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!

Anointment Finale by The Lust Experience

An exciting and unexpected treat for second timers through Anointment.

Experienced: December 17, 2017
Location: The L’Cheriyve Studio
Address: 620 W 135th St, Gardena, CA 90248
Price: $155
Audience Size: ~20
Runtime: ~120 minutes
More Information: The Lust Experience site, Noah Sinclair site, Instagram, Facebook

The Lust Experience

After hearing how risque the show had gotten since my first time through opening night I’ll admit I was a bit reluctant to go a second time. I got the same phone call other second timers had gotten to change our timeslot to the last showing of the final night. This made me even more anxious. Were they ratcheting up the intensity levels even more for us poor saps who were asking for more?

I arrived at the parking lot a bit late for the 11:30pm showtime. Morgan was there and lined us up against the wall. There were a lot of us maybe 30 or 40. He was very serious and intimidating as he spoke to us. He was asking us very tough questions making us reflect on what we had gone through our first time and why we were back. He asked if we could say we enjoyed every bit of our experience. Only a few raised their hands. He asked us what we were looking for by coming back.

Morgan told us that this, though it started that way, wasn’t a game to him anymore. He had gotten into immersive theater because it was exciting, pushed his boundaries, and he learned some things about himself in the process. He was now dealing with some very real, very heavy emotions. Some real friendships lost with others in jeopardy. He had someone (anonymously) wish upon him the same cancer that his own father had because of the Midnight Commission reveal (where he came out as the man behind the Midnight Commission to revive the BOS). The silence was deafening as we all stood there speechless.

Morgan said night after night he would see the reactions of people coming back from Anointment in various states of shock. He said one person couldn’t even text their friend he was shaking so much. He reminded us that the immoral debauchery we witnessed was what the OSDM was all about and made his case for the BOS. It was a very convincing.

Not all of the group was about to go back in some others were there for a separate BOS meeting. Morgan warned those of us going back in that he wouldn’t be able to help us this time. That the consistent chatter he had been intercepting from the OSDM communications on the previous nights were not at all the same tonight. He wasn’t sure what was going on but was sure something was up.

This was quite a build up and the frank chat with Morgan intensified any expectations going into this event. We boarded the shuttle in two groups so about 20 of us were going in. This time around there weren’t any mentions of secret handshakes or signals. We were told to line up at door in a single file line. We were told to face the building and not talk to each other. The shuttle driver and other security would just pace back and forth along the line which wrapped around the building.

We were let in one at a time about every 30-60 seconds. It began much the way the first night began though the tone was a bit more somber. There was no partying couple offering up pills or a good time. We were told to take a seat while the woman in red sang to us. After all of us piled on the couches with overflow taking a seat on the floor we were welcomed back by the same hostess I had my first night. She told us that tonight we were guests of the OSDM and that we would be able to roam the location as we wished. She encouraged us to explore all the nooks and crannies of what it has to offer.

The Lust Experience

I immediately went to the bar as I did the first night to get a drink. A drink to celebrate the bullet I dodged not having to lose all of my clothing in the welcoming scene. I started speaking to the old gentleman with a British accent as I had heard from others he had some interesting stories to tell.

The conversation I had was brilliant in that I have no clue if he was breaking the fourth wall or was completely in character. He would ask me how one would get a ticket to an event like this and if it was easy to get into. He asked me what I was looking for by coming. He was genuinely interested in the type of person who comes to this event. Was this him speaking in character or as a curious actor? He told me that he’s spent the last 4 nights hanging out and had several different stories to tell. That he would repeat these stories for all the guests coming through. Just when I thought he was talking to me as an actor he reiterated that the stories were all true before telling me several different stories, all about him being a filthy old rich man, back to back.

With that began what was quite possibly my favorite immersive experience ever. Maybe it was was the relief that this was not going to be as intense as the previous shows. Or maybe it was the chance to experience everything I wanted in as much detail as I wanted.

As the night went on we gained access to more and more of the compound presumably as the 11pm show was progressing through the last normal show of the run. This show instantly became exactly what everyone wanted out of it as the dining table became a giant game of Truth or Dare. I walked by and almost sat down but noticed a participant was somehow fully nude at this point so I passed. Those who wanted the risque debauchery of the original show found what they wanted. The rest of us looking for deeper interactions with the inhabitants of the show did just that.

Throughout all of this time the bar was open so I went back to get another drink or two and spent my time exploring.

There had been rumors on the Slack chat about “the room upstairs” (that quickly got deleted any time it was mentioned by the admin @a account) from prior nights and tonight Noah Nelson from No Proscenium was seen running down the stairs angrily yelling about how sick they were. He quickly got pulled back upstairs before storming out of the show completely.

I got to talk to Andy (confused dude) about The System Skid Row Workshop event he hosted with Sarah Sinclair and he was telling me that many people got the wrong idea. He asked me what I thought about it and I told him I enjoyed it and thought it was thought provoking. I commended him for putting on something polarizing instead of something middle of the road. We got to chat briefly about how amazing and life changing The System is.

I had a nice conversation with Sarah Sinclair about The System event as well though she seemed to be stressed out and distant. I found out that she was having concerns about Noah and how he was handling fatherhood. Noah apparently isn’t always there for their son Timmy. He’ll say he’s going to pick up Timmy from school but then flakes.

I met Tatiana who seemed confused and scared. Apparently another guest had gone through with her a few nights prior as a participant and talking tonight with the guest had her spooked. She was confused about her name and why she was even there or what she should do next. Moments like this were everywhere for anyone wanting to spend the time to explore. I ended up in a bathroom with a girl scrubbing blood on the floor. I mentioned to her that she wasn’t doing a great job cleaning the mess since she was just moving the blood around instead of wiping it up and she retorted “I don’t want to finish this, if I finish I’m not sure what they’ll do to me, I’d rather stay here”. It was an unexpectedly chilling answer.

Also had a quick chat with Joyce and I congratulated her on actually being alive. She had a good laugh when I asked “what was that all about?” and she joked that could be an alternate title or tagline for the sitcom “That’s So Joyce!”. Although she didn’t actually answer my question it was definitely nice seeing her.

I walked into what looked like a dressing room where Sabrina and a few other people were hanging out just talking. The hostess acknowledged me from meeting a few nights earlier and asked how I was doing. Maybe she knew I was a bit apprehensive going into this or maybe I was just a bit self conscious.

I walked by a room where Noah and Sarah Sinclair were having a heated discussion. Sarah pulled me into their conversation since we had spoken earlier Noah’s being sort of an absentee father. Noah rolled his eyes saying he wasn’t going to take advice from someone wearing a stupid masquerade mask. I took my mask off and had it off for the rest of the night. I tried my best to help out but Noah dropped a bomb about Sarah cheating on him. He said there are girls literally throwing their panties at him here every night and he has never cheated. I didn’t know what to say.

I may be rambling but I’m just trying to convey just how dynamic and active everything was during this finale. I was just scratching the surface of the immensely detailed world that was living and breathing before my eyes. Every inch of the compound was bursting with energy and storytelling. I wish we could have roamed for a lot longer but after over an hour we were all ushered into the final ceremony room.

We were treated to a final scene and final chance at conceiving the Anoch baby. This time Cecilia chose two people by name Stephanie and Deacon. Stephanie was screaming in terror and was even asking for Darren Bousman (the on again off again mastermind behind these experiences). Deacon and Stephanie were reluctantly getting undressed for the ceremony when Morgan and the BOS burst into the room to stop the scene. A lot of this happened quickly but ultimately the ceremony was stopped when Sabrina had an announcement for the room: she was pregnant– presumably with the Anoch baby. With that we were all left with a cliffhanger mid-season finale ending and were told to leave.

This finale was near perfection in my eyes and maybe it required the context of the first event and its structure to fully appreciate what was going on. This was an unexpected treat for those who purchased a second ticket and I’m impressed with the amount of effort put into a completely one off show. The payoff for those of us following the story and characters closely was completely unparalleled. To see characters I didn’t even know were part of Anointment (Andy, Joyce, and Sarah to name a few) ready to riff on their rich backstories was quite a surprise. I eagerly await the next chapters and am excited for the “grander, completely customized and site-specific finale” teased in the thank you email from The Creators to those of us who attended Anointment.

Anointment by The Lust Experience

Pushing the boundaries of consent, ethics, and storytelling.

Experienced: December 14, 2017
Location: The L’Cheriyve Studio
Address: 620 W 135th St, Gardena, CA 90248
Price: $155
Audience Size: 8
Runtime: ~120 minutes
More Information: The Lust Experience site, Noah Sinclair site, Instagram, Facebook

The Lust Experience

There are so many things to talk about with The Lust Experience mid-season event Anointment I’m not even sure where to start. Most of this will be a walkthrough of what I saw with some commentary after talking to others about the experience:

A week before Anointment - multiple venue rumor:

The tickets for the event we purchased were billed as a “one-of-a-kind, magnanimous and altruistic celebration of life, love and harmony”. That’s about as vague as it gets but those of us following along with the ongoing story began to hear rumors of two different events.

An actress, Stephanie, from The Tension Experience (last season’s show) confided in some friends/participants that she was sad she wasn’t asked to be in Anointment. Days later she later revealed that she was, indeed, going to be in an event but it wasn’t going to be Anointment and it was apparently in a different venue. Some started to assume the show we signed up for was a front, or diversion, for a more sinister event going on at the same time that she would be a part of.

Emails went out to participants with a waiver and instructions. One of the instructions was not to reveal our starting point to anyone until the show’s run was over. People started speculating that we’d be going to one of the two rumored events. How would they choose who goes where? How would we carpool without telling others in our group where we were going?

We were already confused and on edge before the event even started.

A week before Anointment - email from a group that intercepted our receipts for tickets to Anointment

The Midnight Commission started as a separate ARG experience and was later revealed (much to the chagrin of some in the LA immersive theater community) to be a part of The Lust Experience world. They are a group, led by Morgan, dedicated to expose the OSDM (who was putting on Anointment).

Participants were sent an email from the Midnight Commission telling us that the OSDM are liars and that we were to wear a masquerade mask. Some of us were not sure if everyone was supposed to wear a mask or only those part of the Midnight Commission.

Noah Sinclair (arguably the main character thus-far in The Lust Experience) cleared up to those of us on Slack that we should all wear masks. Noah hadn’t been confirmed as part of the Midnight Commission so the request was a bit confusing to some of us… but we’ve learned to accept confusion throughout the whole season!

Anointment - the preshow:

The morning of we all got an email of our meeting location from Timothy Granik of the OSDM. We also later got an email from the Midnight Commission telling us that the OSDM is lying to us and reiterating to wear a mask as well as wearing layers.

Approaching the location was nerve wracking for a couple of reasons: 1) I’d never been anywhere in this area for a show making it that much more suspect and 2) I was not sure if I would be the only person showing up at this location.

I felt a little at ease when I saw other cars in the parking lot but as this was opening night everyone was very quiet and to themselves. Almost as if they were afraid to talk about why they were there in this parking lot dressed up. After some awkward moments I broke the ice and asked if they were here for Anointment and we started talking.

Shortly after Morgan (from the Midnight Commission/BOS) walked into the parking lot, gathered us around, and told us that he had intercepted the shuttle driver for the event we were originally going to and that we would be going to something else. He gave us some hand signals and secret handshakes that the OSDM used amongst themselves to identify each other. We were to infiltrate this event and be on the lookout for anything unusual and report back to him.

We boarded the shuttle and were not quite sure if we were allowed to talk or not. The whole vibe was one of anticipation and intrigue. None of us knew quite what we were getting ourselves into and it was almost as if we didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Anointment - lounge:

The shuttle drops us off and we are patted down and have to perform one of the hand signals or secret handshakes before lining up to go inside. We were lined up in a single file line and let in one at a time every couple of minutes. The wait to go inside is anxiety inducing.

Once inside I am told to sit on one of the couches near the stage. On the way up a few stairs I’m greeted by a couple asking me if I’m looking to have a good time. They hand me a pill when I nod. Not wanting to break my cover I pop the pill in my mouth.

I see a woman in red on the stage singing. I swear it’s Sabrina (Addison from The Tension Experience) but as I get closer I realize it’s not. After all of us are seated a woman who would be our hostess through most of the evening gave us some ground rules. We were told we could leave whenever we wanted. She tells us that we weren’t chosen to be here for our looks or our brains. She asks one of us to stand up in front and tells her to take the top of her dress off. She is reluctant but after pressing the issue she complies. She’s visibly angry and quickly pulls her dress back up. This definitely sets the tone and puts all of us on edge from here on out.

As we leave the area we were instructed to leave one piece of clothing behind so we could feel like a different person. I heard on other nights a lot more than one piece of clothing had to be left behind in this first scene but I got away with leaving my suit jacket.

We are told to have a drink at the bar and mingle. As we turn around to leave we see about a dozen people hanging out in the lounge just staring at us. It was quite an intimidating scene and I wasn’t sure where to go or who to approach. There were several men and women in masks fully nude just hanging out. I picked up a drink from the bar and people started approaching me.

I was trying to talk to some of the familiar characters from the story so far but kept getting pulled away. One girl wanted to dance and as we did she asked me why she hasn’t ever seen me around. I told her I was new. Trying to fit in was definitely on my mind but I wasn’t doing a great job of it. Mason commented to me that I looked lost. Sabrina recognized me from Ascension and preempted my line of questioning by telling me flat out that she didn’t want or need to be saved and she was perfectly fine there.

The Lust Experience

Anointment - dining/desires room:

Our hostess rang a bell and gathered our group around to enter the next room. We were told to sit at a dinner table and to choose carefully where we sat. What followed was an interesting and awkward game of pairing up, revealing secrets, staring into the eyes of a “partner”, swapping partners, feeding a strawberry, and deciding what item of clothing the other should remove.

At one point I was told to stand up and the hostess brought over a handler named Skye. As I was told to look into Skye’s eyes the hostess made her strip off her clothes and face the rest of the table to moan. After she was told to get dressed she ran off to another room.

I was quickly pulled into the room by a man going by Deacon while Skye was getting dressed. He started yelling at me and took me a moment to realize why. He accused me of looking at his girlfriend inappropriately when she was standing in front of me undressed. Skye quickly tried to calm him down reminding him if “they” find out about their fling that bad things would happen. Deacon calmed down a bit and confided in me that he was on edge tonight because he hadn’t heard from his brother the whole night. His brother was apparently the shuttle driver that Morgan had intercepted to smuggle us into this event. I kept my mouth shut about that.

As I was pulled back into the dining room area it seemed like several had moved on to something else while others were blindfolded. I was given a blindfold as well and we were asked questions about desire and lust in an introspective scene. We had to reveal one desire to the group and, although we didn’t know it, this was presumably used as input into who was ultimately going to be anointed.

From here I was asked to sit on a chair with another individual and we were told about a device used to take readings of locations and she described the readings for where we were at as being just normal. It was unclear what the readings were actually for. We were then led into a hallway passing by what sounded like a running shower and some other rooms that were buzzing with activity.

Anointment - Rico room:

We walked into a room that looked like an entertainment room where Rico greeted us and proceeded to do a line of coke. This set the tone immediately for what people ended up calling the “Rico Room”. Most, if not all, of the guys who were not chosen to be anointed ended up hanging out in this room for a bit. He plays a drinking game with shots and very badly wanted us to get naked and masturbate together. He talked a bit about being a clockmaker and asked a male handler for some elephant penis. The handler comes in later with a huge cooked sausage looking thing. Rico asked me to try it, I did, and it was delicious. He then asked us to come up with something, anything, to order because they could procure anything we desired. We came up with something disgusting because Rico seemed to want that.

At one point Rico put his back to the camera that was obviously filming the room we were in and told us that they were watching everything. He seemed to be trying to warn us of something but because of the drugs and alcohol the details are a blur. He then made us watch some 70s porn on his TV before he tried one last time to get us all to take off our pants. Frustrated with us he got naked faster than I thought possible and stormed out of the room leaving his clothes on the couch.

The Lust Experience

Anointment - ceremony room:

Our hostess came by asking where Rico went and we said he ran off. She seemed perplexed and almost reluctantly led us through the hallway and into a large room with a bed. A man and a woman were in the bed nude under the covers and were told to leave. We were told to hang out for a bit before the ceremony began.

Me and another girl were immediately led to a room (while others were led elsewhere) that appeared to be some sort of dungeon or torture room. A woman described to us what the room was used for as she acted out the process on us. She said that the ultimate high can be obtained by injecting yourself with the blood of someone dying while simultaneously aroused and terrified. She blindfolded me, attached my wrists to the chains hanging on the wall, and proceeded to simulate slicing my neck open. She then captured the blood from my neck and walked over to the girl sitting on the bed. She was then injected with my blood.

After this scene was over we were led back into the main ceremony room and I noticed Stephanie. The same Stephanie that was happy to be included in the second, alternate show, further solidifying to those of us in the know that we were not at the original show we intended to go to. She told me a story about a kid in a park about to be kidnapped asked the questions ‘would you want to watch a movie? or would you like to play with legos?’ She mentioned that this was a false choice since both options were bad for the kid. She asked if I thought life was sometimes like that filled with false choices. She then said she felt tired and laid down on the sad mattress we were on sitting in the back of the room. There was another mattress similar nearby presumably for another girl. There was something unsettling about the dirty mattresses, without any linens on them, lying on the ground. It gave me the impression that these girls were here living against their will in squalor. Stephanie’s manic, confused, and paranoid behavior didn’t help.

Anointment - anointment ceremony:

We were gathered around the main bed near the entrance to the room. A woman dressed in red, whom some of us assumed was Noah’s mother Cecilia, was leading the ceremony with another man some of us recognized as Tom Barrow (who posed as Addison’s father throughout The Tension Experience) and later revealed to be Timothy Granik.

The anointment ritual we are about to witness was pretty twisted. Two people from our group, a man and a woman, were chosen and taken down a completely unique path than the rest of us, and from each other, to prepare for the ceremony. They were traveling through various rooms getting dolled up (or dolled down depending on how you look at it) so they would be ready for what happens next.

The man and woman are brought into the ceremony room and taken to the bed. They were dressed in loincloths (and in other ceremonies sometimes completely nude) and were told to lay down next to each other. Cecilia and Timothy began what was easily the most awkward, humorous, humiliating, and non sensual portion of the night. They were basically telling the two to have sex in front of all of us in hopes of conceiving the OSDM god Anoch. Or at least that’s how I interpreted it.

The performance anxiety was real for the two on the bed as the rest of us just watched in horror. Timothy asked incredulously ‘how come he’s not hard yet??’ and just as he was about to get one of us onlookers to help the guy out with that Noah Sinclair came bursting into the scene.

Noah got up on the bed and was disgusted with us, his mom, and with what was going on. He gave us a speech about how two complete strangers having sex in the name of Anoch was not right. He implied that we all leave and that a conception based on love was the only way to godliness.

Anointment - awkward cool down period:

We were led into a small room with a bucket of all of our clothes on the ground where we were told to get dressed. Here we all compared notes while awkwardly getting dressed. We were then escorted back to our cars by a man in a suit. Walking back we realized just how close we were to where we parked despite the confusing path we took in the shuttle to the venue.


Those going through the event were told that we were being smuggled in (so to speak) so we had to fit in and do what we were told. Anyone not complying would likely blow their cover and get ejected (or worse). This coupled with many guests not given an actual safeword to use throughout the experience compounds the blurred lines of consent.

Most everyone I heard were at least told that they could leave as they pleased and I understand bringing an explicit safeword into the mix may not fit the story perfectly if this wasn’t supposed to be a “public event” in the first place so I get why a safeword wasn’t stated.

All of this would be a moot point if this show didn’t have salacious situations in spades.

Ethics & Morality

Some were asked to take a good portion of their clothes off. Others were asked to call a random person from their call history to reveal a sexual desire or secret. A few were occasionally asked to kiss complete strangers (other participants). It’s hard to tell how many people felt obligated to do things out of fear of getting kicked out but some seasoned vets definitely stood their ground at times and were not kicked out or forced to do anything they didn’t feel comfortable with.

There was definitely a lot to discuss here with other participants and some boundaries were pushed and exceeded. I am sure every single person that went through Anointment has something to say about the lines crossed.

Differing intensity levels

For the most part the night I went was relatively tame as it sounds like many (if not all) participants for the remaining nights were asked to undress beyond a usual level of comfort amongst strangers.

When I went shoes were an acceptable piece of clothing to discard whereas other nights shoes, ties, and undershirts didn’t count. The two people chosen to be anointed were many times asked to undress completely and complete the show in the buff. Those in the nude were frequently interacting with other participants throughout the show. I highly doubt many expected that type of intimacy with other participants.

Expectations for new participants

I find it interesting that this show was so unlike all of the events leading up to it. They successfully lived up to the expectations of what people think of when you say you’re going to “The Lust Experience” but for some reason the content (mostly participant nudity) came as a shock to me. There was little to no sexual content in the shows and storylines leading up to Anointment. I’m extremely curious about the direction this heads as there may be some new attendees who are expecting the next show to go even further. I’m thinking there’s not much further it can go right??

Experience for those closely following the story

It felt like the show was built mostly for onboarding new participants as there wasn’t a lot in the path I was on that furthered the ongoing story. I believe one person per show got a one on one with Noah while the rest of us only saw him briefly in the finale. Depending on which host/hostess you got you may not have seen Sabrina or Mason (I was fortunate to see both briefly in the lounge).

The Lust Experience

Wrap Up

The Powers That Be/Creators have delivered yet another thought provoking, boundary pushing, controversial experience. Taken by itself as a stand alone experience I can’t say I necessarily loved it but I don’t think I’ve talked so much about a show ever. There were so many different experiences to be had that it’s impossible to judge it or know all that went on in there without talking to hundreds of people. The attention to detail and variation is staggering especially for a show that only ran for 4 nights.

I also had a wonderful opportunity to see the show it in a completely different light my second time through read about it here.

The Kansas Collection (Chapter Four - The Invitation) by The Speakeasy Society

Remount tickets here! Reporting for duty for the Scarecrow’s special task force.

Experienced: September 14, 2017
Address: Los Angeles, 90039
Price: $20
Tickets: Remount tickets for each chapter here
Audience Size: 2
Runtime: ~20 minutes
More Information: Kansas Collection, The Speakeasy Society, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

Chapter 4, The Invitation, of the Kansas Collection was a return to their roots reminiscent of Chapter 1 in more ways than one. First it took place in the original location (after the debut at IndieCade). Second it starts with two guests being greeted by the character Lyman followed by sitting down to chat with Jo Files (with signature steampunk aviator glasses) behind a typewriter.

The rest of the show was different than Chapter 1 in that both of us guests were brought into one large area behind Jo Files and each interacted with a different individual separately in the same space. These two characters were hard at work sealing envelopes contain invitations to an event. They asked us to help out for a bit before taking us aside to speak in private. Both were very animated and engaging though I only got to speak to one in private.

The show was fun, albeit short like all of the chapters in The Kansas collection, and felt like a reboot of sorts resetting some of the playing field while reminding us the current lay of the land in Oz. I am looking forward to what comes next after The Invitation as it sounds like it might be grand!

E(levator), Students and Friends by ABC Project

Ambitious work with three overlapping experiences.

Run: August 29-September 5, 2017
Experienced: August 29, 2017
Location: 939 Studio
Address: 939 Maple Ave, Los Angeles CA, 90015
Price: Students - $43.75, Friends - $43.75, E(levator) - $65
Audience Size: Students - 12, Friends - 4, E(levator) - 2
Runtime: Students - 45 minutes, Friends - 35 minutes, E(levator) - 55 minutes
More Information: ABC Project Site, ABC Project on Facebook, Annie Lesser on Twitter, Annie Lesser on Instagram

ABC Project

This is an ambitious and experimental work, literally days after D(istillery), that consists of three different pieces named E(levator), Students, and Friends. The three shows all overlap each other slightly and were performed 3 times a night each. The unusual logistics for these three shows include a different starting location, starting time, audience size, and show length. Hardcore Annie Lesser fans tried to get a ticket to experience all three shows in the same night but only 6 people per night could actually do that since E(levator) had an audience size of 2.

Here’s a breakdown of the different shows starting from the largest audience size to smallest:

Students: A group of 12 students are meeting up for some extra credit. The teacher explains that the group we are about to see are showcasing their artwork as part of their art-therapy sessions. Our job is to be respectful, tour the gallery, and converse with the patients about their art. We had to make sure to not have any belts, shoelaces, or sharp objects on our person before entering the gallery.

Inside there we are free to converse with the artists about their work as we try and figure out why they are in therapy based on our interaction. I don’t have much psychology knowledge or experience but it was entertaining having free-form conversations with interesting people about the art. Each individual had a distinct personality, warts and all, and there was a good amount of time to spend as little or as much time as you wanted with each of them.

At one point a verbal argument between the artists breaks out and some character flaws are revealed in the heat of the moment. Things start to get a little chaotic and one individual is forcibly ejected from the gallery and we are told we should leave as well.

Students was engaging and very organic. The structure forced us to be active participants to extract as much as we can from the stories and lives of each character. It’s hard to tell how much of this show is improvised, seemingly much of it, but there was definitely a lot of backstory for each character that came through.

Friends: A letter from a friend asks to meet up to say goodbye before he gets the help he needs. 4 of us meet at the meeting point. It might be easy to mistaken another participant for the friend in need but some of us knew each other already. The show starts when a guy and a girl start approaching us. They appear to be in a relationship and are in a heated discussion. The guy stops and greets us individually and thanks us for coming. The girl he is with just ignores us. It’s obvious she is not happy about his decision.

As we start walking along the street with the couple there are some hints that things are not what they seem. There are some subtle implications about our role in the relationship between these two and as the show progresses a few revelations are made by the audience at different times. The slow burn of the situation is intriguing and works perfectly. The end I experienced was a bit lackluster and ambiguous but otherwise this was a fun show.

Elevator: Two audience members are to report for work to be an orderly at the Maple Institute. This one, as you might guess, takes place mostly in an elevator. The service elevator at Think Tank Gallery has been used in other immersive theater pieces (I have fond memories of my first Alone Experience starting in this elevator) but was never used as the centerpiece for a show.

This show revolves around two participants being trained by an orderly to intake patients into the institute. He gives us a clipboard with some questions to ask to help assess the patient’s mental state of mind. The interaction here was very natural and occasionally our trainer would take over to ask some questions. It becomes apparent, as time goes on, at least one of the patient’s psychological maladies.

Overlap: The overlap between the shows is interesting and probably confusing if you didn’t experience all shows.

Students overlapped with Friends toward the end of Friends when the Professor of the students leaves to make a phone call. She steps outside and the friends interact with her for a bit. Students overlapped with Elevator when the orderlies in training welcome the students into the gallery at the beginning of Students. It also overlaps with Elevator when the orderlies come in to try and deal with a commotion that occurs in the gallery. Elevator overlapped with Friends with the patient being taken into the institute. He starts as one of the characters in Friends and ends up as one of the characters in Elevator.

Thoughts: Overall I enjoyed my time through the three different shows but the cost to see them was steep. E(levator), Students and Friends would probably have benefitted from a discounted price to experience all shows. Also the varying show sizes made it awkward and hard to see more than one in the same night. This felt like an interesting experiment and I’m glad Annie Lesser continues to think outside of the box.

The Sudden Loneliness Gift - Therapy and dreams. by Nocturnal Fandango

First fully realized experience kicks Nocturnal Fandango’s sophomore season into high gear.

Run: August 25-27, 2017
Experienced: August 27, 2017
Location: Undisclosed
Address: Echo Park, CA
Price: $100.00
Audience Size: 1
Runtime: 80 minutes
More Information: Sudden Loneliness Gift, Instagram

The first fully realized experience for The Sudden Loneliness Gift did not disappoint. I went through last year’s Therapy and Dreams as well as Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow and I can safely say I enjoyed this show more than anything I’ve seen yet from Nocturnal Fandango.

The format of the show was similar to the first Therapy and Dreams and is my favorite kind of immersive: one which you go through and experience alone. It was a non-stop tour de force of emotion: introspective, surreal, whimsical, confusing, scary, sad, and serene to name a few. What they accomplished in the space with multiple shows going on simultaneously is to be commended. The logistics of starting someone every 20 minutes was mostly flawless as I only noticed another participant traversing the compound when I realized where I was in relation to a prior scene I had been through.

There is so much that happens throughout this 80 minute journey I decided to lay it out in a pseudo stream of consciousness bullet point form below. Note this is mostly to try and convey the sheer scope of everything that happened:

  • Meadowlark
    • Keilani, sit on a stool, drink hibiscus tea in chosen cup, eat raspberry, almond, nut, mint
    • Taken to porch, Meadowlark discusses the process of his new age therapy, does a breathing exercise
    • Asked to think about something that has been worrying me
    • Go to campfire, write and talk about the worry, drop the paper in the fire to symbolize the problem going away
    • Sit on side porch to pour water on my feet (he told a story about a female shinto priest who blessed the water)
    • Go inside sit on couch in living room, look at origami animals
    • Talk about spirit animal and element (wind)
    • Breathing exercise to prepare to open dream eye (as he hovers his hand in front of my forehead to help)
    • Walk to bed, lay down, sleep
  • Chelsea/Luna Corp
    • Chelsea walks in and says ‘get up you don’t want to be late for your first day at your new job’
    • Says come and get breakfast
    • I sit at the counter as she’s cooking an egg that’s blood red
    • Asks if i want any water or OJ, said ok to OJ and she got it from the fridge to pour greenish milky substance from the OJ container
    • Talks about her dilemma re: rent to own camera equipment but afraid it might trigger some of the old theater memories with Jason and he’s still trying to get over the loss of Kevin a year later
    • She says she wishes I would tell her about the clients I talk to (at my job) but she understands I sign like 10 NDAs a day (thought I was Kevin for this moment in this dream)
    • Asked if I saw the video yet (for the job) and I said no, she shows it to me on a laptop with a binder and sunglasses
    • Video (narrated by Ernestine?) talks about Luna Corporation welcoming us generically regardless of the job, they are all important.
    • Told in video to put on the sunglasses and to look at my binder
    • Binder says I’m in Facilities Management
    • Chelsea starts to choke, falls to the ground, I try to grab her but right when she falls Red comes in
      Nocturnal Fandango
  • Red
    • Red takes me to a bathroom bathed in a red glow
    • He is super positive and enthusiastic, thanks me for helping him relax, asks if I ever relax
    • When I say not really he asks if I want to do what he does to relax.. Clean his pores. I say sure. He puts a pore strip on my nose.
    • He asks if I want to see something. I say sure. He opens up the shower curtain to reveal multiple bird nests and different sized eggs.
    • He talks about how these are his babies and he doesn’t want to let them go but he will have to someday.
    • Hands me a tiny egg saying he remembers when I was an egg just like that one and now look at me.
    • Says he thinks I am ready for something new but it won’t be easy. Asks if I’m ready. I say yes.
    • We walk through a door past the side porch and he tells me to follow the torches toward the light
  • Jason
    • Walk to a shed, two masked characters, one only grunts, the other is Bossman (played by Jason)
    • They set me on the table, blindfold me, and lift my shirt
    • Start to act like they are operating on me
    • Jason repeatedly mentions the hairball in his helpers throat, making fun of him for constantly grunting.
    • Bossman asks if I remember a childhood story (when things were truly innocent) from before I became an ugly grown up
    • At some point Jason breaks character as he says their safe word (Alamo) because the other guy (Jesse, Jason’s student) has a real screwdriver and he’s concerned for my safety
    • He is saying he’s going to call Kevin to take over for this guy since there are 5 more people to go through tonight and he’s getting tired (doesn’t want to deal with Jesse anymore)
    • Kevin’s voicemail keeps coming up he tries again
    • Guy tells Jason that Kevin is dead, has been dead
    • Jason says ‘you saw him at the dinner party right?’ I clarify which dinner party he mentions Thai food and I say no.. Jason is confused, incredulous
    • The two of them freeze when a girl comes into the shed and leads me away
      Nocturnal Fandango
  • Fox
    • Girl with tape on her mouth (Fox Baby) leads me to a bed that appears fire damaged.
    • Lays me down and just looks at me caressing my hair
    • A man in a face mask comes (Orange) and grabs my hair and speaks French (?) and I say ‘no’ as he repeated a phrase to me
    • He talks about what I’ve done, asks why I don’t help The Fox out
    • The two of them dance and send me back to the bed a couple of times
    • I am helpless as Orange aggressively dances with Fox Baby
    • I am then led to a tent
  • Kevin
    • Kevin is in the tent with lots of pages of books taped everywhere
    • He talks about how he’s been dead for awhile but just lives the same day over and over where he is laid down to rest and then ends up in the tent to read or write
    • Asks if I got his postcard (I did)
    • Tells me to tell Jason that he loves him, I tell him Jason thinks he’s still alive and if I said that it might hurt his grieving process
    • Kevin takes me to the spot where he lays down every night
    • We both lay down in a grave like wooden box with feathers underneath
    • A character from Jake is reading a kid’s poem (forgot, little boy blue?) while throwing feathers on us
    • Kevin seemingly dies and I am led out by (guy from water/fire I hadn’t met before)
  • End
    • Paul pulls me out and as we walk past the threshold of the compound he seems to snap out of it and says ‘you’ve been sleepwalking or something back there are you ok?!’
    • Distinct end of dream after leaving compound
    • He tells me about his dream where he was a crocodile that helped people cross a river
    • I told him about my dreams
    • He asked if I was ok
    • Gave me a gift box said he was told to make it and give it to me
    • Keilani walks me out asks if I’m ok as well
  • Questions I have
    • Is Chelsea my wife in the dream? Or am I Kevin and she’s playing Jason?
    • What did putting on the sunglasses signify when watching the video?
    • Why is Red pulling me out of the scene with Chelsea with such conviction?
    • Who is Red anyway?
    • Who are the dancers?
    • Why was there tape on the female dancer’s mouth?
    • Why did I get tape on my mouth?
    • Is Kevin in purgatory?

In Another Room by E3W Productions

A beautiful production from beginning to end and an amazing way for E3W Productions to burst onto the immersive scene.

Experienced: August 26, 2017
Location: Undisclosed
Address: Los Angeles, CA
Price: $60.00
Audience Size: 3
Runtime: 75 minutes
More Information: Instagram

E3W Productions

In Another Room came onto the scene, as many do these days, with an Instagram account. Their account initially focused on case files of “Official Record of Reported Incidents”. At that time no one knew if this was an ARG or a show but the imagery was intriguing. Looking back at their timeline it was brilliantly orchestrated, with at least one photo per day for almost a month, starting on June 13 all the way until tickets went on sale July 10th. After selling out a few days later their Instagram went dark for almost another full month before starting up again the week of their show’s debut.

Based on the videos (and “Paranormal Volunteer” moniker on the ticket) leading up to opening night one would expect the show to be full of ghost hunting through darkened rooms with atmospheric hints of apparitions with randomly closing doors, creaks, wind, sounds, and the like. I was expecting something similar to Knott’s Scary Farm’s Visions “Skeleton Key” room from last year which used an iPad’s camera to augment reality with ghosts that could only be seen on the tablet’s screen.

The show starts out with three audience members checking in at a desk on the porch of a home. We have our picture taken one at a time so the E3W Paranormal Investigation team can make sure we aren’t bringing any negative EMF type auras that would affect the investigation. In the meantime we were to speak to the current owner of the house around the corner of the home.

Michelle looks distraught and starts to tell us about the home. About how she wants nothing to do with it but can’t sell it, how strange things have and continue to happen here, how she has moved far away from here and only came back because E3W was paying her, how she doesn’t know what we’re looking for but hopes we find it here. She mentions renting it out to someone named Wendy Morrow, an investigator investigating the numerous deaths at the house, for only a month or two before she ended up dead. Her intensity and genuine concern literally sent chills down my spine.

She walks us into the home and up a dark staircase giving us some more backstory of the home and her time there. We slowly make our way up and she abruptly tells us that this is as far she’ll go with us and wishes us luck. She tells us to keep walking up the stairs and knock on the door, wishes us luck, and leaves us alone. I’m getting chills just thinking about it. The scene was set so perfectly and it was up to us to muster the courage to continue up those stairs.

After walking up the creaky steps and knocking on the door it abruptly opens up and we are welcomed into an odd, unsettling, tiny room with photos and case files strewn on all walls and even the ceiling if I remember correctly. I noticed the nameplate on the desk as “Wendy Morrow” and immediately knew we were being greeted by a dead woman, the investigator mentioned in the opening act. She frantically tells us about random deaths and causes of deaths occurring in this home.

E3W Productions

This room, or hallway, acts as a centralized hub for the home. It also serves as the hub for the show with 6 doors surrounding it. The majority of the show takes place in the various rooms of the home. Each room represents a different scene, depicting the lives and deaths, of the people Wendy Morrow told us about. The show takes us through different time periods and we are occasionally split up into even smaller groups of 1 or 2 to witness different scenes.

Needless to say this show was excellent. It very much felt like being a part of a full blown horror movie and with only 3 of us in the home the whole time it was extremely intimate. The audience to actor ratio is insane (about 10 actors and 3 audience members) not to mention the people behind the scenes working the music, lights, and set changes (some rooms like the hallway looked completely different when going through them various times). The amount of effort put into the script, set design, and Instagram is all top notch. After going to so many haunts and immersive theater events I rarely get scared but can say there were several times I was scared, startled, or just plain creeped out.

This was a beautiful production from beginning to end and an amazing way for E3W Productions to burst onto the immersive scene. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.

D(istillery) by ABC Project

A short, powerful piece about the human condition as told through metaphors of the distillation process.

Experienced: August 26, 2017
Location: Stark Spirits
Address: 1260 Lincoln Ave #1100, Pasadena, CA 91103
Price: $20.00
Audience Size: 6
Runtime: 25 minutes
More Information: ABC Project Site, ABC Project on Facebook, Annie Lesser on Twitter, Annie Lesser on Instagram

Never has a piece of theater hit me emotionally so quickly than D(istillery). I was either feeling unusually empathetic that night or it was the brilliant writing and acting. I’m banking on the latter. Annie Lesser’s ABC Project is still in its infancy stages with the letter D but, to date, each piece has had a completely different setting and unique tone.

D(istillery) is a short, powerful piece about the human condition as told through metaphors of the spirit distillation process. The simple version of how the show operates is a tour of the Stark Spirits distillery interspersed with the inner thoughts, conflicts, dreams, aspirations, and heartache of one (or many) people. How it actually plays out, and is revealed, is near impossible to describe as it will affect everyone differently.

The show takes place in a small area of the distillery and we are given some ground rules reiterating that the six of us in the audience are not to reply or talk to the actors. This works out for the best because there are some answers to questions that could possibly derail the beautiful flow of what Annie Lesser has laid out.

The show starts with us roaming in the distillery with music being played. At first I thought it was from a radio but as I looked around I realized it was being played live by a musician sitting at an electronic keyboard. A dynamic soundtrack accompanies the performance matching the pacing and tone throughout perfectly.

A girl comes out of the office door to greet us. She starts to tell us the origin of this distillery and it’s implied that this is her baby, her labor of love, but she is a bit apprehensive. It’s almost as if things aren’t going as well as she had hoped. Another girl comes out of the office and continues the monologue while offering a more personal side to the story. It immediately strikes me as two different voices for the same person. One voice of the outward persona attempting to hide the insecurities. The other voice is the private, inner thoughts, revealing the truth– not often told to strangers or even friends.

The show continues and a third person comes out and the three of them continue the tour. They speak of the distillation process slipping into life’s moments ranging from childhood memories of the stifling love of a mother to the rejection of a love lost.

I interpreted the show as starting with one particular person’s life (the owner of the distillery) and ending with many different lives as unique as each barrel described in the aging process.

I thoroughly enjoyed the tone, emotion, and delivery of the material and wouldn’t hesitate to check this one out again if I ever get the chance. It’s a relatively short piece but I can’t imagine anything else matching the unique setting so perfectly.

Remembrance Day by the Order of Bileth

Enjoyably unique show with a dense narrative and an unconventional structure.

Experienced: August 24, 2017
Location: Undisclosed
Address: Los Angeles, CA 90015
Price: $60 ($50 with Midsummer Scream presale)
Audience Size: 20
Runtime: 120 minutes
More Information: Order of Bileth Site, Instagram, Twitter

The group of us waited, as instructed, by the alleyway before Jeremy came out and called our names. We were told to line up in the order called before being escorted into the venue. We walked up a flight of stairs and through a couple of rooms before entering a lounge where a group of people were waiting for us.

Steven Lundy, 1st Leading Knight of the Order of Bileth, welcomed us all to Remembrance Day. This was described as a night of celebration and one where we would “see for yourself the fruits of your labor.” We were given the chance to mingle with each other as well as with the members who were already present before we arrived. We were offered (paraphrased): fruit cut into pleasant shapes, water with and without bubbles (also with and without sugar), sweets, and snacks.

The first, and longest, portion of Remembrance Day was structured as a casual meet and greet with about 6 characters scattered throughout the lounge area. We could decide to approach any of these members in any order we wanted. We could have spent the whole time with one or try to talk to all of them. This wasn’t explicitly stated as such but soon became obvious as they started to engage with us.

During this time I learned a lot about the inner workings of the Order of Bileth. Through the various interactions with the members I learned the history, motivation, and sometimes drama between some of the characters.

I quickly discovered that Alice, Steven Lundy’s assistant, was recently brought into the picture by Henry. She has an almost unhealthy disdain for Jeremy and I decided to tell him about this. He was mad yet unsurprised before revealing to me that she came out of nowhere to take his job and now he was stuck handling the catering. He didn’t know what was in her little book that she carries around everywhere. Little things like this were fun to play with and explore. When talking with Alice she suddenly started asking a few of us random questions like a taste we dislike, our shoe size, and whether or not we would be ok with an entity entering our body (what??).

As we were exploring the various backstories people’s names were called out every few minutes to go through a “test”. This test was conducted, mostly blindfolded, with our body being moved around, lotion (or water) rubbed up and down our hands and arms, paint applied to our faces, being forced to drink an unknown liquid, and being measured head to toe. I can’t be too sure I was being measured but that’s sure what it sounded like with the blindfold on.

At one point I was pulled aside in a choke hold by someone who said “I know you but you don’t know me, at some point they will ask you to drink something, take this to counteract it” and shoved a little pill into my hand. He must be who I was emailed about a few days earlier from someone named wk (doubleyou kay). The email warned me about the goings on with the Order and was part of a resistance. Wk mentioned “a society member will find you that night. trust them. please.”

The test ended with a neat scene where my blindfold was lifted for a moment to witness a woman with a mask dancing in the distance. The blindfold was put back on and quickly lifted again as she is standing a foot away. It was startling and she started to talk to me about how we all wear masks as she takes her mask off to reveal yet another mask of what appeared to be someone else’s face. She asks if I’m ready to take my mask off. I took it to mean she was going to cut my face off but I nodded anyway. She then opened the door and I was back in the lounge.

After everyone went through the test sequence Steven Lundy gathered around for a speech. Order of Bileth pins were given to all attendees to commemorate Remembrance Day. In a touching moment Steven knighted Carl, a participant of prior pop-up events and the ARG, the 6th Leading Knight of the Order. He seemed genuinely surprised.

Shortly after the knighting Steven talked about a missing 2nd Knight and that she had served her penance for the wrongdoing that got her kicked out in the first place. He welcomed his daughter Rachel back to the Order. She was a girl who was introduced in the welcome ceremony as the youngest Order member. She had appeared very distracted and shifty throughout the night but she chalked it up to just being shy when asked. Steven never mentioned she was his daughter or a 2nd Knight prior and I’m not sure if that was news to everyone or just to those not following the ARG.

After this speech we were escorted to the finale. Steven Lundy spoke of bringing Bileth back to walk on this earth. That we were all tested to find the perfect human vehicle for Bileth’s return. We were thinking one of us might be chosen when Steven reveals his daughter Rachel was decided to be the perfect specimen. She proceeds to freak out and melt down pleading with her father not to do this to her. She says she’s scared. She’s screaming.

Suddenly Henry starts to yell at Steven scolding and cussing at him saying he was making decisions for personal reasons implying he didn’t have the best interests of the Order in mind. He accuses Rachel of being wk and that it all happened on Steven’s watch right under his nose. Henry restrains Steven and proceeds to have Rachel strangled in front of all of us. Steven is let go and he crawls to his now dead daughter and Henry yells at all of us to leave.

The Order of Bileth

As you can see the story is very dense and I definitely didn’t understand all of it. In that sense it felt very real because, like in life, this wasn’t a perfectly buttoned up story. The characters all had existing purpose and personality. This is probably a function of the ongoing ARG but still worked nicely for those of us coming in cold. There are many unanswered questions and story threads to play with here in the future.

I think the structure of the show worked and the meet & greet with the disciples had enough time to breathe that I felt I got a chance to explore each character’s backstory. You had to put some work in to get the story elements out of this portion and those willing to engage likely had a great time.

I personally wished the walkthrough “test” was a lot longer in length but this event was perfect for people who wanted a deep narrative. I also noticed some elements borrowed from other shows (the antidote from a stranger was done in Alone’s Acheland for example) though in the grand scheme of things these are blips in the 2 hour show.

I applaud the Order of Bileth for putting on a uniquely structured and entertaining show and look forward to future events.

Optika Moderna - Waking La Llorona

Remount tickets can be found here.

Experienced: August 20, 2017
Location: Bread + Salt
Address: 1955 Julian Ave, San Diego, CA
Price: Free
Audience Size: 1
Runtime: 20 minutes
More Information: Optika Moderna Site, Instagram

The show is framed as an appointment with E.S. Moctezuma for reasons unknown. The appointment begins with a brief interaction and masterfully transitions into the narrative experience based on the La Llorona folklore.

Optika Moderna’s Waking La Llorona plays out like a silent movie or a distant memory. The production is top notch across the board from the sound and sets to the acting, dancing, and interaction. The only complaint I have is how short the piece is as it runs shorter than the 30 minutes advertised. It’s not intense and is a very accessible show if you can get over going through alone and walking through some dark, haunt-like, sets.

According to this No Proscenium interview the piece is a workshop with a possibility of an extension so keep an eye out for show dates. Although the story told is complete as is I hope to see a longer form show from Optika Moderna in the future.