It is my first day here as an administrator. I thought it would be easy, a simple job where I help coordinate the security and containment of a research lab. But no one told me there would be internal politics. Or missing doctors. Or a man with the head of a fish. No one told me what the signals of this job actually mean.
What have I gotten myself into?
Signals is the newest creation from the Los Angeles-based immersive company Last Call Theatre that centers on the idea of “SCP.” SCP stands for “Secure, Contain and Protect” and relates to a fictional secret society called The Foundation and its goals of securing and containing intruders from alternate dimensions and protecting Earth and humanity. SCP has been an internet-based collaborative sci-fi horror project since 2007, a project that is open to anyone who wishes to add to its existence. Last Call’s choice to bring the idea of this project into an immersive experience is a great one as the concept of containing alien beings has great potential.
It is The Foundation, in fact, that starts the audience’s experience with the show. Once a guest buys a ticket, they are contacted by The Foundation over email and given a series of questions that separate them into various job groups–Security, Scientific, Admin and a final group whose name I won’t divulge here because there’s a lovely joke hidden within it. These job groups determine where audience members begin their journey and, to some extent, what sort of adventures they might have within the show.
The live experience is framed as the audience being interjected into facility 00013 at the beginning of a time-loop that will last two hours (the length of the show.) Guests are to spend their first day on the job trying to understand what happened there and why the time loop exists. Again, this is a good idea to way to set audiences up to dig into the various characters and plots within the experience.
In many ways, the show succeeds in what is is trying to do. There are multiple human members of the lab and multiple contained entities from elsewhere that audiences can interact with throughout. Each of the characters (human and otherwise) have their own agendas, goals and relationships with other characters that audiences can ferret out and either exploit or hide, depending on the audience’s choice. Characters can and do alter their attitudes and choices depending on the actions and conversations audiences give them.
Best of all, the show is humorous, a little creepy and quite fun if you jump into it with both feet. The cast, whether alien or human, maintained their characters very well. The contained Baba Yaga (played with seductive malice by Charnie Rose Dondrea) and the deeply creepy Plague Doctor (Jason Pollak under an appropriate mask) were standouts for the contained outsiders, while the entire Admin team of characters (Mikey Takla, Evan Wank, Riley Cole and Haven Schneider) were wonderful in whatever they did, be it divisive, secretive or simply naive. The strongest aspect of the show, by far, was the interactions I had with characters again and again throughout.
But there are aspects to the show that were less successful for me. Last Call Theatre did a show a few years ago called Ascend that used the same general set-up for audiences of giving them a starting group frame-work and then letting them run free within a space filled with characters. Both that show and Signals promised that audience choices could significantly alter the end of the plot. Ascend fulfilled that promise with the entire pantheon of gods altering each show thanks to its audience’s choice. In Signal, the potential for a different ending felt less possible because of the time loop bookending the narrative. No matter what choices audiences make, the show must end with a time loop and that, unfortunately, made my choices (and those of the audience around me) seem far less important or relevant. While I understand the idea of using a time-loop to narratively lock the show to its time length, it also led to a show whose ending felt weak.
The other aspect of Signals that interfered with my enjoyment of the show came from the various quests that audience members were given. First, there seemed to be an imbalance between the number of guests and the number of quests. I saw multiple people repeat quests that had been given to other people/groups before, which again diminished the narrative impact of each quest. For instance, at one point I was given a memo and told to take it to the security head and make sure that he saw it because this memo was supposedly new information. When I reached the security officer, however, I spotted the exact same memo on his desk already. Obviously the information I had could not be new if he already had it–and that largely derailed my interest in pursuing that particular plot. If a show is going to depend almost completely on audience members following quests given by characters, the show needs to make sure that audience members believe their quests are unique and important. This show did not strike that balance correctly during the performance I attended.
Signals is overall a fun dive into the ideas of immersive theatre and audience agency. For the Hollywood Fringe Festival (which this show is part of,) offering a lighter immersive experience that lets audience members play in an immersive space for a few hours is never a bad choice. Setting the story within the SCP universe is also a fun idea as it gives audience members a chance to peek at a thriving internet collaborative narrative in a unique, new way. There are pieces of the show that feel slightly unfocused or incomplete for me and I would love to see a finished, polished version of this show in the future. But the version that exists here was one that I enjoyed as I experienced it. So if it sounds like something you might enjoy, I suggest you go join The Foundation today. Who knows what you might meet once you do?