During times of tension and turmoil, escapism rises in popularity. From escape rooms to immersive experiences, audiences actively find ways to explore different worlds, pretend to be someone else, or to relive the past. To provide another avenue of exploration, Lyndsie Scoggin, Nick Rheinwald-Jones, and Danielle Levesque Grimm of CoAct Productions have wisely combined a whimsical Jazz-era circus and our inherent desire to be a part of something bigger into their magical new event, The Sideshow.
Active Immersion with CoAct Productions
Scoggin describes CoAct Productions as “a newly-formed collaborative of Los Angeles-based designers and artists that believe stories are more than just a passive activity; rather, we see narrative as an embodied experience! For this reason, we aim to create worlds in which audiences are fully immersed, and therefore, part of our story.”
As such, immersive veteran Rheinwald-Jones (who worked with Scoggin on last year’s Safehouse ’77) explains that The Sideshow will be a “fully guided experience — but it will definitely include separate tracks that are both interactive and participatory. Our characters will acknowledge the audience, speak with them, ask them questions and share secrets. Our favorite immersive shows are always those in which the audience truly has a role in the story.”
The Sideshow will maintain “a narrative arc, much like what you experience with more traditional mediums,” Scoggin adds. “We want audiences to walk away with an understanding of how the story progressed, so rather than developing something that is extremely abstract or impressionistic, we choose to play around with perspective – how people might see things differently or make different choices depending on the information they have.”
Welcome to the Circus!
Scoggin calls The Sideshow “an immersive theatre production in which 10 audience members are transported to a vintage 1930s circus! Our narrative revolves around two circus performers, and throughout the experience, participants will have the opportunity to relive their memories. We wanted to create a piece that focused more on the people who performed and worked in the circus during this time. What are the stories that they have to tell?”
The circus, Levesque Grimm illustrates, “assumes a certain amount of mystique and glamour, while at the same time is considered by most to be a down-and-out way of life. The unique characters and rich backdrop provide endless opportunity for storytelling. Similarly, the 1920s and ‘30s is a time in our history that people today romanticize.” Utilizing her keen eye for environmental theming, she further explains, “there’s a countless amount of material glorifying the exciting time of jazz and speakeasies. We thought there was an interesting intersect between carny life and The Great Depression and wanted to explore that perspective, focusing more on the people who performed and worked for the circus and what might be hiding behind the smiles and magic acts.”
The experience will be “mostly grounded in reality with abstract elements to remind the audience that they are indeed inside the memories of two performers. Like most memories, there are very vivid moments as well as fractured, re-imagined moments,” Levesque Grimm expands.
Rheinwald-Jones “it’s easy to ignore the truth of what life was really like for a real human being in these contexts. We want to dig into some of the realities of this time and place through our characters’ memories, while still giving the audience an enjoyable tour through an interesting historical era.”
A Multi-Sensory Experience
The circus itself is an all-encompassing sensory experience, and The Sideshow will be no different. “While we are obviously presenting scenery that visually supports the narrative, we are also developing a soundscape that mimics the show’s emotional journey. Touch is something that is unique to immersive work. There may be opportunity to interact with the environment as well as some permissible physical engagement with performers. You may even find yourself in a position to open something to discover a treasure, presumably something that provides further insight into the narrative. Scent is a very visceral component of any experience, especially when underlying themes revolve around memory!”
The added bonus of a dessert-and-wine pairing will hold “a mirror to the themes of the piece,” Scoggin continues. “They represent temptation, surprise, and indulgence! On the darker side, you can overindulge. Alternatively, you may resist & combat your desires. We found that the food itself will put your palate on a journey much like the one our characters will take you on.”
Long Live the Circus
“We truly want the audience to feel like they’re playing a role in the story. Of course,” says Rheinwald-Jones, “we want the characters to have an emotional impact on you, but we also want you to have the same kind of impact on them. We want you to form your own thoughts and have your own feelings based on what you experience in The Sideshow. And, no matter what, we hope you’ll feel a little touch of magic!”
For our review, please read it here.