LOS ANGELES — For some, it’s the embodiment of untapped potential. For Mikhael Tara Garver, it’s a source of inspiration.

“I am fascinated by spaces that hold the past, the present and the future,” said Garver. “And the L.A. River is at the creation and source of Los Angeles.”

What You Need To Know

  • Rio Reveals is a multi-year series of immersive experiences on and around the Los Angeles River

  • The first installation, Rio Records, features over 70 artists and more than 700 minutes of content

  • The choose-your-own-adventure-style journey allows participants to explore the fictional world and create a unique, individual story

  • Live actors interact with audiences on-screen and over the phone

As the head of 13Exp, Garver has been working in the realm of immersive theatre and experiential design for more than a decade, including directing the American Repertory Theatre's Sleep No More. A recent transplant to Los Angeles, she was immediately struck by the river, its centuries of existence and the various distinct communities that have lived along its shores.

"When I look at this river, I can hear and see all the stories and voices and languages, and I get excited about how we bring that to life, and when we bring it to life, how it makes people more aware of their environment," she said.

Working with the nonprofit River L.A., Garver is now deep in the throes of creating a ongoing series of immersive experience centered on and around the river itself.  In the fall of 2020, she created a small outdoor experience for a select audience to test the waters. The evening featured live music, dance, and storytelling as audiences were led on foot from their cars to the base of the North Atwater bridge.

Some of that footage has been incorporated into what is now Rio Records – the first installation of the series. It’s a live, interactive, digital experience with a choose-your-own-adventure flair. Immersive, but COVID-safe, Garver stressed that this is not Zoom.

“We all have Zoom fatigue,” she said.

Instead she sees this as a way to connect live performers with live interaction at home. A live actress welcomes visitors and then sends them to explore a new, fictional world rooted in the true history of the river. Garver and a team of 70 artists created over 700 minutes of content, and what you see depends on what you click, so each person’s experience is entirely different. There are even moments when you are instructed to call a phone number, and live actors are there — like spirit guides — to check in on how your individual journey is going.

“I want people to understand that you can have your own personal relationship to the river and that is connected to something larger,” Garver said.

She isn’t the only one who sees the river’s potential to be something grander. The proceeds from Rio Reveals are being donated to River LA, which is run by Ed Reyes.

“In decades past, this corridor was relegated as a undesirable area and as such was treated like a glorified sewer,” said Reyes. “In the process, they killed a very strong natural resource that any other city they would have celebrated.”

His group tries to bridge the gap, he explained, between the people who make decisions about the river — engineers, architects, politicians — and the people who actually live around the river but in many cases can’t access it.

“Unfortunately, they strapped this cement jacket,” he said, looking over a particularly green section of the river where nature fought back. “They took away history. They took away culture. They took away all that gives us meaningful life.”

It’s that lost culture and past that Garver tried to tap into for this project.

“There is endless material around this river that connects us to both where we’ve been and where we’re going,” said Garver. “I was saying to Ed that he better watch out because I think I’m going to be making art around this river for the rest of my career.”

Rio Records is a beginning, she added, a way for people to dip their toe into what for her is a well of inspiration. She hopes from here that they’ll want to dive deeper into its history and take an active interest in its future.

For more information about the project, or to purchase tickets, visit here.