I open a hotel room door. It’s plain, unassuming, and just like any other hotel room I’ve entered. But this hotel is different – and the other side, however, is remarkable. The inside is a beautiful blue sky full of clouds. I stare in wonder at the vastness before me when I hear a woman behind me: “But have you touched them?” I reach out my hand, brushing the fluffy white clouds with my fingertips. The woman speaks again: “Push harder.” I push my hand deeper into the clouds, and a galaxy splits open before me. “Welcome to the Madcap Motel.”
Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel
The brainchild of Paige Solomon, Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel is a multi-sensory immersive installation that transports guests of all ages to a universe full of wonders – all behind the façade of a 1960s motel. The experience begins with a linear (relatively, given the sci-fi context) narrative with live actors, before opening up into a wheel-and-spoke-styled sandbox for participants to explore freely – each room having some ability of interactivity. When guests are ready to leave the sandbox portion – which could range from thirty minutes to an hour – a final room, and scene, provides a conclusion to the narrative and a gentle way of releasing guests back into reality. While the before/after scenes set up an interesting and mysterious narrative, the sandbox portion of the Madcap Motel mostly functions as rooms full of photo ops, with occasional actor interaction. Those who wish to dig deeper and unravel a mystery can find that at other immersive experiences, like Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart at Area 15 in Las Vegas.
The narrative bookending Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel is a simple one: Scientist J.D. Sando has discovered a time-warping wormhole that opens doorways to other dimensions, all within the Madcap Motel. This basic structure allows the rooms within the motel to range drastically, while still making sense under the overall thematic umbrella. Each room within the motel is a doorway into another world, so each room can be distinct and self-contained – from a room of just sky to an underwater coral reef to a space-aged laboratory. The final scene (Room #7) concludes the narrative nicely and also allows for participants to come back to the motel to escape their reality again and again. This structure is a clever one, for it allows for the creative team to switch up some of the rooms/installations in the future if they so desire, and it would still fit within their universe.
Inspire the Senses
Each of the 18 rooms in Madcap Motel offers a new theme as well a way for guests to participate and interact with that environment – engaging almost every sense. Guests can – and are encouraged to – open doors, touch larger-than-life props, play an Elsewhere-themed arcade game, and push that BIG RED BUTTON standing unguarded in the middle of the room. Don’t worry, though, sanitizer is plentiful throughout the experience, and maids are always on duty.
The soundtrack throughout Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel is as varied, yet appropriate, as the designs of the rooms. Tracks from the 1950s and ‘60s play in the Madcap Motel atrium, as well as some of the rooms, subtly and effectively setting the moment in time of the experience. An ocean scene is highlighted by the sounds of waves crashing; hissing steam and robotic clicks and dings accompany a futuristic-styled room; in an almost-pitch-black room, guests can only hear secret radio messages beneath one of several motion-sensor spotlights.
While all guests are required to wear masks, the Madcap Motel still manages to incorporate scents into the experience to further immerse guests. The strongest use of scents is in rooms containing fog – such as the dark room with spotlights, and the BIG RED BUTTON room with its twisting pipes. It would be exciting in the future to see more use of smells throughout Madcap Motel. The coral reef room, for example, could benefit from ocean smells, while the plant life in the atrium could also be more aromatic.
As for the sights, Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel is simply stunning in its design. From each room’s individual theming to the actors’ costumes to the room keys lining the Check-In Desk, every detail in the motel is appropriate and impressive. The brown-and-yellow motel façade and lobby are expertly fashioned to take guests back in time to the 1960s, with all the bellhops and maids decked out in their uniforms.
The grass-lined atrium of the motel acts as the hub of the experience – a central place that branches off into the actual rooms of the motel (the wheel in the wheel-and-spoke style of the experience). Here, guests are treated to patio furniture, a lovely fountain and plant life that is more alive than one might think. The ambiance and details in the atrium alone make it easy for guests to spend ample time looking at and discovering everything.
While the motel is distinct and well-designed on its own, the individual rooms offer even more to see, and guests are encouraged to take lots of photos. Era-appropriate video projections of jet-skiers fill the walls, a larger-than-life TV prop allows guests to be the star of their own TV show, and intricately crafted miniatures line a room of busy wall-to-wall carpet. Hidden passageways lead from a colorful infinity room to a sinking motel room; a door opens into a brick wall; and tunnels brimming with twinkling lights and fog allow guests to travel between worlds.
Some of Madcap Motel’s rooms work better than others, of course. One room filled with white blinds, for example, pales in comparison to a room in which the furniture is sinking into the floor. In the room with water-skier projections, it was unclear what the most effective photo op should be. Yet, when the room does work—it easily makes up for the ones that don’t soar to the same heights.
The technology used throughout Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel is subtle and effective, never taking guests out of the experience, only enhancing the ambiance. Motion-sensor spotlights provide a moody, otherworldly glow; remote-controlled props allow for perfect timing within scenes; and the video projections, grainy with intentional skipping, help create an old, yet timeless, effect.
In addition to allowing guests to explore their senses, Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel encourages interaction with their talented cast of actors. From the moment guests enter the motel, performers are eager to greet them and welcome them into the madness. The motel’s staff – featured nicely in the lobby and Check-Out Desk – ably guide guests and explain the world and rules, while staying in character.
The three rooms that bookend Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel feature scripted scenes and enough interaction to engage participants. One quirky maid (expertly played by Sophie Cooper during my visit) in the first scene sets the stage for the oddities to come, as well as offers a few physical gags; a stressed lab technician excitedly explains J.D. Sando’s science and discovery; and the final room is a magic trick in itself (no spoilers from me!). All of the performers in these scenes got the narrative across while playfully engaging guests and encouraging interaction.
Throughout the motel, participants can also expect to run into performers acting as other motel guests. A couple waiting for their room to be repaired asks guests to check on it for them; a brightly dressed woman in over-sized sunglasses lounges on a deck-chair and chats up passersby; and motel maids roam the halls cleaning and pointing out perfect photo-ops. Each character in this wacky world is willing and eager to chat, if participants choose to interact with them.
While a fun inclusion, the characters in the atrium have little, or no, influence on the story and could be used in more immersive ways, rather than ambiance. If Madcap does continue to innovate, we would love to see the motel staff and guests could send inquisitive visitors on quests. Perhaps hidden objects and clues could reward repeat visitors and patrons, allowing for Madcap to exist in Los Angeles for years to come.
See You Elsewhere
The past year has been a difficult one, so now is the best time for Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel to open its doors. With its colorful décor, uplifting music, and awe-inspiring installations, Madcap Motel helps its guests engage in a sense of play and longed-for interaction. Here, guests can escape dreary reality for an hour or two and explore worlds they have never imagined. A sense of joy permeates the experience that will linger with participants long after they leave the walls of the Madcap Motel. Check in and escape reality at Elsewhere at the Madcap Motel.