This is part of Immersed’s Recollection series – it is a complete account of Alone Simulacrum. It contains full spoilers and is intended for readers who have attended or could not attend the show, or are curious about this creator’s work. You can read our non-spoiler review here.
Alone Heart You
ALONE HEART YOU
Dual, parallel lightboxes on both sides of the entrance to The Montalbán Theater tell this message. One is ordered; the other is chaotic. Two sides to the same coin.
To a passerby, the theater looks normal, unassuming, home to a ten-hour, three-film, trivia-laced experience entitled Camp Fangoria. But to those who look a little deeper, they may find that things that are a little off. A 20-foot eye chart rests at the top of the stairs, filled with letters, numbers, and triangles, and attributed to Alone Inc, VisionTM. And when I go to use the restroom, it is shrouded in darkness, illuminated by only a strange yellow lamp. Odd – but this is a horror movie festival.
Staircase after staircase, I climb. A canopy of converse high-tops, severed arms, and bloody legs welcome me – and as I continue, I enter onto a gorgeous rooftop full of comfortable crew deck chairs, an Umami Burger stand, gourmet popcorn vendors, a cash bar, and a red triangle in the corner.
Sleepaway Camp, an ’80s classic, has just started, but the laughter and cheers of the audience don’t detract me from heading straight to the triangle. A woman with short hair, large eyes, and a larger black sweater grabs me by the hands and sits me down. One by one, this woman takes participants by the hand and leads them to a ladder at the edge of the roof – and then returns to grab each of us, one by one, and move us one seat forward.
When it is my turn, I am grabbed by both hands and led to the edge of the roof. I am given my safeword, Together, and told to climb down the ladder, one foot at a time.
Down, Down, Down
I climb down to a lower deck and a woman dressed in all white is waiting for me.
“It’s very, very, very important that we wash your eyes.”
She puts her hands together, and I follow. We begin to grab them together, like washing our hands. Our hands heat up with the friction – and then she tells me to place them over my eyes.
“Clear what you’ve seen. Wash your eyes. Wash your eyes.”
We then put our hands down. She moves closer and begins to push on my shoulder. She pushes in different directions, testing its mobility, and then moves to my arm. She lifts my wrist and allows it to fall back to its side. She repeats a similar process with my other arm. She retreats to a small table and comes back with a tape measure. She measures from my neck to my shoulder, my shoulder to my elbow, and my elbow to my wrist. She repeats some of the measurements, and when she seems pleased, she places the tape measure down and opens a door. A green light emanates from within.
“Welcome home. Go… down.”
She says this with a hint of foreboding. And as I step through the door, I see why. The stairwell circles down, down, down. It’s dark with only small bleeds of light, and a deep, low bass reverberates from below.
The Bowels of The Montalbán
A plangent hum reverberates against the walls, resonating in my chest, and the air grows heavy. As I descend, deeper and deeper, staircase after staircase, the low reverberance grows in intensity. I begin to wonder if I should try any of these doors, but theatrical velvet ropes separate me and the side rooms. When I get three floors down, I notice a well-dressed man standing by one of the ropes. He unclips it and motions for me to follow.
Together, hand in hand, we walk down a dark hallway. At its end, we enter a dressing room. Vanities line one wall; each one framed by a set of large bulbs – but they’re not lit; it’s not time for the performance yet. On the vanity rests various make-ups, brushes, and lipsticks. The red of the lipsticks match the red bulb illuminating the room.
“Why don’t you take a seat?”
I sit in front of the large make-up mirror and stare at myself.
“Are you nervous tonight?”
I tell him no, I’m excited. He doesn’t seem to care about my answer much, as he’s busy preparing.
“Let me begin with a brief rhetorical question.” He could very well be talking to himself. “How can you explain the nature of the universe and the relation of the individual to it? Is it myth? Cultural myth? Maybe repetitions of a theme? Or maybe, repentance of film. Mass mediated contemporary myths – our horror films.”
The hum continues like some beast in the room with us, growling and at times obscuring the older man’s words. I try to listen, but maybe I am nervous. I find my brain focusing on the sound sometimes and not his poetic words. His rhetoric continues, looping over the growling beast, both fighting for the same airspace.
“Like Plato said, everything is a projection, extruded from something – some malformed shape. Repressed and oppressed. And then projected out and onto the other – and the other becomes the monstrous other that transgresses boundaries.”
I don’t fully understand his words, but the way he speaks is poetically beautiful. Rhythmic; spoken art. He sits down across from me, really looking at me. I look into his eyes.
“Masks obscure the face. Make-up too.” He picks up a small, triangular sponge and squeezes from a tube of white make-up. He begins to rub it against my forehead and cheeks. “It prevents us from knowing the interior.” The brush is cold, and I find myself losing track of the man’s words again. He covers my face in white. He then grabs a second triangle and squeezes from a tube of blue – only to cover my nose.
“And everything can be considered performance.”
He begins to list all the various aspects in which we act in life, as he grabs a tube of bright red lipstick and presses it against my lips. The top – then the bottom.
“And then it’s done.” Is he referring to the performance, or my make-up?
He pulls me from my seat and leads me back down the hallway, releasing me back into the staircase with the reverberating plangent hum. With my mask on, I’m curious in what manner I’ll be performing tonight. Guess I’ll find out – one more flight to go.
I reach the bottom, and enter a large cavernous expanse filled with nothing but darkness. While I can’t fully see, I can feel how large the room is. The air just moves differently in a space this big.
But a room this large also poses a problem: Where do I go? I look around, and luckily there’s only one light I can see: a small room off to the side, lit with a warm glow. I enter what looks to be a small backstage dressing room. It’s devoid of anyone; but there’s a message spelled out in red tape:
I comply and the doorway, half expecting someone to be standing there – but instead, the doorway perfectly frames a new light at the end of the expanse. And over the hum, a new sound: the gentle notes of a grand piano. They’re slow, and sad – but played expertly.
I move slowly, carefully, toward the light at the end of this cavernous hall – expecting to be grabbed at any moment. But it doesn’t happen; instead, the light is extinguished, and I am left alone in the darkness. The music stops and I hear footsteps approaching. Fingers entwine with mine, a hand around my waist, and we begin to dance, wrapped together in darkness.
We spin around, a clumsy cacophony of feet and arms. Then we stop and spin the opposite direction, releasing the tension of the first spin. Our positions switch often, two dancers unsure of who should lead. He leans forward and pulls me onto his back – the strength of this is impressive alone. He carries me around, a large child on his back and then spins me again for good measure. He dips me and I notice just how massively tall the ceilings are – they must extend all four stories.
We dance back toward the large grand piano, and soon find ourselves moving in synchrony toward a black curtain. We push through, covered in even more darkness. Just two bodies moving, with more order, finesse, and grace. We spin and turn – finding our footing without sight to deter us.
But a new voice stops us.
“Ah yes sir, now it is your turn!”
This voice is commanding, full bodied, with an announcer-like quality. The dancer disappears back into the darkness from whence he came, and the announcer grabs me by the shoulders.
“I say, my dear good friend – right this way, make your entrance via stage right.”
We emerge out of the darkness, and now I see a small gap in the curtains, leading directly onto a stage.
“It is time for your performance.” And with that, he pushes me through the curtain.
I emerge on the other side. On stage. In front of an entire theater. Hundreds and hundreds of seats. There’s even a balcony with a hundred or two more. But luckily, my performance did not sell out. I only notice two people in the audience – no wait, three – there’s someone on the balcony watching, too.
“Now, I must introduce you. Right over here, dear sir.”
The announcer’s voice sounds even more commanding as it now has the entirety of a theater to fill. He leads me over to the podium at the very center of the stage. I take my place and notice a script on the podium. At least I have lines.
“From the very top!” The announcer’s voice booms, so even the people in the back can hear.
But before I can get a word out, the audience jumps to their feet and begins to boo – loudly, vehemently.
I feel my face turning a bit red as a level of discomfort washes over me. Maybe it’s the make-up, or maybe the half-empty theater, but I overcome the self-consciousness and start to read:
“Thanks, man. Y’all are all right now. I hope y’all are all right now!” What am I saying?
My announcer interrupts: “Find the poetry! Find the passion, I always say!”
I continue, trying to read this gibberish with some poetry: “I’ll be around later in the afternoon and then we’ll meet up a little later and I’ll get back there a little later and at least we’ll get together tomorrow night. I’ll let y’all be cool…”
The audience jumps to their feet and cheers, clapping loudly for my performance. I feel a little proud – even though the words are completely meaningless and devoid of purpose. But that’s performance, right? Just find the poetry, find the passion – right?
The announcer shakes my hand. “With so many performances being performed. They are being reproduced instantaneously by you being you.” His voice still authoritative, powerful. I squint over the bright house lights, trying to make out my audience – but they look just like shadows.
Slapping me on the back, the announcer is not done with me yet. “Now once again from the top. This time, a little more pre-verbal.”
I look down at the script, but the words have changed into something even more meaningless:
“Copy copy copy, copy, copy copy. Copy copy. Copy copy copy, copy copy. Copy, copy, copy. Copy, copy – copy copy copy; copy copy. Copy copy, copy copy. Copy copy copy, copy, copy copy. Copy copy. Copy copy copy, copy copy. Copy, copy, copy. Copy, copy – copy copy copy; copy copy. Copy copy, copy copy. Copy, copy – copy copy copy; copy copy. Copy copy copy; copy copy copy; copy copy.”
My announcer urges me to go faster, more emphasis. I speed up, reading with gusto. Faster and faster. The word “copy” begins to feel foreign to my tongue. Semantic satiation renders the word absurd. I almost laugh at the ridiculousness, but I just focus on the words. Copy… copy… copy.
“And… finish! Curtain! All the Tony Awards for you in 2020, good sir.”
Cheers and Jeers
I step down from the stage and take my seat in the audience. A young girl sits next to me, hair as black as the darkness that came before.
“Welcome to the audience,” she says.
Her voice is not warm and welcoming as her words imply – but rather almost robotic, programmed. She looks up at the empty stage, and continues: “We are also performers as the audience. You get to decide what happens with the people on stage. Or not.”
She asks me my seat number. 101. “Remember that, where you are going is very dark and you may need to find your way back.” She then asks me about my eye-sight. You will need that too. “If your sight has issues, use an eye chart to find a new seat number.” Hmm, the eye chart from the start – clever.
On the stage, the participant who was seated before me on the roof steps onto the stage. The MC grabs her, much like he did with me and directs her to the podium. She begins to read from her script.
“So now we get to decide, do we boo or do we cheer?” We boo, I respond.
“Then we boo.” – and without hesitation, the black-haired girl jumps from her seat and begins to boo with disdain and abhorrence. I follow, and the poor girl on stage looks nervous.
“That is just the space that is currently a stage. But since they are there and we are here – we are also performers for them, which is in essence, theater.”
The blurred line of audience and actor – even with a proscenium, where’s the distinction? “If we film this, it lives forever. The audience increases exponentially. Which means, the only real world is the audience.” Her words yearn to be discussed in depth, analyzed, probed – but there’s no time.
It’s time to boo or cheer for the actress on stage. I choose boo again, only to see how my acting influences the stage. We stand in unison and elicit the most guttural boo we can harness.
The girl pauses, shifting uncomfortably on stage again. I almost feel bad… almost.
“This is where we part ways.” She hands me a piece of paper with three holes in it. The same Alone Inc, VisionTM label rests in the bottom corner. I stand and exit through the back of the theater, ready to test my eyesight.
I find my way to the main floor and climb the stairs to where the visual acuity test resides. For testing at 7 feet, it informs me. But my sheet also has a drawing on it: a triangle on stairs.
I am a triangle, I tell myself, as I move to the appropriate step. I hold up my paper and the three holes perfectly align with a letter and two numbers: A37. I guess my eyesight isn’t so terrible after all.
I climb up the stairs onto the balcony and quickly find seat A37. As I sit down, I hear cheers coming from below. Another girl is on stage, reading aloud, as the participant I booed for now rests comfortably in the darkness of the theater.
As I watch what unfolds below, I notice a slight projection on the area in front of my seat. Behind Seat N42.
I leap to my feet and rush to the back of the theater, the words copy, copy, copy, copy now filling the theater. I find row N and move down the row looking for seat 42 – but a girl in all white finds me first.
She grabs me by the hand and leads me to the backroom of the balcony. A heart with a blank face, constructed in red tape rests next to a sign covered in more red tape. It instructs me to go down the stairs, find the large room, and peer beyond the closed curtain.
As I’m reading, the girl in white places a set of headphones on my ears and a robotic voice speaks to me.
All Taboos Hurt Me
I ignore the voice at first; I have instructions already. I rush down the steps and as I emerge from the balcony, another girl in all white, with decoratively layered necklaces is waiting for me. Without a word, she smiles and leads me past a black curtain. Is this the curtain I am to peer beyond? She motions for me to stand and then motions to a series of letters hung on the wall before me:
A L L T A B O O S H R T M
All taboos hurt me? I notice there’s numbers in the upper right of each letter too: 1-13. I stand for a moment, looking for a pattern, a cipher, a clue, or even a puzzle. What do I do with this? I have no idea – so I explore the room.
I’m in a bar – all white. Two small pillars have a triangle on them in the same red tape. Below the bar is a large red triangle and a sad face – all in red tape. Two large black curtains separate the left and right sides of the room. Perfect – let’s go peer. Maybe I’ll get some clarity.
I move to the right one first, but beyond it is only a red-tapped square on the floor with X’s for eyes and a sad face. Not exactly what I was looking for. It must be the left then. I almost run over to it, and pull back the curtain. On the floor is more red tape, this time a heart with a smiley face. Closer, but not quite there.
I return to the main area and find the participant before me has entered the room. She is staring up at the letter and number combinations too. We acknowledge each other, note the confusion, and stare some more.
But then I hear it. Not outside, but on the headphones. It’s a series of numbers being spoken. “… 5, 2, 3.” I missed them, but I think that has to be it. There’s a specific order.
I listen to the voice on the headphones discuss the nature of taboos as I wait for the numbers to be looped again on the short track.
“6, 1, 12, 10, 11, 7, 8, 13, 9, 4, 5, 2, 3”
As each number is read, I match it to the corresponding letter above.
I smile and rush out of the room, leaving the other girl to figure it out on her own. One floor down, I enter the bathroom I used when I first arrived. The darkness is still illuminated by a simple yellow glow. It’s oddly familiar.
I push open the main stall and find a sign: Show is over and time to leave. Exit the front and try to perceive… with an arrow pointing right. Is it really over? No, another stall!
I open the second to find another sign telling me to go outside and find stars made of granite.
The third and final stall reveals the last clue: Gain the first name first of that whom has the last name Hearst.
So, the next clue must be on the walk of fame, on a star with the last name Hearst.
With my headphones still on and a red, white and blue painted face – I leave the comforts of the theater.
The air is cool; the sounds of traffic muffled by the voice repeating numbers in my head “11, 7, 8, 13…”
I turn and begin to walk down the street, looking down at the granite stars beneath my feet. Hearst.
I am staring at the floor, so I don’t even see him approaching. I am grabbed by the shoulders and ushered through a gate. Ah – so it continues.
He’s young, dressed in all black, with an ear-piece in.
“Pushed down… down… down.”
His voice is strong with a depth to it.
He grabs the headphones from my head and tosses them to the floor. We hurry down the small alley, as his words continue to echo off the narrow passageway. “Down… down… down. Pushed down. Pushed down…. Down.” He pushes me into a metal chair in a small alcove.
“Pushed down, pushed down, inside. Repressed. Pushed down.”
I wait, as he exits, and he returns with the participant behind me, placing her in a chair opposite of me. He repeats the same words to her. Pushed down, down, down.
A few minutes pass – and he returns to me. He grabs me by the shoulders and takes me to the end of the alley.
“You will be delivered unto the underworld so that you might rise again. For it is only through repression and darkness that you might earn the light.”
He pushes me through the open door and slams it shut. I am alone again.
A low whirl, like that of white noise and wind mixed, fills the void within. The room is dark and lined with many doors. But maybe I’m not as alone as I thought. Two large humanoid figures reside with me, both covered in a white sheet.
I move to the doors, trying the first. Locked. I try the second, but before I can turn the knob, a sheet is thrown over my head.
The sheet is pulled tight, and I am pushed against the wall with force. Pulled and pushed, I am spun and moved. The other is always close though. Arms around me, lifting me, moving me, forcing me – an indoctrination into this world.
Legs wrap around me as I fight to maintain my balance. My arms are pinned to my side. I am forced into another wall. I can’t help but laugh. Being thrown around like a ragdoll is surprisingly fun.
The sheet gets a little hot, but just before it becomes uncomfortable – it is pulled from my head and I am forced through a door. I turn to see the sheet ghost again – but the door is shut quickly.
The new room is hazy, wafting fog emanating from a small dark hole. One word is written in red tape:
I get on my hands and knees and enter it. It’s even more foggy, with green lasers dancing through the mist. The tunnel is long and wide, and watching the light move through the fog is mesmerizing. I am below the stage, as I can hear distant rumblings mixed with familiar words. Copy, copy, copy, copy.
After a minute or two of crawling, I reach the other side.
Tape and Flowers
A red triangle greets me as I stand. It appears to be above a small alter, but there’s nothing I need there. I move forward into another dark storage room. The room appears to be empty, but I explore it anyway. There’s only a door on the other end, so I continue forward.
The sound of duct tape being pulled from the roll makes me jump – and audibly yelp.
The tape is stretched across my arms and shoulders – and I’m rushed to the door. How did he get behind me? No one was in the room!
My assailant reaches the door and knocks on the base of the door frame repeatedly, urging me to go forward. Or he’s warning me that there is a large step there and it could be easily tripped on. Either way, I step up and into the next room and the door slams behind me.
I am back outside – in an alley. The walls feel a bit tighter this time, but the walk is short. Another door, slightly ajar is only a few feet away. Inside, I hear the same whirring sound. I open the door and step forward.
A light comes on revealing a man in light white-and-blue overalls, two white flowers emerging from them, and a white painted face. He laughs, a comically evil laugh. Mwahahaha.
He leans forward, inspecting me.
“Ohhhhh, ahhhhhhh!” He says dramatically.
He puts his hands in the air and then digs them deep into his pocket. From within, he pulls a small cloth from his pocket. He grunts and groans, comical noises accompanying the simple act of twisting the cloth.
He holds up his creation: a beautifully white flower.
He smells it, looking pleased with its aroma. He holds it out to me. I lean in to smell it, but he pushes it forward with an audible boop noise signifying its collision with the tip of my nose.
Mwahahahaha! He laughs again menacingly as he hands me the flower and takes a bow.
He opens the door behind him, and I emerge back into the alleyway.
What is Real is Not Always Real
A girl in white face paint and red lipstick stands in the alley, but her face is rife with confusion.
“I have no idea where to go; I’m lost!”
Is this real? Is it over? Is this another puzzle? I look around and see a few doors. I walk over and try one – but it doesn’t open.
“I tried all the doors, they’re locked.”
Another voice calls to us: “Hey look someone else is lost; it has to be part of the experience.” This voice is impatient, playfully mocking our ineptitude. Two stories up, a girl in a long red coat smokes a cigarette, laughing at us.
I try another door, but it’s still locked. I look toward the end of the alley, but it ends at a gate that exits back onto the busy Hollywood street lined with granite stars.
I review the clues I have, the puzzles given – and look for a red triangle. But there’s nothing.
“Just come up! It’s over.” The girl in the red laughs again at us, trapped in the underworld.
I look to the white-faced girl, scrutinizing her capacity to be a plant. I ask her about the smoking girl in the red coat. “Oh, that’s just my friend – she’s not a part of this.”
What? This has all just been a friend teasing another participant? Am I sure?
The participant before me emerges from the door – and joins us. With the three of us exploring this tight alleyway, all doors locked – I start to believe it. It’s really over.
An unceremonious, unapplauded release back into the world. Our performance is over.
With our faces painted, our masks on tight, we push the final gate open, and step onto the street corner, together.