Graduate Student Converts Entire Theatre Into Interactive Journey for M.F.A. Thesis

Wednesday, April 4, 2018
A wall-sized painting of snow capped mountains with a sunset sky
"The Mountain" 

Although Integrated Media graduate student Jon Haas grew up in rural North Carolina, his work creating large entertainment events often placed him in big cities and at odds with his love of the remote outdoors. For his M.F.A. thesis, he knew he wanted to combine the two passions—something grand in scale yet anchored in nature—but it wasn’t until he summited Mount Rainier in the summer of 2017 that his thesis idea became fully realized as “The Mountain,” a large multimedia and interactive maze he invited the public to trek.

An image of a person walking through a production set of a mountain in a dark room with blue lights

Working with a team of 12 undergraduate and graduate students, Haas designed “The Mountain” with its explorers’ emotions as his guide. By filling the 500 seat B. Iden Payne Theatre with giant slopes of painted, textured landscapes and having guests wear a helmet fitted with speakers and a motion tracking device that triggered audio, video and lighting, Haas provided an abstract, mountainous switchback that changed according to its inhabitants’ location. (Imagine your feet stepping on a reflective floor, cueing the tinkling sound of breaking ice.) The expansive and constrictive spaces, dazzling lights and dark, mysterious corners were all navigated by instinct—no signage was provided—and hanging strands of silver beads were Haas’ way of providing a playful release to note the end of the explorers’ journeys.

A person standing, engulfed by a curtain of glittery strands of beads

"It’s important that the participants were figuring things out themselves because that engages them but also gives them a sense of accomplishment," said Haas. "I hope they walked away with a sense of curiosity and wonder with everything that’s around us, and I hope they appreciated the journey more than the destination."

a person walking through a door that leads to a painting of a mountain