Stephan Koplowitz wants to take you on a ride. The award-winning creator of more than 62 site-specific performance pieces stages his latest effort along the stations of LA Metro‘s Red Line. Red Line Time takes audiences on a journey from Union Station to North Hollywood and back, this Friday and Saturday.
“It’s a site-specific performance that involves public interaction,” says Koplowitz.
Travelers can see the performance begin at Union Station, and then board the train with the performers to follow them from stop to stop to watch as the performance changes to suit the differences in locations along the line. The performers and audience members will disembark and perform at half of the stations on the way to North Hollywood. They’ll visit the remaining stations on the return trip.
“My hope is that as they travel from station to station they will see a layered performance,” Koplowitz says.
The piece is designed as performance art that involves choreography, he says, but “it definitely becomes theater” as it develops.
Audience response and interaction have already played a key role in the rehearsal process. “We have had all kinds of interaction with the public,” says Koplowitz, retelling a incident involving a woman who asked to join the cast.
The performance is presented by eight professional dancers. At the core of the piece is a central choreographic design inspired by what Koplowitz describes as transit on the “Red Line in abstract.”
Taking a Ride
Koplowitz began his creative process by riding the Red Line. He got off at each station to make notes about the different obstacles and opportunities each location presented for performance.
“The initial creative problem is to solve what kind of performance is suitable to this site,” he says.
In his research he discovered a “rhythm in the schedule” that allowed enough time for him to get off the train, go up to the station level, and return again in time to catch the next train. He then set about creating a five-minute sequence of movement that captured his creative concept for the piece and that could be performed in various places at each station.
“Our aim is to maintain a schedule. It isn’t just site-specific, but time-specific,” says Koplowitz.
Once the sequence of locations was planned and the choreography complete, Koplowitz and his dancers began rehearsing in a studio. Perfecting the movement at its core was only the first part of the rehearsal process. The next challenge came in moving the piece to the actual sites to adapt it to each location.
“When we put it back in the space, we made very specific decisions about spacing and presentation,” Koplowitz says.
Another important facet of the performance includes the “musical score.” Koplowitz stresses the importance of deciding to allow the ambient sounds of each station’s environment to contribute to the background — sounds he calls the “music of the Metro.”
“It is a challenge having performers maintain in their heads a different score for each station through 14 stations. That’s a lot of variations for them,” says Koplowitz.
Going the Distance
Red Line riders are invited to view any parts of the performance at each station along the way, but they are encouraged to follow the piece from Union Station to North Hollywood and then back to its finale at Grand Park — just one stop away from Union Station.
“Eleven of our performances are underground, three are outside at the Metro entrances”¦For many of the sites, you also get to view the work from different perspectives — sides, heights. At one station you have the option of experiencing the work as you travel up and down escalators,” says Koplowitz.
The entire ride, with stops for performances, lasts about two hours, he says. A $5 one-day Metro TAP card entitles riders to unlimited use of the Metro for the day.
“My intention is that as you travel from station to station, a layered, varied experience of the original choreography begins to unfold over time. Hence my wish that our audiences see us in as many stations as are possible”¦. but again, this performance is designed to be sampled as much as one wishes,” Koplowitz says.
Red Line Time was commissioned by the Goethe Institut Los Angeles as part of its conference this weekend on cities and mobility. Held in coordination with Cal Poly Pomona, Bauhaus UniversitÃ¤t Weimar, and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the conference is designed to provide professionals, students, and scholars in the fields of architecture, environmental design, and urban planning an opportunity to view the inner city as an “urban laboratory for a future urban planet.”
Street Cities, Mobility, Landscape and The Future of The Public Realm, taking place in the Metro boardroom Friday and Saturday, serves to kick-off a year-long Goethe Institut investigation into the role of the street in contemporary art, theater, dance and films.
“They found me and requested the piece,” says Koplowitz, a self-described “East Coast transplant” who has been awarded 42 other commissions in his career as a creator of site-specific performance art.
He was never a Metro rider before accepting the commission, he says. “In six and a half years, I had been on the Metro one time.”
Now he says he has new appreciation for the mass transit system. Likening his work to that of a filmmaker who works on location, Koplowitz says that his exposure to different locations is always a learning experience.
“I used to be very cynical about mass transit in LA, but they have a really efficient Metro system,” says Koplowitz.
Working the System
One of the greatest challenges to creating the piece came along with its underground-breaking nature. Koplowitz says he’s the first person to be granted a special permit for performing in the underground portions of the Metro system.
“There were no existing policies or structure in place to approve a project of this nature,” Koplowitz laments. Early meetings with Metro administrators led to a long series of subsequent meetings, with the subject passing to a different person of authority each time, he says.
“It wasn’t that they didn’t want to grant approval, it was that they weren’t sure whose approval they had to get,” Koplowitz says.
Finally a gathering of all the appropriate powers was held, policies were put into place, and Koplowitz was directed to provide documentation and analysis of each performance location. Accompanied by a member of Metro security personnel, he set out to photograph and demonstrate his plans for approval.
“This became their way of testing the waters when it comes to performance artists connecting to the Metro,” he says
“They have done a great job of connecting the Metro to the visual arts,” he says commenting on how each station has its own unique décor. “It is time for the art to come off the walls a little bit.”
Koplowitz knows that Red Line Time will be different things to different people. He chuckles when he retells the story of a rehearsal at one station when the performers were approached by a man who said he recognized the piece, and then began to describe its meaning.
“People like to make order out of things they don’t understand,” says Koplowitz with a laugh.
In truth, the audience plays a role in following the performance, he says. In between stops, followers ride the train along with the performers, who remain in “performance mode.”
Those who join the performance at various stops along the way, will be able to recognize the performers, who will be dressed in “normal clothing, but there’s a color scheme that’s definitely eye-catching,” Koplowitz says.
Along the route, he hopes that riders will come to “look at LA transit in a totally different light.”
“The experience demystifies the Metro system, and provides ownership, much in the same way that listening to a piece of music again and again provides personal ownership of a song,” he says.
Red Line Time, beginning at Union Station East Portal, 800 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles. Fri, April 5, 9 am and 6 pm, Sat, April 6, 4 pm. Tickets: $5 Metro TAP card.Â www.goethe.de/ins/us/los/enindex.htm.