iConfidant Beta 2.0 Review

iConfidant’s triumphant return

Experienced: May - June 2020
Location: Online
Price: Free
Audience Size: 28 participants - unlimited bystanders
Runtime: ~3 weeks
More Information: iconfidant.net, Reddit, Instagram, Facebook

Photo by iConfidant

After going through Darren Lynn Bousman’s (DLB) immersive experiences in the past it’s obvious he doesn’t half-ass anything. During a time of sheltering in place in the midst of a global pandemic he (with the help of actors and presumably many writers) has spun dozens of stories played out across multiple mediums over the course of over 3 weeks.

The concept is deceivingly simple: a beta service connecting people together to be confidants. The magic here is in the execution. Half of the people in the service (the “betas”/participants) were encouraged to share their interactions on Reddit. The other half (the “control group”/actors) were not allowed to share or discuss their interactions with anyone. This establishes a safe space for participants and bystanders to discuss, theorize, and catch up on what’s happening.

What began as straightforward “get to know you” emails back and forth between confidants (one beta and one control) slowly turned into text messages, social media chats, and video calls. The medium varied by confidant adding to the realism. The pacing as the relationships ebbed and flowed all felt very natural. Before we knew it we were invested in the well-being of our confidants.

With so many eyes on the various posts on Reddit it slowly became obvious that there were connections between some of the “control group” confidants. Participants on Reddit would try and help each other through what to do or say next to their confidant.

The stories covered topics like marital issues, domestic disputes, mental illness, the spiritual and metaphysical, as well as genres like sci-fi and horror. Most storylines started out pretty normal and realistic and eventually went off the rails at different times. One beta was an accidental accomplice to murder for a hitman. Another beta was “deleted” from existence complete with his real life Instagram and Facebook being deleted as well. The lines between what’s real and what’s not are always blurred with DLB’s experiences.

There were several communal moments and shared story beats. One being a sort of a mid-season cliffhanger where many stories seemed to come to a head before a small break of a couple of days before an unannounced finale a week later. Another being cryptic and scary sounding phone calls that would go out to many people at once.

One highlight of an unexpected communal experience was over Zoom. Many in the community were on a Zoom video call together discussing theories and stories and you could see people start picking up their phone. One of the cryptic calls was going out to people and you could see everyone take it in realtime. It told us about something that would happen in 30 minutes. Sure enough 30 minutes later we were invited into a separate Zoom call where several of the “control” group (and some we weren’t familiar with) were already on it and just silent and staring at us. From the outside looking in this may not look like much but when you’re knee deep in the story and know the characters it’s quite a moment. A promo video for iConfidant was then played with 8 puzzles hidden inside it.

Another communal highlight were the Boyd dance parties which mostly appeared to be some comic relief as well as the most fun I’ve ever seen a group of people have on a video chat.

Photo by iConfidant

As a “beta” this was really polished and it’s hard to tell how much or little of the stories were planned ahead of time. Overall it was obvious that the betas had a lot of agency and parts of the story were written on the fly but some of the interweaving of the storylines must have been in place from the start regardless of when (or if) people figured it out. It’s staggering how much content there actually was. I tried to spend 1.5 to 2 hours a night catching up on what was happening on Reddit and felt I only got 25-50% of it max.

A hallmark of a DLB experience is the wide range of emotions a participant experiences over the course of it. I felt (in order) suspicious, connected, protective, terrified, apprehensive, vindicated, ridiculous, curious, fearful, confused, shocked, embarrassed, and finally joyful. I’ve only scratched the surface of what this experience was about but it was a journey that I am thankful to have been a part of.

I’m hopeful that there is more to come as the iConfidant site currently says “Coming Soon”. Be on the lookout for it!

iConfidant Beta 2.0 Enrollment

iConfidant relaunches with a second beta after a disastrous first try

Experienced: May 2020 and beyond
Location: Online
Price: Free (for now?)
Audience Size: Unlimited?
Runtime: Continuous
More Information: iconfidant.net, Instagram, Facebook

Photo by iConfidant

We all need a friend to lean on. Someone we can trust with our secrets. If you haven’t found yours yet or just want a new one check out iConfidant. Here are my answers to a recent slew of questions I assume not originally intended for any one in particular. Here are some questions for you to answer yourself.

1. Who’s the best?
Best is relative.

2. Why are they better than that one?
This one has a website!

3. Why should this one not get in?
This one should get in thank you very much.

4. Are they ready?
Born ready… for some things.

5. What are they willing to do for a friend?
I am willing to sacrifice my time for a friend in need.

6. Are they emotionally prepared for what lies ahead?
I believe I am emotionally sound but may just be happy in my ignorant bubble.

7. Can they take it?
Willing to try.

8. Are they willing to go there?
Depends on who’s watching.

9. Will they quit like some already have?
It’s possible.

10. Will they help our network grow?
As best I can and have tried already.

11. Why do they have so many stuffed animals?
We’re all just big kids.

12. Do they have secrets?
Everyone has secrets.

13. Would they tell me their secrets?
If I trusted you.

14. If they already have people in their lives, why are they looking for someone else?
Faith in the experiences.

15. Are they trustworthy?
Most definitely.

16. Will they do what is asked?
What is being asked?

17. Do they know?
I don’t think so.

18. Why haven’t they done what has already been asked of them?
Pure laziness and apathy.

19. Do they think they’re smart?
Probably not as smart as you think they think.

20. Are they smart?
Meh.

21. Why do they not answer my calls?
Must have missed it.

22. And is that something you can ask forgiveness for?
Is it so wrong?

23. Were they honest?
Trying to be.

24. Why do they think being in a costume is putting their best foot forward?
First impressions?

25. Would they actually have sex with their parents once a week?
No. I’d immediately reject these people.

26. Are they cowards?
Most of us are.

27. Would they die for their new best friend?
I’d have to get back to you on this.

28. Do I care about them being artistic?
I’m not artistic so we’re good.

29. What is a meme and why should I care?
If you cared about growing your network (see question 10) you might care. Otherwise you wouldn’t.

30. Will they fuck things up?
I may.

31. Are their kids really their best friends?
Best friend is different than love of a child but I can see it happening.

32. Do they already have a best friend?
Yes.

33. Are they willing to lose that best friend for their new best friend?
No why would it have to come to that?

34. Why are they creating new social media accounts just for this?
Afraid of another debacle like the first iConfidant beta? Or maybe signing up multiple times?

35. What are they hiding?
Or who are they hiding from?

36. Are they committed?
Yes.

37. Do they even know what that means?
In the general sense yes.

38. Why do they value work calls over my calls?
People need to make a living!

39. Do these people only connect with pets?
Yeah that’s a litle weird. But we’re all weird.

40. Are they actually looking for deep connection?
We’re definitely looking for something.

41. Are they capable of deep connection?
I think we’re all capable.

42. Are they fake?
I try not to be.

43. Are they liars?
No.

44. Are they bland?
Yes.

45. Are they too much?
No.

46. Are they enough?
Yes?

47. Are they worthy?
Yes?

Rise of the Resistance Boarding Group Tips

Non-spoiler tips on how to experience the Rise of the Resistance attraction at Disneyland and Disney World.

Location: Disneyland in Anaheim, California and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, FL
More Information: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Rise of the Resistance

If you haven’t ridden Rise of the Resistance yet I would encourage you to get out to Disneyland or Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Disney World to experience it. I would also encourage avoiding any spoilers by not reading or watching anything related to the ride (other than this article of course!). One more thing to avoid is the Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge segment of the final episode of The Imagineering Story on Disney+.

Unfortunately getting on the ride can be complicated due to several factors I won’t go into here (mainly capacity, reliability, and demand). Rest assured with enough preparation you have a decent chance at riding!

Note 1: This guide will mainly focus on Disneyland but the process is more or less the same at both parks. Everything here is YMMV!

Note 2: You don’t have to be this prepared but I’m including everything I know in case it helps you out. If you skim this and think it’s insane (hint: it is) you should wait until the demand dies down and there is a more sane way of riding Rise of the Resistance (ie no more boarding groups).

Note 3: Literally tens of thousands of people have secured a boarding group without going to this level of detail. The goal here isn’t to stress anyone out but rather to inform!

Quick Overview

The official instructions from Disney for riding Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland is here and at Disney World is here.

Currently the only way to ride Rise of the Resistance at either park is to enter a virtual queue by securing a boarding group via the Disneyland App or the Disney World App.

Your whole party needs to enter the front gate before you can request a boarding group. You can secure a boarding group right when the park opens to the public for the day. If you have a boarding group you can monitor the app to see what current boarding groups are being called back to ride. If you get called you have 1-2 hours (the app will specify) to get to the ride and enter the queue.

Any time before your visit (preferably days in advance)

  1. Install the Disneyland App or the Disney World App on your mobile phone.
  2. Create or log into the app using your existing or newly created Disney Account.
  3. Purchase (or link existing) park tickets for every person in your party in the app.
  4. Log into your account on each phone for every person in your party. Alternatively if everyone already has their own login you can scan everyone’s ticket on each phone.
  5. Remove any tickets already linked for anyone who won’t be with you the day you try to ride. This will avoid an extra step in the process of de-selecting those who aren’t in the park when trying to secure a boarding group.
  6. Forget the wifi network if you have ever connected to the Park’s wifi in the past. Most people have had better luck with their cell phone provider’s internet.
  7. Familiarize yourself with the UI to access the screens to join a boarding group. This is available even when you aren’t in the park. You won’t be able to actually join but you’ll get a feel for what’s necessary.
  8. Extra credit: actually try the moment the park opens for that day to see when the “Join Boarding Group” button goes from a disabled gray color to an enabled red color.
  9. Extra credit: if you have a watch make sure it’s synchronized to the second with your mobile phone’s time and/or the time you notice the “Join Boarding Group” button is enabled red in the previous step.
  10. Extra credit: adjust the “Screen Timeout” (Android) or “Auto-Lock” (iOS) setting to a long time (over a minute) as you wouldn’t want to fumble with unlocking your phone when you’re waiting to press the “Join Boarding Group” button.

Day of your visit

Note: depending on how busy the park is the boarding groups ‘guaranteed’ (* not really guaranteed) to ride may be gone in less than a minute. That’s been the case at Disneyland every day since it opened on January 17, 2020. Backup boarding groups will be available after the main boarding groups are taken and groups close to the final regular (non backup) group have a decent chance of being called. I’ve heard if you have a regular boarding group and don’t get called you can ask to get a boarding group for the next day.

  1. Get up bright and early. Do whatever it takes to be inside the park well before it opens to the public. The parking lots at Disneyland open up 90 minutes before the park opens to the public (usually 8 or 9am). Note you will be in several lines before you actually get into the park including the line to park, the line for security, the line for the tram, and the line to get into the park itself.

Some things you can do to make sure you get into the park in time:

  • Bypass the parking line by taking a rideshare and get dropped off
  • Try to arrive at the parking lot line before it officially opens (10 minutes early has worked for me) so you’ll be one of the first to park
  • Don’t bring any bags if you can avoid it and look for any security lines for people without bags. If you can find one you might be able to save some time.
  • At Disneyland if you park in the Mickey and Friends or Pixar Pals parking structures you can walk to the parks through Downtown Disney and avoid the additional line to get on a tram. There are two security gates when going this route (one for Downtown Disney and another nearby for Resort Hotel Guests).
  1. Extra credit (if you have MaxPass at Disneyland): try to get a FastPass to make sure all of the people in your party are considered in the park already. If there’s a problem try to find a Cast Member to get this fixed.
  2. After you get in and up until a few minutes before the park officially opens try to get away from as many people as you can. This might be a bit extreme and/or completely unnecessary but the thought is the more crowded an area is the more congested the cell network will be.
  3. Get to a spot where you have a decent internet connection. Some people use an online speed test to figure out where they have the best connection. I’ve just relied on the number of ‘bars’ of service.
  4. A few minutes before the park opens close out all of the open apps on your phone. This might help make sure no other app is doing something in the background you’re not expecting.
  5. A minute or two before the park opens open the Disneyland/Disney World App and tap around to make sure you’re still logged in on all devices. Close the app as some think it helps to go into the screen with the “Join Boarding Group” button for the first time (from a cold start) after the park opens.
  6. A minute before the park opens re-open the Disneyland/Disney World App.
  7. Wait on the main screen and have someone do a countdown to the second the park opens. The second the park opens tap onto the “Find Out More” button to get to the screen with the “Join Boarding Group”.
  8. If the “Join Boarding Group” button is red tap it and be prepared to tap through at least one or two more screens if you’re successful.
  9. If the “Join Boarding Group” button is not red you have one of two options: 1) tap the “My Status” button and then the “Join a Boarding Group” button there and/or pull down from this screen to force it to refresh and repeat. 2) Go back to the main screen and tap “Find Out More” again and repeat.

If you procured a (non-backup) boarding group

Congrats you’ve done it! Things to note:

  • You should get a notification when your group is ready to enter the queue
  • You can monitor the current boarding groups being boarded in the app and on some digital signs in the park throughout your day.
  • It may take some time after the park opens for the first boarding group to be called. At Disneyland this has taken up to a few hours on some days.
  • Be prepared to still wait in a modest line (up to an hour or so at Disneyland) when your boarding group is called.
  • Don’t be surprised if the ride breaks down while you’re in line.
  • If you’ve actually started the experience and it breaks down you will be evacuated and your park tickets will be scanned to come back through the FastPass line bypassing the standby line. Make sure you don’t inadvertently use your “Multiple Experience FastPass” that may show up in your app as this is your pass back into the attraction.

If you got a backup boarding group

Depending on how close your boarding group is to the final non-backup boarding group your chances may be pretty good on riding!

You can see what the last regular boarding group is on the status page ie “Boarding groups 82 and above will only be called if all of the initial planned boarding groups have been called back and there is capacity for more riders.”

Usually if the park knows they won’t be getting to your boarding group they will send you a notification before the park closes.

If you didn’t get a boarding group

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Unfortunately you’ll have to come back another day to try again. Still try to enjoy your day with everything else the parks have to offer.

Theatre Macabre

A dense, living, breathing, masterpiece. Pray for an extension.

Experienced: October & November 2018
Location: Los Angeles, CA 90015
Price: $150
Audience Size: 10
Runtime: ~90-120 minutes
More Information: Theatre Macabre site, Instagram, Twitter

Photo by Theatre Macabre

If you told me I would throw down over a grand between me and my wife on one show I would have said you’re insane. The plan was to go once, maybe twice, enjoy ourselves, and move on with our lives. Sometimes things don’t go as expected.

Theatre Macabre has consumed us over the past few weeks. I believe it has consumed just about anyone into this art form who has had the pleasure of attending it.

This is less about the show itself and more about how it’s made us in the Los Angeles Immersive community feel. Between my wife and I there isn’t a single thing we’ve talked about more than Theatre Macabre. This is an obsession.

The show is a dense, living, breathing, masterpiece that, when firing on all cylinders, is the greatest form of entertainment I’ve ever experienced. This all sounds like hyperbole I’m sure but a two hundred million dollar movie or ride at an amusement park can’t compare to what was pulled off in October and November of 2018.

It’s a damn shame word didn’t spread like wildfire and that this show didn’t become a permanent fixture in the LA Immersive scene as was rumored. Maybe the masses weren’t ready for something like this. Or maybe the ticket price was too high. Or people were too scared to visit. Or people are just too busy with their lives to roll the dice on something completely new and refreshing. I have never strongly encouraged more people to give a show a visit than I did with Theatre Macabre and for some reason not one person I know did. It felt like the stars weren’t aligned for some strange reason.

Maybe this was just meant to be a lightning in a bottle. Something that only those who know would fully appreciate. Theatre Macabre has ruined everything else for me and for that I applaud the creators. I will forever be chasing the dragon so to speak. Thank you for making me feel like a junkie again.

Bitter at the End by E3W Productions

Highly anticipated sophomore effort from E3W is a case study of the human condition.

Run: March 15-18, March 29-April 1, 2018
Experienced: March 15, 2018
Address: Los Angeles, CA 90006
Price: $70.00
Tickets: info here
Audience Size: 7
Runtime: 60 minutes
More Information: Instagram

E3W Productions

Bitter at the End is set in a funeral parlor for 7 audience members attending Grace’s wake. It is split into chapters each with a distinct tone and style of engagement.

The first chapter is Grace’s wake and plays out like a one scene play. It’s here where we’re introduced to the family and friends of Grace and the conflicts between them. Having gone through the first wake of my adult life I recognized some of the struggles.

The scene and tone abruptly changes and we are asked to move through the space and the immersive chapters start to kick into gear. There are some nicely choreographed scenes leading us to and from seven different hut structures themed for each family member or friend. Somehow, seemingly randomly, we are placed on one of seven different tracks. I personally met with Grace’s son, husband, lover, and son again before sharing a few final scenes with the rest of the guests.

These individual glimpses into the people close to Grace contain the most exciting pieces of the show. Intimate, insightful, and gut wrenchingly sad these will likely be the scenes that affect people the most emotionally. It’s hard not to feel something when you see a son paralyzed with the simple choice of what tie his mother would want him to wear to her wake.

There is an overarching theme of each of the 7 characters in the piece representing one of the seven deadly sins but I personally didn’t follow it very closely. I think that has more to do with me and how I process what’s happening and the emotions at play vs storylines.

Another more obvious theme is how the living cope and change the narrative of an individual after death. Half truths and complete lies, innocuous as they may be, can be passed down for generations without the recently deceased around to correct it. There are several poignant moments like this throughout that gave me things to think about in my life (and eventual death) and how I will be perceived.

Overall this is an extremely heavy show and it is relentlessly depressing in tone. Everyone is pretty much speechless when the show is over and it takes awhile to process it. It’s not for everyone but I enjoyed this show and wouldn’t mind going back to try and get on another track to see how the different tracks affect the overall show. I can imagine it having a different vibe based on who you meet and interact with.

I feel the first chapter went a little long and would have enjoyed more (or longer) individual scenes instead but understand how the individual scenes were that much more impactful due to the shared first scene providing the background for all the characters.

E3W Productions is trying something new with Bitter at the End and I commend them for that. It would have been safe to try and match the structure and style of In Another Room but there are some new structures and techniques at play here. I see E3W spreading their wings here a bit and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. They are definitely a company to follow.

The Stronger by The Speakeasy Society

Immersive scene played by two actors for one audience member.

Run: February 5, 20, 2018
Experienced: February 20, 2018
Address: Los Angeles, CA 90039
Price: $20.00
Audience Size: 1
Runtime: 20 minutes
More Information: The Speakeasy Society, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to a remount of The Speakeasy Society’s The Stronger. It is based on an 1889 play by August Stindberg and is a short 20 minute scene for one audience member with two actors.

I am waiting for my friend at a restaurant. When she walks in she greets me and we look for a place to sit. She notices someone she recognizes from her past and asks if it’s ok that she say hello. She does and the scene begins.

The Stronger launches into a wonderfully acted monologue where my friend reminisces about the times her and her friend had back in New York when they were roommates. The friend reacts mostly through non-verbal cues. As the story progresses what we perceive as “The Stronger” in this story changes dramatically. There is a slow burn before a realization that likely hits people at different times. I had a rush of emotion hit me when it did and it made the drive out for a short 20 minute piece completely worthwhile.

The setting is feels very much like a casual conversation but I quickly got that this was more of a scripted monologue so I mostly stayed out of the way and let the scene unfold. I’m interested in how much the flow or enjoyment of the show could be affected by someone who tried to converse.

Both actresses played their role so masterfully I was shocked to hear from others afterward that the roles appeared to be alternated per show. From the sound of it I may have seen The Stronger of the role configurations which may have affected how much I enjoyed this piece. It was interesting to see a more traditional, albeit modernized, piece from The Speakeasy Society. They have quite the range!

CARNE y ARENA by Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Moving VR installation at LACMA exploring the human condition.

Run: July 2, 2017-July 1, 2018
Experienced: February 11, 2018
Location: Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Address: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90036
Price: $50
Tickets: info here
Audience Size: 1 (every 15 minutes)
Runtime: ~45 minutes (7 minute VR experience)
More Information: LACMA’s CARNE y ARENA Page

CARNE y ARENA

I came into Alejandro González Iñárritu’s CARNE y ARENA (Virtually present, Physically invisible) not knowing much other than it was a VR installation at a museum. The overarching theme is about immigrants crossing the US Border from Mexico. For me the pieces of art preceding and following the actual VR experience had more impact on me but that doesn’t detract from the experience itself in any way. The VR serves its purpose perfectly and puts you in an emotional mindset not quite possible in any other medium. Because of it I was ready to receive the background stories of the individuals who helped shape the piece in the final (non VR) room.

For me this was the perfect use of VR just short of actually going through a traditional immersive theater experience. The technology used here is similar to that of The VOID’s Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire with the exception of being tethered to a cable hanging from the middle of the room. As such there are two docents following you around as you experience the VR portion to make sure you don’t trip over the cable or run into a wall. I was a little self conscious knowing there were people beside me throughout and at times I could hear them talking to each other pulling me out of the moment.

As with some great immersive theater pieces I would love to do this again because in retrospect I felt I “did it wrong” by not moving very much throughout the experience. I was too entranced in the scene unfolding to want to move too much.

Los Angeles is a perfect home for this exhibit let’s hope it stays here past July 2018 because more people need to experience this.

Wild Party by The Speakeasy Society

Large scale event made for traditional theater audiences as well as fans of immersive theater.

Run: February 3, 2018 (2 shows)
Experienced: February 3, 2018
Location: Masonic Lodge
Address: 926 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90401
Price: $150.00 (up to $200.00 closer to premier)
Audience Size: 100
Runtime: 90-105 minutes
More Information: Wild Party, The Speakeasy Society, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

The Speakeasy Society

The Speakeasy Society seized a great opportunity to expose immersive theater to a traditional theater audience (patrons of The Broad Stage) and completely knocked it out of the park. They produced a large scale event for 100 participants, performed twice in one night, that was both accessible to traditional theater audiences as well as satisfying to fans of the immersive theater genre.

Many of the cornerstones I love about immersive theater were present in Wild Party: multiple tracks, splitting from your party, one on ones, conversing with characters, and complex traversal through a unique venue. Some things I usually don’t see in immersive theater were also present: open bar, food, a live band, and large song and dance routines with over 20 actors.

This was quite a production and it was amazing how flawless it ran given this was essentially opening (and closing) night. There were a lot of moving parts with 10 tables of 10 guests each being escorted in and out of the main ballroom into smaller rooms throughout the venue.

Wild Party begin with being handed a card to denote the banquet table that would be your home base for the evening. The cards were passed randomly so it was almost guaranteed if you came in with someone you’d get different tables. As we walked into the ballroom we were welcomed personally by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and they encouraged us to get a drink at the bar.

Thus began the immersive experience. For 30 minutes guests trickled into the main hall getting drinks, appetizers, and desserts while mingling with actors representing various people from Hollywood’s Golden Age. This was a brilliant way to introduce us to the characters in a casually scripted setting. I got to meet a starlet past her prime, a convincing but pushy talent agent, the owner of MGM Studios, and Buster Keaton. The introduction of characters was so organic that every guest had a different vantage point and insight into the story before the show “officially” began.

When it started we all took our seats and were welcomed to the party with a shared scene in the ballroom before being split up and dispersed in our groups. In the smaller room scenes groups would combine or get split even further. As we would leave one room sometimes people would randomly be picked to go elsewhere for smaller scenes for just a couple of guests. It was all very complex, dynamic, and exciting to watch. We were escorted back to the ballroom to get more food and drink and another shared scene. We went through the cycle one more time before coming back to the ballroom for the finale.

There may be a remount of Wild Party so I won’t go too deep into the narrative but it seemed everyone enjoyed their time. The only complaint I heard is people wished the show was longer. That’s high praise for a piece running at about an hour and 45 minutes (if you showed up when doors opened). It was a fantastic night out and there were so many different tracks I can’t imagine how much time was put into the script and rehearsal.

Kudos to The Speakeasy Society for pulling off a show of this size and for introducing the joys of immersive theater to an audience of traditional theater goers.

Agnosia by Ceaseless Fun

Short, beautiful, intimate piece dealing with loss.

Run: January 18 - February 7, 2018
Experienced: January 19, 2018
Address: Lincoln Heights, CA 90248
Price: $20
Tickets: Brown Paper Tickets
Audience Size: 1
Runtime: ~25 minutes
More Information: Ceaseless Fun site, Agnosia site, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter

Ceaseless Fun

Agnosia is the first of a three show thematically linked season by Ceaseless Fun dubbed “The Outline of a Human”. This is very intimate show for one participant at a time and you aren’t allowed to speak throughout the performance. I assumed this meant I would be a fly on the wall merely observing but that wasn’t the case.

There were moments where clear choices are offered to affect the scene. The mechanism was quite brilliant and something I had never seen before. Two actors both say the same thing (like asking for help) and reach out a hand. Whose hand you decide to take triggers a scene. It was intriguing enough for me to want to go again to make different choices but with a low capacity and short run I figured it would be better for someone else to experience it instead.

As with many great immersive pieces you aren’t quite sure where you fit into the narrative and your role changes as the show progresses. I started by walking up to a guy, played by Dakota Loesch, under a basketball hoop in the parking lot. Smoking a cigarette he greeted me and thanked me for coming. He started walking me to his apartment and the monologue was so natural and poetic. I felt I was really with a friend who was picking up the pieces of his life after suffering a loss.

He asked me to go inside without him and I saw a girl, played by Emily Yetter, sitting on the couch. The show explores different aspects of a couple dealing with loss. It does so with a beautifully poignant grace. Agnosia weaved in and out of realistic (helping my friend pack up his lost one’s shoes in a box) and surrealistic (a conversational dance between the living and the dead) with ease. This was a very fluid and polished production and I caught it the day after opening night I can only imagine how much better it got later in its run.

There are some very clever devices that seemed to play with the immersive theater format on a metalevel. In one moment I was told to lie down and shortly after another scene unfolded. Was I supposed to stay lying down throughout that scene? If so, for how long? I did for a bit and decided to sit up to get a better view. Could I have gotten up and gotten closer to the scene?

There was one, possibly two, false endings to the piece. The first is when you are intercepted, on your way out, by a guy (played by Scott Monahan) and you’re asked to help him find his cat. He’s wearing pajamas and flip flops and is obviously living in one of the nearby apartments. At one point he asks you to call out his cat’s name. I am pretty sure this is still part of the play and I’m not supposed to talk. Right when I’m about to call out his cat’s name he says “oh nevermind he’ll probably only respond to me,” solidifying the fact that this is, indeed, still part of the show.

The second false ending is when he leads you out to the courtyard. Since the area looked familiar enough and he’s in the hallway going back the way we came I assume that’s my cue that the show has ended and we would part ways. I hesitate, not quite sure, until he motions me to follow him. He leads me through more conversation about his lost cat and to a gate which clearly indicates the real ending. He pauses and makes an almost philosophical comment about how maybe everyone should, at one point in their life, lose a cat.

Given the context of the show this line ties the seemingly random cat search directly back to loss. We’re at the gate and he looks at me and asks if I want to push the button to open it or if he should. I let him push the button, the gate opens, and I’m back in the real world with a different outlook on life and death. What a difference 25 minutes makes.

Star Wars - Secrets of the Empire by The VOID and ILMxLab

Star Wars themed free roaming VR experience at Downtown Disney.

Run: January 5-Present
Experienced: January 14, 2018
Location: The VOID at Downtown Disney, Anaheim
Address: 1580 S. Disney Drive, Anaheim, CA 92802
Price: $29.95
Tickets: Anaheim, Glendale, Orlando, London
Audience Size: 4
Runtime: 25 minutes
More Information: The Void

The Void

I had high expectations going into Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire from the buzz surrounding it but had yet to be blown away by any upcharge VR experience. Aside from VR Showdown in Ghost Town my VR experiences had been limited to the haunted house and roller coaster variety. While this was, by far, the most sophisticated VR I had experienced I came away a little disappointed.

Some of my disappointment stemmed from some minor operational and technical difficulties. I had a 3pm ticket and saw a line of 12 to 15 people lined up out of The VOID. For some reason I had assumed that was a standby line for people without tickets. I had to get to the back of the line and it was about a 40 minute wait before I got in. Since I had purchased my tickets through a movie ticketing site I had, for some reason, assumed these shows would be starting on time with little to no wait.

You experience the show in groups of 4 and the space appeared to accommodate 2 simultaneous shows. Due to low capacity (and story reasons) there is a sense of urgency when suiting up with your equipment. Despite adjusting my headgear I couldn’t see clearly without using one hand to press the eyewear closer to my eyes. I mentioned this to the person helping our group suit up but it went unnoticed in the commotion. I went through the whole show with one hand on my headset.

As we rushed to the starting scene we passed by another team leaving the experience and I got a glimpse of the final room. It wasn’t really a spoiler but it felt like something we shouldn’t have seen quite yet. A lot of my comments so far can be chalked up to only being open to the public for 2 weeks and will hopefully get better over time.

While not perfect the technology itself was pretty fantastic compared to other VR experiences. The opening scene did a great job easing you into what’s possible when the VR and physical environments are in sync with one another. In this free roaming environment you can see virtual versions of the other 3 guests (matching their real life heights) going through the experience. You can see your own virtual legs and hands. The movements are a bit janky at times but everyone I was with was too in awe to even mention it.

Operations and technology aside I was hoping for a bit more story from the experience. There were definitely some cool effects I don’t want to spoil but the majority of the show felt like a video game with some repetitive shootout scenes. I’m thinking a lot of it was due to space constraints as the overall footprint for the show is quite small so you spend a lot of time in a couple of spaces.

Despite my lukewarm experience I will definitely be checking out whatever comes next from The VOID and ILMxLab as this seems like a perfect venue to showcase the latest in VR “hyper-reality” technology. I only see this type of experience getting better as time goes on and look forward to what they come up with next!