“For God’s sake, be quiet. People are trying to sleep.”
As I begin my trip through CreepLA’s Awake, I am walking in silence through a smoky warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles, my eyes wide and searching. A soft, haunting choral version of The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” floats in the air as I move towards the room’s only light source. A woman suddenly grasps my arm: “Where are you going? I’ve got you,” she says. She leads me towards the light and positions me on a bed amongst my fellow dreamers, coming close to whisper dark warnings in my ear before she leaves me. I can hear the low hum of more whispered conversations, all around me, though I can’t make any of the words out as the final notes of the song fade and our collective dream, or nightmare, begins.
Creep LA, the signature show from Just Fix It Productions, has been enrapturing the Los Angeles theatre community with their unique take on the horror genre since 2015. With shows like Entry, Lore, and the wildly popular The Willows, JFI has continued to grow far beyond the trappings of a typical “haunted house” experience. You leave a performance with the sense that the space itself is not what’s haunted—the stories are, maybe you are—always guaranteeing an impactful experience. With Awake for 2018’s season, Creep seems to have returned to form following their partnership with Amazon for Lore last year, and they’ve truly outdone themselves this time.
Awake represents a welcome shift back to tradition for CreepLA and JFI; guests are not simply shown the monsters inside the heads of the performers—they are forced to interact with them. The inability to escape, knowing you have to follow your guide deeper into his or her psyche and meet what resides there, is more terrifying than any mere ghost story. Awake is far more an exploration of the horrors within the human mind than a set of “scares;” it’s a welcome call back to the Creep format that put this event on the map. Monsters are real: they’re inside us. Don’t close your eyes unless you’re willing to greet them.
Awake is a masterstroke in what’s already been a very busy Haunt Season for the Golden State; the combination of atmosphere, sound, light, and powerful performances from the actors set it apart from its contemporaries. Creep has completely transformed a 60,000 square foot space at ROW Dtla into a feverish, waking dream—it is sumptuously detailed while simultaneously using minimalistic staging techniques to emphasize the vastness of this world. Particularly successful is the use of audio cues to emphasize the surreal atmosphere of the piece; voiceover performances add a notable otherworldliness to the scenes of Kylee Thurman and Daniel Montgomery, for example, turning already unnerving scenes into horrifying, rapid descents into madness. The result of these design efforts is a sense of unendingness that adds to the overall tension in the narrative—I find myself constantly wondering if I’m awake or asleep, if any of this is real. The sensation, while alarming, works perfectly for Awake—if it is a dream, I don’t know that it’s one I wanted to wake up from.
Despite the beautiful atmosphere that’s been set up, the production could not be the success it is without the incredible performers, many of whom are JFI veterans whose faces have become synonymous with Creep’s unique kind of fear, and many new additions to the company that were a pleasure to see. Matthew Maguire and Lauren Hayes, who both thrilled in Ceaseless Fun’s They Who Saw the Deep, are again standout performers here, driving their unnerving narratives with grace and frenetic energy. Kate Peabody, the heart of E3W Productions’ In Another Room is stunning and vulnerable, her fear is palpable and spreads through her audience in kind. Matthew Vorce, unnervingly calm in Hela Productions’ Remember You: Germaine, infects his scenes with a comedic dread that few performers can master the way he has. The Willows veterans, Noelle Urbano and Sophie Cooper, are dynamic in their roles as they shift effortless between affections, and disappear into the fog leaving only the faint echo of their touch on your skin. Kylee Thurman, a fan favorite of Lore, bleeds with emotion, reinforcing that she is far more than the ethereal and angelic form she inhabits. Finally, and notably, JFI Productions’ writer and co-artistic director Daniel Montgomery completely transforms himself into something so indescribably frightening that his image will sear itself into my mind for many nights to come.
But this dream, as all dreams do, eventually comes to an end, and I burst back out onto the sidewalks of Downtown Los Angeles, shaken in that exhilarating way that only a great performance provides. Creep LA is immersive theatre at its best; it appeals to a broad audience with its content while also focusing on strong narratives and performances that will please any avid theatergoer. It’s weird, it’s scary, and it’s an absolute must for this season.
Once I get home, I don’t sleep well. I am plagued by memories of Awake; my nerves are set on edge. And yet, despite this, I long to return and see what dreams I may have missed, what dark corners I have not yet uncovered. I don’t have much time to go back: Awake closes it’s doors on November 4th, and the nightmare will end, for now. Even then, when it’s done, I think I’ll still hear the voice of the woman who led me in whispering “good night,” her voice shaking, and the long echo of the words to the song that sang us all to sleep.
For more information on Awake, and to buy tickets to the run before it sells out, visit Creep LA’s website, or use the ticket link HERE. You can also follow Creep/JFI Productions on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.