The world of [Colony 933,] commissioned by Control Group Productions and directed by Kate Speer, combines performance, visual art, and mystery set in a dystopian future absent the sun where a single corporation dominates all facets of life. The ambitious work signals a new type of programming by Control Group investigating live art research and development. This language alone points to Control Group’s emphasis on exploration, experimentation, innovation, and multi-modal artistic collaboration.
Director Speer calls herself a scholartist, a term she says “evokes a synthesis of choreography, performance, and scholarship.” The piece revels in hybridity, amalgamation, and synthesis owing to the combination of myriad Denver talents including visual artists Jessica Forrestal, Frankie Toan (who also wrote the plot), George P. Perez, Julie Rooney, Genevieve Waller, Jess Webb, and Katy Zimmerman, musicians Mike Clark and Jake Wherry, and performers Emma Acheson, Vanessa Ann, Amy Bishop, Rachel Oliver Young, Sara Roybal, Rowan Salem, and Jessica Troppmann. The work of this veritable artist village delights throughout the piece from the beginning with an intricately folded program whose design mimics the sleek, simple iconography of Apple products. From there, the surprises continue with elements such as an eerie green video projection of the cloudy sky inside a bathtub by Rooney or a tree in the center of a glassed-in interior courtyard or hundreds of found photographs with the faces torn out by Perez. The set and props, at once familiar yet alien increase the unsettled feeling of being inside a post-apocalyptic world.
The evening begins at Novo Coffee off 6th Avenue and Gilpin Street, where attendees are initiated into the Colony and pledge their allegiance. Each audience member receives a lanyard with a welcome packet, takes an oath, and is encouraged to talk amongst the group to share information. Once all attendees or recruits have pledged, they are escorted through the alley behind Satchel’s restaurant to an undisclosed bunker. An introductory video then provides a brief background to the state of this world and the role the recruits will play in it: in exchange for shelter and food, recruits grow, harvest, and ship algae to the Corporation. The pods them circulate through each station (living quarters, grow lab, kitchen, Profit Office, work station, and yard) doing manual tasks and searching for clues. Subversive hints in glow-in-the-dark paint, whispered messages from a jailed colonist, scrawled notes on maps, and hidden illustrated puzzles on the backs of AstroTurf swatches all encourage new recruits to revolt.
[Colony 933] smartly conflates religion and capitalism through wordplay and symbols. Profits, for example, guide the recruits through the space while also serving as a homonym to prophet. The Corporation’s practices involve repetition, communal ritual, and sacred spaces. Colonists lead the mandatory dance/light rituals and the High Profit appears to pray to a plush eye made by Toan and graphic mural painted by Forrestal in the Profit Office. Fun, thoughtful, and complex, [Colony 933] raises issues surrounding group think, individual agency, and the cost of capitalism not only on the environment but also on humanity.
While [Colony 933] succeeds at much, it still has room to improve. Many attendees, myself included, were confused more often than not. We were unsure of where to go or what to do or what was happening. Sound was an issue at times. The sound in the recording device outside the Profit Office, for example, was so garbled and low, that only one or two people in our group of twelve even understood a fraction of what was said. Additionally, the communication about when to revolt was confusing. I was part of a too-early revolt and a second one occurred after ours when a man swung across the I-beam pulley rope in the middle of the second light ritual. By the time the final light ritual occurred (the correct time to revolt), the audience was timid and unsure. Other times I felt aimless and unsure of where to go or what to do. I wondered if this confusion was in part due to an increased audience size as some couples had to share lanyards or to the alcoholic punch served from orange Igloo drink coolers.
Additionally, I wanted more from the performers instead of more activities as an audience member. While I enjoyed being part of the action to a degree, I wanted to see more dance and theatre. The High Profit, for example, performed a gorgeous and enrapturing traditional Mexican folklorico dance. Why couldn’t there be more of that and less time disassembling and reassembling flashlights? I’m never one for didactic art, so perhaps I am too biased. I consume art not for its novelty but rather for its nuance and ambiguity, deeper meanings, the ways in which it asks me to reexamine my own beliefs, how it prods a bruise inside me I never knew was there.
Still, [Colony 933] pushes immersive dance/theatre to another level in Denver that asks from its artists and audience alike. With its emphasis on experimentation, I have no doubt Control Group will continue to forge a new path into the art of the future where boundaries between mediums and audience and performer become increasingly blurred.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She sits on the boards of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from DailyServing and Quaint Magazine.