrets more often left unspoken.
Each game and activity eased you into the experience of The Nether which asked audiences to consider the ways in which we communicate now and notice how the digital world has swiftly become meshed with our own. It offered a stark warning for the future, and most importantly made us feel welcome as we prepared for an entirely new storytelling experience.
How many of us can say that they’ve actually got around to reading Melville’s novel, easily considered a treasure of world literature?
Peninsula Arts with Plymouth University have made the daunting task a little easier with their 21st century-friendly project, the Big Read. Readers such as Tilda Swinton and Stephen Fry embellish a chapter of Moby Dick each with their voice and skill. The project also curated 136 artists to create an accompanying illustration for each of the chapters of the book.
No better way to revisit a classic than by bringing it to the arts-hungry culture in such a digestible format.
Should you need me these next few days, I’ll be diving into these deeper waters.