"From an audience experience, this show is unlike anything else that is happening in Utah," Ungerman said. "Every audience member is going to have a different and unique experience. It's so multilayered with so much happening in so many places. We are challenging the audience to chase after it — it's not spoon-fed to you, you've got to go and search it out."
The first manifestation of "Sonder" came six years ago as an evening-length dance narrative titled "You," which peered into the lives of a community and was performed on a traditional stage. Its next incarnation in 2013 was the beginnings of the immersive dance experience, although a less-crafted version of what "Sonder" promises to be.
Since the 2013 performance in a large open studio at Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Brown said he has filled the narrative holes but kept the aesthetic he describes as "a rhythmic sensibility with syncopation … catchy material with a boogie sensibility."
The 90-minute experience tempts us to observe and participate — we are encouraged to sift through desk and bedside drawers of ephemera before being suddenly caught up by dancers and insinuated in their story. It's a little like being Alice in a strange new wonderland.
"Sonder" takes place on all three floors of the old Fraternal Order of the Eagles building at 400 South and West Temple. Eagles Hall has been many things since it was built in 1911, most recently a night spot called The Bay. The interior has been transformed into an elaborate theatrical set by installation artist Aundrea Frahm and Sackerson's lighting and design team. It's easy to forget you're in the heart of Salt Lake City until you look out the expansive floor-to-ceiling windows and "experience real life while simultaneously experiencing this immersive dance-party theater experience," Brown said.
"I feel strongly that it's not an open-ended experience and then it's over," Brown said. "It's very crafted. We have worked hard to have no wrong choices. So whatever choice you make, there is a payoff for that choice. A lot of that has to do with the depth of the many different characters. You find out more about them, which then colors your experience in a following scene in a different way because you've experienced it differently than a person next to you. Like in real life."
Ungerman emphasizes that "Graham is the creative heart of the show," and Brown credits Ungerman with the inventive title "Sonder" — a word you won't find in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (A definition can be found in the online Urban Dictionary and the "Dictionary of Obscure Sorrow," a compendium of invented words written by John Koenig.)
"It's a new word so we can own it," Ungerman said. "The word captures a sense of the immersive experience of the program. 'Sonder' means: the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own."