Lonnie Hanzon was doing immersive art before it was cool. In fact, he was doing immersive art before it was ever tagged with that oh-so-hip label. And now he's about to immerse Denver in a new project, a massive holiday installation at Stanley Marketplace that could become a seasonal tradition: Camp Christmas.
The project has made Hanzon one happy camper, after he weathered challenges with other partners over the decades. Last year, he finished a long run with Houston Zoo Lights, an annual holiday project he took on in 2012. Before that, he created holiday light shows for Hudson Gardens for two years, putting to work all that seasonal experience he'd gained making floats for the original Denver Parade of Lights. But he's not all about Christmas: Hanzon designed the facade of the Wizard's Chest, and created the beloved "The Evolution of the Ball," which is in storage while the Colorado Rockies owners build McGregor Square just below Coors Field.
For Camp Christmas, he's partnering with Off-Center, the most creative branch of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which has taken two previous plunges into immersion at Stanley Marketplace. According to Off-Center Curator Charlie Miller, Camp Christmas will be "the ultimate Christmas experience."
And then some. "This is a selfie palace, a 10,000-square-foot installation, a light show with a bar, a pop-up," explains Hanzon. "The audience members are camp-goers, and the entire thing is very campy. You're taken on a journey of how we've celebrated this thing called Christmas for the last thousand years." Oh, and there will be a bar. Two, actually, so you can enjoy Christmas cheer as you journey through time.
The installation will take you from ancient Rome through the Renaissance and all the way to the present day. "Merry badges" will allow you to follow different tracks that follow the evolution of Santa Claus, for example, or how light has developed from candles to LED. "It's meant to be something you can dive into to get the content," notes Hanzon, "or just to party."
It certainly feels like a party to him. "Being able to do a large immersive project with content I kind of know is just really sweet," he says. "And to be able to come home again, and get off the road!"
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“I have long admired Lonnie and his work and can’t wait to bring his over-the-top Christmas experience to the Hangar,” says Miller in a July 16 announcement of Camp Christmas. “This extravagant installation will put visitors at the center of the story. It will be a wonderful family-friendly adventure by day and a Santa-themed bar experience by night.”
Hanzon is already hard at work on Camp Christmas in his Lakewood studio, with installation components already rolling off the line. "This will probably take every moment of my life until opening," he notes. But since Off-Center is presenting the project, Miller's crew is taking care of all the details like leases and tickets, and Hanzon is able to immerse himself in what he does best.
"I've never had this level of support in my career," he says. "Before, I was always wearing all the hats."
So, hats off to Hanzon and Off-Center. By Christmas, we could all be happy campers.
Camp Christmas opens November 21 at the Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas Street, where it will run through January 5, 2020. Tickets, $8, will go on sale Thursday, July 25, at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.