“You got art in my opera!” “Your opera got all over my art!” Hmm. Gee… Tastes great.
CRESCENT CITY, a hyper-opera, opens this Thursday, May 10 in a large warehouse arts complex in Atwater.
In a nutshell: A city was nearly destroyed by a hurricane, and all decent god-fearing folk abandoned the fair Crescent City. Another storm approaches and promises to utterly destroy our heroic berg and with it all of its mixed up, drug doing, transsexual, queer and generally unwholesome remaining population. Marie Leveau, dead these three centuries, rises and appeals to the voodoo gods to save her city. “Find a good man,” they say, “and Crescent City is saved.”
Cue for action and start singing – it’s show time.
Sculptures/sets by Mason Cooley (Home for the Good Man – an abstract sculpture that is always generating and in motion with its keeper. Like Simon Rodía, our Good Man keeps building with and shifting his limited resources making of home a series of constantly restated questions about existence), Brianna Gorton (Gorton uses voodoo symbols to conjure her illuminated cemetery resting place of “Queen of the Voodoos” Marie Leveau), Katie Grinnan, (Grinnan’s Junk Heap incorporates all the detritus of civilized society and mocks the nature of culture by acting as a stage for the inverts and the perverts of destroyed Crescent City. Watch the singers climb her hill of trash and sing out) Alice Könitz (in Alice’s swamp grow trees which are homes to the Voodoo gods, and the trees (and the gods’ powers) are doubled by their reflection in the swamp’s surface. Leveau, in her boat, by entering the swampy home enters also the power of Voodoo and makes an appeal to those gods to save Crescent City from the oncoming storm. Ah, just like the Greeks – an intercession made to the gods. But the Greeks usually had male heroes. Right on twenty-first century.), Jeff Kopp (abbreviated architecture of the Hospital roof and operating room ceiling combo – a set for hallucinating cocaine dreaming nurses. Helicopter escape. Singing nurses. Blow. Whoa. Kopp does here with architecture what in the past he has done with text: extract basic elements, the diacritical marks if you will, and cause them to expand their agency, taking an active role in conversation with a viewer, and player) and Olga Koumoumdouros (the Chit Hole and Dive Bar, home of Harry Partch’s chromelodeon (YAY!!) and (gulp) sexy Timur Bekbosunov, playing”Deadly Belle.” Oh – in the Dive Bar are Bean Bag chair seating opportunities!)
And what is it about Ass and Olga? Why does this artist dwell on our nether regions? Quoting from “Why Ass,” a self published ass-tabloid exegesis, “Basically, I chose to depict ass because it is a gender neutral ‘private part’ or erotic zone; everyone uses one daily both young and old, male and female.” Want more? Come to the opera and get into it!
LET YOUR LEGS WALK YOU IN AND YOUR ASS SIT YOU DOWN
Music by Anne LeBaron, lyrics by Douglas Kearney
You can still get tickets!
Tickets now on sale for all performances: please visit
Crescent City is a piece about multiple perspectives, and that extends to the various audience experiences available:
“Pedestrian” Perimeter (Standing Room) – $25
Wander the perimeter freely throughout the opera and experience the world of the opera from a constantly shifting perspective. A dedicated track around the perimeter of the space behind the seats allows you to view the world from every angle, or to stand in one dedicated spot. Please note that these are unseated tickets, so bring your comfortable shoes!
Seated Perimeter – $55
Sit comfortably at the perimeter of Crescent City and choose your unique perspective of the city. Each seat has an exciting view of at least four of the six installations, with live video feed filling you in on the action just out of sight. No two seats will have the same experience!
Dive Bar Bean Bags – Immersive (Limited Availability per performance) – $65
Experience the world of the opera from the ground level and in 360 degrees from Olga Koumoundouros‘s custom-made Bean Bag chairs. The Dive Bar is in the middle of Crescent City–prepare to be in the direct path of tenor Timur Bekbosunov‘s performance of “Deadly Belle,” as well as the rest of the cast!
Eye of the Hurricane – The Crescent City Skybox (Limited Availability per performance) – $75
Have a spectacular birds-eye view of the city on a dedicated 8-foot steel deck platform. Please note: Climbing stairs are required for accessing the Skybox.
Tickets now on sale for all performances: please visit
BELOW: CUT AND PASTE ACTION FROM THE BLOG “BUILDING CRESCENT CITY” TEXT BY YUVAL SHARON AND IMAGES AS NOTED.
Another run of Crescent City and things keep improving piece by piece. Today I dedicated myself to the seats between the Dive Bar and the Good Man’s Shack and had the following fantastic views:
We also did some shooting of the Loa for their big scene:
And started putting the musicians into the space:
In the swirl of activity surrounding our first orchestra dress rehearsal, in which we pulled off an entire run of the opera with very few stops, we weren’t able to take too many photographs, but a few are offered here.
For these last few rehearsals, I’ve decided to dedicate my view to one fixed seat to see how audience members on one side of the warehouse will experience the show from beginning to end. It was actually refreshing to have only one point of view after moving around so much over the course of previous rehearsals. The good news for me was that having one perspective never felt like I was missing part of the show, even when something was happening out of sight. This is in large part due to Jason Thompson’s fantastic work with video design, with robotic and hand-held cameras roving around the space, offering surprising and disorienting views of the action as it happens.
From the seats on the west side of the warehouse–that is, between the cemetery and the Junk Heap–you get a kind of epic view down the crossroads, and all the processions and parades I’ve staged throughout the opera look incredibly powerful, like the line in the libretto: “Roads to nowhere leading nowhere…”
Today’s tech was about one of the more challenging scenes in the libretto: the ghosts flee the cemetery as they hear a new hurricane is coming, one will really wipe Crescent City off the map. Marie Laveau gets this information from a Bound Ghost, who informs her: “All the baddest ghosts are out for blood. Please let me stay dead: I can’t live through another flood!”
I’m excited about how this will be portrayed in the production but don’t want to give it away, as I think the surprise element is crucial, but I’ll offer these pictures as a hint. (I’ll also say that our conductor makes a phenomenal cameo in this as well…)
Appropriately for a day about ghosts, Martin Gimenez and Ryan Ainsworth spent the afternoon in “quiet time,” ringing out the space so the amplification will be as pristine as possible.
Today we rehearsed two of the principal voodoo possession scenes, which seemed like a fitting first day to introduce the chromelodeon, Harry Partch’s amazing pump organ, which Anne has used in her orchestration for Scene 11, and which resides in Olga’s Dive Bar.
The sounds inspired us to have add a few more voodoo possessions, namely at the top of Act II by our Reveler Stacia Hitt:
And we’re adding filmmaker to Maria Elena Altany and Timur Bekbosunov’s many talents…and challenges in this production!
We got through all of Act I, even though time was against us for a full Act I run. Nonetheless, we got great work done, and lighting and video made massive strides. Among the trippy activities that happened throughout the day, pictures within pictures offered the most surprising perspectives around the space, like this one of Jason:
Our Revelers are now in full gear, manipulating the video cameras, creating a ruckus, and occasionally having spoken–and sung!–lines, like Justo Leon:
And Timur got to strut his stuff in full costume and wig on Olga Koumoundouros’s Dive Bar:
Transitioning from Timur on the catwalk to Cedric Berry in Mason Cooley’s Shack was an absolutely thrilling moment:
Now on to Act II!
May Day means kicking this show into its high final gear! We teched the first three scenes of Act I, complete with lighting and video…and theatrical haze!
Jason Thompson’s video design is going to be truly extraordinary and fully integrated into the storytelling:
I’m excited about the Loa, or voodoo gods, singing from the orchestra loft…
…but appearing to Marie Laveau in the clouds.
And we also played with Ivy Chou’s terrific costume designs for the first time–our Marie Laveau looks absolutely fabulous in her first entrance:
And the pool of water in the tire came to life in Ashley Faatoalia’s fantastic aria:
The tech process is about to start, so these entries are going to start getting pretty short–but I’ll keep updating with pictures from the day’s activities! The costume ladies Ivy and Cindy decreed Monday “Margaritas Monday,” and while it seems a bit late in the process to initiate such a good idea, better late than never, I say:
Olga Koumoundouros’s bean bag chairs are nearly ready, and I think they are soon to be both a highly coveted perspective for the show and an object afterwards. Until then, they were being stuffed in a perfectly painted room:
Elizabeth Harper and projections designer Jason Thompson were in full gear today, and the space shows it:
We’re almost there!!
The orchestra and the singers came together for the first official time yesterday to play through the entire opera from about where they will be in performances: the orchestra in the loft and the singers among the installations. It was the first time for all of us to hear it together, and Marc did an incredible job keeping it all together under extremely challenging circumstances: singers scattered all over the place with no direct eye contact with the conductor; lots of electronica; brand-new and at times fiendishly difficult music that has only had three previous rehearsals; and a first integration of amplification. We all had our first opportunity to hear what the sound reinforcement would be through Martin Gimenez’s design. His system has a lot of power and a great ability to create surround effects, which will be great when we get to the wild electronic numbers, but the space also has a presence and intimacy that allows us not to lose the acoustic beauty of the natural voices.
The scenario is nonetheless a bit of a composer’s nightmare, since the perception of sound is radically different depending on where you are in the world of Crescent City. So Anne was listening all around, and amazingly always seemed to have a smile on her face!
Gwen requested we add “Don’t Rock the Boat” to the CRESCENT CITY playlist after we rehearsed the climactic “Judgement at the Swamp” scene. I would do so if I knew who sang it…and in any case, Gwen treated us to a beautiful rendition of it while she floated along.
I really don’t want to give too much away from the imagery of this scene but offer a few little tidbits from our rehearsal:
We also incorporated Jordann Baker’s stilt-walking skills:
And a first glimpse at Timur Bekbosunov’s Deadly Belle costume by Ivy Chou, complete with 7″ heels (another kind of stilts!):
A great orchestra rehearsal through the entire opera and our first staging of the swamp–complete with wigs and masks–made yesterday a very exciting day for Crescent City. Now seems like a good time to share some of the great photographs Asher Kelman has been taking of the process, ever since right before we moved into the space:
The climactic scene of CRESCENT CITY involves a boat floating over Alice Könitz’s Swamp. We’re almost ready to start rehearsing that scene, and Eric Nolfo has made enormous strides towards us getting there:
We kept working away at reviewing and continuing to refine scenes, and Elizabeth is right there to keep layering in lighting:
“For the first time ever, I have a gravitational advantage on the singers!” Conductor Marc Lowenstein began his orchestral rehearsals from the loft at Crescent City, with 18 amazing players:
It seems like every day we add a significant new layer to the experience of Crescent City, but the orchestra adds a myriad of new colors to the world of the opera.
In rehearsal with the Revelers, we added a River of Death into Crescent City that Baron Samedi will navigate expertly:
And planned the “catastrophe” scene with The Revelers’ attacking the Good Man:
The visual artists have been making significant progress on their installations, and every new element they complete makes the space feel more and more astonishing. Their work is moving hand-in-hand with the performer’s development: they each get more and more confident, more nuanced, and more open with each rehearsal. Brianna Gorton installed her illuminating columns, which gives fantastic dimension to the cemetery when viewed in a constantly shifting perspective:
Olga Koumoundouros completed her spectacular chandelier for the Dive Bar:
Mason Cooley’s Shack has a jaw-dropping oragami-like roof:
Jeff Kopp diligently continues to add to the Hospital, and Alice Könitz’s swamp is taking beautiful shape, with a series of mirrored plexiglass towers creating an unbelievable landscape for the Swamp.
The total effect of all this great work is nothing short of incredible, and the singers and I are having an amazing time exploring this world:
A day off from rehearsal meant a good chance to catch up with everything else that needs to happen to prepare for performances, and for the artists to have a full uninterrupted day to get ahead on their installations. In addition to helping all six artists, technical director Eric Nolfo also put in place our Skybox platform, where 16 people per night will be able to have a bird’s eye view of the opera. This is an example of what you might see:
The big white screen you see at the back is a video screen, where live video feed will fill you in on what is just out of sight from your seat. They will be on all four walls and will include supertitles. Every seat is its own unique experience of Crescent City, but I think the elevated look will be especially fascinating.
Two more sessions got us that much further in the piece, and every step sees everyone more and more comfortable with the music, the space, and character. We started by reviewing what we have already worked on and added in a few layers, including video:
And giving more stuff for our incredible Revelers to do:
Elizabeth is working side-by-side with me at every rehearsal, which is an incredible way to work with a lighting designer. She has become the unofficial dramaturg of the production–but as John Conklin would say, “Design is dramaturgy!” I think people who see this show will see that’s the case in Elizabeth’s great design:
We had two quite full sessions and continue to move swiftly through the piece. Today we touched upon a couple climactic scenes–the “High Noon” (or in this case “High Midnight”) confrontation between the voodoo barons Carrefour (Cedric Berry) and Samedi (Jonathan Mack):
The showdown between Marie Laveau (Gwendolyn Brown) and Samedi as they fight for the fate of the city:
And Samedi mounting the Cop (also Jonathan Mack!), in a fiendishly difficult Jekyll & Hyde scene that we made good headway on:
And finally, the big Reveler hootenanny number, “A Storm It Is A-Brewin’.”
The Nurses’ Scene in Crescent City is a highlight among highlights in the opera: Anne’s electronica weaves so beautifully and naturally with the stratospheric soprano lines she wrote, and the characters of the two coked-up nurses hallucinating their escape from Crescent City from the helipad are so instantly engaging–the whole scene feels perfect. We rehearsed it yesterday and it was a fantastic process: Jeff Kopp’s brilliant design for the hospital made for great staging possibilities throughout. On top of that, Elizabeth spent the whole day focusing lights, so we could start seeing how the scene could look in its proper lighting states–an amazing thing to be able to do three weeks before opening!
Gwendolyn Brown, Ji Young Yang, and Maria Elena Altany made the experience simply a great one with their great humor and their adventurous spirits.
And luckily, they are also not afraid of heights!
I knew today was going to be a good day when I won a free burrito at Hugo’s Tacos in Atwater Village! In monumental projects like this one, little victories like this one almost make you want to cry with joy.
The rest of the day was very productive, including a pretty revelatory rehearsal of the scene in which Marie Laveau invokes the voodoo gods, begging them to save Crescent City. The concept I had in mind was for the voodoo gods to be on the video screens looking into the city, as if looking down at Marie from the clouds. This arose partially from the practicality of trying to get the fantastic ensemble singing Anne wrote for the Loa as unified as possible, and partially from wanting to make the scene in the Swamp as powerful as possible. So we started the rehearsal introducing the singers to the loft area:
But then we started rehearsing the scene on the ground level, and the results were just too much fun to not try and include into the full performance:
So we decided that at a certain stage in the scene, the voodoo gods would descend into the space and pick up their offering from Marie. The path they took ultimately seemed to have one ideal option: through the Swamp.
Alice and I always talked about the Swamp as being the home of the gods, the murky place where the land meets the water, so it seems like the perfect ladder from the sky to the earth for them to descend into the city like a fog. Now that there is an intermission, I couldn’t let all of Act I go without any introduction of the swamp at all, so it seems like this is the ideal way to hint at the importance the Swamp will play in the final scene of the opera.
In short, the lesson of today was: It’s amazing what a free burrito can do to your creative impulses!
It was a whirlwind of a day in Crescent City today as we power through the opera scene by scene, and focusing on three individual, virtuosic turns. Today we made it through the first half of Gwendolyn Brown’s monumental first scene, complete with her exciting first entrance in the cemetery:
We then proceeded to explore the bitter drag queen in Timur Bekbosunov–made complete with 7″ heels that he quickly felt right at home in:
The scale difference between the towering Timur and me (of mere average height) made for a pretty entertaining rehearsal:
And finally moving on to the stoic, powerful music for Cedric Berry, who looked so fantastic in and around Mason Cooley’s Shack.
At every step, I am awed at Anne’s primordially powerful and wild score–I think the audience will be astounded at every turn at her musical imagination. I know we are doing our best to match it visually and spiritually (in terms of the performance)!
Yesterday was the first proper staging rehearsal and we got through the first two short scenes, introducing the Cop, his strange partner Jesse, and the Revelers he is battling throughout the opera. Tenor Jonathan Mack seemed to have no trouble at all traversing Katie Grinnan’s monumental sculpture, and staging the scenes means in this case giving the drama a shape that feels right within the installation.
The Revelers also peeked around, jumped off, and ran around the Heap in really exciting ways–and the addition of noise-makers and instruments gave them an additional air of menace.
We also delved into the characterizations of the two singing characters and started realizing the freedom and the challenges of audience all around you–for opera singers, this is definitely a new experience that defies their sense of directionality so often dictated by sound.
After the rehearsal, Anne, Marc and I went through the painful process of weighing what music needed to be excised as we all find the shape of the whole. This conversation is never easy, made even harder by the fact that everything that Anne wrote is so vivid and gripping, and that we have to do it without ever hearing the orchestration. And yet, as a true testament to Anne’s collaborative spirit, we were able to come up with some cuts that all of us feel enhance the whole experience greatly. Meredith Monk told me a few months ago that a true artist knows when to cut; Anne proved herself last night to be that true artist, as painful as that process can be.
On one hand you can say that it is just madness premiering a full-scale large opera without ever having a workshop process for the full score. On the other hand, I think all of us are looking at this rehearsal process in an experimental way, with everything in a state of flux towards creating a larger picture. It’s an exciting though sometimes difficult place to be–but when we start rehearsing the scenes with cuts in place, I think the effective flow will make that challenge well worth it.
At last, yesterday we all came together and began the process of building the full Crescent City ensemble: actor, singer, visual artist, production team, we all have been working for the most part individually–but the big act of merging the worlds really began yesterday. Ideally, by the time we reach May 10, we will not know who is a singer, who is an actor, who is an acrobat, who is a musician, but all feel like one body inhabiting this one space. The ease with which that boundary started to get crossed yesterday was pretty astounding and promises good things for the next three weeks.
We spent a good amount of time exploring the space and the various installations, spatial balance, the expressive potential of the various installations, and even a sense of character within the world. I was so excited by the simultaneity in the space of all the activity splayed out at various tempi and intensity, and realize that more than most other productions I’ve ever done, this is truly an exercise in spatial composition.
Week 2 is over and the progress in the space is simply amazing. As rehearsals are just about to get started, I’m rounding out the week with some photos from around the space:
Katie Grinnan’s Junk Heap, getting closer to completion!
Getting cleaned up…
Jeff Kopp’s to-do list on the roof of the hospital.
Work continues on the Junk Heap, photo by Eric Minh Swenson.
Marc Lowenstein has been running a tight ship at the Kasimoff-Blüthner Piano Co. and yesterday afternoon we got to hear the fantastic results: a full run-thru of the opera. It was all of our first time hearing the piece as a whole, and it was quite overwhelming, mostly because I could see that we have assembled a dream cast: every single one of them exceeded my hopes for this piece, and them as a group is part of what makes this project so very exciting:
Tenor Jonathan Mack asked me, “I’m curious to see how you’re going to do some of this.” My response: “Me too!” Because if I knew, we wouldn’t really need a rehearsal process, now would we? But the play-thru was a great way to start visualizing the opera with our installation getting closer to completion, and I drew a few schemas for rehearsal during the musical run, which I’m sharing here if no one holds me to actually fulfilling this:
We’ve already had an April Fool’s Day and a Friday the 13th as part of our process for Crescent City, and despite a serious rainstorm, everything keeps moving along excitingly. There was a lot of activity in the space, with new streets being laid out, a second trap door getting installed in the Hospital, Marie Laveau’s tomb receiving finishing touches, the roofing paper on the shack getting organized, more photograms sheathing the Junk Heap, and the Swamp surface nearing its completion. The interplay of the sculptures change the feeling in the space every day in really beautiful ways. One of my favorite moments of today was discussing the voodoo gods in the trees and the boat that carries Marie Laveau with Alice and Eric:
And from the other side of the warehouse:
I also worked on putting together the program text with our graphic designer, Roman Jaster. I went through my file of foundational texts and stumbled upon the great writing of Jaques Ranciere, whose book The Emancipated Spectator was fundamental in thinking about spectatorship and interdisciplinary work. It was refreshing to remind myself of some of the philosophical underpinnings of this enormous spectacle, and some of the text will find their way into the program notes. This quote in particular really resonated again, and because I may not have room in the program, I’ll put it here:
“In a theatre, in front of a performance, just as in a museum, school or street, there are only ever individuals plotting their own paths in the forest of things, acts and signs that confront or surround them. The collective power shared by spectators does not stem from the fact that they are members of a collective body or from some specific form of interactivity. It is the power each of them has to translate what she perceives in her own way, to link it to the unique intellectual adventure that makes her similar to all the rest in as much as this adventure is not like any other. …
What our performances — be they teaching or playing, speaking, writing, making art or looking at it — verify is not our participation in a power embodied in the community. It is the capacity of anonymous people, the capacity that makes everyone equal to everyone else. …
Being a spectator is not some passive condition that we should transform into activity. It is our normal situation.”
Anne LeBaron has been so busy finishing the orchestrations that she has yet to have had a chance to see our giant work-in-progress. Yesterday she finally made it out to see how the sounds in her head are going to be realized visually, and it was a thrill for all of us. It reminded me and all of us there that the city we’re building will still be a vessel for Anne’s amazing music to flow. Her music was the first inspiration for all of this, back when Wet first crossed my path at New York City Opera in 2006. And now we are less than a month away from the full production!
This photo may look somewhat posed, and I know it may be hard to imagine that such a challenging project would find us all laughing and enjoying ourselves, but with Anne there yesterday, we were all genuinely so excited and giddy at the thought of the staging rehearsals to come–which finally begin in the space on Monday!
Laura and I added “Movin’ Right Along” from the Muppet Movie to the Crescent City Production Playlist when we picked up lighting and sound equipment from Los Angeles Opera–and that still feels like a good theme song, because everything keeps moving in the right direction over at Atwater Crossing. Elizabeth Harper, Crescent City‘s indefatigable lighting designer, asked us to include Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” to the list, which works for me, although now I am agonizing over what song will work as a transition from the Muppets to Kanye.
From 6pm until 2am for the last few nights, master electrician Nate Pontius and a great crew have been busy getting the lights and cables hung and ready for Elizabeth’s focus. They’ve been using a mammoth, amazing articulated lift to get around the installations, and instantly I imagined the next opera to involve an elaborate choreography of these beautiful machines. (Although I suppose La Fura dels Baus’s Ring Cycle in Valencia may have already beat me to this punch.)
What I love about Elizabeth’s lighting concept is how integrated and architectural it is to the sculpture–and it was exciting to see Katie discover the lighting instruments in her Junk Heap this morning! Katie put it beautifully when she said, “We’re so used to working in a white box, and now with my work in a black box, I’m realizing how important the lighting is for people to perceive the work.” All of the artists mention their interaction with a lighting designer as one of the chief fascinations of working on this project, and I can’t wait for them to see their work illuminated in a way they probably never have before.
In the case of Jeff’s Hospital, versa tubes generously lent to us by LA Opera will create a very distinct lighting environment between interior and exterior:
I’m also excited about how light and darkness in alteration will shift our perceptions of these amazing installations over the course of the long night of the opera’s events:
The highlight of today was a meeting between the phenomenal bass-baritone Cedric Berry and Mason to discuss to the Good Man and his activity in the shack. It was great hearing Mason talk through the components of the shack and what the Good Man will be doing throughout the opera.
I love how Mason sees the shack as an open-ended object that will be filled with Cedric’s performance and his physical impact on the structure. Based on Cedric’s building or taking away of Mason’s pieces, the sculpture will change from the beginning of the rehearsal process to its final iteration on May 27. It’s a piece to be lived in and “taken over” by another artist, a tangible example of the collaboration between a singer and visual artist in the course of this process.
Douglas Kearney‘s libretto describes the Good Man as obsessively rebuilding his home in the wake of the hurricane:
“The Good Man re-builds compulsively. He cannot stop. His house should look like layers and layers of building have gone on. When short on materials, he moves wood from one spot to another, then patches that new void. He has become increasingly isolated as no one returns to the neighborhood he has seen destroyed.”
We went through a number of iterations of the Good Man and his relationship to the Shack. For a while we discussed a tether that keeps him attached to the Shack, which is how several people in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans saved themselves from being taken by the waters of the broken levees. The image of the Good Man still tethered to the shack one year later gives a strong sense of his relationship to his remnant of a home. But although I liked the image, it started to feel too obvious and reductive. Mason’s idea of the Shack involving various abstract shapes and objects I think keeps his process fascinating and never fixed into something predictable; it frees up the associations and possibilities of the Good Man in this more abstract cityscape.
Mason is also playing with a large rotating sculpture that can act as a kind of shed for the Good Man in his “backyard:”
Something just wasn’t sitting right. All the installations were off to a great start, but one side of the world was very spacious and open, and then halfway through we had monumental structures that not only made visibility challenging but forced the pieces right on top of each other. Viewing Mason’s Shack and Katie’s Junk Heap was going to be compromised by how close they were to each other. In general, the space didn’t feel like it was “breathing.” Olga reminded me that the original configuration had the Dive Bar in the middle; we switched it around based on Olga’s original design and the fear that the Shack would be “shoved into a corner,” but now that we are looking at the reality, the original order made a lot more sense.
But dealing with the reality of moving the shack was a bit daunting: we weren’t working with a computer program with drag-and-drop capabilities but with heavy, three-dimensional sets that were also in a somewhat delicate state. We were also under time pressure: the opportunity to make these changes was disappearing by the day, especially with lighting beginning its installation and cable run.
Luckily we had planned a production meeting with all the artists and production team that evening, so we had many hands on deck.
Seeing the Shack move through the space on a few dollies was pretty exciting–I couldn’t help but think of Fitzcarraldo, although luckily our trek was shorter, less steep, and less under siege by warring tribes. This was a group effort to make a significant change that everyone instantly realized was the right thing to do. I’m constantly reminded that the theatrical process is one where you can’t cling to anything that isn’t working, no matter how much effort it will take to fix. The path of least resistance is also the path of least chance for success. I think here we have a real ally with a visual artist mind-set.
Meanwhile Alice made great progress on the swamp, and the floating surface started to take on its shape in a really exciting way:
Brianna Gorton‘s meditative Cemetery was up today, the last section of the city to have a dedicated installation day. Eric and Brianna built Marie Laveau’s tomb and arranged the pools of water that delineate the cemetery paths:
We tested the pond liners for holding the water that will create such beautiful reflections with Elizabeth Harper‘s lighting:
And Laura modelled Marie Laveau in her tomb:
Elsewhere in Crescent City, the other artists keep chipping away at their own installations, articulating their visions further and further. Jeff finished one of his hospital skylights:
Katie and her crew unveiled the first of the photograms that will sheath the Junk Heap:
And Alice kept configuring the intricate design of the Swamp’s surface:
We even had a visit from Gwen, which always makes my day!
All in all, none of us can quite believe we’ve only been in the space one week–the progress is already so inspiring. Only one week to go before I get to start staging on this big adult playground!
Alice Könitz’s Swamp was on the dock today, and Eric and Alice got off to a great start. When it’s complete, the whole surface will appear to be floating in space with trees breaking the surface of the water. The voodoo gods will appear to Marie Laveau from the tops of the trees, as Marie floats down the swamp in a small boat. It’s an involved set-up for the climactic scene, where the fate of Crescent City is sealed. Have the voodoo gods found the one good soul that will save the city??
Here are a couple pictures of Alice working in her studio (photos by Asher Kelman):
I looked back at my reference images for the swamp, and think that the effect will probably be closest to this one image I found:
The Swamp is a perfect atmosphere for a climactic scene for an Anne LeBaron opera, since frogs have been a big part of her sound-world for so much of her career since her 1997 composition Croak (The Last Frog). I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that frogs factor into the final scene significantly!
Today’s undertaking: Katie Grinnan‘s monumental Junk Heap, an involved construct that will be sheathed in her beautiful photograms (one of which adorns The Industry’s home page):
I’m so excited about the staging possibilities in, over, and around what this Junk Heap will ultimately become: this image is just the beginning!
One of the really cool things about today was seeing so many of the artists in the space at one time working on their individual pieces. Mason Cooley started filling out the shell of the shack with more reclaimed wood and other shapes:
And Alice Könitz, who is creating the Swamp, got a jump start on the swamp by setting up her eerie trees:
Curator Brianna Gorton remarked how much it’s all starting to look like the image of Lars von Trier’s Dogville that I’ve been using as an inspiration since the beginning of this process:
Looking at this picture, I can still see the impact of this “set” on the world we are creating for Crescent City, and the allegorical nature of that film also played a part in the more archetypal characters of Crescent City as well. But the visual artists’ response to the locations range so far beyond the stilted reality of this film. Dogville plays with “slice-of-life” naturalism, which is far from the cumulative effect of this particular work…What exactly it is is yet to be discovered, as staging rehearsals don’t start for another week!
Jeff Kopp‘s Hospital was on the dock for installation next. He has been at the space around the clock assessing the angle, the amount the wall juts into the space, the view from the audience, and its general feel in the world at large. It’s been really promising so far:
Jeff’s great idea was to essentialize the two playing spaces the hospital requires in the opera–the roof and a hospital room–and make them one remnant of the hospital’s former self. It’s as if the hospital had fallen over in Hurricane Belle, the first hurricane to have destroyed Crescent City, and all that’s left is this one monolithic residue.
We’ve gone back and forth several times about which side should face the cemetery and which should face the swamp. We finally switched our original plan so that the roof of the hospital faces the cemetery, as we both think this will make for a more interesting spatial relationship between the locations. I can’t wait to start staging the nurses, traversing the internal and external space, just as they oscillate between human and voodoo gods. It’s going to be fun!
Today was a bit of a “day off” from building in the space after a few good days, so I spent most of it drumming up support for the last leg of our Kickstarter campaign. We were all thrilled at about 2:00pm when we tipped over into a funded project, thanks to the help and generosity of over 130 individuals. This is a project that thrives by the belief of the community at large, so it is thrilling and humbling to see so many people pitch in to help us build this city.
The whole idea of Kickstarter is really a brilliant one: setting a goal, setting a time in which it must be completed by, and then meeting that goal anyway possible. It’s kind of a microcosm of the show at large, and even last week, when it felt like we were so far away from our $15,000 goal, the perseverance it takes to really meet your goals pays off. It did feel like a mini-marathon race, and Laura Kay Swanson, Associate Producer Rachel Scandling and I are adding the “Chariots of Fire” theme to our Crescent City mix tape to give a sense of what it felt like.
Marc Lowenstein continued rehearsing the singers in the beautiful Kasimoff-Blüthner Piano Co. Showroom, and on the docket today was Scene 14, the Judgement at the Swamp. This was one of the trickiest scenes to get right for Anne, as its the climactic moment when the voodoo gods announce whether Crescent City will be saved, and I think Anne has nailed it. I tried giving the singers a bit of a heads-up for what is in store: how they will be singing within Alice Könitz’s beautiful trees, as Marie Laveau floats down the swamp on a canoe. But I don’t want to give all of the surprises away…even to them!
Today’s focus was Mason Cooley‘s gorgeous Good Man’s Shack, which was fabricated by Studio Sereno with the TLC of Jeff Kleeman, Technical Director of Los Angeles Opera, and Teresia Rose Kleeman. We all pitched in to literally raise the roof of this fantastic sculpture:
Things are starting to get HUGE, with four of the six installations well under way:
And meanwhile further West, conductor Marc Lowenstein got Gwendolyn Brown and tenor Jonathan Mack going with their fantastic scene in the middle of the opera. The roof-raising kept me from spending too much time with these great artists…but I know we will have plenty of time still to come! We were once again invited to rehearse in the lovely Kasimoff-Blüthner Piano Co. Showroom on Larchmont.
The idea of parallel rehearsals happening at the same time is a bit of a burden on little César (the name of my little Mini Cooper that gets me around town) but is adding to the whirlwind nature of putting this massive show together. And the idea of separate simultaneous activity is closely connected to what the show will ultimately feel like in performance, so in a way it’s all one giant rehearsal for the big event.
Another day closer to May 10!
Now we’re REALLY ready to go: the great Gwendolyn Brown has joined us from Chicago to create the role of Marie Laveau, the fabled voodoo queen. Nobody has been able to stop talking about her since she wowed us all at the March 2011 Launch Event at Royal/T in Culver City–and wait until everyone hears and sees her do the whole thing! We had to kick off Gwendolyn’s residency with us in a suitably bizarre way–as well as fending off rush hour traffic–so we opted to go to Encounter Restaurant in the iconic building at LAX.
We then took Gwendolyn to Atwater Crossing to show her the space that she will be inhabiting. Her first response: “Oh my God.”
When she finally soaked it all in, she sang a few notes that reverberated gorgeously throughout the hall. “Ooh, I like it!” she said. “This is going to be a blast.” My thoughts exactly!
If you missed her at the March 2011 Launch Event for The Industry, check out this link: http://theindustryla.org/media/
Today marks the beginning of the production stage for Crescent City: our first day in our space at Atwater Crossing! We’ve already set the first three songs of our production playlist: “We Built This City (on Rock n’ Roll),” “Feeling Good,” and “Changes.” (Anne LeBaron responded to make sure we had something connected to New Orleans, so she suggested “Jambalaya on the Bayou” by Hank Williams.) I’m predicting a 3-CD set at this rate!
The space is like a blank slate, a tabula rasa ready to be filled in with six incredible installations. Laura and I made sure we focused the energy of our endeavor, and so, with the help of our Founding Members Rajika and Tino Puri, we offered a prayer to Ganesh, the lord of all obstacles, begging him to oversee our journey.
We focused on Olga Koumoundouros‘s installation of the Dive Bar, which takes up the northeastern portion of our warehouse space. Thanks to the fantastic work of Olga and Tech Director Eric Nolfo, the structure for the runway Deadly Belle uses in the Chit Hole (Crescent City’s sad home-away-from-home) is ready for tenor Timur Bekbosunov to strut his/her stuff. It was thrilling to start seeing Olga’s world come to fruition in the space around us!