The year is 1959 and Earth has perfected commercial space travel. First stop: Saturn! Enjoy your visit to the small town of Hyperion Flats and all it has to offer. Grab a Splarf Soda at the Pop ‘n Bop Soda Fountain where the greasers roam and romp! Participate in far-out experiments at the Research Center where only the dangerously creative shape the future! Get an alien makeover at Mudy’s Beauty, grab a room at the Moonbeam Motel, or head to the main stage for the hilarious comedy of Duzille Orb, the toe-tapping doo-wop tunes of The Meteorettes, and the rock n’ roll stylings of your host, Raaz Gudem! Blast off and join the Saturnites for a rollicking good time.
Sockhop on Saturn: A 1950s Intergalactic Experience is a uniquely immersive event that puts you right in the middle of the 360° action. The fictional, futuristic town of Hyperion Flats is staged inside of a giant inflatable tent called The Wonder. As an audience member, you will literally walk through Hyperion Flats, where characters will bring you into the environment and create a world where you help decide the fate of the story and characters. During this 2.5-hour event, 30 actors roam the space and audience members are encouraged to follow whomever they choose – and be as involved in the narrative as they want – in this choose-your-own-adventure experience!
Immersed had the unique privilege of chatting with Sockhop on Saturn director Joe May to have him answer some of our burning questions.
In your own words, can you describe Sockhop on Saturn: A 1950s Intergalactic Experience?
Sockhop on Saturn is an immersive experience that takes place in a fully explorable retro space city. Very simply put, you’re jumping into a movie or storybook and living in a fictional world for a night.
Marrying the nostalgia of the 1950s with the wonder of space travel is quite an ambitious goal. What was the inspiration behind creating Sockhop on Saturn?
I’ve always been a huge fan of ’50s/’60s retro future. I wondered what our universe would be like if predictions of the future from that time period actually came true. Space travel, flying cars, robots integrated into society and all that fun stuff.
What kind of research went into creating such an out-of-this-world environment? Did you watch specific movies or TV shows? Attend other immersive events?
Days worth of research went into the creation of the town of Hyperion Flats. With the 1950s element, we studied old commercials and TV shows as well as magazines from that time. When it comes to the sci-fi elements, we took inspiration from some classic monster movies and space race propaganda. If you’ve ever seen Forbidden Planet, War of the Worlds, or Invaders From Mars, you would recognize some references!
With 30 actors inhabiting the space plus roaming audience members, what was the most difficult part in your process of creation and organization?
The most difficult part was timing. Having 30 different characters that need to arc at different times is not a simple task. We had to devise an intricate play structure that would allow for things to go “off-schedule” without causing the character arcs to be cut short or seem too weak. At the same time though, the experience couldn’t seem too structured and made to look like scenes were happening in a “school bell” like fashion. Finding the happy place between structure and organic has been our most exciting obstacle yet.
Immersive experiences have various levels of interactivity, agency, and immersion. What is the style of this experience? How much agency do audience members have in terms of narrative? What other aspects are you using to immerse audiences?
This depends greatly on where the audience member is at one time. Some guests may be the very reason some things happen and at other times there can be more observant moments where you are simply watching someone’s life change. Some interactive aspects include giving advice to lovesick Saturnites, delivering messages, playing games, hiding things from characters. We can’t give everything away, but we are so looking forward to sharing the rest of those elements with spectators!
Immersive experiences are only elevated by strong production design and site-specific work. What location are you using and how do you plan to transport guests to Saturn?
The structure we’re working under was designed specifically for our company! “The Wonder” as we call it is our 5000 sq ft inflatable tent. Incidentally, it looks like an otherworldly portal. Humans will board the SS Wonder and travel at the speed of 2.23 million miles a second to arrive in downtown Hyperion Flats.
What has been the most rewarding experience in doing this immersive pop-up?
The most rewarding part has to be seeing it all come together in rehearsals. The actors have all given so many hilarious gifts that we’ve kept canon. These actors have made me cry from laughing so hard! Certainly, collaboration has been a huge reason why this piece stays so fresh and being a part of a production where everyone cares so much about the lore and characters is something special.
What do you hope guests leave feeling or have learned?
I hope the guests feel a sense of community while they’re experiencing Hyperion Flats. I want them to feel like they made friends with patrons and the characters, and when it’s time to fly back home, they won’t want to leave.
What future projects do you have on the horizon?
Touring our production of Sockhop on Saturn is in the cards for the near future for Klubhouse Arts, but you can most definitely expect whole new worlds to be born in 2020.