After a year and a half of our theatres being dark, we’re slowly transitioning back to live performances. For Marike Splint and Center Theatre Group, that transition involves a pair of your best headphones, a specially designed mobile app, and a trip to Los Angeles State Historic Park. 32 ACRES–a soundwalk for the Los Angeles State Historic Park, an experience spearheaded by Dutch French-Tunisian theatre artist Marike Splint in collaboration with Center Theatre Group and UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, uncovers the secret history of the city hidden in the Los Angeles State Historic Park through the power of technology, sound, and contemplation. The experience begins after downloading the custom-built app, arriving to the park, and putting on your best set of headphones. From there, Splint, along with the atmospheric composition consisting of sounds of the park by Jonathan Snipes, guide you through the trails, bringing to light the perspectives of the city that are hidden in plain sight.
“Los Angeles is a fascinating city,” said Splint. “What I find compelling about L.A. is that you have to peel layers away to read the city—oftentimes the stories don’t appear at the surface. The city lives in a constant tension between this hidden past and its perpetual focus on the future. So, when you observe something for a longer time, you will begin to see things you do not see at first sight.” This project was crafted specifically for this moment—to gently nudge audiences back to the theatre after a period of isolation. “The first idea came about when I began talking with Center Theatre Group in November about a sound experience in public space that would facilitate this segue from experiencing performance online to in-person. We knew it would be hard for audiences to be immediately ready to return to a live performance,” said Splint. “It’s an invitation to not look at theatre on your screen anymore. You actually go out and experience something among other people. It’s a way to do something that asks you to be physically present without the concern that may come from returning to larger audience groups.” As a site-specific theatre artist, her solution was to bring people to the Los Angeles State Historic Park. But it’s not just live theatre that Splint invites you to rediscover—32 ACRES is also about getting audiences familiar with the city they occupy.
The name 32 ACRES derives from the 32 acres of public space granted for the park. The space sits in Chinatown and runs adjacent to the Metro Gold Line, with views of Downtown L.A. on one side and the Los Angeles River on the other. Although there were other places that were in consideration, Splint mentioned that from the project’s inception, it was always intended for this park. “Since I’ve known the park, I've been fascinated by it. For me it’s sort of a metaphor for L.A. as a whole,” she said. Ultimately, its location, accessibility, and history were what made the Los Angeles Stage Historic Park a perfect fit—a very rich site to create from and in.
“I’ve worked on a lot of soundwalks, but the combination of this site, the technology, and the team really makes 32 ACRES stand out from other projects I’ve done,” said Splint. The process from idea to launch not only included a lot of walking around the park and conversations with rangers, historians, and even archaeologists, but also included the development of a brand-new app created specifically for this experience. “There’s always the issue of pace. If you want to linger somewhere, you are immediately out of sync with the audio if it’s an mp3 file,” she explained. “So that’s how we began the conversation of creating the geolocated app, so that it doesn’t matter if you’re walking fast or slow—you will hear the content when you get to a certain place and it will transition seamlessly.”
Splint also explained that it was important to create an immersive experience for the user. “What I usually try to do with my work is to slightly shift the perspective on our everyday life and help people see things that they are used to passing by. When I create, I think from the eyes of the audience—the eyes are the cameras and I find ways to ‘edit’ what they are seeing through sound. Sometimes I describe what I do as V.R., virtual reality, without the V.” Video games were ultimately what inspired the immersion technology used to create 32 ACRES, as the team used a video game engine to build the app. “In video games, you’re constantly surrounded by sound and are fully immersed in that world and experience,” she said. “32 ACRES applies that video game functionality to the real-life environment.”
Through the truly immersive quality, Splint invites audiences to learn about and acknowledge the space they occupy, not only as patrons, but also as Angelenos. “One of the most urgent questions theatre can ask is how we live together as a community and how we inhabit the city together. I want to ask those questions in the actual environment where these questions are at stake.”