This year, I categorized a trio of Los Angeles immersive shows as the “Big Three.” They are CREEP LA, Delusion, and Theatre Macabre. The first two are the latest installments of established companies, whose work I’ve previously enjoyed. Theatre Macabre is similar…yet different. From the creators of The Tension Experience (which I loved), Theatre Macabre offers a new experience, almost an experiment, unrelated to what they’ve done before.
Theatre Macabre was in many ways the most mysterious of the “Big Three.” The plot revolved around a mysterious, possibly dangerous, theatre where salacious and horrifying acts took place. Plus, not only was there no previous show for comparison, but there were rumors about behind-the-scenes happenings too. Their opening weekend was postponed, and I heard people speculate if there would even be a show. Everyone was in the dark.
Then the show debuted and early word was encouraging, so I decided to take a chance on the pricey ticket and go. I wanted to attend with my Media Geeks colleague Lacey, but our schedules didn’t line up, so she bought a ticket for an earlier date. Attending only the second day of shows, her experience did not leave her enamored, but I had my ticket already, so I was going to see for myself.
Making things more exciting was that my companion for the show had never seen any immersive theater before. I prepared her as best I could, but having never seen Theatre Macabre, I wasn’t sure if any of my past experiences would be relevant. Luckily she was a great sport and up for an adventure! We arrived a bit early and waited outside with others. A few people entered and exited the building, and each time my group engaged in hushed speculation about whether or not they were part of the show.
When let inside, by twos, there was a bit of confusion at the start, but nothing insurmountable. Eventually our group coalesced again and the Theatre Macabre began in earnest. What happens after that is nigh-impossible to describe. Nor would I be doing anyone a service by trying. The single best thing about Theatre Macabre is how much you, as the audience, are also the protagonist. There are a dozen stories and characters for you to try to interact with. You know virtually nothing about them until you’ve already got one foot down the rabbit hole. It’s the closest thing to a live-action Choose Your Own Adventure that I’ve ever seen.
Because I was the main character, I felt incredibly invested in the story I was creating. I wanted to help the people I met, I wanted to discover secrets, and I wanted to do the right thing. Sometimes the right thing isn’t the moral thing though. Theatre Macabre LOVES to test your morals, without judgment. If you are vindictive, murderous, or anarchic, this is the place for you.
I did second-guess some of my decisions. My main contact in the Theatre seemed so disappointed by the outcome l recommended that I wanted to undo it. I felt like I’d let down my close friend, whom I’d known for all of 30 minutes. Yet that wasn’t even the end of my night. The stories kept going, crossing with others, sometimes detouring into what seemed like a dead end, only to be brought back into the (literal) spotlight at the end. It was a whirlwind of people, clues, stories, and options.
Questions abound. What happens if different choices are made? Who are those other characters? What secrets is the Theatre hiding? There is no way to know for sure. I’ve been going over the events of that night ever since. Searching my blurred memories is not unlike wandering the hazy halls of the theater; there’s something interesting around every corner, and I’d be perfectly happy to be lost there for hours.
Theatre Macabre is truly something that hasn’t been done before. As a result, it’s got some flaws. Because the stories are contingent upon the audience, and people can act unpredictably, the stories and actors can struggle to adjust. The timing is tricky as well. While I was wrapping up *my* story, I missed the start of the group’s grand finale, so I was a bit lost regarding what happened. Early on, I followed a character I found interesting, only to wind up in the wrong place. I was ushered back to my group, scolded for doing something wrong, even though I’d followed all the rules. Even though the experience has rough edges, make no mistake: Theatre Macabre is a diamond in that rough.
Two points of caution. At $150, the price is high. There is no getting around that. Considering the venue, the number of actors, and the variable stories, I’d say yes, it’s worth it…if you can afford $150 without worrying about it. Because of the myriad possible outcomes, there is a chance you will not like the story you live that night. Lacey wishes she could have done more, and was ultimately disappointed in the lack of agency in her narrative–which she admits could have been a hiccup due to second-day difficulties. I liked my intriguing plot but wish I had played it differently. I’ve heard from other people that loved theirs. So Theatre Macabre is a bit of a gamble. You’ll have a crazy experience, but it may not be to your taste.
Related to the first point, the event advertises drinks included in the price. It’s technically true, but it may as well not be. The bars are understaffed, and there is so much happening–who wants to take a break from the action and wait for a drink? I managed to get one, which was straight vodka over ice–I was not asked if I wanted a mixer. So I carried this vodka around for 45 minutes, trying to sip it while rushing from scene to scene, much of it splashing or spilling. It’s a surprisingly poor setup, considering there is a perfect spot for a bar–the very first scene, where everyone lounges while we learn the rules, before the plots kick in. Everyone could easily have a drink at their leisure here. Honestly, it would behoove Theatre Macabre to eliminate the included drinks altogether and knock the price down by $15 or so.
TAKE A BOW
Quibbles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Theatre Macabre, and I’m grateful that I’m able to go twice. I’m excited to see what stories and secrets I can discover next time. I encourage everyone remotely interested, who can afford it, to experience something unlike anything else available. With only 3 days of shows remaining (Nov. 1-3), and only 19 showtimes across those 3 days, your chances are dwindling. The creators have said they hope to use this as a springboard for bigger and more immersive adventures. I would like nothing better than to see what they can come up with next. Go and find out who you can become…it may surprise you.
More information is available at Theatre Macabre’s website here. Showtimes start every 30 minutes from 7:00 pm to midnight, Thursday through Saturday (Sunday is already sold out). Tickets can be purchased here.