We are electric. Those words arrived in my Instagram DMs at the start of 2019. You too, like us, may be electric. I was intrigued. As our conversation continued, the mysterious Instagram account posed a question that truly made me think: What does it mean to be human? Do you remember? A picture was painted for me; one in which humanity has stripped away, choice has been chewed up, and control has been dictated by those who decree they know what is best for us. In a world like that, we must retain our true selves…. because we are electric.
When Ben Cox, founder of Trailblazer Productions and writer/director the new electric experiences Touch and Touch: Incarnation, agreed to an interview, I wasted no time to asking him the same question back: What does it mean to be human?
In your own words, what are Touch and Touch: Incarnation?
TOUCH and TOUCH: INCARNATION are a pair of multi-sensory immersive theatrical experiences that will take participants on a journey of exploration and remind them what it really means to be human.
TOUCH: INCARNATION is an approximately 20-minute sensorial journey for audiences of ONE. It is an exploration of how we experience the world through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. It explores humanity in an age of disconnect and asks the question, ‘What does it mean to be human?’
TOUCH is a full-length immersive theatrical experience. It is a more story-driven experience with interactive elements. Audiences for TOUCH are limited to ten people per performance.
Can you speak to the talented team of Trailblazer Productions? What is the mission and vision of the company? What is their prior work?
Trailblazer Productions is an independent production company that I founded in 2011 with a focus on creating original and engaging media content for film, stage, and the web. Previous projects include Screamers, Motel Stories, Into the Dark, and The Last Goodbye. Over the last few years I have been drawn more and more to experimental, avant garde, and immersive work. I love immersive experiences and am thrilled to see the variety of productions that have been popping up over the past few years. There is something very immediate and tactile about them and it felt like the perfect and frankly, necessary, way to tell this story. People crave experiences that are tangible and sensorial and in an age where technology has created a side-effect of disconnection, experiencing something that brings back focus to all of our senses can have a very powerful effect.
What themes or tonality should guests experience within the walls of your experiences?
TOUCH and INCARNATION are stylistically very different experiences, despite some overlap and being set in the same world. INCARNATION is a very intimate, abstract, and potent experience that focuses on allowing the guest to experience the world with an awareness of all five senses. TOUCH is a full-length production for small audiences where you are essentially invited to a party – a secret meeting of The Electric where they have the chance to celebrate and embrace freedom. It plays with conventions of both traditional theater and immersive performance, and combines and creates many elements to create a wholly unique experience.
With themes of connection and contact, what inspired your team to create this experience? Are there any specific films, novels, comics, or other immersives that influenced you?
With the massive popularity of such shows as Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, people’s awareness of many of the issues facing our society today seems to be as strong as ever. TOUCH fits right into that dystopian landscape. Part of what makes those shows so resonant is that they are not far removed from reality. It’s a cautionary tale of where we could end up if we aren’t aware and we don’t take a stand against manipulation. I think 1984 is also frightfully relevant.
I am a big fan of the work of CREEP (JFI Productions) and also the ALONE experience. ALONE in particular has stuck with me because of their psychological and existential approach to creating immersives. Their work can be dark and horror influenced but it is also about the human condition. The show becomes about the guest themselves. It forces audiences to think and question and evaluate, and usually that is what the best work does.
With so many different sub-genres of immersive theater/horror, what is the format of this experience? Will guests be led in a linear fashion from room to room, or will they have moments of free exploration? Will audiences be able to interact or participate in any scenes, or is it more of a spectator performance? Will they have the agency to influence the narrative?
Both shows are a combination. INCARNATION has a linear through-line but it is definitely interactive and requires participation. Think of it as the strangest (in a good way) therapy spa/interactive radio drama you’ve ever come across. I don’t know how else to describe it other than to just experience it. What is unique to this experience is participants will be blindfolded for about 75% of it. Sight is our dominant sense and when it is taken away it forces you to experience things in a way you don’t necessarily focus on most of the time. Everything else becomes heightened.
TOUCH is more story-driven but there are definitely many interactive elements. The show evolves throughout the night as to what it becomes, so be ready for anything. It’s like a really good secret party that only a chosen few get to experience.
Your narrative is impressive. Having contact approved by The Party is something that one day could be real. Is this an allegory for anything in the real world? What deeper meanings reside in your work?
The idea for this experience was inspired by many of the issues currently facing our species today. It’s an exploration of where we are as humans in 2019, where we’ve come from and where, for better or worse, we’re headed. I think the fear and paranoia that is building in our society is affecting many aspects of humanity. With sexual assault accusations and situations coming to light, along with the current political climate, the idea that one day the environment gets so extreme that the whole ‘If some people can’t play with their toys nicely, NO ONE gets to play with their toys’ mentality gets adopted, is frightfully relevant. The goal in this production was not to make a political piece, but rather to focus on how we develop and maintain relationships in an environment that is dictated by fear. In TOUCH, we also portray both sides. We show people who are resistant to such control, but we also show how some people embrace it and think that the sacrifice of certain freedoms is worth the added safety. (Not unlike certain arguments you see around topics in our current climate.)
With your experience relying on senses, how will they be utilized or deprived to effectively tell your story? What novel aspects do you bring to the table?
In both experiences, but especially in INCARNATION, by isolating focus to a particular sense, it reminds an audience of the different ways in which we experience the world. All we know of existence, of reality, is measured by the senses. By removing sight – the most dominant sense – for much of the experience, it allows people a new awareness and also allows people to experience a show in a way most never do. Most people go and ‘see a show.’ But what happens when you not only see, but hear, smell, taste, and touch a show?
Locations often become characters in their story. Why was The Body Electric selected and what attributes were needed to fully tell your story/evoke your theme?
TOUCH and INCARNATION have two very different and unique locations. Both shows have a lot of variables and, while maintaining the same basic structure from night to night, will be different every performance based on the audience and how the audience members interact with and experience the show. Both spaces needed to work from a technical standpoint and provide an aesthetic to fit the world we are trying to create. I specifically wanted spaces that were not traditional theater spaces, but that we didn’t have to build up from scratch. I sought to find things that already had an aesthetic we could work from.
The Body Electric is the name of the rebellion but not the name of any specific space.
What does it mean to be human?
Being human means we have the ability to feel, to show empathy, to have choice. One of the mantras of The Body Electric is the phrase, ‘We are electric!’ It plays with the idea of electricity and how it is used to power machines. But we are not machines. We don’t require electricity. We ARE electricity. Even on a biological level. I wanted to create an experience that inspires audiences to realize that we as humans have power and choice and should make decisions that allow us to create lives that are actually fulfilling and beneficial to us.
What do you want people to walk away from your experience with? What do you want them to feel or learn?
With both shows, I want people to walk out not just being entertained for the evening, but actually asking questions of themselves and their choices. I want to make something that inspires audiences to realize that we as humans have power and choice and should make decisions that allow us to create lives for ourselves that are actually fulfilling and beneficial. It would be great if, for some audience members, it ends up being a therapeutic experience in some way. I think in this day and age, it is very easy for people to get stuck in a rut or routine or just feel like they’ve become a cog in the machine. To be reminded that ultimately we have choice in the way we live our lives can be very empowering. ‘We are electric!’
For more information on Trailblazers Productions and their upcoming shows, see their website and Facebook page. Purchase tickets for Touch: Incarnation here. Tickets for Touch (running Sept 27-29, Oct 4-6, 11-13, and 18-20) are on sale NOW. Be sure to follow our Event Guide for more immersive entertainment throughout the year.