MEET SARAH ELGER, ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT PIONEER
“Making the transition from artist to entrepreneur over the last few years has been incredibly rewarding as well as challenging — and came with a steep learning curve. I had to dramatically shift my mindset to focus on solving customers’ problems, not only pursuing my own artistic dreams.”
Sarah Elger (GAR13) is the Founder, CEO and Executive Creative Director of Pseudonym Productions where she blends theater, gameplay, art and architecture in engaging new ways. Pseudonym’s inventive productions aim to connect people in meaningful, unexpected ways through Immersive experiences that entertain, engage and captivate. The Pseudonym team is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of what can be done through theatrical experiences.
Sarah attended Bard College to become an artist and dancer. After graduating and moving to NYC, she started working in marketing for a Broadway producing office. Sarah then came to Penn for her Masters of Architecture, where her thesis was about merging architecture, theater and video games.
Upon graduation, she joined Universal Creative as a theme park attraction designer. Since then, her career has spanned work with wizards, volcanos, King Kong, Big Bird, fast cars, and secret R&D projects for Walt Disney Imagineering, Universal Creative, SeaWorld, NASA, and Chimelong.
Today, Sarah is the CEO and Executive Creative Director of Pseudonym Productions, where she co-writes and directs original immersive experiences with an emphasis on open world gameplay, branching narratives, and meaningful interactions that connect people in unexpected, memorable ways. She leads teams of performers, scenic artists, designers, and technicians to bring to life vibrant fantasy worlds, themed environments, and surprising stories online and in real life.
Tell us a bit about your company
Pseudonym Productions creates exhilarating location-based immersive art & entertainment experiences that offer hope, courage, and a spirit of self-discovery. Through those experiences, we aim to empower millions of people to break free of the everyday, sparking curiosity, feeding the imagination, and inspiring the impossible.
What inspired you to start your business — what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?
I went to college to become an artist and dancer. I moved to New York City, dreaming of showing the world my infinite creativity. Instead, I got a job at Starbucks.
However, I never lost sight of my passion, finding my way into the art-and-entertainment world with a marketing job in a Broadway producing office. From there, I got my Masters of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. My thesis was on merging architecture, theater, and video games — and I pulled fellow Penn students, from a whole variety of programs, together for a wild project I called Pseudonym, an immersive theatrical production unlike anything else around. I also became a finalist at Walt Disney Imagineering’s Imaginations competition, which led to me designing immersive role playing adventures for their R&D department while still in school.
After graduating, I was hired by Universal Creative as a theme park attraction designer where I gained practical design and production experience. Even though I was working with incredible companies, I never let my dream of making my own productions disappear. On the side, I still created more productions, increasing in scale. They were only open as pop ups, but I quickly saw excitement from the audiences who loved them grow into a solid cult following. Then, after meeting my business partner, it was time to quit my job and dedicate myself to this business full time.
After a few years of running additional limited-time productions as R&D experiments — and waiting for the right timing — I knew it was time to build a team that could support my vision to transform this business into what I know it can become: a way to change the world through art and entertainment experiences.
All of my passions and interests collide in this industry and I’m excited that now it is time for me to truly grow this company to reach millions of guests.
What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?
Connecting and becoming friends and colleagues with the co-founders of Meow Wolf, a unicorn immersive art experience startup, has been tremendously rewarding, personally and professionally.
We joined the Creative Startups accelerator 3 years ago which introduced us to the Meow Wolf founders and have since been encouraged by their groundbreaking team, particularly their first CEO, Vince Kadlubek. He has now become our lead advisor and has been helping us to develop the business side of our new project, learning from their successes and mistakes, while championing us every step of the way.
What has been one or two of your biggest learnings so far?
Making the transition from artist to entrepreneur over the last few years has been incredibly rewarding as well as challenging — and came with a steep learning curve. I had to dramatically shift my mindset to focus on solving customers’ problems, not only pursuing my own artistic dreams.
I have also learned along the way how passionate I am about overcoming the inherent challenges of being a female entrepreneur, especially while fundraising. I’m also seeing the tremendous value of supporting talented younger mentees and being supported by incredible mentors.
What is an obstacle that you are grappling with as you continue to build this venture?
For the past 7 years, I have been leading efforts to create limited-run pop-up experiences of art, entertainment, and storytelling.
Now I am faced with the challenge of converting that knowledge and success into a year-round growth-oriented business, not just a hobby or side hustle. I am building a large-scale permanent location, which requires significant funding and support to open.
What surprises have you encountered as an entrepreneur?
Our customers have told us that our past productions have changed their lives. They dubbed themselves a “cool bunch of weirdos” — a moniker they are proud to share.
I set out to create fun and adventure for people through live experiential entertainment and I more importantly stumbled into creating a community of wonderful people. I am proud to have brought our loyal fans together, who have become lifelong friends, from all over the world. And I now aim to do that on a much larger scale.
What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?
I have the opportunity to be surrounded by people who inspire me and, in turn, aim to inspire our community. We are engaging with local artists and arts groups to help design the experience we are creating.
Once open, our unique location will be a home of inclusivity, respect, and kindness, aimed at attracting people of all types in a welcoming environment they can escape to and make their home away from home. More than half of our team identifies with the LGBTQ+ community (myself included) and we will always strive to ensure this community feels comfortable and lifted up within our inspiring locations. One of our founding members is also on the Autism spectrum.
We aim to design this place to ensure those with sensory sensitivities can have somewhere to go that is fun, engaging, and exciting, but never overwhelming.