Just a few months and a million years ago, Patrick Mueller and his team at Control Group Productions were putting the finishing touches on The End, an immersive traveling bus ride years in the making that was to be a performance vehicle for considering the end of the world. But when the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on that project, they had to think fast about how to stay busy — and safe — during lockdown.
“In our meetings, we had been excited about how The End was shaping up, and saw how a pandemic might leave everyone primed for a discussion of the Apocalypse,” Mueller recalls. “So a week later, we decided internally to postpone it at a time when we saw things were getting worse. You could say that it was a postponement due to the de-fictionalizing of its content.”
Rather than just sit idle, Control Group switched gears for a variety of reasons: to help support artists at a time when so many creatives have been forced out of work, to sell tickets, and to entertain audiences hungry for cultural experiences despite the limitations posed by social distancing. The result, Cavalcade!, is a quick-change trip through Denver on an eight-mile car caravan. It's not an attempt to resurrect The End; Control Group will hold that for the future.
“We don’t want to stop working on something we’ve been dreaming of for the last seven years, since our last bus tour, and not see it do the incredible thing that it will someday do,” Mueller explains.
So instead of getting on a bus for a performance tour, audiences will drive their own cars — what Mueller calls “fully contagion-free group containers” — while experiencing Cavalcade! It’s based on the immersive road caravan structure used last year by Boulder choreographer Ondine Geary in her work Radius of Transmission. Other than that, the piece is developing in an informal stream-of-consciousness style.
“We decided to work pretty much in response to this moment — it’s really its own thing,” Mueller notes. “While it’s more than ad hoc, it’s still far less than something that would be years in the making.
“Our goal is to do a thing safely and bring people out of quarantine,” he continues. “We’re not ignoring the experience of people having grim prospects right now, but a levity of things is still good; we need these small gifts in the face of the pandemic.”
The hermetically sealed adventure puts you in the driver's seat. “We’re inviting people to show up for a parade of cars, possibly wearing costumes, in a pre-show email,” Mueller explains. “It’s more of a site-specific performance-art experience: part parade, part clown show and part serious — starting with a driving practice to get folks used to traveling in a ten-car caravan.”
Interaction will be key, though Mueller can’t exactly say how: Perhaps decorations will be assigned, or individual vehicles singled out for a one-on-one encounter. “Windows up? We’ll see,” he adds. “We did not want to have much of a plan. We’re really just figuring this out as we go, including as many voices as possible.”
Control Group’s goal is for the work to serve and soothe anxious people in a very specific time. “We ask people to show up looking to have fun,” Mueller says. “There is death, but it’s truly seat-of-the-pants.” In the end, he adds, “It’s the silliest and happiest piece. For example, I just inflated a six-foot beach ball for the show. It’s that level of silly.”
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People who’ve been locked up for weeks need that kind of silliness, he suggests, just as they need a change of scenery. “We’re hearing that people really need a reason to get out of the house, some fresh air. They are so excited to have something to put on the calendar, something to get out to do as they move out of stay-at-home," he notes.
“This experience doesn’t have that anxiety about leaving new responsibilities behind. We’re not encouraging people to break new legal regulations. We’re just excited that we are representing a thing you can do without being a jerk.”
Cavalcade! opens for previews on June 3 and 4, and for regular performances from June 5 through June 21, at a north Denver location. Showtimes correlate to the sunset each night. Admission ranges from $40 to $100 per carload at cavalcade.brownpapertickets.com; ticket holders will receive instructions by email. The event is BYO car, and an FM radio is required to participate; visit controlgroupproductions.org for more information.