Immersive

First Look: OddKnock Productions Presents Immersive Office Parody

At BANR, efficiency and profit are keys to success.
At BANR, efficiency and profit are keys to success. Nicholas Caputo
The corporate world can be fun, but only when you're wrangled into the cast of an immersive play parodying it.

OddKnock Productions has hit every nail on the head with its latest work, From on High, which has transformed the empty IMAC building in RiNo into an ’80s office space. The satire, a product of director Brendan Duggan, designer Zach Martens and executive producer Parker Murphy, actually fits the "immersive" label, at a time when the word is thrown on any production that involves minimal interaction.

Duggan, Martens and Murphy met as performance artists in Brooklyn. "Parker initiated the first conversation about creating our own large-scale immersive works together and recommended Denver as a landing spot," Duggan recalls. "He grew up in the area, so there was a personal connection, but also witnessing the development of the area’s art scene, it was hard to ignore how supportive the immersive environment is here. We began plotting a move to Denver a few years ago, but then the pandemic hit and halted our plans. It was fortunate for us, however, as we used most of the pandemic to consult with incredibly experienced producers, general managers and tech teams over Zoom to learn the ins and outs of the business.

"Since then, it’s been a continuous journey to understand our own artistic approach, our method of building a space together and finding ways to maintain a healthy business model,so that everyone feels respected and supported," he continues. "We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time."

A long way, indeed. The acting, lighting and set design for From on High are top-notch, with actors who pull you seamlessly into a bizarre world that is meant to showcase just how ridiculous the pressure to work can be. In Denver, OddKnock may be largely preaching to the converted regarding anti-capitalism, but that doesn't change the quality of the production's execution. Even if the lack of air-conditioning in the warehouse can be just as oppressive as the subject matter, at least you don't have to wear ’80s polyester like the rest of the cast.
click to enlarge From on High directly interacts with the audience. - NICHOLAS CAPUTO
From on High directly interacts with the audience.
Nicholas Caputo
Once you enter the space, a woman named Chessica (played by Abby Corrigan) greets you. "Don't you love Mondays?" she asks in a robotic voice. "Grab a lanyard, you'll know your name when you see it."

Chessica gestures with Barbie-angled elbows to a wall strung with lanyards; each of the names begins with a "Ch." After you take your name, you're given a contract to work with BANR, an international corporation whose ultimate goal is world domination. The contract stipulates that you will be paid a salary of just over $10 a year, that disabilities aren't protected when they affect your work, and that you must be as efficient as possible.

Among the higher-ups at BANR is Chelsea (played by Natalia Roberts), your new boss, who has been employee of the month for ages. Her secretary, Chanet (Camille Taft), and intern, Chonathan (Nile H. Russell), fawn over her while she lobs direct questions into the audience.

"Do you believe in capitalism?" she asks one man after pulling him to a chair at her desk.

"No," he says.

"I used to be like you," Chelsea replies. "Raised by socialist parents." But for Chelsea, missing family get-togethers, not taking vacation and working overtime has satiated her needs. She just hasn't seen how superficial that fulfillment is...yet.

Chelsea's office is one of several rooms to explore in the 9,000-square-foot building. The greater office space, with ’80s computers, the smell of stale coffee wafting out from mugs and strobe lighting that occasionally goes off, is where you engage in "mandatory fun" with fellow employees Chad (Collin Quinn Rice) and Charity (Tiffany Ogburn). Monday has gone to Tuesday, which has gone to Wednesday in various announcements that are ominously broadcast overhead, counting down the days until Friday, when the CEO of BANR is set to come to the office.
click to enlarge The audience participates in "mandatory fun" at the BANR office. - NICHOLAS CAPUTO
The audience participates in "mandatory fun" at the BANR office.
Nicholas Caputo
There is a near-religious commitment of BANR's employees to the corporation, expressed through intense monologues or interpretive dance. And capitalism, red in tooth and claw, is presented as a deity, which must be provided profit and efficiency at all costs.

"From on High presents itself as a satirical show with an eccentric group of office workers, but the real meat of the show digs much deeper," says Duggan. "My hope is that the audience is able to bond over the comedic elements, mocking what we all experience at our normal day jobs, and also find connection over the emotional and existential moments. Why are we working so hard all the time? What is this for? What have we given up because we were too busy?"

One of the most intriguing elements of the production is that you have to choose characters to follow in order to see specific storylines. Duggan says that if you were to see each character's storyline play out, the ninety-minute show would be about four hours.

But after the individual journeys, the audience is eased back into a spectator role for a shocking final act.
click to enlarge The play has a shocking ending. - NICHOLAS CAPUTO
The play has a shocking ending.
Nicholas Caputo
"Absurdity is our cup of tea, and something that’s bubbled up in the cultural zeitgeist lately is the examination of workplace culture and the insistence of that culture as a foundation to success," says Duggan. "Larger-than-life CEOs are zooming off to space and tweeting absurd visions of the future, all while we’re just trying to figure out how to pay rent.

"On a more serious note, we’re also witnessing a rebellion against 'normalcy' — returning to the office, for example, and a rise in unionization across the country. Simply put, I think we’re all seeing how weird and insane our obsession with 'work' is, and this production puts a big magnifying glass on that."

From on High, through July 3 at the IMAC Building, 2550 Larimer Street. Shows are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Get tickets, $45, here.
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Emily Ferguson is Westword's Culture Editor, covering Denver's flourishing arts and music scene. Before landing this position, she worked as an editor at local and national political publications and held some odd jobs suited to her odd personality, including selling grilled cheese sandwiches at music festivals and performing with fire. Emily also writes on the arts for the Wall Street Journal and is an oil painter in her free time.
Contact: Emily Ferguson