It was one of those nights I really appreciate living in LA.
I was walking up Western Avenue toward Hollywood after checking out “Hail to the King, Baby,” a Bruce Campbell-themed art show at the Agit Gallery in the heart of Koreatown. I heard I missed Bruce Campbell himself by about 40 minutes, and it was kind of a bummer.
But, as I’m walking, I notice a small crowd is gathered outside of a Korean auto repair shop watching a knee-high stage that is producing a very loud, jangly, disharmonious type of music.
When I peer through the crowd, I discover (to my delight) that I’m watching a puppet show: a marionette clown is using a seesaw to catapult a baby doll into a tin can, and another marionette has a rapidly-inflating balloon for a head. The balloon head finally explodes after moments of suspense, and the audience cheers.
“They do this on the last Saturday of every month. At this street corner,” the girl standing next to me clarifies, pointing around to the Giant Dollar store across the street.
The discordant music becomes hypnotic, and before I know it, I’m settled in to watch the rest of the show, enraptured.
I’ve unknowingly stumbled upon one of the monthly services of the almighty Opp, a “rapidly growing friendship network” that uses a combination of puppetry, live music, clowns and interactive theater spectacle to cure what ails you.
The makeshift stage stands at the corner of Western and Elmwood; it is partially comprised of a red Radio Flyer wagon, a bicycle and two black umbrellas. The craftsmanship is impeccable, though, as is the performance. It is obvious that the almighty Opp has been at this for years and has perfected the art.
Somebody hands me a chocolate cupcake. Off to my right, a couple of people pull up a crushed velvet loveseat on wheels and steady it with a few milk crates. I have no idea where it came from. There is a thunderous pop and an explosion of silver streamers and star-shaped confetti that makes its way clear across the four lanes of adjacent traffic. This is the best.
So far, the masterminds behind the almighty Opp remain a mystery to me. I can hear their voices, I can hear them playing the acoustic guitar, and I can see a couple of disembodied hands whenever they reach around the stage to spray silly string on the crowd. They are sharp-witted and hilarious from behind the curtain, but, finally, they reveal themselves.
Kranko climbs out first — his face is painted white, he is wearing striped socks and arm warmers, he has a bright red clown nose. He tosses me a miniature bottle of bubbles, and then he runs across Elmwood to begin the laborious process of stringing a puppet up between two streetlight poles.
Jeffrey follows — he is wearing a white mask and a mechanics’ jumpsuit. He comes up to each member of the audience individually, hands us a sticker, holds a mirror up for us to pose into as if he’s taking our picture, and then he gives us a hug. He doesn’t smell great, but I’ve never been so excited to wrap my arms around a strange man I came across on the street in the middle of the night.
I am pretty convinced that I witnessed some real magic out there. It was enchanting, fun and immersive. It did seem like the entire audience (some wearing combat boots and homemade patchwork vests, others in full-length gowns and top hats) was a big group of friends. I felt like, for a moment, I was a part of their network. I loved it.
I’m an almighty Opp convert. I’ll see you at next month’s service.