Lifestyle | The Dawn of Immersive, Experiential Theater in Denver

Ultra5280 was invited to a sneak peek, trial-run performance of the new “360-degree, multi-sensory experience” that is “Sweet & Lucky”. While this article will give you a much better idea than we had, there’s no way we could (or would) describe in words what the “Sweet & Lucky” experience truly was. For starters, everyone’s experience is different. . .

The fact that this immersive theater experience has made it to Denver is a compliment to us Coloradoans. It is a signal to the country that Denver has a palate the size of New York that longs to be satiated. With a bursting food, art and music scene paired with an attitude of possibilities, Denver has been making our tastes known. Zach Morris, co-creational director from the New York company, Third Rail Projects, joined his hometown of Denver to bring our city the experience we have been craving. "We're interested in presenting works in nontraditional contexts, in public spaces," says Morris, "Sweet & Lucky’s" lead director. "As traditional theater is to a novel, our work is to a poem."

Upon our arrival, rather than entering and mingling about in an ordinary lobby, we were instantly transported into the story through an antique store and old timey bar carefully crafted by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts' props team. You mingle and explore the various rooms of the antique store until the "show" begins.

You then embark on this journey, literally you’re walking around, exploring all different scenes, environments, people, periods of time, spectrums of emotion, memories, etc. You’re led through a series of performances with a small group of other spectators that occasionally changes throughout, and it seems like they purposefully take you away from who you came with right from the start. At one point you’re completely alone in a scene with an actor, who speaks to you directly, and waits for you to reply. Honestly, it’s a bit nerve-racking. You never know what to expect or when you’ll be called on to step up and be a part of the scene, which definitely happens. The creators and actors are aware of the emotional response that must elicit in someone coming to an unfamiliar experiential show, who is then separated from the one familiar thing (person) they came with, and is led away into all these different scenes and situations.

As you are led from scene to scene, all of the other small groups are revolving around experiencing the same scenes, but in different orders. Thus, the order you see it in will surely alter your perception of the story. The performance is broken into bits and pieces and the viewers are supposed to fit it together to create a cohesive story. Another factor that makes the experience/story unique to each, is all of the props that you are invited to touch and hold; you will inevitably see and read things while other spectators are busy with other props. You will also hear and see slightly different things depending on how closely you’re paying attention, and feel different emotions depending on all of these factors, along with personal context you overlay. This makes for a truly unique storytelling experience. You are living the story, rather than being told or shown... and in that way you are also creating the story. So just as everyone’s version of any experience is unique to each, so too is the experience you have at “Sweet & Lucky”. And that seems to be the whole point.

At the end of the show, the entire audience is brought back into the large theater space where it began, and just as we all saw the same start to the story, we see the same ending. All that was in between are the fragmented and few memories of a long life lived, and the various tangible objects left behind. Just as in real life, our memories are scattered, subjective, and unique to each.

In an era where some of the most prestigious arts are struggling to bring in an audience, Denver Center for the Performing Arts has embarked on innovative avenues to draw in the Millennial generation. Their plan over the next couple years is to expand the use of the Center to include education, new structures and grassroots programming while also taking their audience from under the dome to completely transform their viewing experience. In a time where we are more likely to interact through technology, our generation is in need of these moments out of the ordinary. We are in need of human interaction and testing the boundaries, in a hands-on way. “Sweet & Lucky” gives this to us through an immersive experience where we become a part of the action, not only able to interact with the actors, but able to touch the props, create our own story lines, and feel that we were a crucial component in the storytelling process.

Sweet & Lucky runs May 17 - June 25. The show is for ages 21 and older, and an on-site bar opens 45 minutes before show time. Two performances June 1 and 8 are open to patrons 18 and older. You will be walking or standing for the duration of the show, and purses and backpacks are not permitted.

Tiffany Candelaria & Theresa Dixon