You'd be hard-pressed to find more interesting interactive, site-specific theater than in Los Angeles. In the age of on-demand and multiplexes with postage stamp–sized screens, audiences have been crying out for something new for quite a while. Enter immersive theater, which makes audience members participants in the narrative. If you haven't already explored the fascinating world of interactive theater, Halloween is the perfect time to check it out. Whether you find yourself as a prospective cult member in the Tension Experience, or trying to figure out the reason behind the disappearance of little girls in Escape Hotel's Daycare, with immersive theater the scares feel real — maybe too real.
The Tension Experience: Ascension
Perhaps the most anticipated immersive theater experience this year is the Tension Experience: Ascension, which takes over an entire city block in a secret location just outside downtown. It's written and directed by Darren Bousman, who's the man behind three of the installments in the Saw franchise. Just like those films, Ascension promises to unnerve innocent guests who find themselves literally immersed in the murky world of the fictional cult, the O.O.A. Institute. Or is it fictional? Or even a cult? The questions seem to multiply like cockroaches, as the story begins with an uncomfortably intimate interrogation, not unlike auditing sessions in Scientology. Based on their answers, guests are then placed in various groups to embark on a semi-personalized psychological horror adventure lasting more than two hours. What makes Ascension so unique is that it begins as soon as someone buys a ticket, often with creepy phone messages from blocked numbers, cryptic warnings or simply radio silence. One thing's for certain, though: You definitely won't be the same after it's all over. Now running. thetensionexperience.com.
Screenshot Productions is a consortium of artists working across a variety of disciplines in order to bring together creativity and technology, all while examining the mysterious inner workings of the human matrix. The collective has been behind a number of engaging productions, including Fear Is What We Learned Here, Parturition, Shoshin and Das Gericht. Now, it's bringing us Bardo Thodol, from another name for the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This haunt has participants confronting one of humankind's worst fears: dying. By figuratively facing their own deaths, audiences tackle the harsh realities behind survival and continuation. Audience members go through the experience one at a time, giving them the opportunity to engage in a highly personalized journey, from death to the afterlife and, finally, a transmigration of the soul. Our guess is that, once it's over, everyone will be happy to still be alive. Continues through Sept. 30. screenshot-productions.com.
Also from Screenshot Productions, The Rope is an entirely different take on psychological horror. Like Bardo Thodol, it's also semi-personalized in the sense that guest reactions trigger different responses and situations. But the vibe here is less Jean-Paul Sartre and more H.R. Geiger. The Rope's narrative is infused with elements of fantasy and exploration, giving the participant the opportunity to become a protagonist in his or her own mortal quest. Audiences navigate an imaginative environment full of dark corridors and hidden passages that lead to a range of different conclusions, all dependent upon what decisions the guests make. The details behind this particular haunt are as mysterious as the experience itself. All we know is that it's happening somewhere in L.A. throughout October. According to Nick Sherwin, founder of Screenshot Productions, “Portals to this world will only be opened to those willing to take a step of faith into the unknown. Thus, specific dates, times and location will only be given to those who make a reservation.” Chills. Beginning Tue., Oct. 11. screenshot-productions.com.
In his autobiography, Italian Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini claims to have stabbed a guy who once sued him. Victorian artist Richard Dadd killed his father because he thought he was the devil, and around the same time, English photographer Eadweard Muybridge murdered his wife's lover. Building on themes of creativity and madness, CreepLA: Entry takes groups of eight people at a time inside the deranged mind of fictional disco-era artist Erebus Burwyck, whose tormented world serves as a backdrop for a series of encounters involving 28 actors across more than 10,000 square feet of space. Creator Justin Fix recently told reporters, “Our show is a departure from other scream experiences as we fully immerse our guests in the show, leaving them questioning what’s real and what’s part of the show. This year, we have some truly diabolical twists and turns for the show.” Creepy, for sure. Beginning Thu., Sept. 15. creepla.com.
Heretic was launched in 2012 by Adrian Marcato, who just happens to share his name with Satan's spawn in Rosemary's Baby. He wanted to it be ruthless, sadistic and transgressive, and it is. In fact, it's so hardcore, it's only for people 21 and older, and there's a safe word in case anyone freaks out (which is actually becoming the norm with most other immersive haunts, along with the requisite waiver). Signature elements include nudity, highly realistic violence and a continuous challenging of one's threshold to emotional pain. What makes Heretic different, though, is that it's not just for Halloween but operates throughout the year with different “horror simulations,” so participants are never quite sure what they're getting into. As someone named Member #33 vouches in a testimonial, “Heretic is part traditional haunted house, part extreme haunt, part immersive theater and a real horror-film experience. One minute I was bound to a woman in an empty house, the next I am naked freezing cold in an empty desert field. I love Heretic and have become a dedicated loyal member of the underground.” Just don't forget that safe word. Shows rotate monthly throughout the year. heretichorrorhouse.com.
Delusion: His Crimson Queen
Delusion is the brainchild of professional stuntman Jon Braver, who's worked on films such as The Dark Knight Rises, Star Trek and Iron Man. Since 2010, Braver's interactive horror show has redefined the immersive theater experience by making audiences a central part of the story. After a breather in 2015, this brand-new edition of Delusion, called His Crimson Queen, has guests time-traveling back to the 1930s, assuming the roles of the Sullivan kids, whose mother has been toying with dangerous forces beyond scientific understanding and the laws of nature. Set in a rambling West Adams mansion, Delusion requires the “children” to actively seek answers to the underlying mystery, while encountering a cast of menacing characters along the way. Tickets for Delusion tend to sell out quickly, but there's always the chance for extended performances. So get on it, if you dare. Initial run sold out; join mailing list for details on extension. enterdelusion.com.
Escape Hotel: Daycare
When it comes to immersive haunts versus escape rooms, there isn't so much a fine line as there is a distinct crossover. Both require some level of audience participation, and both aim to steer and manipulate human emotions so that participants are shoved outside their comfort zones. Billed as the largest escape-room venue in the world, Escape Hotel is exactly what it seems: a hotel-like environment in which the rooms trade high-count cotton sheets and mini-bars for locks, keys, puzzles, riddles and, in some cases, some big scares. Escape Hotel has 10 different experiences, including some seriously disturbing ones such as Zombie and Witchcraft. But for a truly skin-crawling encounter, the hotel invites prospective guests inside room 1919 for Daycare. Here, several little girls are either dead or missing, and instead of looking forward to a good night's sleep and maybe a bubble bath, Escape Hotel guests need to put together a series of clues in order to break the curse and find out what happened to the innocent little ones. Otherwise, they might just join them — wherever they are. Ongoing year-round, escapehotelhollywood.com.