Dallas — Jencey Keeton and Anastasia Muñoz play hostesses to the party that is Disturbance, billed as an immersive theatrical experience at the Sweet Tooth Hotel in Dallas’ Victory Park, beginning Oct. 4. Disturbance appears to be part eye candy, part escape room, part any museum with headphones. The hotel “guests” (audience, y’all, work with me) move at their own pace to their own drum throughout the Sweet Tooth Hotel, discovering clues to puzzle together a story.
Disturbance features a story by Muñoz, Keeton, Jeffrey Colangelo, and Taylor Cleveland; with original music by Keeton and Cleveland; and is directed by Muñoz and Colangelo. It is a collaboration between Sweet Tooth (where Keeton and her husband Cole are behind the venue’s concept) and Arts Mission Oak Cliff, which is managed by Muñoz.
Immersive theater in non-traditional spaces has been a national trend, bolstered by the success of New York’s Sleep No More, which has been running at the McKittrick Hotel for nearly 10 years. Locally, Dead White Zombies took up that mantle for years. Interesting, another immersive show debuts this weekend, Generations of Adam, at the Artstillery warehouse in West Dallas.
As we spoke with Muñoz about Disturbance — a mashup of live theater and visual art — a flavor emerged. A unique, possibly confusing, perhaps exhilarating concoction (think Willy Wonka) combining disparate ingredients to create a treat more satisfying than the sum of its parts. It certainly worth a bite.
TheaterJones: How did this collaboration between Sweet Tooth and Arts Mission begin?
Anastasia Muñoz: I am working on an immersive theatrical experience for Arts Mission in 2020. I’ve been meditating on it, and I knew Jencey [Keeton] and admired her work — when she was conceptualizing Sweet Tooth Hotel she came to us as a possible venue. And while that didn’t work out, she got a sweet deal in Victory Park, I watched it bloom and grow. I wanted to bring her on for my project. She said, “I’ve been wanting to do an immersive theater piece at Sweet Tooth for Halloween! Would you be interested in creating something together?”
How much is scripted and how much is improv?
We created a story and continued to evolve it; the actors are familiar with the storyline and characters and have paths they follow, but they improv with audience members and each other. There is no script. The current show at Sweet Tooth, Discotech, has 200 headphones to do a silent disco party and we use [the headphones] for this show. We recorded content onto the headphones, on three different channels, so you can listen and get clues as you walk through.
Is it a mystery?
The mystery is “figure out what this story is about!” It’s all the same story, just different sides — depending on what channel you’re listening to, whether you talk to a cast member. I’m hoping people will come and experience one angle and be intrigued enough to come back for another look.
According to the Disturbance Facebook page, “All guests experience everlasting beauty, immortality, and the promise of being escalated into the upper echelon of social media influencer society.” That’s quite a list! How are you achieving that?
I’m describing it to people as my social media Black Mirror nightmare — there are some comic elements, but it’s also horrifying. Before we figured out the story, I thought of the word “disturbance” because of “Do Not Disturb” and playing that off as a sign in the hotel. Our story became that [guests are] at a party, there’s a disturbance, and it sets off the evening.
What do you think you gain or maybe lose breaking the fourth wall, inviting in the audience as part of the performance?
I’m hoping the person who would never go to theater but would go to the bar and then to Sweet Tooth Hotel and put pictures of it on Instagram might go to the theater tonight. The disadvantage is that it might turn off some theater people who don’t want to be interactive. What’s cool about this show is that you’re not required to participate, you can be a voyeur, put on your headphones and don’t say a word or do anything. Or you can ask the cast questions or follow one particular person. I haven’t created or been in something like this, but I’ve seen it, so I’m curious: will people get too aggressive, will they totally check out and not want to follow a story? It’s my own social experiment!
This reminds me a bit of Meow Wolf, an arts and entertainment collective in Sante Fe. Any connection?
Sweet Tooth Hotel is like a mini-Meow Wolf. I’m just adding what if Meow Wolf had actors moving through it?
How do visual art and live theater work together here?
What I have loved about blending the visual arts installation with a theater piece is that it [visual art] is already infinitely fascinating. By melding these different forms, we are expanding our audience base, which is also my dream for Arts Mission.
The promo says audience could “alter the ending or become trapped in a neverending enigma.” If we go the enigma route, how does the story end?
Well, I’m not going to tell you how it ends! I’ll say we give you an option to escape. You may, however, choose to be trapped.
» Disturbance runs Friday and Saturday nights, Oct. 4-11, at Sweet Tooth Hotel, 2316 Victory Park Lane. Click here for tickets.