Published On: September 19th, 2019Categories: Uncategorized

With interactive art experiences like Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf, Englewood’s Natura Obscura and Boulder’s Wonder Wonder gaining popularity, more creatives are seeking new ways to engage the public with immersive exhibits that offer so much more than a standard visit to a museum or gallery. The University of Colorado’s first-ever Experience Design MFA cohort has transformed the on-campus Carlson Gymnasium into another world. Melding the surreal with the thought-provoking, “Virtue of Reality” has already caught the attention of folks looking to dive into a futuristic microcosm, as Friday’s opening night has reached full reservation capacity.

There are still chances to visit the mystifying space on Saturday and Sunday.

Patrick Wine/ Courtesy photo

Gold mannequin parts are just some of the unique features found in CU’s immersive art experience “Virtue of Reality” taking place on campus at the Carlson Gym. The free innovative project, crafted by the first-ever Experience Design MFA cohort , will run this weekend.

“I think it’s a natural progression of entertainment,” said Lyndie Raymond, a member of CU’s Experience Design cohort. “We have so much content and entertainment constantly available at our fingertips with things such as Netflix, so when we do decide to get off the couch and seek something to do, it’s because we’re looking for something unique and physical that affects our emotions and captivates our minds — we’re constantly consuming stories. Humans crave that sort of connection.”

Much like the fantastical and dust-covered desert phenomenon that is Burning Man, these smaller-scale experiences allow visitors to tap into the same whimsy and joy they felt at Disney World as kids, yet within a more trippy and, at times, edgy terrain. Instead of spinning teacups, we get dystopian drama — “FernGully” with a tinge of “Mad Max.”

Patrick Wine/ Courtesy photo

Members of CU’s Experience Design MFA cohort rehearse for “Virtue of Reality,” an immersive art experience taking place on campus at the Carlson Gym this weekend.

According to Raymond, the rise of these engaging experiences comes with the desire to be a part of the narrative. From diving into a psychedelic washing machine to sitting within a cartoon kitchen, it’s all about embracing the unexpected.

The journey of “Virtue of Reality” will start with a brief virtual reality headset presentation given by the fictional corporation VeraRev. In this scenario, attendees will take on the role of stakeholders. After the intro, attendees will be able to engage with performers and explore the many surprising sights and sounds that fill this portal.

“We’re not watching ‘Stranger Things’ on a screen anymore, we’re in the Upside Down and we get to experience it for ourselves,” Raymond said. “Consumers and audiences now have controls of the stories, and it’s awesome.”

Not necessarily providing a full beginning-to-end plot, much of the storyline of the characters within “Virtue of Reality” will surface through improvisation. However, the team has worked together to build backstories, using the space to set the stage for character development.

Patrick Wine/ Courtesy photo

Kelley Ann Walsh, center, rehearses with fellow cast members for “Virtue of Reality” that will transform the Carlson Gym this weekend.

Raymond, along with fellow Experience Design MFA cohort members Erin Carlson, Jenine Dunn, Adrianna Hipple, Jack McCahan, Camila Montoya and Veronica Rodriguez wrote, designed and directed “Virtue of Reality” under the guidance of program director Bruce Bergner, associate professor of theater design and technology at CU.

“I think the whole cohort can agree that seeing our vision come to life has been the most rewarding aspect,” Raymond said. “When we started this process last year, we had lofty goals and expectations of what our ideal experience would look like. I think we’ve all been surprised in how close we’ve been able to get to that, despite limiting factors such as time, budget, resources, et cetera. As an artist, seeing ideas that successfully flow through the process of conception into production is exciting — it doesn’t always happen as you imagine.”

Spray-painted mannequin parts, donning shades of silver and gold, will be used as props by performers. Futuristic, yet reminiscent of metropolitan and suburban settings, the site has been crafted with purpose.

Patrick Wine/ Courtesy photo

Jeffrey Pincus rehearses with fellow cast members for “Virtue of Reality,” an immersive art experience.

“Virtue of Reality” strives to engage all of one’s senses, including that of smell. Scents like lavender, eucalyptus and nature’s wet soil  — and other sterile smells like that of bleach wipes and rubbing alcohol — will create a tapestry of fragrance sure to evoke certain memories in participants, coordinate with specific pockets of the set and establish a definite mood.

“Creating a truly immersive world means incorporated all of the senses,” Raymond said. “Visual media and physical sets are important, but that’s just the beginning. When a guest is placed in any environment, there are sounds, smells, textures and energies that activate the space for an engaging sensation. These elements are also critical in establishing a suspension of disbelief — meaning that the audience is able to believe and participate in something surreal by imagining and playing along despite physical and logistical limitations.”

For Raymond and crew, crafting this mesmerizing space isn’t solely about allowing visitors to dive down the rabbit hole.

Patrick Wine/Courtesy photo

Sarah Fahmy rehearses “Virtue of Reality” with fellow cast members. The free immersive art experience will transform the Carlson Gym this weekend.

“This show expresses themes of environment and social changes and trajectories,” Raymond said. “At its root, the show is science fiction, but we hope that guests feel optimistic, inspired and empowered to reassess how they behave in their daily lives as consumers.”

Theatrical, exciting, dream-like and engaging, “Virtue of Reality” will no doubt stick with attendees long after they exit the outfitted campus gym. In a sense, the layered space actually becomes a character in its own right—a living, breathing landscape where lines are blurred and the possibilities are endless.

If you go

What: “Virtue of Reality”

When: Friday’s event is sold out; various 10-minute interval shows available for Saturday and Sunday

Where: CU’s Carlson Gymnasium Boulder, 1900 Pleasant St., Boulder

Cost: free, reservation required

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