The Tension Experience: Ascension
My biggest moment of “What the @#$% am I doing here?” happened when I blindly ate the mysterious slimy thing. Nope, not that one–the one I wasn‘t supposed to eat. Man, this Tension Experience…it makes you do things you didn’t think you could.
Continuing our exploration of spooky events in Los Angeles that go above and beyond is the Tension Experience: Ascension. I hesitate to call it a Halloween event. There is nothing seasonal about it. It could easily run year-round (and should!). But Halloween is the perfect time to launch it, since people are in the mood for the dark and sinister, the creepy and crawly, the unnerving and off-putting. The Tension Experience: Ascension has those vibes in spades. Here, see what I mean:
Created by director Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II through IV among others) and Clint Sears, and produced by Gordon Bijelonic, the Tension Experience is an overarching project/concept. The story currently running is called Ascension (and will hereafter be referred to as such). It is, to quote their press release, “a fully immersive, site specific-journey of trust, betrayal and submission.” Yeah, that’s pretty accurate. It’s interactive theater, like Delusion, but that superficial description is about the extent of the similarities and I don’t want to compare the two to each other. There is space in this new wave of live horror entertainment for both to exist and stand on their own merits.
Talking about the specifics would do a disservice to you as a participant, and to the creators who have designed it. And not necessarily because it would give away the surprises (it’s hard to give away a visceral reaction), but largely because the goal of the entire thing isn’t really about the scares, or the content. It’s about the feelings you have when you’re inside. The creators have a stated desire to break people free from their digital lives, their omnipresent screens, and force you to be in the moment. To see, smell, hear, touch, and yes, FEEL things that you just don’t get in your regular life. At various points inside, I felt curious, disgusted, anxious, horny, nauseous, excited, amused, bewildered, and apprehensive, to name a few. When was the last time you got all of that from 2 hours of TV or Facebook? Not that I’m slamming TV. I certainly watch plenty of it. And that may be part of the reason this was such a jolt to my system–it felt so raw to be off my couch and in the middle of LIFE. While I wouldn’t want this particular slice of life to become normal for me, I am very glad that my memory now contains this experience.
None of that really tells you what Ascension is, although I hope you’ve gotten an idea. The premise is that a mysterious organization called the O.O.A. has contacted you as a potential recruit. They offer enlightenment, but are rather skimpy on the details of how that is to be achieved. Are you worthy enough to pass their tests? Only time (and your fortitude) will tell.
For me, the coolest part about Ascension was the individual experience that each member has. Despite entering with a group of 10-12, we were quickly splintered into smaller groups, then rejoined with others, then splintered again with different people, then blinded, then stranded, then rejoined to people that I hadn’t seen since the beginning. The threads weave in and out with the other participants, each person getting a different experience. The intricacy involved is mind-boggling. They say that the experience is customized to each individual, and their interactions with the characters, and their responses to the invasive questions that are part of the early proceedings. And while I believe them, it’s very difficult to see the method behind the madness. In the incessant buzz of group conversation that took place after the experience was over, it was clear that A) everyone was immensely curious about each other’s different experiences and B) nobody had any idea why certain people got certain experiences and others didn’t. Even beyond what we went through, I’m told there are yet more experiences lurking within. If I had said something differently, done something differently, would I have been able to explore more rooms and secret paths? The mystery of the unknown is enough to drive one mad, if you dwell on it too long…
I have been thinking about my experience virtually non-stop since it ended, and I expect that to continue for a while. I’m sorely tempted to go back, to see what else I can discover, especially knowing that the O.O.A. takes deliberate steps to make your second visit almost entirely different from your first one. I’m still not sure how much can change, but I’ve read accounts from repeat guests who were shocked at how much farther their second visit pushed them. I should say here that Ascension is not for everyone! The waiver you sign says you are ok with drinking strange liquids, having objects put in your mouth, and disrobing in front of others. And yep, those disclaimers are there for a reason other than to creep you out. You may be uncomfortable, early and often. I got through it by knowing that I’d be ok when it was over, but that sure didn’t mean I wasn’t apprehensive about a lot of what went on during my time in the O.O.A.
I think entertainment like this is important. Something that gets people out of their shells, and lets them LIVE the experience instead of absorbing it passively. The digital world isn’t going anywhere, and I think people miss out on real-life experiences too often. It’s good for the soul. People may not even know they’re lacking this kind of connection, but feeling the electric atmosphere with my group after it was over was all the proof I needed to know that this tickles some pleasure centers in the brain that people may have forgotten about. Note that I’m still not saying everyone should do Ascension. I’m saying that people should do SOMETHING. Anything. Just DO instead of watch. I’m glad I did, almost proud. I cannot wait to see what the Tension Experience team dreams up next. I have heard whispers of more shows planned, with different themes, that won’t rely on the Halloween “scary” atmosphere. I can’t wait.
The Tension Experience: Ascension runs Thursdays through Sundays through October 30th. The website is thetensionexperience.com and includes an extensive backstory of the O.O.A. for those who want to dig deeper. Tickets are $125 and can be purchased here.