Two Weeks Earlier:
I am walking down an incredibly steep mountain path. It’s almost enough to make me turn back, but two things keep me going. First, I’ve lost a ton of weight since the last time I traveled a mountain path like this one. Second, the reason I even contemplated today’s journey was because they have returned. Babalon
The Society has come down from their mountain retreat for the first time since 2017 and I am one of the five people who have been granted a chance to see their return with my own eyes. I will not miss this for anything, I think to myself.
And that’s when my foot slips and I begin to slide down the mountain.
In 2017, DryCraeft Los Angeles wrapped up a fascinating series of immersive events surrounding a group (cult?) calling itself “The Society.” Depending on whom you listened to, they were either a wonderful utopian group or a bunch of poor, lost souls being taken in by their leaders for nefarious purposes. A resistance group, The Bobo, did everything they could to open audience members’ eyes to the dangers they believed inherent in the group. When it was all over, it appeared that The Bobo had triumphed and defeated The Society, perhaps even for good.
I was fascinated by The Society storyline because there was almost no line between reality and fantasy within the experience. The person who helped us outsiders connect with The Society was Tad Shafer (one of the creators of the show) and he maintained himself as who he was throughout while also maintaining that The Society was its own, real group. He never blinked on this idea – he was working for The Society and they were a real, legitimate organization. It became a compelling scenario and one where I still have Facebook friends from that organization, even though they’re not actually real…I think.
Now it’s 2019 and The Society has returned. Tad is no longer the conduit between them and us. Now it’s a woman named Liz Eldridge, a resident who lives off the mountain like us, those coming to experience the show, and who has taken on the position of Prudent Necessary. When you talk to her as I did, however, you learn that the barrier between reality and fiction remains just as thin. For instance, when I asked her whether she intended to join The Society and live up on the mountain, she responded with a laugh and reminded me that she is an actor and wants to be famous some day. I’ve become friends with her on Facebook and, yes, she IS an actor. At least I believe she is one – but in this immersive story, it can be hard to spot the truth, and that is one reason that this show is so compelling. But it’s not the only one.
Two Weeks Earlier:
Fortunately, I stopped my fall after sliding only a few feet down the dirt- and rock-covered path. Unfortunately, that distance was still far enough for me to skin my left knee pretty hard and I can feel it bleeding underneath my jeans. But I am still walking to the bottom and the ritual I’ve been promised to find there – because now I literally have skin in the game.
I reach the bottom, make the turn to a different path and then start looking for this woman I am supposed to spot. The Society even told me to be careful not to miss her. If I had remembered that their symbol is the orange, I would have spotted the steps that I was meant to spot.
But I do not remember that information. And that’s how I end up walking almost 15 minutes farther than I was meant to walk before I realize my mistake…
In 2019, The Society has changed more than its conduit. It has chosen to rebrand itself as The Society Now with the apparent help of the Prudent Necessary (if one believes what she says). They have come back to show us that there is nothing shady or devious about their group. Indeed, once I finish speaking to the Prudent Necessary, I begin a journey down a path that I am promised will give me the chance to experience examples of the lovely work that The Society Now performs.
Of course, the fact that the path I am set upon is one that would lead me to The Devil’s Gate if I walked it far enough might just be a coincidence. For those that aren’t aware of local mythology, The Devil’s Gate is a place where you can see an image of “the devil” if you look at a rock formation at just the right angle. More importantly, the location has been a site for rituals from the Tongva Native Americans to Aleister Crowley. By sending me down a path to perform rituals in a space that actually has a past of ritual magic being performed, the line between truth and performance once again blurs.
It could be intimidating or corny, depending on how The Society Now’s members acted their roles. Instead, I found this entire experience to be legitimately spiritual in nature. Whether or not the rituals I became part of have any actual meaning rapidly became irrelevant to me. The truth is that I was taking part in a journey that echoes that of many seekers of esoteric knowledge throughout history. The truth is that what I experienced would seem familiar to many who have taken part in any religious ceremony, regardless of purpose. When members of The Society mark my arm or my hand, they believe it makes a difference and – at least in that moment – I do, too.
There is no doubt that this is a fictional society. The narrative being played for the audience is one that has no objective reality. But the experience being created here has its own reality that is imparted through perfect casting of the members of The Society Now. The rituals being performed here feel real because they are treated with sincerity, even if the purpose is only part of the story. And the joy that comes of walking through a forest hidden from most Angelinos’ eyes because it spreads below the 210 freeway is real, no matter what reason brought me there.
Two Weeks Earlier:
I finally return to the woman I was supposed to meet, after passing all of the others who had also been called to see the ritual. I meet a woman named Liz who has a charm to her that is a strong departure from how I have previously dealt with The Society. She performs a small ritual with me and I finally see what I came to see.
It’s hot by the time I’m done. I have learned the hard way to remember to look for oranges. My leg has begun to swell and I am certain I will have to spend an hour in a shower when I get back to wash the wound clean. Plus, I have the entire walk back up the mountain before I can even get to my car.
But I am not at all upset. Because I was one of the few chosen to see this first return of The Society and I have enjoyed the experiences with them more than enough to warrant a little pain and blood. They are back and I was there to see it. That is enough for now.
Babalon stands as one of my favorite immersive experiences in a long time. The chance to take on the role of a religious seeker was breathtaking. While this series has utilized hiking and solitude in the past, I think Babalon found the perfect way to utilize both aspects to their fullest potential here and I sincerely hope they continue to build experiences with this chapter as their basic structure. The writing felt natural and real; the acting felt sharply defined even as it was allowed to be improvisational enough to breathe. And the ending (which I don’t want to spoil for anyone) gave me just enough freedom to try something and see if the world could accept interesting choices. I’m pleased to say it absolutely can.
I find The Society Now to be even more compelling than the original chapters of this story. Where there was a cult, there is now a more complex enigma that I look forward to solving. Where there was a clear-cut battle between two forces, there is now a more nuanced story whose pieces are being carefully placed. Where there was a first layer of an idea, this version feels more mature, more textured. I think audiences are in for a wonderful ride with this story.
Babalon also works as a perfect departure point for new audience members to join the narrative. With a new conduit and a re-branded Society, new seekers can jump in right now without any worry about having to understand all that came before. All you need is to take the chance and explore what The Society Now offers you.
Oh– don’t be surprised if you get a friend request or two on Facebook once you do, because the lines have blurred once more and information can come from any source.