In DCPA’s Latest Immersive Theater Experiment, It’s All About What Happens ‘Between Us’

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Photo: DCPA Between Us 1
Jenna Moll Reyes and Jessica Austgen in one of a series of one-on-one plays from DCPA Off-Center’s “Between Us” series.

Picture this. You're strolling around the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Denver.

As abstract canvases on white walls drift by, you're getting to know your date. Your blind date.

But a few minutes in, they turn to you and say:

“Before we go on, I should say I’ve taken kind of a break from dating for a couple reasons. So I’d love if we could make this a real zero pressure situation, not worry about where this is going or anything. Does that sound ok?”

How you answer is up to you.

But no pressure. This isn't a real date, after all. It's theater.

"Between Us" is a series of three personalized, one-on-one, immersive experiences put on by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Performances started in late March and early April and run through May 26.

The blind date is one option. Another is a whiskey tasting, which actually incorporates two audience members and does include actual whiskey. The third experience is called "The Deck of Cards" that the Denver Post described as "akin to a poetic Tarot reading — fateful portent and all."

One of the show's actors, Mare Trevathan, said only about a third of each experience is scripted.

"A third is the influence of the audience member, and a third is the influence of the space itself, the other humans around us, the art on the walls, and what that provokes in people," Trevathan said.

The immersive, intimate nature of plays come with hazards, she said. She and the other actors in the series have run into real-life friends and family while performing in the field. Incorporating them while staying in character is still a learning process, Trevathan said with a laugh.

But the trials are worth the deep, unique connection Trevathan has forged with each audience member.

"One of our test audience members was visibly emotional throughout our time together, and I left that experience just feeling like, 'Oh my gosh! That show was built for her! What a joy it was to do this with her,'" Trevathan said. "And then two days ago I had an audience member who was quite reserved and shy, and he had so much enjoyment from the experience, and I left that one going, 'Oh my gosh! This show was built for him!' So it’s a container that’s very malleable."

Photo: DCPA Between Us 2
Actors at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver in one of a series of one-on-one plays from DCPA Off-Center’s “Between Us” series.

That one-of-a-kind experience is something audience members will walk away with too, said Charlie Miller. He's the curator for Off-Center, DCPA's unconventional theater program that's behind "Between Us."

"The big experiment with this production is to see how much agency we can give the audience in the experience while still delivering a cohesive narrative," Miller said. "So that there is a satisfying ending, but there’s a lot of room inside of that for whatever the audience wants to bring, and really honoring what the audience brings to the table."

This production involves a lot of mystery. Audience members won't know where their performance is until the day before, when the actor texts them the details.

Miller said keeping expectations limited and the audience member spoiler-free is a key part of enjoying "Between Us."

"We’ve learned with these types of immersive experiences and nontraditional theater, the element of surprise is part of what makes it so surprising for people," Miller said.

DCPA commissioned three different creative teams, one for each experience. Miller knows "Between Us," isn't for everyone, but he doesn't feel pressure to recoup the finances behind the one-on-one theater experiment. Ticket sales don't cover the costs of even the center's biggest Broadway productions, he said. Donations and grants fill in the rest.

"Even though we’re not going to reach a huge number of people, it’s important to us artistically to be able to create really deep and meaningful experiences for audience members, and giving Denver something totally unique and different," Miller said.