SALT LAKE CITY — A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to review Sonder (produced by Sackerson), one of the first immersive theatrical experiences in Utah. Now SONDERimmersive is offering Thank You Theobromine, “a multi-sensory dance-theatre experience within a 2-story bean to bar chocolate shop.” SONDERimmersive, created by Graham Brown, has collaborated with the Chocolate Conspiracy in Salt Lake City (owned by AJ Wentworth) to create the most unique theatre experience I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. I have been ruminating on the experience ever since and am excited to share my thoughts.
“Have you ever felt like there are five people inside you? What if they all came out? Would they get along? Would they quarrel? What would they have to learn from each other? Let’s find out. Step inside, The Chocolatier.”
This series of questions is the invitation given as I arrived at the Chocolate Conspiracy. After splitting into groups and a brief explanation, I was whisked away into a chocolate-centric world with seven actors who bring this world to life. Created by Brown and Rick Curtiss, the experience offers 30 audience members at maximum to enter and freely wander both levels of the chocolate shop, including a balcony and if you’re lucky, perhaps the kitchen. While producing an immersive experience within a chocolate shop simply seems fun, chocolate and all of its complexities are heavily used as themes and metaphors to explore the characters’ relationships and their personalities.
Audience members may be as involved as they like, choosing to participate directly in the action in some cases, or viewing from a distance if preferred. It is encouraged not to shy away from close interactions with the actors and to be as participatory as is comfortable. I am quite inquisitive during these types of experiences, and I find they are always enhanced by being involved as much as I can. You will certainly get the most out of the experience if you’re an active participant. If you happen to find yourself losing interest, try moving to another room or following a different performer to gain another perspective.
I love to observe my surroundings fully, exploring and finding little surprises to enhance my understanding. You never know what you may find tucked into books, boxes, or drawers. There is so much attention to detail paid throughout the building and in the tent outside. I thoroughly enjoyed the high production value and design by scenographer, Joseph Wheeler. No experience at a chocolate shop would be complete without actual chocolate, so there are bowls of various chocolate set up all over the building. I helped myself to quite a few delicious pieces, and I certainly plan on going back to the Chocolate Conspiracy to purchase more.
While all theater as an art form is highly collaborative, this production is even more so. There is not so much a plot per se; however, the characters are connected and work together to create cohesive story lines, and more importantly, moods and atmosphere. There are moments where context or feelings are communicated through dialogue and then others through dance and movement. Choreography by Brown is largely stunning. Dance and movement as a medium does not always speak to me personally, but I found it to be powerful and communicative for this production. There was a profound intimacy when people were dancing closely around me rather than when observing on a traditional stage. I was most moved by the more sensual dancing, largely between Michael Watkiss (The Hero) and Lauren Payne (The Altruist). I also found Elizabeth Golden (The Divine) to be provocative, providing an air of welcoming seduction and intrigue.
One thing that was done excellently was a balance in the cast between clearly strong actors and strong dancers, each playing to their strengths. However, all cast members were sufficient in both aspects. The program also noted that Thank You Theobromine is co-choreographed with the cast, who also contributed significantly to the writing and editing. Other cast members, as they are all worth mentioning as strong performers, were: Curtiss (The Rejector); Rebecca Aneloski (The Libra); Sarah Shippobotham (The Grandmother); and Bella Estrada-Brown (The Kid.) The entire cast brought their own needed flair to the production and worked together to emphasize themes in the productions, including relationships, love, and loss. Along with the intimate dancing and interactions taking place right before me, the cast also drew me in personally, bringing me into the production itself at times. They may offer you some chocolate, make eye contact with you, touch your arm, or whisper secrets into your ear. These aspects make for a personal experience like none other, enhancing and emphasizing the beauty of human connection and intimacy.
During this theatrical journey, I was struck by the complexities of human mentality and human nature. There is a recurring theme of how simply existing in this world can be incredibly difficult and how people are bogged down by stress at times. Emotions and feelings can play such a strong role in the choices that people make and how people respond to stimuli. Sometimes desire may overtake a person, and other times, a person may take a more rational approach. The characters in the production, while all separate, may also be interpreted as one single individual or chocolatier, alluding to the opening invitation. The multi-faceted nature of personalities is the essence of what it is to be human and is often the very thing that may also hinder that human.
Thank You Theobromine provides a unique experience for every participant, which I find to be exciting and special. This experience is especially profound, because I found the themes resonating with exactly that concept. The theatrical experience provides a journey that is yours and no one else’s, such as life. The 90-minute production remains intriguing throughout. While some aspects were dreamy, others were jarring. There were parts that made me laugh, and others that were deeply sorrowful or contemplative. I do not have many criticisms, the main one being common to these types of productions I find. I think the production might benefit from slightly less audience members, as it does get a bit crowded at times. I was also a little disappointed by how the experience ended, which was different for each group. The only reason for this disappointment was that I felt rushed out of the building suddenly, which was a shock to the system, at least for me, to enter the real world again so abruptly. Despite these minor issues, I highly recommend Thank You Theobromine. If you are adventurous or looking for something new in the art world, this production is not to be missed.