Walking into Los Angeles Union Station is like taking a step back in time. Possibly, the sense of time travel might be evoked by the historical mode of transportation because even though Amtrak trains barely resemble the picturesque steam engines of yesteryear, an imagination fueled by Back to the Future and Harry Potter can hardly be deterred. Or maybe the sudden feeling of wandering through 1932 might be because the station could very easily have been sets constructed for The Great Gatsby. Whatever the case may be for the time travel, as I walked through Union Station last Sunday toward base camp it was clear that the last of the great railway stations was a visually stunning location.
I arrived at Harvey Restaurant, the Union Station event space, bright and early Sunday morning to provide production support for the filming of a live event –the final performance of the opera Invisible Cities. All the preconceptions of the day that I had held without knowing were instantly shattered during our first production meeting. First, there
would be no singular stage; this opera was being performed in the entire space of the station. A familiar set up to me as a film maker, but a shocking yet obviously exciting set up for me as an audience member. Secondly, the entire 70-minute rehearsal and performance would be shot on two steadicams. There was barely a moment to panic over all the uncontrollable variables of performing an opera while having two teams of cameras follow the action and dance around the teeming activity of a public space before the rehearsal began.
As an avid member of production teams, I am a firm believer in multi-tasking. But in all my years of sharing focus between all tasks, I have never quite experienced anything else like that first rehearsal. One ear tuned into the headphones streaming in the live orchestra as I listened to the music for the first time while the other ear tuned into cues from the steadicam crews and the opera creative team. I trailed along with one of the steadicams, aiding with the task of creating a safe space around the camera. Walking backwards, weaving through performers, avoiding collisions with travellers running late – it was impossible to not be aware of being unapologetically intruding upon the bustle of the station and yet also being so seamlessly part of an incredible story. The necessity of being aware of the public, of the performance, of the filming was imperative. It was as if several people were telling the same story at one time. There were two performances taking place, the opera and the filming of the opera. The performers had been instructed to treat our crew as audience members, ignoring the aspect of filming all together. Our 2 steadicam operators reacted by becoming performers easily; with a fluidity of movement it was natural to forget the opera hadn’t been written with the two men and their 70-pound cameras as characters.
The final performance began right after sunset, as the audience gathered around the orchestra in Harvey Restaurant. As the show began, Yuval Sharon the director of Invisible Cities addressed the audience by suggesting everyone take the opportunity to enjoy the story in their own way – be it following the performers, sitting in one space of the station, or listening quietly and not watching – there was no correct way to go about the experience. No correct way, on a quiet Sunday evening a large group of people reminded me of why I love filmmaking. I went into production to help create stories. I wanted to build the kind of tales that immerse an individual, evoke emotions, and challenge perceptions as a part of everyday life. The creative team of Invisible Cities produced a story that did all of these things while pushing the boundaries of the traditional storytelling methods. Invisible Cities strived and succeed to transcend time (the 1930s location vibrating with the activities of 2013) and space (using the entire station as a stage, never allowing any audience member to watch the entire show) while still comfortably embracing its own time and space. The documentary strives to keep in spirit with the opera, transcending its time and space and sharing the unique experience with a broader audience.
As part of KCET’s Artbound series, an hour long documentary on the making of Invisible Cities will air December 12th at 9 PM PST. The documentary will explore the story of the opera, the making of the opera process as well as the social aspects of having such a production in a public space. ReKon Productions had the pleasure of collaborating with the documentary production team and is excited to have been part of such a remarkable project. For more information about Invisible Cities, as well as behind the scenes featurettes from the documentary production team visit invisiblecitiesopera.com.