SALT LAKE CITY — As you step into the interactive theatrical experience that is The Carousel by SONDERimmersive at Dreamscapes, an art exhibit housed at the Gateway in downtown Salt Lake City. With a concept by Rick Curtiss and written and choreographed by Graham Brown in close collaboration with the cast, The Carousel was an experience like nothing I have ever witnessed before as a critic.
I arrived at Dreamscapes about ten minutes before show time, as instructed. Beforehand, audience goers are instructed to wear masks and be prepared for a 60-minute immersive experience. Only 4 members of the audience go through the experience at a time, and they are appropriately distanced from each other. Each of the players are also in masks, and at first I wondered if this would take away from the ability to see their expressiveness and feel of their acting, but I was not disappointed.
In the beginning, my group was greeted by The Jester, played by Catherine Mortimer, who explained to us that we were about to enter a world of dreams to be guided by different players into an alternative reality, where our minds would be transported to places where only our dreams could take us, and that we would be able to let go of what our current worries are to be able to be immersed in the experience.
Along the way the group is introduced to various characters, such as the Mother played by Ashley Wilkinson, Brandy I played by Martina Jorgensen, The Lizard played by Jacob Baird, The Logic played by Tyler Fox, Brandy II played by Xochitl Marquez, Brandy III played by Amber Golden, and the Dragon played by Barrett Ogden. Set to the interesting backdrop of the Dreamscapes art exhibit, the group enters into a dream of a mother and her child, and then seems to follow the mother as she tries to locate where her child has gone. But then the story blurs between what memories might be hers, what might be yours, and what might just be the experience itself.
The major positives from this experience are the atmosphere. As I have said in previous reviews post-COVID 19, I am impressed with companies finding ways to reinvent the theatrical experience while working to keep actors and audience members safe. I have been particularly impressed with companies like SONDERimmersive who make it a priority to protect cast and crew and audience, which they have done here. I was also impressed with the creativity of using the Dreamscapes backdrop, as it gave a very realistic experience, as if I were a part of the show, making it feel like I had really joined into the dream. There was a part where the Lizard, played by Baird, interacted a little with each of us. At one moment, I did indeed feel like he was going to strike at me, which felt quite like it would in a dream from which I’d hope to awaken.
Another part that was interesting was when Brandy II, played by Marquez, was running and trying to escape. Marquez used a part of the exhibit well, making that sequence feel also quite dream-like and blurring the borders of dream and reality seamlessly.
A difficulty in this environment that would not be easily overcome was the close proximity of exhibits and the timing of grouping of the show goers. I was easily distracted by what was happening with scenes in the next room, wondering what audience members were feeling about the experiences I had just experienced, and getting pulled ever so slightly from the experience I was currently in. Of course, it was not the fault of any design flaw from the design team, but more of the accommodations available. Obviously with only four audience members at a time, it would be imperative to have as many showings as possible, but a bit of a more staggered approach might make for a more focused experience.
Near the end, the writing team worked to have a nice moment of self-reflection that was quite emotional for me. It reminded me of how much of my limitations are placed upon myself and of how much more I could do if I’d only choose to put my own dreams into reality. It was nice to have a safe, immersive theatrical experience and to have The Dragon, played by Ogden, help me look at my own dragon within and consider what I need to unleash in my own mind.