It’d be fair to assume that an event held in abandoned slaughterhouse would skew toward horror; a haunted house, perhaps, or a murder mystery. While life and death are certainly at the heart of Aggregate Immateriality—the latest theater-meets-dance production from Control Group Productions—the immersive experience is not at all about scaring audiences.
Rather, artistic director Patrick Mueller and his team decided to breathe life into the cold concrete and exposed ceilings and graffiti drawn by employees of the onetime meat packing plant on the eastern edge of Globeville. From those surroundings, and extensive research into near-death experiences, Mueller invented a world that exists in between life and death—asking us to face our fear of the latter in a building once known for it.
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“It’s a space where it feels like humans don’t really belong,” Mueller says of the warehouse. But, he adds, “[We’re creating] a feeling of connection with other beings. Maybe we can live more fully if we embrace and confront and let go of fear.”
Audience members (each performance is limited to 36 guests), who are first outfitted with a white apron and hat, begin their journeys in a worn Victorian bar decorated with mismatched couches and poufs and a couple of past-their-prime but ornately designed carpets. Then, they are separated into smaller groups and guided through a series of curated scenes where film, dance, and theater meld together to tell the story of a woman, the Drifter, as she transitions into death.
There’s a butcher shop (of course) and an elevator shaft and a garden and a variety of other rooms, all of which portray different moments in her journey and become increasingly surreal the deeper into the building you travel.
Mueller calls the show’s immersive features “light and gentle.” In other words, you won’t be pulled onto the metaphorical stage; rather, an actor may ask you a question or if you want to participate in a specific action. (Tip: Your experience will be richer if you trust the performers and say “yes” to whatever they ask you to do.)
“What makes something immersive art is it puts people in an embodied state,” Mueller says. “You feel seen by the performer. You’re not just sitting and watching.”
Mueller doesn’t miss the irony of hosting this show—an exploration of past, present, and future—in one of the country’s most polluted zip codes and a neighborhood that has been a battleground in Denver’s struggle with gentrification. “My strong desire is that this show portrays Globeville neither as a wasteland, nor as a great place to come in and gentrify,” he says.
Aggregate Immateriality is the final piece in Control Group Productions’ “dances made to be viewed in the dark” series, which spanned four years and seven works. It’s also the troupe’s largest production to date.
If You Go: Aggregate Immateriality runs April 5 to May 11 at 4800 Washington St. (look for show signage and an attendant to direct you to the back parking lot). The 90-minute performances begin at 7 and 9:30 p.m., and are held mostly on Fridays and Saturdays, though there are some Thursday and Sunday shows. General admission tickets are $40. Keep in mind that the production is held in a former warehouse, so it can be chilly; plan to bring a jacket and wear closed-toe shoes.
And Another Thing: The immersive theater trend is showing no signs of slowing down. Off-Center at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts recently premiered Between Us (through May 26), an intimate theatrical experience that connects one audience member with one actor. There are three separate, hourlong experiences to choose from— “The Deck of Cards,” “The Blind Date,” and “The Whiskey Tasting”—and reservations for each are limited and selling fast. (Note: Participants must be 21 or older.) Tickets are $50 to $60.