Arts and Culture

Find Solace in Dark Times in Patrick Mueller’s Garage

Control Group's Solace unfolds in fog.
Control Group's Solace unfolds in fog. Courtesy of Control Group Productions
In the new wave of theater and dance, immersive experiences are gaining ground. And in Denver, Patrick Mueller and his movement-based Control Group Productions company ride at the top of that wave.

While Mueller has been experimenting with non-proscenium-style settings for a long time now, his newest work, Solace, is a house performance — or, more precisely, an experience in Mueller’s garage — and a new model for challenging audiences to become a part of the action. For Mueller, immersion in performance isn’t just a case of audience participation, which has the pitfall of turning hokey. Instead, it’s about heightened senses for everyone, dancers and audiences alike, and little epiphanies of experiential communion. Solace premieres on Friday, February 16, for six performances that run through March 3. The space will accommodate only twenty audience members per show.

Solace (trailer) from Patrick Mueller on Vimeo.

“It’s about sweetness and finding a haven as an experience we’ve crafted to be a sweet little fold between worlds,” Mueller says of Solace, which he adds is purposely not political. "It has a lovely amount of nothing to do with the politics of the present moment. It is not a response to Trump or the shutdown or schismatic politics: In terms of the larger arc, it’s our way of turning darkness inside out in a light warm space occupied by ghosts, but not in a scary or dead way.” He’s offering solace in every meaning of the word, nothing more or less.

The Solace project, a continuation of Control Group’s ongoing performance series Dances Made to Be Viewed in the Dark, initially began as a film proposal. “We’re in a place in growth where we’re ready to reach larger audiences, outside of the Front Range,” Mueller explains. “But we realized that the idea was so rich that we needed to bring people into it first. I'm excited to see how it reflects itself in different ways through the several different eyes that witness it.” In addition, the performance will serve as a fundraiser toward producing the film.

And as for the venue, Mueller says, “First, it’s in our home. That’s been driving the content of how informal and intimate and welcoming we can make the world we’re in more inviting. It’s the size of a container, so it’s quite intimate — a tight little room to sit in together.” He acknowledges that it’s part of a movement that’s finding inter-arts traction as artists and performers seek new answers to traditional questions.

click to enlarge The set for Solace takes shape in Patrick Mueller's garage. - COURTESY OF CONTROL GROUP PRODUCTIONS
The set for Solace takes shape in Patrick Mueller's garage.
Courtesy of Control Group Productions
Why does Mueller think house performances and galleries and concerts are in vogue right now? “Right now, people are interested in experiences that are more unconventional,” he says. “It’s a medium where we can meet people’s sensory needs in a way a proscenium can’t offer. A lot of people see that as a poor version of what they can watch on HBO. Instead, immersive spaces allow for an audience that’s interacting, bonding, having an experience together. This way, they get some amount of choice in how they help a work come to an ending.”

The intimacy of a space, Mueller notes, encourages immersive treatments and integrated audience participation. “Immersive work is a communal act of moving around the world together. I leave those experiences feeling like we really did something together. No one is invisible to each other.” In this way, the performance sets a scene where time and place are suspended, and most likely magical. “In Solace, you’ll be sitting in a fog, with its own scent and atmosphere, where you’ll even feel a noticeable temperature differential. You go there in a full sensory way; it feels like you’re suddenly on an Adirondack lake in late fall.”

click to enlarge Another scene from Solace. - COURTESY OF CONTROL GROUP PRODUCTIONS
Another scene from Solace.
Courtesy of Control Group Productions
That’s all working toward a mass sense of transformation, which gets people thinking and talking, even before the nonexistent curtain falls. Adds Mueller, “The audience is part of the art. There’s more of an active role in completely being co-authors of a story, one that contributes and feeds back into the art. In this kind of work, there’s a different resonance and effect on work — the idea that people are active in curating their own experience runs tandem with the advent of photographic and video technology: We have the ability to edit photos to look like paintings.

“Even if people are not trained artists, they have a point of view, an aesthetic preference, something to offer to the experience they're engaging in.” That said, it’s clear that no performance can be exactly the same. Solace is an ever-changing story.

Solace opens on Friday, February 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Mueller-Whittle home in Lakewood; shows continue at the same time on Fridays and Saturdays through March 3. Space is limited; tickets are $35 in advance at Brown Paper Tickets. If seats are still available, admission goes up to $45 at the door. Learn more online.

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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd