Delusion: A Growing Universe
I consistently say that Delusion: Lies Within is my favorite Halloween event I’ve ever done. It certainly helped that it was the first real immersive theater I’d seen, but if novelty was all it had going for it, it wouldn’t have lasted as my favorite for long. The production design, the real-world sets, and most of all, the creative story were why I got hooked and became a Delusion fan for life.
Since the live production changes each year, I thought Lies Within would remain a memory. So imagine my joy when I learned that Jon Braver, the creator of Delusion, had signed a deal with Skybound, a “multiplatform entertainment company,” that is one of the key forces behind “The Walking Dead” comics and TV show. They would adapt Lies Within as a virtual reality series. Finally, I would be able to revisit the story that had captivated me so thoroughly!
I followed the project’s progress and knew it had screened at film festivals. When I got an invitation to see it before its public release, I jumped at the chance. Visiting the production company’s office in Santa Monica, I saw the first 4 chapters of the VR story, followed by an enlightening discussion with Jon Braver and David Brzozowski of Witty Acronym. David is one of the producers of the VR series and helped write this year’s Delusion show. Our conversation covered the VR project, this fall’s live production (The Blue Blade), and what the future might hold.
Lies Within VR
First, David set me up on an Oculus Go headset to watch Lies Within. The story is about two superfans of Elena Fitzgerald, a reclusive fantasy/horror novelist. Her masterpiece, a series called The Stygian Ascent, has gone unfinished and nobody has heard from the author in years. The fans sneak into her house to look for answers. The world is as wonderful as I remember. The film showed me details I had forgotten from the show nearly 4 years ago but did not have any new scenes that I could tell. The sets are all intricate, and you can look at whichever details you find most interesting, since the camera places you in each room with the characters.
At just over 30 minutes, time flew by and I was left eagerly wanting more. However, I’ll have to wait for quite some time. They have only filmed the first 4 chapters (out of 10) and are hoping to shoot the remainder in 2019. To do that, they’ll need to be able to pay for the filming, and that’s where the audience comes in. The first chapters will go on sale sometime this fall, definitely before the end of the year. Details are being worked out regarding methods of distribution, but it’s safe to say that the creators want to give as many people the chance to view this as possible. The first chapter may be free, with the option for viewers to purchase the other chapters individually, or all together. After seeing it, I can’t imagine anyone NOT wanting to buy the whole bundle at once.
Although ideal for home viewing, where you can turn the lights off and not be distracted, there may be other places to see Lies Within as well. Mr. Braver specifically mentioned they would try to have it available in the waiting area for the upcoming live show of The Blue Blade. Which means you could arrive early, grab a drink, and watch the first few chapters, before taking off the headset and heading into the new show.
The Blue Blade
Bringing up this fall’s live production of The Blue Blade, I had a few misconceptions that were quickly put right. The mansion setting, an aspect I loved about Lies Within and His Crimson Queen, was gone. Permitting issues had made it too difficult to rent those old homes. I was worried it would be in a warehouse or something with no character. There was no cause for concern though; Jon is smarter and more creative than that. While not in a house, Blue Blade will still take place in a real location–in this case, an old theater, which sounds just as atmospheric as before, if not moreso. Honestly, I think it will be a welcome change of scenery!
Next I asked him why, after 5 horror-themed shows, he switched to something that sounded more like adventure/sci-fi. He was quick to say that Blue Blade would still have scary and intense moments and it wasn’t as drastically different in tone as I thought. This should put at ease anyone hoping for a spooky show at Halloween, as they’ve come to expect. Not that anyone seems to be having second thoughts. As of last Friday, tickets for the nearly 3-month long run are about 98% sold out!
Jon told me that rehearsals have not yet begun; they are still building the sets. And what sets they promise to be! Without giving me details, his enthusiasm for “big shows” came through and he was excited for the big, elaborate scenes that audiences will get to see. Many immersive theater shows lately have focused on intimate connections and delving into the psyche. Those have value, but Delusion aims to be fun, and thrilling, where friends can go on an adventure together.
We also talked about the plot’s branching paths, and he confirmed that would happen again, so people will have different experiences and they can put together the whole story by talking afterwards. Some audience members may meet characters in different ways than their friends. He thought it was worth going through the show twice, although with so few tickets left, that may be difficult for many people. Another challenge to seeing the show twice may be the cost. At $95, plus fees, the ticket comes to $104, so it would seem Delusion is a very profitable venture. $95 times 8 people per show times 15 shows per night times 49 nights is about $558K. This income (plus drink and merchandise sales) sounds huge, until Jon says that it costs about half a million dollars to put on the show, making the profit fairly small. It’s clear that he’s not in this for the money but because he loves putting on the show. I can’t wait to see what $500,000 pays for in terms of sets, costumes, effects, and actors!
Delusion is continuously evolving and branching out. Right now Jon is focused on The Blue Blade, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t thought about what’s next. The closest to happening is filming the second half of Lies Within VR, if the first chapters prove successful. He was approached with the idea of adapting His Crimson Queen into a podcast, like an old-time radio drama. I saw that show and could see its story working well in audio form. We talked about the shows I didn’t see, and how he’d like to find a permanent home for Delusion productions. Then he could build custom sets and own the space, letting him remount any of the past shows year-round. Delusion could be an always-available option, instead of a limited time. There is always the possibility of feature films, but he seemed most excited about a potential Delusion TV show. The first two live shows (which I did not see) were a directly-connected story, and the most promising TV show idea would cover those two stories, possibly over multiple seasons.
I think the TV idea was most exciting to Mr. Braver because ultimately, he likes telling stories. I asked him specifically what appealed about the VR version of Lies Within. An audience member goes from being an active particpant in the live show, to a passive viewer (albeit one with agency on where they’d like to focus). His response resonated with me. During the live show, it’s easy to miss things. Maybe you’re standing behind someone tall, or maybe your friend whispers to you, or maybe you just can’t make out a line of dialogue from an actor. All of these things are plausible, even likely. Telling the story in VR lets the audience be more “fully engaged” in the story. There are no distractions, so you are immersed even more by the plot and characters. As someone who hates it when I miss a snippet of plot or conversation in a show, I know what he’s talking about. You may be more passive in the experience, but you are more active in following the story that he wants to convey.
The phrase “Delusion Universe” was mentioned, and at first I thought he was referring to all of the stories being connected, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After some consideration, I don’t believe that’s the case. I believe the Delusion Universe refers to the variety of media that Delusion could inhabit. It’s already theater and VR. There could be a podcast and TV show in the works. What else could there be? A film? A graphic novel? An actual novel? The sky is the limit, and I can’t wait for Delusion to have entertainment offerings of all types, bringing more people into the eerie worlds that Jon Braver is creating.
Delusion: The Blue Blade runs from September 21 through December 16. If you hurry, you can get one of the few remaining tickets. For more information on all things Delusion, including previous shows and the VR series, go to their website, www.enterdelusion.com.