On Monday night, November 2, the eve of these historic 2020 elections, I stepped into the interactive theatrical experience The Carousel by SONDERimmersive at Dreamscapes, at the Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City. Prior to entry, we received our instructions on mask-wearing, appropriate social distancing from fellow spectators (capped at four) and from the performers as appropriate. I saw an interesting mix of people waiting to be let in, my group had only two audience members. All the performers were wearing masks as well.
We were introduced to the experience by The Jester, and invited into the world of dreams, a world of anxieties, hopes, fears, expectations and aspirations. We walked into a room through a fireplace to see a mother, softly bathing her baby, and putting it to sleep, and then breaking into a panic-stricken search for her young girl who had failed to come back home one evening. Was this a memory or her nightmare? The intense emotion there was something I could immediately identify with, as a mother – the wrenching fear of any harm befalling our child, and the completely paralyzing effect it can have.
This was the story of a mother and her daughter, Brandy, lost in the woods. And so we left the mother and went through a tunnel, into a scene that looked like it came from Alice in Wonderland: toadstools, strange flowers, and green growth surrounded us as we saw a young girl, Brandy, delicate, looking lost, and trying to find her way back, perhaps? As we observed her struggles, we met our next character. The Lizard led us through a cave of crystals, promising a short cut through the woods. His monologue on how fear can shrink a person, rooting them to a spot and then growing like a crystal, increasingly soaking that emotion, and feeding on it, felt eerily reminiscent of recent conversations around Election 2020.
It was dark, hypnotic and menacing in the crystal cave, the immersive part of the experience here was the most dreamlike for me. We then were rescued from here by The Logic — the right brain — into a place where WORDS was spelled out in a giant sculpted form, used adroitly as athletic dance props by Tyler Fox, leading to some of the visually most absorbing moments of the experience for me.
We had time throughout to engage in a reflective response to the scenes we had witnessed, and to sometimes anticipate what might come next. As we proceeded, we saw other versions of Brandy, and then had a chance to listen to a tormented message from a mother who can never stop looking for her lost child, who articulates small steps about how to live again, laugh again, hope again. …
We came finally to The Dragon, who is a philosophical guide to our experience and leaves us with the question: “How different is dreaming from dying?” Finally, we were led into a labyrinth with wishes of “courage” all around and having navigated it we are asked to add one of our own: “I wish I had the courage to …” This reminded me of the little red threads tied to various sacred trees in India, the wishes I had seen deposited in front of a shrine in Tokyo, the keys tied to the bridge over a canal in Amsterdam — as a species we like to send out emotional missives out into the universe, and hope that thought, that prayer, that wish, will come true.
This was the first live theatre experience for me in more than eight months, and it was enlivening. I was really impressed by the creativity of the team, especially that they were able to craft an immersive experience around the existing exhibits of the Dreamscape venue.
Looking back at the experience this prefatory verse from Alice in Wonderland comes to mind :
Anon, to sudden silence won,
In fancy they pursue
The dream-child moving through a land
Of wonders wild and new,
In friendly chat with bird or beast —
And half believe it true.
I was Alice for that hour. There were a few slow ponderous moments that dragged too much for me, but on the whole it was a coherent, refined and enlightening ride on The Carousel.
The Carousel, an immersive theatre experience at The Gateway’s Dreamscapes, happens Monday and Tuesday evenings in November.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.