The magical mystery tour of Lucid Dream Minigolf

The traveling project uses the medium of minigolf as performance theater and interactive storytelling space

Photo by Mike Amari

Featured in Times Union (Hudson Valley). November 13, 2022

From an audience of 12 in May to 1,200 by Halloween weekend, Lucid Dream Minigolf — “a traveling, existential, heartfelt, pop-up minigolf course and interactive theater piece,” as its website puts it — became an experience many Hudson Valley residents did not want to miss.

The traveling participatory art project popped up at venues across the region throughout the summer and early fall, from the iconic Opus 40 to more DIY spaces such as an alleyway in Catskill, the gameplay adjusting in response to the geography.

Lucid Dream Minigolf was co-created by Brendan Bo O’Connor, a science professor and outsider artist, and Liam Singer, a composer and curator, and directed by O’Connor. It carries over the whimsicality and feeling of minigolf but takes the game to a whole new level, with interactive art pieces and narratives that engage with themes of shared experience, personal resilience, and thought-provoking science.

“If ‘Station Eleven,’ Sleep No More, the science of imagination, and an abandoned minigolf course all had a baby together, that baby would be this project,” its creators say.

The Greeneville Drive-In, Aug. 19., Photo by Anna Victoria.

The players begin their journey sitting in a giant pink flamingo with a guide — dressed as a wizard in a hand-dyed sack dress, made by local artist Lucy Bohnsack — who relays the story of how Tyme the Gnome of Infinity was stolen by The Mutant Swamp Monster, a creature emerging from the darkness of the last few years who feels behind in his life.

The only way to save Tyme is to face your own past, present and future, represented by each hole of the course. Players are then guided to the following three holes: “The Pyramid of What Was” (past), “The Abyss of What is” (present) and “The Winds of What May Be” (future).

Lucid Dream’s soft opening on May 27, 2022 at an undisclosed location in the Catskill Mountain woods., Photo by Casey Robertson.

O’Connor is a psychology and neuroscience professor who runs the Imagination and Moral Cognition Lab at SUNY Albany, and Singer, in addition to being a curator and composer, co-owns The Avalon Lounge in Catskill with his wife. The two met making face shields for a local hospital and nursing home in the early days of the pandemic, a shared experience that forged a fast friendship. After months of making face shields, they decided to move their efforts to something more fun and engaging.

The first Lucid Dream pop-up was at O’Connor’s home using lights and fog machines from The Avalon Lounge. They sent out a golden ticket in the mail to those who were intrigued by their anonymous Instagram account and created an hour-long interactive narrative to play through.

Course guides, from left to right: Kendra McKinley, Liam Singer, Alex Daud, Brendan Bo O’Connor, Dylan Nowik and Andrew Emge., Photo by Lucy Bohnsack.

They both believed it was a one-time thing, but soon realized more people wanted to play. Their journey took off from there. The golf course traveled from a friend’s backyard to the Half Moon (a dive bar in Hudson), a greenspace alleyway in Catskill, Mountain Top Library in Tannersville, the Greenville Drive-In, Opus 40 in Saugerties, Rubulad (an experimental art venue) in Brooklyn, O+ Festival in Kingston, and finally to a three-week residency at Wassaic Project, where Lucid Dream Minigolf wrapped its initial run on Oct. 29.  

In addition to O’Connor and Singer, 13 artists brought their own ideas and personalities to the script as guides, 16 people/facilities assisted in the construction of the project, and the project received financial support from Awesome Foundation NYC, CREATE Council of Greene County, and New York Council on the Arts.

O’Connor said several artistic helpers improved the course over the season, including Ben Seretan, a sound artist based in Troy, who made a piece for the first hole using the collective voices of those who had experienced the course before. Even more will contribute when Lucid Dream Minigolf relaunches next year with a new hole and a new ending.

“This project has become what it has because of its collaborative nature,” O’Connor said. “There has been an ever-growing chorus of motley creatives that have lent a diverse set of skills and ideas to the design of the game. Lucid Dream Minigolf, not unlike life, is what it is because it changes, shifts and expands with the people around you. I could never have built this on my own.”

Wassaic Project, Oct. 29., Photo by Jessica Chappe / Special to the Times Union.

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