When Ryan Ozminkowski ’19 declared philosophy as his concentration, his scientist father wasn’t so pleased. But these days, Ozminkowski says what he learned is helping him in his latest venture: building an immersive experience he’s calling “the greatest night out.”
Calypso will be a three-day event, he says, a hodgepodge of theater, cuisine, and narrative stories. Hosted by Figment Entertainment, the pop-up experience takes place in Los Angeles from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, and is already sold out. Performers include Hunger Games actress Jacqueline Emerson and popular magician Franco Pascali.
With 1,000 guests per night, Ozminkowski hopes the four-to-five-hour experience gives attendees pure escapism, similar to the Christmas parties and haunted houses that he built as a child.
“We’d have fog machines, sewer systems, life-size jack-in-the-boxes we’d built out of cardboard, all the fancy stuff,” Ozminkowski says. “Even back then … all I wanted to do was build haunted houses with my life. How can I do this? Suddenly we’re taking a swing at it.”
Ozminkowski’s path to Calypso took some turns. After college, he worked as director of development for the Academy Award-winning director Damien Chazelle, best known for directing La La Land. With Chazelle’s production company Wild Chickens, Ozminkowski streamlined content, creation, and submissions.
When Ozminkowski began to feel jaded in Hollywood, he pivoted to co-found Zage, a startup conceived as a more equitable payments platform for local businesses. But the project failed, even after going through the famous accelerator Y Combinator and raising $7 million. According to Ozminkowski, internal riffs among the co-founders and a lack of demand for the payment services forced the company to shutter its doors.
“To be totally honest, a lot of the chase of Zage was for money,” Ozminkowski said. “I went, ‘Oh, I’m not really being paid much in Hollywood, that pays really well,’ and I pursued that. You need to be in that world of having the opportunity to make the money to suddenly go, ‘This is not going to make me happy.’”
As he works on Calypso, Ozminkowski says, he’s been drawing on the philosophy, geoscience, and humanities classes he took at Princeton. One was an Atelier class, Reinventing the Guided Tour, taught by theater program director Jane Cox.
“At first I was like, you just need all these crazy big effects,” Ozminkowski says. “Jane Cox ends up being like, ‘Well, no. How do you physically move 20 people through a space? How do you verbally communicate with them loud enough? But more than any of that, what is the reason for this tour? What is the story you’re telling? Why does anyone care?’”
Ozminkowski also noted that his thesis tied into the work he’s doing now: Through trips to experiences like Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Cirque du Soleil shows, he explored what he calls “tangible fictions.” Just how “real” are things like zoos and circuses, he asked in an email — “things that are simultaneously so fabricated but so living and breathing”?