Right off the interstate in Pleasant Grove, just 30-40 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Salt Lake City, lies an 11-acre, old-style European hamlet.
Though recently constructed, with the finishing touches still being added, the village appears to be a place lost in time. A place where maybe, just maybe, outside of the metropolitan hullabaloo, magic can happen.
At least that’s the hope of Ken Bretschneider, the founder and creator of Evermore Park — an entirely immersive suspended reality experience opening to the public this month.
“It started when I was a little 5-year old kid,” Bretschneider said of the origins of Evermore. “I grew up in a really, really bad home situation where my father was very abusive, so it’s not all a happy story. But I had (a) wonderful situation happen.”
Bretschneider told of a Dutch family who lived nearby with a father who looked just like Gepetto from Disney’s “Pinocchio.” A creative man, this father would create incredible things for his children and their friends, including Bretschneider. Through elaborate tree forts, submarines, mazes and more, this man created a safe space for imagination.
“That was so important for me as kid — I needed escapism,” he said. “I had to get out of that environment. It left such a huge impact my entire life that I kept being drawn to this idea of imagination and creativity, and how it’s so important for children and adults alike to be able to explore with their imagination and have an escape for a moment, to do something that’s not part of the everyday grind.”
As not only an artist but also an entrepreneur, Bretschneider worked to where he could fulfill his dream of creating a place for imagination. He founded, built, then sold the successful encryption security company DigiCert, spent time in fine arts as an oil painter and even created then later sold the wildly popular hyper-reality VR experience known as The VOID.
Through all of that, though, Evermore waited.
“I kept coming back to the idea I needed to create something that represents art and theater and film and video games,” he said. “I took all these areas in the arts and started building things around this experience I had when I was a little kid, creating a magical place.”
That place first took root in Bretschneider’s home as he, with the help of family, friends and neighbors, created an elaborate ghost pirate-themed experience that he hosted every Halloween, starting around 2009. By 2013, 11,000 people made their way through Bretschneider’s home, filling the neighborhood in hopes of experiencing the magic.
“It was nuts — there were literally waves and waves of people coming in with cars parked everywhere,” he said, describing the experience that drew people through his home and a carefully constructed, Victorian-themed graveyard before ending with a final festival experience in a park behind his home. “I tried to greet everyone out of the backend of it, and what I found crazy to me was that they kept on comparing us to a major theme park, saying, ‘This is better than a giant theme park.’ … How could my house, an acre park and an experience put together over a few months every year be better than a theme park with billions of dollars of investment? What I realized in that moment is the attention to detail. It was an immersive experience. We created a story and they got to live in the moment. There was every walk of life, every demographic, from young kids and young families to teenagers, college students, soccer moms, dads, grandparents — you name it — that came to my house. And all of a sudden I realized what my calling was in life, and that I needed to build this (place).”
The place was Evermore, a brand Bretschneider said could represent his dreams and ideas, a “giant stage” where he could take things to another, to a greater, level.
“It’s so much more than a business to me, and my wife and I, our family … put everything into it to make this thing happen,” Bretschneider said. “They’ve literally supported this, putting their entire lives on the line.”
And why? According to Bretschneider, it’s a shared dream that they hope will not only benefit the community but all those who experience Evermore in any way.
Diving in, Bretschneider and his team hoped to create not only a living stage, but also “the ultimate stage,” starting with planning in 2013.
“After that year, we created the brand Evermore,” he said. “It felt really magical and the perfect name for it. With Evermore, the whole idea is based on storytelling — story and adventure. … We spent a lot of time, a lot of money and a lot of resources on not only the design of a park, the design of a living stage, but to also design the business plan.”
With every dollar earned invested in the concept of Evermore, Bretschneider and his family were all in, bringing on top talent from across the country, including Disney Imagineers and artists from the Hollywood special effects industry, not to mention an impressive number of people from the local market. The next step was the building of a top-notch studio and finally, the creation of Evermore itself.
“We use everything from technology to practical design to create original immersive stories,” Bretschneider said. “Evermore is, again, a place for these living storytelling experiences where instead of just sitting down like in a movie theater where you sit in a seat and watch an experience happen and unfold before you, you go into a world and we change everything in that world.”
Current plans for Evermore include three key experiences: Lore, a haunted-style Halloween adventure with experiences designed for both adults and children; Aurora, described as “a magical winter wonderland” featuring the park’s own version of the “Polar Express”; and Mythos, where Nordic mythology serves as the foundation for a magical experience with a setting similar to a lantern festival.
Though there’s plenty more detail to those experiences made possible by Hollywood-quality character and costume design, visual effects and 3D technology, guests can expect to be immersed in an adventure where they can choose their own adventure.
“Everything from music to acrobatics and magic shows are all integrated into the storyline,” Bretschneider said, explaining that an experience can last anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on how guests choose to spend their adventures. Each story will ultimately progress into a festival experience, with experiential retail opportunities, themed shops and other ways to continue the adventure for those looking for more to do. Between the key events, Evermore also will be open for parties, and additional themed experiences.
“Productions will only evolve and grow as we learn about what our guests love, and as we learn about how to use technology in unique ways to enhance the magic of the stories we create,” Bretschneider said. “I believe we’re going to be able to create something people will want to come back to again and again. It’s a great date night for adults, and a reasonable night out for families. We don’t need people to come every week, just visit every season and we’ll be successful. What’s great about Evermore is it never gets old — you always get to experience new things there — escape the world for a moment, live in an adventure that’s safe creative. You just go and do it, have fun and not have to worry about anything, where everything is provided.”
That includes the addition of 14 40-foot containers of historical and unique items brought back from Europe to help create a real, detailed environment.
“The whole village has historical pieces from Europe, including columns, doors, window jambs, furniture — the pieces are all from the Gothic era and some are as old as 900 AD,” Bretschneider said. “There are Celtic ruins we brought back, and I don’t know how many tons of all-hand carved stone.”
Combined that with new works from top-notch artists and craftsmen, as well as animatronics, the sixth-largest water feature in the United States and elaborate gardens, and the foundation of Evermore starts to become more apparent.
“The name of the game for Evermore is that it’s really all about the detail,” Bretschneider said. “It’s about being detailed about everything. … Having pieces that went through history (brings) just some kind of a spirit and magic to it you just can’t recreate. We create original art, but we also appreciate these historical pieces, and to put them in that world, the world comes to life.”
Ultimately, if all goes well, Evermore will be expanded to include more places to explore, as well as an entertainment complex where The VOID will be included, as well as the second-largest indoor electric racing track, essentially another totally immersive type of experience with virtual enhancements.
For now, though, Evermore is preparing for Lore, with 70 different actors ready to enchant guests as a part of this Saturday’s Evermore Park | FanX Pre-Opening party, which will serve as an ending for this year’s FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention, set for Thursday through Saturday, as well as an introduction to the realm of Evermore, with a formal public opening set for later in September.
“It’s really exciting … We’ve worked really hard and our team is amazing — everybody is in it for more than just a job,” Bretschneider said. And that team will hopefully continue to expand with the addition of musicians, dancers, actors, artists and more.
“We’re creating an opportunity for all these artists to have a great place to bring their best, and in turn we get to entertain everybody here in Utah with something completely original and different,” he said.