Independent, artist-driven company, The Industry, recently immersed its audience in a singular historical fact: History is fragmented. Perspectives and opinions differ; details hidden or embellished; certain voices censored or even silenced. The Industry advertises its production of Sweet Land as “an opera that erases itself.” The Arrivals come to shore and meet another civilization, the Hosts, and from there, the story splinters. Guided through the L.A. State Historic Park, the audience members were separated into diverging tracks across the space to experience different perspectives of history.
Directed by Cannupa Hanska Luger and Yuval Sharon, Sweet Land featured a diverse creative team, including projection designer Hana S. Kim, lighting designer Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, scenic designers Tanya Orellana and Carlo Maghirang, and sound designer Jody Elff. “The Industry wanted to have a team of diverse people,” explains Kim, “who could bring more of a first-hand experience in terms of American myth and the American tale of immigrants.”
From the beginning, the team’s design directive was to craft an opera that asks questions without providing any answers. “We had to embrace the didactic direction and leave it open for interpretation. To a degree, we had to embrace the chaos and confusion of the unanswered question, ‘What is America?’” says Kim. “We did our best to be sensitive to the topic, but I do think there is no way to have this conversation in a completely politically correct way. I think focusing on the question rather than the answer was a way for us to not be bogged down by the sensitivity.”
Over the course of the opera, the video design continually faded into evermore indistinct representations of history. “The projections are almost like ghosts themselves,” notes the designer. “The video design is not solid. The projections don’t guide the story arc, but they do act as a unifying force. The video opens and ends the story but does not get into the specifics of the story. The audience only sees projections when the whole of them are together, not during their separate tracks.”
Much like Sweet Land’s audience, the projection design was scattered throughout the park. The show began in Black Box One, where the ghostly projections were displayed on a conventional scrim surface, laying the fabric that would be woven into two different stories. From there, the audience was split between two scenes, The Feast and The Train, neither of which featured projections. Afterwards, the two groups of audience members met again at The Crossroads, an almost mythical landscape. “In a very mystical and ethereal way, we projected onto water at The Crossroads,” says Kim. “It’s a very abstract piece with a poetic touch, almost like a video and sound installation.” The audience members then left The Crossroads to witness their remaining story track, before ending their evening at the Boneyard for the final projections, where were cast across the landscape of L.A. State Historic Park.
The video at Black Box One opened with a projected curtain decorated with the symbol of the Tongva tribe of Native American people, “but in a very kitschy way,” adds Kim. “We were playing with this notion of a very stereotypical way of thinking of Native American culture. Out of all three video components, the first one needed to be the most graphic and the most visible in as artificial way as possible. So I tried to really play off the pattern of the symbol from my research and have a little bit of a twist. From there, it morphs into something a little more abstract toward the end.”
The water projections at The Crossroads were inspired by the legend of the Sky Woman, a creation story from one of the First Nations. In the story, a woman falls from the sky, and to save her, turtles and other natural elements form land beneath her. “In the video, I played with deep time, like conventional time versus universal time. There’s a train motif to represent the push of civilization, and this directional movement going back and forth in time, morphing the effects of time. That middle ground is where the myth meets contemporary time. The sky woman actually falls upward, while herd animals, who were here before humans, crash with the train, before morphing into humans. The main idea of the video is that it is a contemplation of time, mixing what has happened so far and then seeing how contemporary culture interacts with the myth.”
The final scene took place at the “Wasteland” or “Boneyard” of the park, where Kim projected onto the North Broadway Bridge seen from the bleachers, the back of a billboard on the nearby freeway, and other sculptural elements within the trash pit. “These people are singing arias parts of the not-so- pleasant American immigrant history, and their language is texted throughout the city. Here, we really wanted to see the text of the aria manifesting themselves in ghostlike fashion but popping up everywhere you didn't expect them to be. On opening night, it was quite interesting to see how people were surprised by this element because it was so unexpected and popped up in places that you would have not imagined. The vista of the city and the Boneyard creates a very interesting tension that you see something projected onto the bridge that's so far away, versus the projections that are right in front of you.”
Due to the outdoor nature of the production, Kim had to install the projectors in very unusual places. “The video design was really not possible without the sponsorship from Panasonic. We really needed the projectors to be punchy but at the same time compact and easy to move around. For that purpose, the 7K laser projectors were perfect.” Two Panasonic PT-RZ770 projectors covered the plastic sheet and wood panels at the Black Box, while another two covered the water projections at The Crossroads. Meanwhile, a Panasonic PT-RZ21KU, rigged to a scissor lift, moved up and down throughout the show, displaying projections onto both the scrim at Black Box and the billboard at the Boneyard. “We could not have done that with a lamp projector because it would it would not be able to handle that kind of movement.” Six Panasonic PT-RZ12KU projectors covered approximately 300' of the North Broadway Bridge. “Ultimately, we were putting projectors on top of offices constructed of container boxes, so we had to keep them as light as possible. The Panasonic laser projectors were perfect. While we do have weather coverings, they are still open to the outdoor air, and I was very impressed with their durability.”
With such a dispersed production, Kim could not be at every station. “The biggest challenge was really the scale of it all, so having such a solid, competent team really helped because we were able to work on different things concurrently,” the designer concludes. “Coordinating with other departments and navigating the audience traffic was a challenge, but it was overcome by working with really good people.”