Willy Wonka in Smellovision was a 2008- 2009 collaboration with artist Bridget Matros. We wanted to create an outdoor movie theatre experience that was truly multi sensory and required some kind of physical participation on the part of the audience beyond seeing/feeling.

The result, a scent-enhanced screening of the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder, was part performance art and part family picnic. A dozen costumed oompa-loompas solemnly paraded through the audience, using oversized paper fans to wave chocolate aromas through the space; scent cannons loaded with ginger ale smells assaulted select viewers; golden eggs with playful commands, written on strips of paper, rained down during the goose scene; and “scent bags” full of items to touch, smell and taste added extra dimensions to pivotal scenes. Overall, we provided a rich, extra narrative and some fascinating props. At that point, it was the audience that truly made it work; when everyone in a space is actively chewing bubble gum, it’s amazing (and obvious) how much that space smells like bubble gum. Every member of the audience worked to create the “magic circle” of the event. I’ve never seen so many people engaging with each other AND with a film, but without losing the basic gist and mission of that film. It was truly a community experience.

June 2008 and July 2009 performances in Union Square, Somerville were incubated and supported by the Somerville Arts Council and the innovative ArtsUnion grant program (the event was covered by the Associated Press and the Washington Post). The performance in December 2009 was produced at and supported by the Brattle Film Foundation. My friend and colleague Clinton McClung “franchised” the experience to the Seattle International Film Festival and continues to produce the project annually in a slightly different form, giving it ongoing life (one of the photos in the slideshow above is of Clinton at SIFF).