Chained: A Victorian Nightmare
To be blunt, the first time I saw an article about “Chained: A Victorian Nightmare,” I glossed over it. The title was super cool, but when I learned it was a retelling of “A Christmas Carol,” I tuned out. “A Christmas Carol” did not excite me. I have seen a live version, a Disney version, a CGI version, a Bill Murray version, and undoubtedly others that don’t spring to mind at the moment. Another version seemed superfluous, even if it did involve VR.
When I discovered that it somehow added immersive theater, and the early word was excellent, it sounded more intriguing. Luckily, I was able to get into the nearly sold-out run and headed to downtown Los Angeles, to an unassuming gated building in a quiet neighborhood. It’s clear that MWM Immersive are not relying on foot traffic for their show. Upon entering the large dim room, a combination lobby and art gallery, a young woman greeted me and gave me headphones to listen to a selected soundtrack while browsing concept art for the upcoming show. I was the only person there, as Chained is a show for one person at a time. The headphones sneakily doubled as a way to block out any sounds coming from the show currently running while I waited for my time slot.
The Thrill of Discovery
At the appointed time, I am shown through a door and given one simple instruction. Then the door shuts behind me and I am now the main character of my own version of the famous story. I am not playing Scrooge, per se, but I am talking to an actor in a Victorian office set, warning me about my life and my choices. This onboarding process gives me the way to “cross over” and see the spirits (by putting on the VR headset) who will enlighten me. It is also where the first bit of magic happens.
I am no stranger to free-roaming virtual reality. I’ve been through the Void’s dimensions and have a good idea of the tricks behind the scenes. Yet the first moment of Chained’s virtual world is so unexpected and wondrous that I become a bit giddy. A story I thought would feel redundant has already thrilled me.
A Personal Story
The rest of the story follows the same structure as the one you know, but it’s more personal. Marley’s ghost asks you questions about your life and regrets, and it’s in your best interest to answer honestly. The answers will come up later when you are visited by the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Besides the relevancy of the message, Chained keeps your attention by showing you visions of the spirits that you haven’t seen before. There is no youthful woman, no jolly giant. The creators keep these spirits closer to the written version (which I admit I’ve never read), and they’re scary. Which is the intention, of course.
The chills continue through the end of the story. Unlike Ebeneezer, you emerge from your visit with the spirits not into Christmas Day with Bob Cratchit, but by yourself into the lobby and back onto the dark Los Angeles street. Clutching the memento of your metaphysical journey (a definite trend at immersive theater shows), you are left to ponder the message as it applies to your own life and actions.
Reality Enhances the Virtual
While the Virtual Reality lets you experience another place and time, as well as the ghosts, it’s the actual reality that makes Chained such a high-quality show. The actors at my show were James Cowan (Kansas Collection, Delusion: The Blue Blade), who plays the spirits, and Genevieve Gearhart (The Speakeasy Society). The roles were originated by Michael Bates and Haylee Nichele, who still play the roles on other dates. At my show, Ms. Gearhart was a perfect transition from modern day to Victorian England, and Mr. Cowan was nothing short of astonishing performing all the spirits, including their voices and motion capture live in the room, making you believe they are all separate entities. Additionally, the behind-the-scenes crew worked wonders to pull off several practical effects that let you physically interact with the virtual world. This includes the mind-blowing effect I mentioned earlier.
In Good Hands
Meeting with the team of Justin Denton, the creator, and Ethan Stearns, the executive producer from MWM Immersive, was enlightening and a lot of fun. They both have backgrounds that prepared them for this kind of entertainment, and their passion really shines through. I got a peek behind the curtain and the operation of the show was as impressive to me as the first-hand experience. They were both very gracious with their time. Since I was curious about the audience for this type of hybrid VR/theater show, they told me it was mostly split between fans of those two media types, with a smattering of haunt/horror fans. I was hoping to hear that literature fans might be intrigued to check out this new take on Dickens, but maybe the word just hasn’t reached them yet.
Maybe I can help with that! Because of the audience size of 1, Chained has limited tickets that are currently sold out through January 5, 2019. New tickets are released every Monday morning though, so your best chance to get one is to follow @becomechained on Twitter and Facebook (Chained is also on Instagram). Tickets are $40 and available in the evenings, from 6:00 to 10:40. More information, and the link to tickets, is available at their website, www.becomechained.com. I am hoping they will extend it here in LA before taking it to other cities so more people can have a chance to experience this truly unique and memorable show!