Safehouse ’77 – Spies in the Swinging Seventies
My colleague, Lacey Rae, and I were fortunate enough to visit the in-demand Safehouse ’77, presented by Spy Brunch LLC. As the experience was very different for each of us, we compiled our notes to provide a better representation of the event.
My Safehouse ’77 experience started before the night of the event, with a fun and thematic twist on a standard RSVP process. It bordered on ARG (Alternate Reality Game) territory, without any need for a significant time commitment. This kind of enhancement is common with in-character emails, but I was glad Safehouse takes it up a notch. It got me thinking about the story, and even doing research a day or two ahead instead of on my way there. Plus, it seemed so easy to implement that it’s a wonder more shows don’t do something similar!
Arriving at the designated street corner was a bit disconcerting, as it was dark and I was looking for other similarly lost-looking souls. Fortunately, Connie (Ashley Jones), the half-sister of the party’s host, came out to greet us. Eventually the 10 guests coalesced around her in a jumble of conversation, half of it “in-game” and half not. When we were informed that the party was ready, we strolled a short block to a cute little house and walked into 1977.
Lacey: I was super excited when I found out that what I thought was just going to be a ’70s party turned out to be a cover for something more clandestine. I had a mission and I was anxious to get to it and prove myself to the higher-ups. Safehouse also encourages the guests to dress up in appropriate attire – nothing is too extreme – and our fellow party-goers did not disappoint. I was ready to be transported into the past.
The Lives of Others
The décor is spot on, the snacks are plentiful and unpretentious and the drinks are strong, tasty and easy to get – exactly as they should be (looking at you, Theatre Macabre). ’70s music plays in the background and the house – because it IS a house, not a set – feels immediately authentic and lived-in. It’s a familiar house party to anyone. The only difference is the decade.
Lacey: From the period posters to the worn out and dated Playboys on the table, and from the smell of the yellowing books lining the shelves to the record player and tape recorders – every intricate detail fits into the whole, creating a truly transportive world. And, yes, the drinks are strong!
Sharon (Katie Rediger), our host, greets everyone and lets us mingle. Immediately, I try to investigate and look for mysteries or puzzles. I can’t help it; it’s in my nature. I do not find anything that needs solving in the bedroom, living room, kitchen, or office, but just then more guests start to arrive. There is Sharon’s boyfriend Lucas (Payden Ackerman), who works a nondescript government job, as well as his co-worker and ex, Sonya (Katelyn Schiller). There is also Lucas’s boss at the government agency, Max (creator/director Nick Rheinwald-Jones), and his wife Carlotta (Shoshanna Green). For the next few minutes, guests are free to mingle and chat with any of the newcomers. Until the subterfuge kicks in…
Lacey: Even before our secret missions came into effect, we could tell there was underlying turmoil between the guests. Sharon immediately tensed with Lucas’s mention of Sonya – was something going on between the two? Max and Carlotta swatted away questions about their work like gnats, preferring to talk enthusiastically about travel. Sonya tried to bridge the divide between her and Sharon by playing Twister (Ryan and I played, as well). And Connie took a select few aside for some altering entertainment.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Following up on a confidential memo from earlier, I hear a coded phrase and the game is on. From there, it’s a series of instructions, deceptions, investigations, and revelations. I get to interact with most of the colorful party guests, but not all of them, and I do wish there was a way to get some exposure to each character. This might help give me a more holistic sense of the evening instead of feeling compartmentalized. This isn’t a big deal because I am invested in my plot, and even get a nice jolt of pride when I accomplish a challenge relatively quickly. This offsets another moment when I am delayed in following a plot thread because someone else is already engaged with the person I need.
Lacey: With plenty of opportunities for one-on-one interactions, I stuck mostly with my track/character unless pulled aside by another. This branching-track format offers guests the incentive of attending Safehouse multiple times to see what more can be uncovered. One of the most meaningful one-on-ones for me had nothing to do with the main narrative. I saw a character alone and decided to interact (I was told later that relatively few guests choose to take this opportunity). Something in this intimate scene really resonated with me personally and spoke to a major question for me in my “real” life. Truly good immersive theater has the power to affect guests long after the experience ends, and it is always beneficial to be proactive in the given environment.
The whole web untangles itself in surprising (to me) fashion, although others who were privy to different information look around with knowing smugness. Upon hearing the truth of our swinging soiree, and being set up for potential further adventures, we disperse back into the Los Angeles night.
Lacey: I was one of two – I think – people who were on the track that gives a larger view of the situation. The people with the smug looks? Ryan is probably talking about me. Sorry!
Safehouse ’77 successfully feels like it’s the 1970s, or at least the version which someone my age would glean from movies and TV. There’s some brief discussion of current events that made me glad of my cursory research the day before. As usual, after immersive theater, there is much discussion of who did what and the various plots that unfolded beneath the surface. It’s all very satisfying with two exceptions.
The minor one is that I only came with one friend, so I did not hear about the stories that neither of us experienced. It’s to Safehouse’s credit that I still wanted to learn about them after the show was over. The major dissatisfaction (for me) revolves around a scene near the end. An awkward moment has made the party uncomfortable, and guests are taken away to side rooms. Except for a few of us. We remaining few are technically still in a scene with an actor, but there is nothing happening, and it seemed an excuse to stall while the other, more interesting scenes were going on behind closed doors. I didn’t know why I wasn’t interacting with my main contact of the night, and I started getting frustrated and impatient. It’s like this scene hit the brakes on the show’s momentum and I felt left out. I am sure there are technical reasons for it, relating to the flow of the show, but I think this scene could be altered to be more engaging.
Lacey: I love discussing immersive theater after the fact, especially productions with multiple tracks. It’s like a real-life jigsaw puzzle and I have to collect some of the pieces from others. Immersive theater encourages interaction – both during the show and outside of it. I also didn’t hear about several of the tracks that neither Ryan nor I participated in, but I was happy to discuss with both the other guests and performers after the show. What if I had said something different? What if I said nothing? The possibilities of immersive theater are endless, and it’s a thrilling experience.
Body of Lies
After the show really felt like a continuation of the party. Members of the cast and crew mingled with the audience on the porch, and nobody seemed to want to leave. In other words…it was a great party! The stories had resolved, but there was more that could be told. My thematic tastes run toward the supernatural or fantastic, so it’s a real sign of quality that a show grounded in semi-reality captured my attention and made me want to linger.
Lacey: Safehouse ’77 is a gorgeous and fun experience that truly immersed me in the time period and narrative, so much so that I honestly cared for some of the characters I interacted with. Playing with our sense of honesty and trust, Safehouse has a lot going on under the surface waiting to be uncovered. I will always treasure my meaningful one-on-one, and I cannot wait to go on more adventures with Spy Brunch LLC. And I’ll be able to do just that when sequel Safehouse ’82 arrives next year!
Safehouse ’77 is in its final remount, with a few tickets on select days still available through December 2nd. Check out their Facebook page and website for more information, and get your tickets here, before the past stays in the past.