Kansas Collection – Chapter One: The Key
In the Kansas Collection, the Speakeasy Society has taken Baum’s Land of Oz novels and brought them to life in an ARG (alternate-reality game) – an immersive experience driven by each guest’s decisions. Taking place in Kansas after the whirlwind adventures of Dorothy Gale, officers from Oz have come to find recruits for the Scarecrow King’s Militia who will fight against the Patchwork Resistance. The Key is the first chapter in a series, each chapter lasting around 30 minutes. To avoid SPOILERS, skip to my Overview.
A Storm is Brewing…
On a rare, but appropriately cold and rainy night in Los Angeles, I checked myself in and sat next to a crackling fire under a temporary overhang. With homey, folk music playing on a nearby radio, I waited for my turn.
When my time came, another recruit and I were brought to a makeshift tent and welcomed by a very enthusiastic – albeit somewhat dim – conductor. He asked us if we were tired of living paycheck to paycheck, if we were tired of the climate destroying our crops, if we were ready to HOPE. Asking us questions and gauging our reactions, he handed us seemingly random playing cards.
He directed us into the tent where we sat being sized up by a man in funky steampunk attire, Private Joe Files. After guessing each of our cards, Files explained how we were being recruited into the Scarecrow’s Militia to defend him and his reign from the Patchwork Resistance and their “Lost Princess,” Dorothy Gale. Files directed us to fill out forms and sent my fellow recruit and I to see separate officers.
Can I Trust You?
Walking into Phoebe Daring’s tent (across from her twin brother Phil’s), I stood next to her as she sat in front of a vanity, barely looking in my direction. She spat several rapid-fire this/that questions at me and scribbled my responses on my form.
Finally turning to me, she asked if she could trust me. I told her she could. Phoebe seemed satisfied and confided in me a dream she had. A girl had visited Phoebe’s dreams, telling her she would have to kill her brother or be killed by him.
In front of me, she doubled over in pain, clutching her head and stomach. She pulled herself together and looked at me like a lion looks at its prey. She had changed into a different person. That person, she revealed through the mirror, was Ozma.
She handed me a rusty key. It wouldn’t unlock any real door, she said, but other worlds. I was instructed to hang onto it as a test of my loyalty to her, reciting a pledge:
There is no where but here
There is no when but now
There is no one but I
She cackled with laughter as she told me to tell the man in the top hat that Ozma says hello, and shooed me out of her tent.
Keep Making Choices
I heard the man in the top hat before I saw him. He was off to the side of the house playing solitaire and drinking from his flask. Once he was alone, I sat beside him and told him Ozma’s message. He seemed shaken to his core; he raved about the oncoming storm and how Ozma was not to be trusted. A war was on the horizon and it would end our world or theirs.
Now tattered, with the last piece of his hot air balloon hanging around his neck like a dead animal, he revealed himself to be the once-wonderful Wizard of Oz. We were now in this together, he explained, but I must go even further. He shoved a piece of paper in my hand and hurried me on my way. Glancing at the paper, I saw that it was coordinates. Should I follow them? The choice was mine.
The Hidden Messages
The coordinates the Wizard gave me eventually revealed a top-secret message from the Scarecrow King to the Daring siblings. The video was grainy and filled with static, the Scarecrow King’s sunken eyes filled with rage as he scolded the Darings for not having found Dorothy yet. Worried that the Resistance would find her first, and feeling blamed for a broken Oz, the Scarecrow lamented that he was doing his best. His anger was finally unleashed when he ordered the Darings to find her – at any cost.
A day later, another message came my way – this time from Phoebe Daring to all the Militia recruits. A quick and subtle “Ozma” flickered over Phoebe’s introduction. Phoebe began to warn the recruits of fraternizing with the Wizard until a sharp noise and an abrupt edit of the film revealed she had transformed into Ozma. Ozma reassured her spies that she was waiting for the right time to take back her throne in the Emerald City, and that we should play along with the Militia. She needed us to keep her identity a secret – even from Phoebe – and to fight against the Patchwork Resistance (keeping the Scarecrow on the throne) until she is ready to rule. She leaves us with a stern: “Don’t f*** up.”
I have been to immersive theater before, but this was completely different for me. An ARG, the Speakeasy Society’s Kansas Collection expands the “show,” having it bleed into my real life. I have to choose whether to follow this well-thought-out trail of breadcrumbs they’ve so expertly laid out for me, or let the path get lost in the wind. The sets are nicely contained with minimal props (so far), but what IS included is used to maximum effect. Entering the recruitment tent teleported me to a dust-bowl Kansas, with uncanny characters from another world. The characters were beyond excellent, fully realized by the actors so they could improvise during their time with us, while still hitting all their main points. I also love that everyone’s experience will be different, all based on our interactions and the choices we make. With a decrepit key burning a hole in my pocket, I cannot wait to see what my journey through Oz will bring.