(Photo taken by Albert Lam and courtesy of Westcoaster)
(Photo taken by Albert Lam and courtesy of Westcoaster)

Have you ever wanted to be a part of a story? Become a part of something that is infinitely greater than you while also having the freedom to leave if things get too rough? Have you ever wanted a strangely expensive hobby that your friends roll your eyes at whenever you obsessively talk about it? The last question is rhetorical.

I point you to a growing trend, particularly in Southern California, known as immersive theater. Taylor Winters of Haunting.net describes immersive theater as such:

Well, the easiest way to describe immersive theater is that it is any sort of artistic expression that immerses you inside of a fictional world. This can be accomplished through sets, lighting (or lack thereof), curated soundtracks, scents, and/or costumes. It differentiates itself from traditional theater by forcing you to be active. You must observe, engage, and interact with the fictional world and the actors within it. Often, interactions are on a personal level, an intimate exchange between living people. The choices you make have the potential to ripple throughout the story line. What you share can be deeply personal and what they respond with can inhabit your mind far after the show ends. It is a playground that engages participants in a meaningful way.

via Haunting.net

As someone who’s professionally worked as a scare actor and who’s becoming more heavily involved in the haunt industry, I’m always looking to see where we are going creatively. For the past few years, we’ve been seeing more of an interest in personalized and, in some ways, more extreme experiences that allow people to make choices that directly impact their experience within the controlled environments. This leads us to the development and growth of immersive theater.

For some immersive theater experiences, people will merely experience the immersion via a onetime event deal with little to no interaction outside of the event. For example, Delusion is an experience that happens onsite. The immersive experience takes place once you entered the house that they were using for their setting. For that hour of time, you are a character in the world that they have created for you However, some of the more extreme experiences are starting to incorporate social media platforms like Instagram and, in the case of both the Tension Experience and Have You Seen Jake, they are starting to incorporate phone calls and message boards to deepen and heavily personalize the experience for the players involved. They do all of this on top of the live events that they host. This creates an overall more well rounded and more intense experience for people partaking in these immersive theater adventures.

The experiences for immersive theater may vary depending on the level of intensity. As Haunting.net mentions in their article introducing Immersive Theater to newcomers, newcomers would be best off starting off with The Speakeasy Society, Delusion, or Alone. Each of these are fairly low impact in terms of intensity. I will say, however, that these experiences don’t quite prepare you for the extreme jump I took from doing Delusion to something as all intensive as Have You Seen Jake. The level of interaction is drastically different, but going to any one of the experiences above does serve to get you into a particular mindset where you are able to learn how to suspend your disbelief.

If you are interested in trying out an immersive theater experience, I do have some advice to impart on you:

  • Learn how to play. Whatever experience you choose to partake in, you need to realize that you are no longer participating in a world you are familiar with. You are there to have fun.
  • Try not to be too self conscious. I speak from experience when I say that these experiences are meant to get into your head, especially when you seek out ones that are particularly intensive. Sometimes the organizers and actors in these events will do or say something that may hit too close to home. My best recommendation is to not to beat yourself up and allow yourself to wallow in those negative feelings when you are partaking in these things. Allow the feelings to pass. This will enable you to follow through with my previous advice of having fun.
  • This is more take this as you will advice, but I recommend against partaking in these things if are under an overwhelming amount of stress in your personal life. Stress, as we all know, dramatically impacts every aspect of your life. Although immersive theater is cathartic, if you do not think you can handle something emotionally jarring like these things are ought to do, I recommend taking the time to focus on your mental needs first before engaging in an experience like this.

I could honestly go on and on with the amount of advice I could provide to you as a technical newcomer myself. However, I do think that any and all questions that need to be answered can be found in this article Why Immersive Theater Matters, What it is, & How to get Involved. The author Taylor Winters is well versed in the ways of immersive theater and haunts. He is a good go to for questions concerning any of these events and his article serves as a better guide than anything I could provide for you.

Would you be interested in partaking in immersive theater? Or haunts in general? Does immersive theater sound interesting to you? Do you have any questions? Please comment below and I’ll do the best I can to answer them.

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