A plangent hum reverberates against the walls, resonating in my chest, and the air grows heavy. As I descend, staircase after staircase, the low reverberance grows in intensity, accompanied by an ominous red glow. I reach the bottom, and enter a large expanse filled with nothing but darkness – and a small room alit with a warm glow. The room is a small backstage dressing room, but no one’s there. I look down, and in red tape, a message: Turn Around. I comply – and the dark expanse now reveals a new light, and the gentle notes of piano keys. I move slowly, carefully, toward the light at the end of this cavernous hall, but suddenly, the light disappears, the music stops. Fingers entwine with mine, a hand around my waist, and we begin to dance, wrapped together in darkness. Simulacrum
Alone returned to form for a one-night experience entitled Simulacrum that delivered participants into the bowels of The Montalbán Theater. As an add-on to Camp Fangoria, a ten-hour horror movie rooftop deck party, Simulacrum was a thirty- to forty-minute solo adventure that gave audiences complete freedom to move, explore, and occasionally, end up utterly lost. If you ever did get lost, the participant behind you would often find you, and Alone becomes an adventure experienced together (ironically, their safeword for the evening) as the two of you continued to uncover the next steps. In this manner, Simulacrum spanned the spectrum of emotion, as guests felt wonder, awe, confusion, silly, thoughtful, embarrassed, and empowered.
Simulacrum was an exploration of performance. The massive theater space was the penultimate backdrop for this experience, allowing guests to travel from dressing rooms to the stage, to the audience seats, to the bar, to the backrooms, and even to the crawl space under the stage. No aspect of the theater was sacred – and similarly, no aspect of the performer was either. We looked behind the make-up, the masks, and the line between actor and audience. We spoke meaningless words that became even more absurd as time went on… until we entered the underbelly of the theater to explore the darkness below: the taboos, the repression, and the ghosts hidden beneath. And then it ended. Unceremoniously. Unapplauded.
Further, in traditional Alone style, the experience blurred lines of reality and theater, with numerous false endings and nebulous instructions on how to proceed. Clues clearly stated the experience was over, but it still continued. They trusted their audience to be able to overcome challenges and figure out what to do. And if someone truly got lost or confused (which happened often), actors and audience alike (is there a difference in immersive theater?) came to the rescue to ensure participants were put back on the right track. The puzzles were clever, innovative, and felt like a scavenger hunt throughout this massive space. Further, the inclusion of publicly used spaces (like the stalls of the bathroom) reinforced the idea that performance never ends – and the masks we wear sometimes aren’t even taken off when we’re alone.
While Alone has (almost) always shied away from face characters, they do like to utilize some of the same actors in their experiences – and Simulacrum was no exception. Cimcie Nichols, dressed in her best Enola Foundation whites, greeted us on the rooftop. She metaphorically washed my eyes, cleansing me for the experience below, allowing me to view it unadulterated by a lens shaped by past experience, past trauma, past taboos. Roy Allen (The Willows and a personal Enola elder favorite) guided me into the dressing rooms of the Montalbán as he asked me a very brief rhetorical question regarding my relation to the universe, the masks I wear, and how projections can create distance among others. And Michael Soldati perfectly embodied the performer: a white-faced clown who teased and toyed with audiences using only a laugh and a flower crafted by him on the spot. The inclusion of these actors ensured that this experience felt familiar, nostalgic, and a part of the larger Alone Inc mythos.
Almost a character in itself, the sound design was impeccable. From the deep bass that rattled my ribcage to the static whirls, Sublamp’s (Ryan Connor) sound served to disorient, obfuscate, and elevate the already haunting aesthetic of the theater. The music wasn’t all produced though – a short concert on a grand piano was a performance for two – two actors creating an ephemeral moment on a theater stage. Live music is always a wonderful touch, and it provided a great moment when the light turned off, the music stopped, and only darkness remained.
Alone is one of the only immersive companies that truly has mastered the full-contact experience. While others like Heretic and HVRTING have increased the intensity, pushing full-contact experiences into the aggressive contact of extreme haunts, there is a special place in the immersive space for companies that use contact to create a more powerful experience. In Simulacrum, I was moved around the space, hugged tightly, pushed into walls, and spun, rotated, and twirled; yet, none of it ever felt unsafe or even scary. Actually, it felt the opposite. In the most contact-driven scene, I laughed out loud, giggling at the actor’s ability to throw me around the room so effortlessly. It felt playful and freeing. This reminded me of my first experience with them, in which a threat of violence transformed into tickling – leaving me laughing on the floor. Alone is the master of this field, utilizing contact to elevate their experiences, forcing people to be present, and including them directly in the performance.
Simulacrum was a highlight for Alone; one of their best experiences. It felt poignant, smart, and witty. The dialogue made me think, and the puzzling nature of the experience engaged me fully. The location was absolutely breathtaking, and the performers evoked emotions rarely explored in the immersive realm. The line between actor and audience has been blurred for a while, but with Simulacrum, I can confidently say that, for me, they have converged.