'Perception' promises to bend your mind and move your feet

By Elizabeth Jewitt
For the DCPA NewsCenter

Perception will be a massive theatrical undertaking unlike anything Off-Center @ The Jones has ever done before.

“In fact, we call ourselves Off-Center at The Jones, but this time we’re not (even performing) at The Jones, which is exciting,” said Charlie Miller, one of three Perception directors.

Perception quoteInstead, Perception is an immersive, interactive theatrical experience that will take place in the red-bricked Newman Center for Theater Education across the street from the Denver Performing Arts Complex at 13th and Arapahoe streets. Audiences are being told to come prepared for anything. And be prepared to move.

“The concept of the show is that Professor Phelyx sends the audience on a journey to gain awareness around perception,” Miller said. “It’s almost like living in a video game.”

Off-Center is the DCPA Theatre Company’s theatrical testing ground. Perception is considered “immersion theatre” because it is not taking place in a traditional theatre space, and the audience is never seated. Instead they travel through a series of rooms, where all of their senses will be provoked and challenged.

A major component of the experience will be live music in each room composed for Perception by Tom Hagerman of the local band DeVotchKa, which will be adapting the musical Sweeney Todd for production by the DCPA Theatre Company next season.

Perception. Photos by John Moore. “There’s been a growing trend around this type of theater, and some really exciting work happening out of London and New York,” Miller said. Since 2011, Sleep No More has been attracting a whole new theatre audience to an abandoned Manhattan meatpacking building that a British theatre company turned into a 1930s-era hotel where inside, an adaptation of Macbeth plays out over five dimly lit floors.

“But this kind of theatre has never happened at the DCPA before, and we are excited to be experimenting with that,” Miller said.  

Perception audiences will also walk at their own pace through a variety of theatrically designed rooms. Their host is Denver native Phelyx Hopkins, better known as Professor Phelyx.

Hopkins has been performing his mentalism craft for more than 34 years. So naturally, Professor Phelyx was the go-to guy for the Off-Center creative team to go to.  

“I am blown away that so many people are putting this much work into a show, and they’ve been working on it all day, every day for a long time,” Hopkins said. “We started writing this thing eight months ago, and it’s come a long way. I couldn’t be more happy to work with such a capable team.”

Hopkins describes himself as a comedic mind reader, “but there’s a big, skeptical side to me,” he said. The audience can expect a “strong dose of skepticism, a lot of humor, mixed with unexplainable elements that look like mind reading or psycho-kinetic metal bending.”

The show begins with an introduction from Professor Phelyx. Audience members then will be whisked away in small groups to explore each room where fantasy will become reality, and reality will become mere fantasy.

“I think that everyone is going to have a unique experience,” Hopkins said. “At the end of the show, we expect audience members to talk with each other and discover that they missed something. But they got to see something that someone else missed. I hope the audience leaves with a sense of empowerment.”

Miller describes Perception as a proudly abstract show. “It really calls for someone with a sense of adventure and an open mind to try something new and to be taken out of their  comfort zone,” he said.

Hopkins guarantees something for everyone. “There are a couple of experiences we’ve designed to allude to how a politician might lie or how product marketing is designed to be a little deceptive,” he said. “I’ll teach a few techniques for parents to detect when their children are lying. I’ll teach techniques to tell how anyone is lying, for that matter. A lot of it is left for interpretation, so I think that is a part of why everybody is going to have a different experience.”

Perception will have a limited engagement of just five performances with only 120 tickets available for each. Because audience members will be on their feet for the majority of the experience, comfortable clothing and shoes are recommended. The show is handicap accessible. 

The directors of Perception are Miller, Allison Watrous and Bob Davidson. The  Production Manager is Melissa Cashion. The Producer is Emily Tarquin. The production team includes Topher Blair, Meghan Anderson Doyle, Eileen Garcia, Frank Haas, Erika Kae, Matthew Plamp and Nicholas Renaud. The Production Stage Manager is D. Lynn Reiland.

Noah Anderson
Danyelle Coble
Peter Farr
Lija Fisher
Ali Francis
Rachel Gibbons
Rob Leary
Iona Leighton
Kevin Richard McGuire
Leigh Miller
Jacques Morrow
Sam Provenzano
Aspen Roder
Mackenzie Sherburne
Zach Tait
Austin Terrell

Perception: Performance information:
April 10-25, 2015
Performances 8 p.m. Fridays April 10, 17 and 24; Saturdays April 18 and 25
At the Robert and Judi Newman Center for Theatre Education, corner of 13th and Arapahoe streets
Tickets $25
303-893-4100 or buy online

Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa will be providing original music for each of the rooms in 'Perception.' Photo by John Moore. Tom Hagerman of DeVotchKa will be providing original music for each of the rooms in ‘Perception.’ He’s pictured above performing at the DCPA’s Holiday Box Office in December. Photo by John Moore.