Student groups to host immersive role-playing experience

Junior Anahita Dalmia, executive producer of “Ascend,” also produced last year’s interactive “Harry Potter”-themed experience, titled “Alohamora: Unlock the Wizarding World.” (Photo courtesy of Anahita Dalmia)

After raising nearly $30,000 and compiling a team of 70 people and multiple student organizations, the immersive theatrical experience of “Ascend: When Myths Fall, Heroes Rise” will come to life this Saturday in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center ballroom. Throughout the experience, attendees will participate in quests, games and interactive experiences related to a storyline that brings together demigods from Greek, Chinese, Egyptian and Mayan mythology at a family reunion that quickly goes south.

“I like to think of it as a mix between interactive dinner theater, an escape room and a theme park,” said Alexander Walter, the head set designer of the production.

Walter, a junior majoring in theatre, also serves as a member of the narrative team for the event.

Junior Anahita Dalmia, the executive producer and initial founder of the project, said she also developed a similar production last year — an interactive “Harry Potter”-themed experience called “Alohamora: Unlock the Wizarding World.”

“[We’re] getting the opportunity to work with so many people from different disciplines who are bringing together their ideas and expertise to create this one coherent experience,” Dalmia said.

In addition to the production team, “Ascend” was created with help from USG’s Special Projects Committee, student group Escape SC and partnerships with other campus organizations like Late Night ’SC, the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment and the International Student Assembly.

The result of these collaborations is an experience that represents a multitude of talents and components. Escape SC provides 14 games in the experience, including a 30-minute escape room, an archery game and a large-scale battleship. There are 30 actors for audience members to interact with, and the physical space is divided into three “realms,” which feature a multitude of special effects spectacles.

“We want to create a world that people can participate in,” Dalmia said. “Because being a part of the story, not just through others’ eyes but through your own is so important.”

Besides worldbuilding, another large inspiration for the event was a desire for participants to have agency in their individual experiences, Dalmia said. Attendees cannot experience every aspect of the production because of time limits and the activities they choose. The entire experience is based on audience choice, including the ending.

“It is completely up to you how you want to choose to interact with the story, and the world goes on without you … It is literally putting every player or every participant or audience member in the position of [the] hero [in] their own story,” Dalmia said.

The audience’s agency in the production is also intended to have a concrete takeaway.

“We want people to do is reflect on the choices [they make], so they can make better ones,” Dalmia said.

Senior Jack McCarthy, Ascend’s theatrical director, says that audience participation is integral to the experience of theatre.

“The purpose of theatre is to give us a spiritual experience where we can understand or experience something we wouldn’t get to otherwise,” McCarthy said. “When you’re physically participating, that experience is increased tenfold, the fun in that is maximized, but I think the spiritual understanding is also maximized.”

Ideally, the story is a replayable experience that allows participants to pursue alternate plotlines and pathways. Dalmia explained that part of the fun is completing different quests and piecing information together with friends after the fact.

The event as it exists now will only run on March 24. The team worked long and hard to create an experience that will only occur once, Dalmia said.

“The team inspires me every single day,” Dalmia said. “Every one of them has unquestionably put in more time and work than I could ever ask for and this is greater than something I ever could have imagined.”

Reservations are available through Ascend’s Facebook page.