Art News

Prepare for the Apocalypse With This Immersive Performance by Control Group Productions

You'll embark on an apocalyptic journey.
You'll embark on an apocalyptic journey. Lizzie Goldsmith
Artistic director Patrick Mueller and the rest of the cast and crew at theater/dance company Control Group Productions are pulling out all the stops to make things feel real within the futuristic world of The End, opening Thursday, June 9.

“We congratulate everybody who buys a ticket for having the foresight to make that bold step to leave their known world, friends and family behind and to get on this bus with us,” says Mueller. “You've bought your one-way ticket and your berth at this safe-haven resilient space…where, prospectively, you will be able to weather the apocalypse that is coming.”

The apocalypse in The End is happening because of climate change — specifically, a lack of safe, clean water. And Control Group is taking this show on the road.

Audience members (or “passengers,” as they're called within the world of the show) will meet at one of six starting locations in the metro area, where a bus covered in graffiti will arrive to take them on a “tour of Denver’s climate future.”

“We’ve taken [the bus] to a couple bars around happy hour and invited people to tag it...asking people to put their best final wishes to Mother Earth or things that they hope for vis-à-vis the environment,” says Mueller. “We've gotten some lovely messages, everything from some Dune references to some original poetry to a whole bunch of quoted pop-song lines.”

The outside of the bus isn’t the only thing that’s different. Once you climb aboard, you’ll see climbing ropes hanging from the ceiling, maps covering the walls, and seats around the edges facing inward instead of in rows. There's still enough room for 25 passengers, plus several performers, as the bus shuttles from one location in north Denver to the next — a disorienting ride that’s designed to help you see the city through new eyes.

The first act of the roughly three-hour show is all about gathering supplies to take to a place called "The Refuge," with different performances at each of the bus’s stops in the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. The Refuge touts itself as a utopian community, where you’ll be safe no matter what happens in the world outside — a place where “you’ll never have to worry about anything, ever again,” according to the website. But the passengers don’t actually make it there.

“Some shenanigans happen,” says assistant director Caroline Sharkey. “I think that’s as much as I can tell you.”

You’ll also be meeting all sorts of interesting characters along the way: the Driver, the Leader, the Drifter, the Mud Prophet, the Grifter, the Gardener and the Gardener’s Assistant, Altha. “Every character is a little bit odd,” Sharkey says. “They have very important thoughts and perspectives, but also at the same time, you’re like, ‘You're a little crazy.’ I love that.”

Describing his own character, Mueller says: “I come wandering around from the back of the bus and offer people a puppet show that I stage inside my backpacking pack that is basically expressing the opinion that we’re all going to die no matter what we do.”

“I think this show is really about how different people respond and deal with climate change, especially when we're right on the precipice of things changing really drastically,” adds Sharkey. “How are you going to react and deal with this change? Are you going to be a nihilist who just gives up and drinks? Are you going to gather people together to create your own community? Are you going to hunker down and stay to the ground with cans of beans?”

Along the way, you’ll find yourself at an abandoned slaughterhouse in Globeville, which has been transformed into the safehouse of the show — a big, concrete space with high ceilings. As you explore its gardens, bunkhouse, library and other areas, you’ll see different scenes and performances play out.

“In one of the scenes, there’s one area that has two drains," notes Sharkey, "one that is a drain for blood and one that is a drain for water, which has become a part of the scene.”

“From an artist's perspective, I think it's really cool that every audience member is going to walk away with a different experience of what the show is, because you do get to make choices or follow different people,” adds actor Gabrielle Barnett. “You could come see this show four or five times and not have the same show twice.”

This isn’t the first time that Control Group Productions has centered a production on climate change, or even on water. Its 2021 immersive nature-walk performance, After the Flood, took audiences through the nation’s first urban floodplain park in Littleton, exploring the site of the 1965 South Platte flood and its aftermath.

This production, though, is all about the future. Or, at least, a possible future that takes an already-existing crisis to its potential conclusion.

“I hope that people…become more aware of what will happen in Denver specifically,” says Sharkey. “I think we always are like, ‘Oh, yeah, you know, all of Florida will be underwater. That's not me.’ But in Denver specifically, there's a lot that could happen. Denver is actually a prairie, so water is pretty hard to come by. We could very easily only have water once a week, and then only have it once a month, and then have to filter our water ourselves. We have the Platte, which is great that we have that, but there's a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Mueller’s been tuned into the water-shortage crisis for years, and he wants this production to convey that urgency to others.

“I realize that art is not social action and change in the same way that simply showing up with food for hungry people is,” he acknowledges. “Like, we're in the middle of putting together what is patently a make-believe water filtration system in a pretend resilient community space. That said, I really hope that this actually creates concrete change in how people behave in their day-to-day lives.”

But the team at Control Group isn’t leaving anything to chance. At the end of the show, while the bus is taking you back to your starting location, community activists from organizations such as Green House Connection Center, Compost Colorado and Rocky Mountain Land Library will come on board to discuss actions you can take immediately.

“I think [that] is the most important part of [the show], actually,” says Sharkey. “It's not what I'm doing as a performer; it's what these people are already doing and how we can aid that.”

“Maybe if we do every single thing we can think of, no matter how imperfect, no matter how impractical, then we stand a decent chance as a society,” Mueller concludes.

The End opens Thursday, June 9, and goes through July 31. Tickets ($70) are available at controlgroupproductions.org/theend. Check out City Cast Denver’s episode last week to hear more conversation with some of the cast.
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