The tiny theater on Fountain is easy to miss, marked by a triangle of fluorescent light bulbs on its outside wall. But for those outside on a recent weekend, signing waivers agreeing to be “aggressively touched and moved,” it's a home to a strange sort of experience.
Inside, participants endure pitch-black tunnels and hallways, and an eerie, fog-lit staging of The Crucible. At one point they're hooded and gently laid in a room of pulsing light, and at other times given simple yet apparently urgent tasks to complete: tying ribbons, dressing others, laying on tables, playing a piano. Actors prod, embrace and otherwise invade their personal space. And just when they think they know what's going on, they're grabbed or thrust along to the next disorienting part of the journey.
Disorientation is the point at Index of Diffusion, from creators Devon Paulson, 38, of Mount Washington, and Lawrence T. Lewis, 42, of Los Feliz. It was the latest installment of their overall project, Alone, which they've billed as an “ongoing, site-specific, fully immersive and existential experience.”
Alone, which debuted in 2013, is part of a local haunted-house scene fueled by the special effects talent of Hollywood, encompassing everything from the immersive Delusion, in which participants must solve a central mystery, to the mock-abuse scenarios of Blackout. But Alone takes a more esoteric approach, drawing inspiration not just from horror but from sources as varied as downtown Los Angeles car rallies and artist Gregor Schneider's ever-changing reproduction of his childhood home in an exhibition at MOCA.
Index of Diffusion, in late June, was the first of four planned events in the company's Unweave the Rainbow series, with the next ones scheduled for August (Index of Refraction), September (Index of Reflection) and October (Index of Absorption), each named for one of four things that happen when light encounters an object.
Each will use light not to inspire a narrative but as a springboard for an exploration of ideas. “We tend to not take things so literally,” Lewis says. “We are not focused solely on light and color but more the interplay between two objects, or between and amongst people.”
Index of Diffusion subverted Alone's own formula, in that it discarded the solo experience for group participation at several points. Also in Index of Diffusion, there was no sign of the Enola Foundation narrative of previous Alone events, which revolved around the fictional mystic foundation's efforts to liberate participants from the materiality of their bodies. What will be familiar to past participants is the show's pared-down aesthetic, which never dictates the emotion of the experience.
“Alone plays off emotions other than just fear, which is really cool,” says Taylor Winters, 30, a repeat Alone attendee who traveled from Tustin to attend Diffusion. “In some rooms you'll be cracking up laughing, in other rooms you'll be feeling uncomfortable or uneasy. Other rooms you'll be very happy.” Past Alones have featured tickling and pillow fighting alongside the bizarre and creepy.
Winters' reaction would please Paulson and Lewis. “There should be some exciting stuff, some scary stuff, some uncomfortable stuff, some stuff you don't know what to do with,” Paulson says.
“That's exactly what we want to do,” Lewis adds. “Not just be a haunted house that scares people and says 'boo.'”
Neither creator has a background in theater. Paulson is an artist and designer, and Lewis is a filmmaker and producer who has worked with a number of commercial clients.
The upcoming “intimate” experience will require in-person interviews and background checks beforehand.
“Our general aim is really to kind of dislocate, to disrupt the notion of what you think it might be,” Lewis says. “If there's a trope that people are expecting, we always try to find a way to turn that upside down, or not do it, or do something different.”
Sometimes, for instance, you're suddenly hooded, as a precursor not to roughness but to gentleness, as you're left alone to contemplate light and sound — unsure what comes next.
“You're always in this place of like, 'What am I supposed to do?'” Lewis adds. “And that's exactly where we want you to be, because you're disconnected. You don't realize how comfortable life is — everything tells you which way to go and where to sit and when to stand. Once all that's taken away, it leaves you lost.”
Alone has a reputation for really getting to know its fans. In its first year, one room of the experience projected audience members' own social media photographs, in an attempt (by all accounts successful) to further creep them out. And during January's free scavenger hunt, participants received bizarre phone calls in the days beforehand.
The creators are taking that reputation a step further with the “intimate” experience, beginning in January 2016, which will require applicants to submit to in-person interviews as well as background checks that involve the organizers contacting friends, family and co-workers. It'll be a “top-tier” experience designed around a single person.
“It's an extended experience compacted into a 24-hour period, but it will bleed out from that 24-hour period so you don't really know when things start and you don't really know when things end,” Lewis says.
“It is very similar to The Game, yeah,” Paulson admits when asked about David Fincher's 1997 movie starring Michael Douglas.
At a bar in Atwater Village after Diffusion, a group of participants catches up to debrief. “I'm still trying to process it,” says 28-year-old first-time Alone attendee Martina Gona. “You got thrown around and stuff happened, and I was just like, 'I don't know what's going on right now.' But I enjoyed it.”
Unweave the Rainbow, Address and dates TBD in August, September and October. aloneexperience.com
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