“All we have is this exact present,” a soothing voice intones from a speaker behind me. “Everything else is memory.” Underneath these words lies a rhythmic bed made from chopped up male vocals. They drone on ad infinitum: “of a photocopy, of a photocopy, of a photocopy, of a photocopy…”

 

Alone midsummer scream scavenger hunt immersive theater arg arx existential evocation photocopy of a memory

 

I have never experienced the work of Alone before. I have a passing familiarity with their overall model, but as far as actually experiencing an event, their work remains one of my largest, and perhaps most regrettable, immersive theater blind spots in Los Angeles. So when I caught word that Alone would be staging an immersive event at 2017’s Midsummer Scream convention, I practically leapt at the opportunity to subject myself to their existential evocation.

As per usual with their convention-based shows, Alone’s latest immersion (seemingly titled Pre-Emptied Reconstruction Index: Section C) was something available only to those who actively sought it. Even as an outsider to the company like myself, it is not hard to discern that an overall sense of general bewilderment, obfuscation, and wonder is not only a likely side effect of seeing an Alone show, but also perhaps paramount to its very ethos. Their two previous convention experiences required participants to track down and scan hidden QR codes throughout the convention center or find a woman dressed in all white handing out innocuous concert flyers that revealed a hidden clue. Their current website is nothing but an MS-DOS program that spits out vague phrases. To an outsider, it may appear that they have no interest in clarity or ease.

 

Alone midsummer scream scavenger hunt immersive theater arg arx existential evocation photocopy of a memory

 

For this year’s event, the process was surprisingly more straightforward than it has been in the past, shifting focus from scavenger hunts to bureaucracy. I found myself tracing and retracing steps, tracking down “roaming counselors”, and filling out paperwork (located at the mysterious Alone booth somewhere on the show floor). Before access to the experience was granted, participants were asked to fill out a 20-question survey about memory, broken into 6 categories: Global memory, Retention, Recall, Remote Memory for Personal Events, and Metamemory. After the form was completed, participants were asked to speak into a tape recorder, vividly describing the earliest memory they can recall in life.

What this preamble ultimately led to was a stunningly moving and evocative immersive experience—an experience rendered even more impressive when one considers its relatively short run time (roughly 15 minutes from start to finish, not including paperwork).

 

Alone midsummer scream scavenger hunt immersive theater arg arx existential evocation photocopy of a memory

 

The actual events of the “existential evocation” are deceptively simple on paper. It eschewed everything one thinks of when they think of immersive theater, or theater in general. No visible actors were used, no stage tricks or set/lighting design was employed, and nothing resembling a narrative ever took shape. After recording a recollection of my earliest memory into my counselor’s tape recorder, I was led to an area of the show floor that had been partitioned off with black curtain. After waiting a few seconds in anticipation, a pair of hands gently reached out from the other side of the curtain and guided me through to the other side. What immediately met me upon crossing the threshold was a large, heavy piece of paper, wrapping itself around my head and taped into place—an unconventional blindfold. The hands guided me to a chair in front of a booming loud speaker, playing a subtly menacing audio track made up of voices meditating on the nature of memory. The musings are scattered and repeat themselves often, offering little in terms of continuity between phrases. “In effect, there is no ‘now’,” the voice offers at one point. “Because you are always forming memories upon memories. The surface, the skin, the body: an extension of memory.”

I’m not left with much time to parse all of this out before I am guided into the physically-driven portion of the show, which for me is easily the most remarkable, while again being perhaps the most simple-sounding upon description. After I am led into a dark room, I am laid down on my back on the floor by an unseen figure, have a brilliant white light assault my retinas, and have (what I later discovered to be) photocopies taped all over my body. While the average full contact immersive experience stimulates your senses in a way that is designed to evoke emotions that are familiar (fear, lust, etc.), Alone accomplished the seemingly impossible task of making my body (and by extension my mind) feel a way it never had before. The experience was squirmy, transcendent, relaxing, and anxious all at the same time. How many hands were on me, I have no idea. Sensations were strange and almost recognizable in how illogical they were: fingers digging under my ribcage, a hand cupping me knee, my pant legs being rolled into my socks.


A few minutes later, the show is over. The participant is sent out into the real world again, with the somewhat embarrassing task of  removing the taped photocopy paper from their bodies, composing themselves, and continuing about their day. Yet something about the short experience leaves an impression that is both indelible and somewhat indiscernible.

Upon reflection, one realizes that there is a beautiful irony to Pre-Emptied Reconstruction Index. While the dialogue portions of the show concern themselves exclusively with thoughts on memory and the inherent detachment it creates in us, the experience itself is driven entirely by physical presence. The show is understood only in the exact moments it is experienced. Describing it or even simply remembering it truly does it no justice. It is felt in a level of the brain that is beyond cognition, and certainly beyond memory formation. Even looking back as I write this, it is impossible to put into words exactly how the whole thing truly felt. As every hour passes, it gets harder to remember the physical sensations it left on me. One thing that is certain, however, is that Pre-Emptied Reconstruction Index was a stellar introduction to Alone for the uninitiated. If this is what they can accomplish with 15 minutes and some office supplies, I almost shudder with excitement to imagine what’s in store for the future.

 

Alone midsummer scream scavenger hunt immersive theater arg arx existential evocation

 

While this experience concluded at Midsummer Scream, for future events follow Alone via their website and facebook.

Thank you to Cara Mandel for many of the above images and for her amazing work on the above video. 

Alone AV Content Midsummer Scream Review

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