I may be sitting in front of my computer in the real world, but in my mind I am lost in a story that flows through space and time and centers on a medicinal recipe turned into a massive corporation fortune. Rio Records is definitely a trip to be on…
… and yours will be entirely different.
In our current crisis era, those of us who love and/or create immersive entertainment have lost one of the great elements of the art. We can’t physically experience things. We can’t find ourselves in unique locations or strange circumstances in the same way as before. Multiple companies have attempted to recreate that sense of ‘being somewhere’ with greater or lesser success. Based on my journey through 13Exp’s newest creation, Rio Records accomplishes what few shows I’ve seen recently have done. It transports me to somewhere else.
On a purely technical level, the show works as many other remote interactive and immersive shows do. Audience members use the internet in two ways during the 80-minute show, through a custom-built interactive opening site and through a later Zoom call. Cell phones can also be part of the experience. Both live and pre-recorded elements add to the narrative each audience member enjoys.
On the design side, the show represents the work of over 70 artists that creates a tapestry focusing on the past, present and future of the LA River. Over 700+ minutes of content has been created, allowing a show that has multiple different story paths that weave in and out of each other. It’s a design that hopes audiences will return more than once to the experience as each trip they can follow an entirely different path through the show. Rio Records also adds a civic-minded element through raising both awareness and funds to help revitalize the LA River in the near future.
In the experience, however, Rio Records explodes beyond its setup. It becomes something far, far more interesting.
My particular journey focused on an indigenous medical recipe stolen from a housekeeper by her employer. That employer then turned that recipe into a fortune, none of which was shared with the person it was stolen from or her family. I was treated to multiple forms of entertainment including comic books, live phone calls, hacked messages, recorded video and live streaming moments. The variation and approach of the artists towards the subject matter excited me and occasionally moved me emotionally.
The show allows each audience member to choose their path forward multiple times during the show, with each choice leading to a different outcome in terms of both art and narrative. For some audience members, this sheer open nature may be intimidating or confusing. But I chose to follow the request of the LA River (yes, she is an actual character in the show) and let the experience flow over me. Whenever I had the chance to make a choice, I made it instinctively and let the story build in its own time. By letting myself simply enjoy each moment as it came, I quickly lost my sense of being in my own home and watching through a computer screen. Instead, I found myself in an almost heightened state, relishing each element for its own sake and as it added to the story. I highly recommend other audience members approaching the show in the same manner.
Unfortunately, the show does not succeed on all fronts. In its final segment, audience members join a Zoom call that happens narratively in the future. I understand the goal of this segment, which is to suggest both challenges and potential solutions for the LA River as we move through the 21st century. The execution of this goal feels problematic. First, the audience is asked for their input in choosing appropriate solutions for the river. We get too little time and information about those solutions to give that input. Second, brief snippets of narrative conflict (such as someone who might have a conflict of interest) feel like they should be able to be explored but cannot be because the show is nearly over. This end segment feels rushed and tacked onto the experience in order to recognize the real importance of the LA River to Los Angeles as a whole. While the idea may be noble, this segment could easily have been an entire show on its own and probably would work far better as one. Instead it drags down the beautiful flow of the rest of the show into a strange, confusing end.
Rio Records is a show that I sincerely hope people turn out to experience in its final weekend. Beautiful and elegant in so many ways, Rio Records offers a respite from shows that lock us behind our screens. If you let it wash over you, the show can float you into a story you choose from moment to moment. It can connect you to the incredible work of current artists and to stories based on the history of one of Los Angeles’ important elements. I recommend this experience as something different and strange and absolutely worth your evening.