Step ”Into the Mist” and enter a live, online, interactive experience that immerses audiences in the Jazz Age and the rise of mass entertainment.
Presented by Evanston’s Studio5, the show is an invitation to a magical night on the town in 1927. It is part game, part puzzle, part interaction and overflowing with entertainment.
“The concept began as a way to give music of this era a living context… I was not trying to create a story, but rather, an experience,” said Steve Rashid about the show he produced with his sons, Robert and Daniel.
A maze of hallways and secret passageways awaits guests who have an hour to explore 15 different rooms. Some occupants are legends of the era like Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, and Dorothy Parker. Others are people who might have lived at the time, including a silent-film pianist, a cartoonist at work in his studio and a magician who does 1920s tricks. There are opportunities for audience members to interact with a room’s inhabitants.
Guests can play blackjack in one room, and and a secret room has restricted access. Outside of the rooms, embedded puzzles challenge guests who choose to tackle them.
Even those who get lost (okay, it happens) and end up on the fire escape will easily find their way back to one of the rooms, all created by performers in their own homes.
“Our cast ranges in age from their early 20s to their mid-80s, and the beauty of this being all virtual is that our performers are literally located across the country, performing live simultaneously,” said Mr. Rashid.
To be clear, this unique show is not a Zoom gathering. And it is not a concert. It offers a multi-experience journey, crafted through technical wizardry, hi-def video and classic Studio5 sound.
It is also non-fiction. The cartoonist, performed by Ron Crawford, combined his own personal narratives with facts about a decade that brought advances in science and technology. Visitors to his “office” learned that the beginning of animation was an accident. It was a process developed by Thomas Edison that was thought to be just a fad. There were also fascinating details about Edison’s failed plot to hijack the movie industry. And who knew that Kool-Aid was originally called “Fruit Smack?”
“Guests … can choose to settle in one place … or explore more broadly if they like,” said Mr. Rashid. No two Friday night shows are the same.
Although each viewer’s experience is unique, the production recreates the communal experience of a live performance. Mr. Rashid greets the collective crowd at 10 p.m., when the evening culminates in a live set by the Chicago Cellar Boys, the Midwest’s premier 1920s jazz and hot dance band. “I believe that music is a reflection of a time and a culture…I thought if I could present a set of live music from the 1920s preceded by an opportunity for people to immerse themselves in experiences reflective of the world in which it had existed, then by the time our audiences actually see the band, the music would resonate that much more,” said Mr. Rashid.
He recounted to the RoundTable a memory of the evening in January when the production launched.
“There are people all over this experience, all moving around at the same time. In the end, when we all end up at the Club, and you see there’s 200 people there – on opening night, we had cast members in tears,” said Mr. Rashid.
Audience members come from all over the United States and locations that span the globe, including Australia, New Zealand, South America, Singapore, Norway, the U.K., Canada and the Philippines.
The idea for the production was hatched in October of last year.
“At that point, I stopped doing online streaming concerts. It started to become where everybody was doing live streams, and we were, kind of, not competing against other live venues in Chicago. We were competing against the Internet,” said Mr. Rashid, laughing good naturedly at the predicament that performing arts professionals have found themselves in during the pandemic.
He said it was not sustainable to continue streaming concerts at the time. It was also “less interesting from an artistic standpoint, and stressful,” due to the safety guidelines that were put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“All that added up to, ‘Wow, we should come up with something else.’ … Pre-pandemic, we were getting really nice crowds in Studio5. We are so grateful for the community. We’ve been so happy in Evanston, and all my efforts were, ‘How can I maintain the community and help people feel that we’re still here – you’re still here – we’re still connected,” said Mr. Rashid.
He noted that the audience became much broader when he and sons Robert and Daniel began building the website for “Into the Mist” from scratch.
“It’s just sort of a re-definition of what community is now. Community doesn’t have to be the people on our block or in our neighborhood. They could be anywhere. As long as we share this interest and this fascination with this era, we can all get together and have a good time, and escape together to this other time and place,” said Mr. Rashid.
“One of the true joys of this project has been to produce it with Robert and Daniel, who have been as deeply involved as I have. Robert is here in Chicago, but Daniel is in L.A., along with several other of our cast members,” said Mr. Rashid, who lives in Evanston with his wife, Béa Rashid, Director of Dance Center Evanston and founder of Evanston Dance Ensemble.
Like the Rashid family, all of whom are in the cast, many of the world-class artists who perform in and create ”Into the Mist” have a strong Evanston connection.
Other cast members who are current Evanston residents include Dana Olsen, Kara Roseborough and Jasmin Tomlins. Former Evanston residents include Ron Crawford of New York City, Mia Weinberger of Los Angeles, and onetime Chicago actors and real-life couple Victoria Zielinski and Paul Barrosse, now residing in Los Angeles. More than 20 performers and their credits are listed on the ”Into the Mist” website.
Web designer Lauren Biolsi grew up in Evanston. Sound engineer Sam Fishkin is a long-time former Evanston resident, and videographer Steve Lemieux-Jordan is a current Evanstonian.
“It does point up the fact that, though this production is generating a wide reach, it is pretty home grown, right here,” said Mr. Rashid.
“Into the Mist” runs through the end of the month, with three shows remaining on March 19, March 26 and April 9. The March 12 show was sold out in advance of the 9 p.m. start time.
The show must be experienced on a laptop or desktop computer, and is intended for audience members 18+. Viewers are advised to watch the short tutorial video in the waiting room for an optimal experience. Tickets are $16 at www.intothemist.net