The sights impress but keep your ears open, as well
Deep inside Otherworld, in a room designed to recall an abandoned playroom, workshop or perhaps just storage space, among the detritus of an imagined bygone childhood, can be found a VHS copy of the 1995 film “Jumanji.”
It's a particularly apt find, given that Otherworld brings its visitors full-on into a world full of fantasy, whimsy and a fair helping of creepy. And while you may not run the risk of actually getting trapped inside the 32,000-square-foot immersive art and technology installation, it's not hard to see how your visit could reach the high end of the “one- to three-hour” timeframe suggested by the Otherworld staff who greeted us in the space's expansive lobby when we visited in late May.
Let's get the obvious out of the way: The space is visually and aurally beautiful, even the aforementioned creepy stuff. The artists tasked with creating the spaces and experiences that comprise Otherworld deserve high marks for both imagination and execution, with extra praise to sound designers Anthony Lamitina and Ben Ahlteen for crafting a soundscape that does more than simply support or amplify the vibe of the visual elements.
“When we first started working, the rooms were not even close to being finished. We had a theme and a vibe, maybe — certain references to go from,” Lamitina said of the largely original Otherworld soundtrack.
“We just stayed in contact the whole time, talking about certain motifs, certain sounds and combinations of sounds,” Ahlteen said. “A lot of the rooms have at least two to three different pieces, different unique themes. And there was a lot of consideration given to transitions between the rooms.”
On the whole, three things stood out to me following my 90-minute-give-or-take visit to Otherworld.
I learned the phrase “suspension of disbelief” in the theater. You know you're in a room— a hall, playhouse or black box space — with people who are pretending to be other people, but you suspend that knowledge for the sake of the story. There is a loose story that binds Otherworld's disparate sub-spaces together, but I'm talking here more about the idea that you know you're not in an alternate dimension, but the experience is heightened by suspending that and allowing yourself to be more fully transported into the, ahem, other world. Plus, it'll just plain be more fun that way.
I'd also recommend coming with your sense of play fully engaged. While being kid-friendly, Otherworld is far from a kid-specific environment. That said, you're going to want to balance your sense of genuine appreciation for the installation and its makers with a healthy dose of gambol.
Touch everything, even if it doesn't look specifically designed to do something when touched. Don't just look at everything, either. You're going to do that naturally. But take a minute and look at things from different perspectives and vantage points. Climb on or in anything you're wondering if it might be possible to do so. And if all this sounds tiring, know that there are a couple of places set aside to rest.
And don't forget to interact with the sound. Ahlteen said that, even though Otherworld is open to the public now, he and Lamitina are still at work installing additional ways for visitors to engage and affect the sound in Otherworld.
Thirdly, expand that interactivity beyond the installation itself to include other visitors, whether they came with you or not. Yes, the installation is interactive. How you experience the space will, in part, be determined by how you engage and move throughout it. But how you engage and move throughout the space might also impact how others are experiencing it as well, and vice versa. You might even find ways to work together with other visitors to create an experience you couldn't have had on your own.