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Kickstarting A Quest for the Fountain of Youth Inside ‘The Grand Paradise’

on Monday, Jul. 27th

I tend to talk a lot about how seeing the immersive theatre show Then She Fell was one of the peak experiences of my life. That one production crystalized years of thinking about performance, theatre, and storytelling for me in one magical night. So you can imagine that when I saw that Third Rail Projects, the creators of that show, had turned to crowdfunding to make their next large-scale piece even more spectacular they had my full attention.

Here’s how the company describes The Grand Paradise:

Set in those hazy and culturally liminal years of the late 1970s becoming the 1980s, the experience begins as you are handed a vintage plane ticket by a polyester-clad airline attendant. You and other guests find yourselves transported to The Grand Paradise, a tropical resort that purports to be the home of the original, genuine Fountain of Youth.

Greeted with a tropical drink, a garland of flowers, and an overly-cheerful Activities Director (who looks like he stepped out of a Charlie’s Angels episode), visitors encounter the resort’s resident population, characters who seem to embody the era’s shifting and blurring values—a rogue’s gallery of eccentrics, hustlers, eternal youths, gods, monsters, showgirls, and con men. Visitors to The Grand Paradise are invited to explore the grounds and the beaches, watch a floorshow, follow performers into one-on-one encounters or hidden scenes, drink from the Fountain of Youth, and trade their faded ideals for shiny new illusions. Audiences explore the palm tree-lined esplanade as they become immersed in a lushly designed world that tempts and indulges their deepest cravings, and offers to quench their unspoken desires.

The Kickstarter campaign the company launched was for $21,700–all of which was earmarked for big set-pieces in the show. Primary production costs had already been covered. The team blew through those goals and as of this writing are standing on a $51,037 total from just shy of 400 backers. (Disclosure: I’m not one of them, but don’t think I haven’t thought about it.)

After witnessing the initial surge I reached out to Third Rail Projects, and amidst the whirlwind Managing Director Elizabeth Carena got back to me with some behind the scenes details on the campaign, what the company has learned since their last go-round, and what the new show means for their long running hit.

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TURNSTYLE: You hit the primary goal on the first day (if I parsed that right) is that something you expected, or are you kind of blown away?

ELIZABETH CARENA: We’re blown away! We were confident that we would reach our goal, but we did not expect to get there in 7 hours. It’s very exciting to have such a strong vote of confidence in our work from our supporters.

TS: Third Rail Projects has crowdfunded before, what’s different about this time?

EC: Third Rail Projects has grown in many ways since our last crowdfunding campaign (for Then She Fell in 2012). We now have a larger staff than we did then, so we have a few more creative thinkers on hand. We have the experience of having run that first campaign under our belts, so we were able to approach this one with a little more perspective and ideas of our best practices. Also, crowdfunding itself has changed – there are far more resources out there, and we really spent the time to do our homework before launching.

TS: The campaign mentions start-up funds that brought you to this point: what were the nature of those?

EC: As with all of our work, Third Rail Projects is producing The Grand Paradise with a myriad of funding sources: earned income, support from individual donors, commissions, and grants, and a producing partner with whom we’re delighted to be working.

TS: When was the decision made to crowd fund this time? Why the “finishing funds” route?

EC: As with our campaign for Then She Fell, Third Rail Projects really considers crowdfunding to be one piece of the funding pie for our work. We knew we needed to be able to premiere the show with or without the campaign funds (as it’s never guaranteed that one will reach the goal), so we planned for the most important elements to be funded without it (building the basic set, paying our artists, renting a space). Then the Crowdfunding campaign funds allow us to put on the finishing touches – period-specific props, set and environment details, costumes, etc.

TS: You’ve almost blown through all the stretch goals already… do you have more in your back pocket or did that catch you off guard? (And if you do, any hint of what they might be?)

EC: We have lots of big ideas. If the support keeps coming, we will keep making them a reality. Stay tuned on our campaign page for clues!

TS: Does the advent of THE GRAND PARADISE mean that THEN SHE FELL will be going into the sunset?

EC: As long as there is an audience for Then She Fell, we will do what we can to continue to run it. We’ve just extended through the end of 2015 (we’ll celebrate its third anniversary in October). At that point nearly 28,000 people will have seen the show. That’s pretty thrilling for a project that initially planned to run for six weeks!

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