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Denver native Zach Morris returns with performance art “Sweet & Lucky”
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Zach Morris, director, says it’s interesting to attend “Sweet & Lucky” with friends, to compare notes after “engaging with the content.”
Zach Morris, who grew up in Denver, is back home to direct a new immersive, experiential theater piece for DCPA. He was at a 16,000-square-foot warehouse at 4120 E. Brighton Blvd., where “Sweet and Lucky” will be performed. Morris is co-artistic director of New York’s Third Rail Projects.
An immersive, experiential dance-theater piece is about to take over a 16,000-square-foot RiNo warehouse retrofitted to look like a speakeasy and antique shop. With cocktails.
Prepare to be eased into a dream state by the choreographed movement, evocative props, encounters with performers and music on a two-hour journey through a rich and reactive environment in “Sweet & Lucky,” a site-specific work commissioned by the DCPA’s Off-Center.
Part theater, part dance, the performance piece is “a fusion of forms,” according to Zach Morris, a Denver native who is now a nationally known practitioner of this art form as co-artistic director of Brooklyn-based Third Rail Projects.
This will be nothing like a night at the Buell. Only 72 patrons will be admitted per performance. In addition to the usual theater advisories about turning off electronics, the producers of “Sweet & Lucky” warn all comers to wear comfortable shoes. Patrons with allergies should decline any food offerings. Don’t speak unless a performer asks something of you.
Also, you must be 21 with valid ID. (Adults who don’t consume alcohol may want to attend one of the scheduled booze-free nights.)
“The way the piece is shaping up, it will be impossible for any audience member to see exactly the same show as another audience member,” Morris said by phone from the warehouse during rehearsals.
Third Rail aims to craft “a 360-degree world” in which the audience can lose themselves amid a cast of 12 performers. Everyone starts in the huge warehouse space together then moves in smaller groups. The lushly designed environments each have a different “audio texture” with live and recorded music.
“It’s not about the protagonist of the piece having a traditional hero’s journey,” Morris said. It’s more about the theater-goer’s journey.
Expect to be rifling through drawers, touching props and discovering ephemera, perhaps a letter or photograph that tells part of a story. It’s interesting to attend with friends, Morris advises, to compare notes after “engaging with the content,” that is, experiencing specific moments in characters’ lives, stirring memories as if at a cocktail party.
Scenes are designed to honor the audience’s choices. You won’t be forced to participate, but there are options you may explore “to find yourself falling deeper into a labyrinth of memory,” Morris said. “For instance, the audience finds itself in very close proximity to a performer. What the audience members do affects the scene in some very subtle way.”
Third Rail’s previous works include the long-running dance-theater piece “Then She Fell,” staged at a former Brooklyn hospital. (New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley called that work “transporting.”) Artistic directors Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett have won multiple Bessie Awards for dance and performance with projects performed internationally during the past 15 years.
A starting point for Third Rail in creating these experiences is that they are a complete evening out, Morris said. Hence, the partnerships with bars and restaurants. “This is a total experience.” Cocktails before the show and a pop-up bar at the end bookend the night, with custom drinks for “Sweet & Lucky” crafted by mixologist Sean Kenyon of Williams and Graham.
“Literally out of the box”
The effort is physically, financially and creatively a stretch for the DCPA. Off-Center’s most ambitious project to date, it was also the first to launch with a Kickstarter campaign to crowd-fund the production. (364 donors raised more than $40,000.)
Unlike a conventional show, the structure of immersive theater is fluid. Ten or more scenes may happen simultaneously, many of them nonverbal.
“There are scripts for scenes but not a traditional script,” Morris said. “It looks very different on paper than the way Chekov’s “Three Sisters” looks.”
“Sweet & Lucky” poses a few questions, but it’s up to the viewer to answer them: What is the nature of memory? What is the nature of loss? How do you reconcile a tumultuous love with notions of death and memory?
It’s all “decidedly dreamlike,” Morris said.
Did they ever consider a pop-up dispensary rather than a pop-up bar when bringing the work to Colorado?
“We have had a number of audience members say our work was like being on drugs.” He won’t say more. (BYO dream.)
Morris credits the DCPA with being bold enough to support the project artistically and otherwise. “The DCPA is nationally known for the amazing work that they do. They are one of the few really taking big leaps to figure out how to support this kind of work that is quite literally out of the box.”
The challenge to find new ways of storytelling is a response to the changing technological times, Morris believes. “We are finding ourselves in a cultural moment in which many thinkers are beginning to evaluate the ways we tell stories in the digital age. We are carrying computers in our pockets. We have the agency to navigate through stories in a way we never have before.”
Humans are yearning for genuine connection, he said, and that’s exciting for the performing arts. “As amazing as social media is, the experience of being in the same room as a musician, feeling the vibrations from their guitar, is not something you can find anywhere else. The tactile sensation of finding something or being centimeters away from a performer, there’s nothing like it.”
Born and raised in Denver, Morris grew up “in Cherry Creek before it was Cherry Creek.” He attended George Washington High School and credits the school’s former drama teacher Nancy Priest and former speech teacher Carolyn Williamson as the two most formative figures in his theatrical career.
As a young man, he did an internship at the DCPA costume shop, hand-sewing buckskin and machine-sewing silk. “The thing that’s particularly exciting about this collaboration with DCPA is being able to come back to the institution that was so pivotal in my formation as an artist.”
Morris’ work as a choreographer has been performed internationally. He has won numerous awards for site-specific performances, installation art, multi-media projects and immersive performance environments.
Just don’t expect a normal night of theater.
“You’re coming to a vastly different experience. It is multi-sensory. It engages touch, sight, sound also smell and taste. … ” Morris said. If a traditional proscenium work is akin to a novel, he said, immersive theater is like a poem.
The idea is to “move through these dream-like experiences, connecting the dots.” It’s less about being a passive viewer, more about letting moments accumulate meaning, layer upon layer.Denver native Zach Morris returns with performance art “Sweet & Lucky” Share this: Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window) Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window) ]]>