In the last couple of years, Denver has been “immersed” in a new entertainment trend, one that has welcomed everything from pop culture to artistic masters to classical theater and Hollywood.
The scene full of “immersive entertainment” can now be found everywhere you look and gets a new boost in November and December with world premieres, tour debuts and the promise of a new year filled with even more high-tech interactive bulletins.
But what is “immersive?” A new kind of art? A commercial cash cow? Maybe a bit of both.
As a marketing term, it covers everything from Halloween-themed pop-ups and holiday bars that appear inside existing establishments to art runs that immerse visitors in the works of well-known artists such as Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Dali, Monet and even Walt Disney. It also applies to David Byrne’s ground-breaking Theater of the Mind, which had its world premiere in Denver in September, NFT galleries (digital art, seen only through bulky virtual reality headsets), Meow Wolf’s installations and even “The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience,” an evening of performances based on the popular Netflix show.
But defining “immersive” is tricky because it exists where film, music, games, theater, art, and even dining overlap. The simplest explanation is that it is any entertainment experience that tries to engage the audience, flooding your senses, enveloping you in a world of its own with the promise of visual, auditory, interactive-tactile and even olfactory surprises.
And Denver eats it up.
The sector, which caters to a broad demographic, is expected to top $62 billion in revenue this year, according to a study, and outside companies have flocked to set up studios for the area’s cash-strapped and adventurous population. metropolitan.
“You have a cutting-edge, bold art audience … people who want to be welcoming and who want to be the first to see something cool,” said Corey Ross, co-founder of Lighthouse Immersive, the Toronto-based company. company behind “Immersive Van Gogh”. It’s one of the first shows of its kind to come to Denver and one of several competing, immersive Van Gogh shows in the US, as well as “Immersive Frida Kahlo” and “Immersive King Tut.”
Annoying? Not realy. “Van Gogh” consists mainly of images of the artist’s famous paintings projected onto the walls, where they move and flutter as if they have come to life. Still, the experience, for up to $55 per person, can draw 3,000 people a day when it opens in various cities and has drawn more than 5 million visitors in North America, according to its website. In Denver, it has drawn 450,000 visitors since it debuted last year, a publicist said.
Every hit show marketed as “immersive” encourages more to appear, producers say. (Beyond the occasional big-picture statistic, most company representatives interviewed for this story were tight-lipped on revenues and budgets.)
Grande Experiences, the Australian company behind Dalí Alive, has signed a multi-year lease at The Lume, an event space at Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace.
“This place is especially great because (producers) knew they had a lot of foot traffic here,” said Jeff Cornelius, Grande’s head of business operations.
As with all immersive shows based on famous painters, “Dalí Alive” contains no Salvador Dalí originals, opting instead for blue velvet curtains, custom lobster phones and dizzying digital projections. But that works, especially with younger audiences.
“You’d be really hard-pressed to get anyone under 30 to look at a 2D image as an introduction to an artist,” said Cornelius, who noted that “Dalí Alive” is officially blessed by the artist’s museums. in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Catalonia, Spain. (The gift shop, which everyone must exit through, carries products from the Florida location.)
But Denver’s traditional art scene has a lot to lose if potential visitors opt for bells and whistles rather than original pieces, even if producers like Cornelius don’t think they’re taking anything away from the museums and galleries they’ve dismissed as dinosaurs.
Officials at the Denver Art Museum declined to answer questions about the scene’s effect on galleries and museums. Liz Black, executive director of Lakewood’s 40 West Arts District, also did not respond to requests for comment about the immersive entertainment.
It’s worth noting, however, that most Front Range museums have avoided labeling any of their exhibits or installations “immersive” for the past couple of years.
Craig Northup II, a Denver artist and musician who works at the Lighthouse ArtSpace in the former Regency Hotel, home to “Immersive Van Gogh,” sees great creativity and skill in the immersive performances.
“When I look at it, I see the techniques, the color, the storyboards and the scripts that went into making it,” said Northup, assistant manager of special events, as a “Starry Night” segment of “Immersive Van Gogh” rolled around him. . “I see how it changes and progresses in tone to describe a feeling, which is what Van Gogh did.
“The way it is prescribed here is very artistic,” he added.
Lighthouse launched two new shows in Denver this month: “Immersive Monet & the Impressionists,” on Nov. 18, and “The Immersive Nutcracker,” on Nov. 19. Both will take place early next year. Lighthouse is also preparing an early 2023 show in Denver in partnership with Disney Animation that uses decades of cartoon icons and songs.
“We’re currently testing an interactive floor for our gallery where you can move around the room and Aladdin’s flying magic carpet will follow underneath you,” said Lighthouse co-creator Ross. “We also tested benches that are inflatable that you can jump off. The conclusion was that they are an eyesore and a hazard, as our gallery floors are cement.”
Once the shows are tested, they can be introduced outside different spaces, said Laura Dennison, Lighthouse Denver’s technical supervisor. On a recent weekday, she used an iPad as a remote to run shows at the Lighthouse, turning complex audio-visual programs on and off with the push of a button.
“We have a large amount of potential partnerships,” Dennison said as he surveyed the space. “We’re hosting a Denver Film Festival after party here. How about watching a football match here? Or have a wedding?”
Not all shows take place in custom venues. SEE Global Entertainment’s “Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Experience” opened Nov. 18 at 1st Avenue and Clayton Street in Cherry Creek, near Elway’s restaurant. It will be joined at the beginning of next year by the Museum of Illusions, a chain that is somewhere between entertainment and scientific experiment (see also “Theater of the Mind”).
They tend to fill otherwise empty, disused spaces. The Museum of Illusions, at 951 16th St., will offer “mind-stimulating optical illusions, 3D holograms, mind-boggling exhibits and interactive illusion rooms” across 6,229 square feet of space, officials wrote. Down the street, Denver Pavilions hosts digital art galleries and “selfie experiences” in previously empty storefronts like the eco-themed Earth Illuminated.
The gold rush brings to mind Santa Fe’s Meow Wolf, the corporate-turned-art collective that opened its third location, after Santa Fe and Las Vegas, in Denver in September 2021. In less than 9 months, Convergence Station – as and Denver the surrealist installation is called — has seen 1 million visitors, according to a Meow Wolf publicist.
“Historical museums have their own special place, just like the RiNo Art District or the (Art District on) Santa Fe have their own scenes,” said Lighthouse’s Northup, a graduate of Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. “Then you have this place to come and experience visuals that you won’t be able to get anywhere else. It adds to the art experience in Denver.”
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