Performance Park brings Tarot to real time at the Vortex

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Baba Yaga, played by Melissa Yogt, haunts a small shack near the edge of the Park. This supernatural character from Slavic folklore occupies one of the many distinct exhibits throughout the park.

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

After three years in the making, Performance Park is now live at the Vortex.

Conceived and directed by Bonnie Cullum, Performance Park is an interactive game, original musical, art installation and a magical divination through Tarot. The cast consists of all of the major arcana — the most impactful cards in a Tarot deck such as the Emperor, Strength, Justice, Star, Moon and Baba Yaga.

“In terms of scale, this is just grander than anything we have ever done,” Cullum said. “This is our 30th season (at the Vortex), so I wanted to do a big splash project that would encompass the entire compound and really bring the theater out of the theater.”

Instead of buying a ticket, participants buy toolkits that each contain a map, clues, poker chips and other items needed to start the game. As they go along, participants collect things for their toolkits. If they manage to collect all the right objects, they are allowed into the magician’s sanctum and have a unique experience with the magician.

Along with the toolkit, guests receive a costume piece to wear. This not only makes them feel like they are part of the performance, but also helps the 28-member cast know who is playing and who is just waiting for their pasta from Patrizi’s — the Italian food truck on the grounds of the Vortex.

Melissa Vogt plays Baba Yaga in Performance Park. She said having the audience play a vital part of the show is stretching the skill sets of all of the cast members, but in the best kind of way.

“For me personally, every show is new and different,” Vogt said. “The citizens coming through the door don’t know what to expect, nor do I know what they’re going to bring into the mix. Every night I’ve walked away with at least a couple of instances where I’ve learned just as much from the people interacting with me.”

Cullum said she wanted people to treat Performance Park like an amusement park, national park or museum, where you can take in as much or as little of it as you want.

“I had a very vivid dream in my sleep one night where audience members were engaging in the performance,” Cullum said. “They were singing, dancing, wearing costumes, and they were on some kind of quest.”

Using research from Jane McGonigal’s book, “Reality is Broken,” Cullum implemented game theory to embed the game into a show. Cullum said she ultimately wanted to adapt Performance Park from a fairy tale, but she struggled to find one that really spoke to modern issues.

Cullum said working with the universal archetypes that the major arcana characters embody speak to us about where we are in our own lives while being able to reflect back on our challenges, successes and dilemmas.

“I thought what better way to kind of take on what I was feeling then to really go on and dig into the arcana and really let them help inform the citizens who came to the Performance Park,” Cullum said. “It is in a way inviting everyone to really step up, to become active and to be a voice of resistance in the park.”

Actress Sandie Donzica plays the Star in Performance Park, and she said it is a wonderful experience to finally be a part of a show where everyone can be the protagonist.

“The degree of interactivity with the audience fascinates me,” Donzica said. “Performance Park takes you to a different world, and you don’t want to leave it.”