Fringe 2018 – A Variety of Immersive Events
With immersive entertainment gaining traction in Los Angeles, it came as no surprise that so many events – like What Went Wrong and One Last Thing Before You Go – popped up at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this year.
The Unmarked Door’s production, The Witnessing, sees audiences attend a lecture on debunking paranormal phenomena with Dr. Daugherty and his assistant Alex. The lecture focuses on the story of the Davidsons, a family plagued by the unexplainable – moving objects, phantom phone calls, frightening apparitions – lets guests interact with supposedly haunted artifacts, and offers scientific explanations for the happenings… Or does it? Incorporating audio interviews, flickering lights, disembodied voices, photography, and eerie evidential slides, The Witnessing primes its audience to believe in the supernatural despite insisting otherwise. So, when an artifact goes missing and Alex begins to stare into space, the audience is adequately on edge for the climax.
It must be noted the strength and believablity of the two actors, Galen Howard and Jason Field, who were on stage for the entire piece. They lived their characters, reacting and interacting when not the focus of attention. An issue I have with a lot of immersive events is endings. They often seem abrupt and jarring, the audience wondering if the end has come. Unfortunately, The Witnessing also falls into that trap. Conceptually it makes sense, but after we are given such a rich and fascinating story, I was excited to see more. Also, as the audience is sitting and watching the lecture for the duration of the piece, The Witnessing isn’t as immersive as it seems. As an added bonus, there is a post-script and a token of your time in the lecture, which you receive in a later email. These inclusions bleed into your real life, making for an even richer experience.
2Cents Theatre Group welcomes guests to the ambitious Unreal City, a safe zone amidst the apocalyptic Waste Land after a virus has wiped out most of the world. The audience is brought in to covertly rebel against the ruling Queen, who has outlawed creativity and affection. Unreal City draws inspiration and dialogue from the T.S. Eliot poem “The Waste Land,” and allows audience members to choose which path they want to take by following one of four characters, who show us their view of the city. After our initial decision, we follow various tracks, separated and joined by different characters and other guests throughout the landscape of Los Angeles, guided through a variety of scenes.
Unreal City is extraordinary in scale, with any given guest not seeing even half of what 2Cents has created, which can make the story seem incomplete or disjointed. The use of poetry for communication was not as accessible as I would have preferred, and it was often hard to keep up with the hurried movements of the performers. The tracks for guests are vastly different – I got driven around in a car, while a friend of mine saw many different characters, and yet another visited with only one or two. There was also opportunity for interaction with the actors, which could have been made more obvious throughout the proceedings. As directed, it is often left up to the guests to engage with the seasoned cast, which leads to potential missed opportunities. In Unreal City, 2Cents has created a bold and challenging experience that is impressive in vision and scope and might be overwhelming to some, but is incredibly replayable for those willing to get lost in the world.
The least immersive of the bunch, The Study falls more into the “audience participation” category, as guests are seated during the whole performance. The first part of The Study takes place in a lecture hall with a professor discussing the concept of fear, specifically the fight-or-flight response. The rest, and bulk, of the piece is a traditional production about teenagers going to a cabin for the weekend to party – until things go horribly wrong. The Study takes horror genre clichés and caricatures and gives the audience a chance to decide what the characters should do in several situations. Using red and blue glow sticks, the audience votes for one of two options projected on a backdrop behind the actors, who then proceed with the chosen outcome.
The acting was good; I mostly found fault in the story itself. There were a lot of homophobic and sexist remarks throughout the piece which didn’t seem necessary. As such, most of the characters were not likable, thus the audience didn’t have a problem killing them off. The villains’ motives were unclear, the pre- and post-lecture portions didn’t add any insight into the teenagers’ story, and the expositional dialogue (without any audience participation) could have been cut down significantly and still made sense. As a lover of horror and immersive entertainment, I was disappointed that no new ground was covered in The Study. I liked the audience participation, and wished they incorporated it sooner.