Evermore isn’t finished. That was my first thought when I stepped through the gates of Utah’s new immersive “experience park” designed by former Walt Disney Imagineer Josh Shipley and a team of uncommonly talented craftspeople. And I don’t mean “isn’t finished” in that always-evolving “Disneyland will never be complete” kind of way. I mean at least two-thirds of the park is literally still under construction and inaccessible to guests. But that doesn’t mean what is currently available at Evermore isn’t incredibly ground-breaking or impressive.
On the contrary, Evermore is what my former boss and mentor in the theme park news industry Ricky Brigante meant when he told me “immersive theater is the future.” Disney knows this, as the company is currently in the near-opening stages of its forward-thinking Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge themed areas in Anaheim and Orlando, which they’ve repeatedly stated will be fully immersive— surrounding visitors with the sights, smells, sounds, and populace of the Star Wars universe. Southern California’s Knott’s Berry Farm also knows this, as evidenced by their already-successful three-years-running “Ghost Town Alive!” immersive experiment, which thrusts guests headfirst into the hootin’, hollerin’ world of the Wild West.
But Evermore Park is pretty far ahead of that curve— in fact, to my knowledge, upon its opening this past month it became the world’s first full-fledged theme park built entirely with the concept of immersive theater in mind. Evermore plunks attendees smack-dab into the middle of their own medieval fantasy roleplaying game, but instead of laid out on a tabletop or displayed on a video game screen in front of them, the fantasy world has been constructed around them… or is in the process of being actively constructed, anyway.
Nestled at the basin of Mt. Timpanogos in Utah’s Provo-Orem area, just about 35 miles south of Salt Lake City, Evermore touts itself as having recreated an “old-world, gothic-styled European village” in which a variety of characters reside, interacting with guests across three wholly different seasonal events and a number of themed parties throughout the year. Visitors to the park can choose whether they want to simply explore their highly-detailed and evocative surroundings, or to embark on a series of quests that should be reminiscent to anyone who has played Dungeons & Dragons, The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, or any popular fantasy RPG.
There’s no fighting in Evermore (at least not that I saw) but there is an assortment of tasks assigned by goblins, elves, ghosts, vampires, and yes, also the occasional human. During my visit on the grand opening night I helped a barmaid at the town tavern reclaim pieces from her stolen pearl necklace, found a temporary cure for a strange disease contracted by a local treasure seeker on a recent foray into the mysterious woods, and tried my hand at archery to earn a spot among the town’s hunters guild—I failed at that last one, but it was fun anyway. At one point my fellow reporter Jeremiah and I were even sworn in among a band of druids in front of their menacing 15-foot-tall animatronic devil-god.
Surrounding the currently-central tent city (where gypsies will read your fortune, knights boast of their adventures, and a crackpot inventor shows off his mechanical man) are honest-to-goodness brick-and-mortar buildings representing the types of locals you would expect to find in these kinds of stories: an old mill, a looming cathedral with maze-like catacombs and adjacent eerie graveyard, and a Hobbiton-esque dwelling inhabited by several different creatures as the evening’s narrative unfolded. During the fall, Evermore plays home to “Lore,” unsurprisingly the creepiest and most supernatural-themed of its seasonal events. As we approach the holidays, the park will transform into “Aurora,” celebrating a Dickensian winter jubilee, and then next summer will see the inaugural “Mythos,” described as a lantern festival based in Norse mythology. From what I understand, each event will be populated by an entirely separate cast of characters and array of interactive experiences.
Beyond its immersive nature, the most remarkable aspects of Evermore are found in its technical achievements. The set design is top-notch, with all of the existing structures and scenery instantly transporting patrons to a faraway world worthy of a blockbuster fantasy film. The costuming and makeup departments are also doing stellar work, and there’s a perfect mix of live actors, puppets, and creature effects peppering the environment with authentic life. The food options in the park are limited at the moment, though this will undoubtedly be among the offerings that will expand over time.
The only major drawback to Evermore as it stands today is its incomplete state, and though I anticipate that will correct itself over time as construction continues, at this point, it’s very difficult to ignore the chain-link fences and roped-off areas that mar the otherwise convincing landscapes. I want to lose myself absolutely in the story that Evermore is telling me, but I feel I won’t be able to until that work is finished. I imagine a more thoroughly fleshed-out world will also alleviate some of the congestion we experienced on that opening night.
This brings me to my other minor complaint about Evermore as we saw it near the end of September. The system of characters assigning tasks to guests led to quite a bit of traffic at each quest location, and we ended up waiting in more than a few lines throughout the night. Like the construction around us, this took us away from the park’s immersive nature. It’s possible this was merely a factor of being there for the grand opening ceremony, but if attendance is anywhere near the levels of what we saw that evening, something has to be done about the way assignments are parceled out among participants. It felt wrong to have to wait 20 minutes just to speak with a character momentarily, only to have him or her send us off to fetch another item and come back, just to wait in that line once again.
With those minor quibbles aside, I must reiterate how amazingly impressed I was with the concept and execution of what’s happening at Evermore. I fully expect that all of the bugs will be worked out (and that the remainder of the park will be built) in a year’s time or so, and at that point, I unquestionably plan to return and see a revolutionary vision fulfilled. Because I do believe that this type of experience is the future of themed entertainment, and Evermore will be hailed as one of the first ventures of its kind to take a giant leap into a new world.
Evermore is currently open for business Mondays through Saturdays in Pleasant Grove, Utah, with “Lore” running from now through November 3rd. For more information and advance ticketing resources, be sure to visit the park’s official website.