'Superclogger': Free Theater On L.A.'s Freeways Avenue Q, meet the 405: Artist Joel Kyack's performance piece Superclogger takes to the traffic-snarled roadways of Los Angeles, taking advantage of stopped traffic to explore how we deal with the unexpected.
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'Superclogger': Free Theater On L.A.'s Freeways

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'Superclogger': Free Theater On L.A.'s Freeways

'Superclogger': Free Theater On L.A.'s Freeways

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This summer, rush hour has been a little less dreadful for Los Angeles commuters who get stuck behind a dusty, white truck. That's because it also serves as a stage for a rush-hour puppet show.

NPR's Neda Ulaby tailgated the show's creator, artist Joel Kyack, as he hit the streets.

NEDA ULABY: In a parking lot near the Golden State Freeway, the artist has stripped down to his underwear. Joel Kyack squeezes into a black bodysuit that makes the skinny 37-year-old look even skinnier. He pops open the back hatch of his truck, where he's about to perform.

Mr. JOEL KYACK (Artist): It's tight. It's two of us in there. There's an FM stereo transmitter right there, CD player. The puppets are stacked on either side, and there's an order that we do the shows.

ULABY: The puppet show is called "Superclogger," just like clogged L.A. highways during rush hour. Kyack takes me through his cast.

Mr. KYACK: This is Alexi. He's an Eastern European iron worker.

ULABY: "Superclogger" is a bunch of short vignettes with a common theme: characters like Alexi coping with uncertain conditions, or being controlled.

Mr. KYACK: Well, these are just party girls, these two girls. They don't really have names.

ULABY: They all look like funky, grimy, homemade Muppets.

Kyack has a graduate degree in visual arts. It explains his language when he answers the question: Why a rush-hour puppet show?

Mr. KYACK: I like things that are moving in and out of control, like negotiations of like, agency and resignation. And for me, the traffic jam is that.

ULABY: It's show time. Kyack consults with the driver and a fellow puppeteer.

Unidentified Man #1: We're doing the 110?

Mr. KYACK: We'll go down to the south part of SC, go down to Exposition and get on like, 37. It looked like it was really jammed.

ULABY: Jammed - that's a good thing.

Mr. KYACK: Oh, man, we're going to be able to do like, three performances between here and like, the 101.

(Soundbite of driving)

Mr. KYACK: All right, we'll see you out there.

ULABY: I follow in my rental car as Kyack's truck inches onto the super-clogged freeway. I'm perfectly positioned to watch the show he puts on in the back of the truck. The sound comes through a tiny, FM broadcast car radios can pick up if they're within 200 feet. Soon, a sign pops up in the back window.

(Soundbite of driving)

ULABY: It says, please tune to 89.5. We are. We're coming in on the Adams Boulevard exit. We can see downtown Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: Whoa.

(Soundbite of radio broadcast)

Unidentified Man #2: Welcome to "Superclogger."

ULABY: At first, other cars don't notice the show, but soon I'm part of an audience a captive, mobile audience with guys in fancy sports cars and battered trucks full of laborers. Everyone's staring, pointing, laughing. But commuters are not the only ones paying attention.

(Soundbite of driving)

ULABY: Oh my God, there's a highway patrol guy. And I'm going to just going to let him cut in. Oh, they're getting pulled over. Oh, this is so rough.

That show ended prematurely. Artist Joel Kyack did not get in trouble, although the cops did not quite buy his academic theories of offering a space of engagement for drivers to reflect on the chaotic structures of their daily routine.

Curator Cesar Garcia of the nonprofit LAXART, that sponsored the show, made sure in advance everything was legal.

Mr. CESAR GARCIA (Curator, LAXART): Look, I mean, there's nothing that leaves the vehicle; there's nothing that exits the vehicle. The truck has been modified; the seats are bolted onto the bed of the truck. They're wearing seat belts. It's insured.

ULABY: All part of Kyack's first, large-scale public art project, intended to raise questions for Angelinos spending so much time on the 5, on the 10, on the 101 and the 405.

Mr. KYACK: How you make the world that you want around you, and how you have to compromise with what the world's giving you. There's that flow between those two things and I think that formally, you know, the traffic jam is sort of the perfect metaphor to explore that.

ULABY: Kyack sees elegance in the controlled choreography of vehicles moving towards and away from each other, all different shapes and colors. And he says he enjoys proving public art can be more than just a big, bronze sculpture.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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