They are calling me again. I’ve found myself tasked with absolute control over two different women’s lives. I get to decide what happens to their entire future existence in one instant. It’s a weighty decision on my shoulders and right now, I only know one thing:
I don’t see any good answer.
As the pandemic rolls on, immersive creators continue to experiment with new ways to deliver stories. Candle House Collective created an entire program for such experiments with their FireStarter Initiative. This initiative allows new creators to offer narratives through the CHC site that can give audiences something new and exciting to enjoy.
Recently, the FireStarter Initiative brought audiences the show Lovers Anonymous. This show centers around a strange little place call “Amet”. There’s even a wonderfully retro introduction video created by Amet’s founder, Terence Abernathy. It explains Amet and that you are here because you are an American who has volunteered to help its society. But so many questions remain. Is Amet a city? A cult? A self-governing collective that somehow carved out part of Alaska?
Even stranger, check out the above image from that intro video. In Amet, “Love” is a sign of mental illness and that’s where you come into play. Since Americans do not recognize love as dangerous, we are better suited to decide the fate of two women who have fallen in love. To make that decision, the audience member will get to speak to both of them individually and together.
Lovers Anonymous echoes many of Candle House Collective’s previous audio-only immersive experiences. Candle House Collective specializes in over-the-phone immersive theatrical performances. They put audience members into slightly different realities with people who feel familiar and circumstances that feel terrifyingly unique. Lovers Anonymous thematically fits very well into that sort of show idea.
At the same time, the show also branches into its own territory in several ways. This experience uses multiple forms of technology beyond just audio. It includes audio, text, video calls and even PowerPoint presentations shared from various computers. Each type of technology matches the narrative moment where it appears perfectly. The emotional Lilli wants to see you as she chats while the cerebral Chantal prefers to organize her thoughts beforehand. I have seen literally dozens of various virtual remote shows in the last 16 months and I was still pleased and surprised by this show. Lovers Anonymous really understands how to use technology in a way most immersive shows fail to grasp.
What caught me the most off-guard, however, was how upset this show made me emotionally–in all the right ways. Because of the distancing aspect of technology, most virtual shows have a hard time creating truly deep emotional investment in their audience. It takes just the right combination of story, performance and understanding of how people interact over technology to bridge that gap. Lovers Anonymous reaches right through its technological lines and ripped my heart from my chest.
Its two main women felt entirely real. They each had desires and fears, wants and worries, and I understood it all. It made the decision I ultimately had to make one that hurt almost as much as decisions I have made in my own life. Two entirely fictional characters asked me to choose their future and it broke my heart to do so. Lovers Anonymous is that good a show.
Everything about Lovers Anonymous compels for me. Its design is impeccable. Its use of technology works superbly. Teagen Earley and LaKecia Harris bring such real life to their main women couple of Lilli and Chantal that I honestly wished they were real so I could keep talking to them for years to come. Marvin Bell brought a different but equally real energy as Chantal’s father who had a real bone to pick with America for very good reasons. Sar Cohen and William Youmans brought the strangeness of Amet to life so quickly and efficiently that I also wished Amet was real because I would definitely want to visit and understand what the heck was really going on there. In fact, I hope the creators contemplate bringing that community back for another, different tale. I would love to learn more about the place that hates love.
Lovers Anonymous shows exactly how compelling immersive can be even across technology. It shows that with planning and a true understanding of how we access the modern world, even the technological barrier cannot stop real moments of interaction between characters and audience. The greatest compliment I can give is that I hope Lovers Anonymous returns once more so that other audience members can experience it.
Equally, I hope Candle House Collective continues to use its FireStarter Initiative to bring new creators and experiences to the world. If Lovers Anonymous is what that initiative can help create, I hope they keep starting fires for a long time to come.
Candle House Collective is busy working on their new shows. You can learn more about their company and join their mailing list here.