Confusing Space: Mystic Ventures Collective’s Don’t Follow The Lights Review

There’s a classic bit of folklore that talks about wandering too far into the forest on the wrong sort of night. One wrong move, the lore says, and you might just find yourself taken by the fae. You can end up lost in the darkness of their realm for anywhere from one night to forever. Only the luckiest humans find their way back. Don’t Follow The Lights Review Mystic Ventures Collective

I’m about to find out for myself. Because this time, they’ve taken me.

Ali Hass as “Harvest”

Don’t Follow The Lights is Mystic Ventures Collective’s newest online immersive sandbox show about one unlucky night in the realm of the faeries. It starts with a fun premise. The audience members have done the opposite of the show’s title and it’s up to them to figure out a way home. Through exploring the realm, interacting with its denizens and figuring out proper offerings for each faerie leader, audiences have a chance to succeed in finding their way home.

Or they can fail utterly, lost forever. Or they can find multiple different levels of great or terrible endings in between. The audience’s actions as a group make the final determination.

The shows uses a software program called Gather to create a faerie realm that looks like a video game from the original Nintendo Entertainment System era. Audience members move avatars throughout a map of the realm. When they get close to a character’s location of characters, they enter video chats reminiscent of Zoom with the ability to speak and hear each other. Conversations lead to secrets, clues or even solutions for what other characters need. Only through exploration and interaction can the audience find their path home.

Multiple interactive and theatre companies have started using Gather to create spaces where audiences can interact that attempt to mimic the idea of moving through a real space. The goal is to allow more fluid, dynamic conversations where audience members come and go as they wish. Don’t Follow The Lights succeeds in creating that sort of space as other shows using Gather have done.

Shelli Frey — “Decay”

However, if this all sounds like a complicated setup for an interactive online experience—it is. Any company using Gather needs to recognize that it isn’t necessarily intuitive, especially for those who didn’t grow up playing Final Fantasy or Chronotrigger. Helping audience members understand how they interact with this software—both in general and for this specific show—becomes an absolute necessity.

For the final dress rehearsal that I saw, that information wasn’t sufficient for many of the audience including myself. I saw multiple audience members blindly roaming the space, attempting to figure out what they were supposed to do or how they were supposed to interact at all. That lack of clarity impacted both how I experienced the show and what I was hearing from other audience members as it happened. I expect Mystic Ventures Collective to have made significant changes to their audience’s introduction into the show since that night. If not, such confusion may happen for other guests as well.

Joey Moore — “Raven”

That would be a shame, because there are some positives for this show as well. The actors were quite fun to play with, each of them having some clear goals that allowed for improvisation as they responded to audience members. Some of the actors were cold and aloof, such as Dana Soliman’s smart performance as “The Queen.”

Others were more unearthly, such as KC Hyland’s joyfully disruptive chaos as “Nettle.” And some were truly reminiscent of darker faerie tales, such as Shelli Frew’s whispered and torturous “Decay” and the constantly sharp hunger of Kate Martin’s “The Mermaid.” The actors deftly accomplish the spin into a realm of strange creatures and inhuman attitudes.

Kate Martin – “The Mermaid”

The general idea for the show itself works as well. Using a classic bit of folklore to weave this sort of immersive experience should be a lot of fun—and in this case, it often is quite enjoyable. Having guests work together towards an ending determined by their choices has great merit for creating a positive audience space, something we definitely need in the current isolation era.

The iteration of the show that I experienced simply needed more fine-tuning to truly shine in the way that I believe Scriptwriter and Producer Shelli Frew wants. A few tweaks (that I expect will have already happened by opening night) will go a long way in raising this show to its best version. If the audience’s choices will determine the ending, they need to have a clear idea of how to affect those choices. They need to understand the stakes, their options and at least the first stage of what they need to do to succeed.

After all, one of the impacts of making everything look like a video game is that it makes audience members want to “win.” I spent too long confused over my choices to feel like I was winning anything. Locations and characters changed as well during the experience. While this is true to the idea of a strange fae world, such changes were often hard to spot, making it even more harder to ‘solve’ the world. Some characters seemed to require specific things but were not always good at giving me clues as to what those things might be.

Worst of all, I wasted time retracing paths to figure out what I had missed, only to find that a second visit to the same character could generate different answers with the same questions. Such a reaction made it seem as though my actions were generating random outcomes, which seemed at odds with the goal of making my choices matter.

Again, I expect these hiccups to be ironed out when the show reaches its full potential. That’s the point Don’t Follow The Lights will be a show that audiences will be able to follow perfectly well. That’s the version that I wish I had experienced myself.

Don’t Follow The Lights brings a great premise to its audience. With strong acting from its entire team, the show offers audiences a fun take for the Halloween season. When their issues are solved, Mystic Ventures Collective’s show should be a great adventure for this year’s spooky season.

Don’t Follow The Lights has three more performances scheduled this weekend on 10/30 and 10/31. Tickets are $30 and the experience works best on a Google Chrome browser with a headset and microphone. Don’t Follow The Lights Review Mystic Ventures Collective Don’t Follow The Lights Review Mystic Ventures Collective Don’t Follow The Lights Review Mystic Ventures Collective 


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Teen Spirit All Over Again: KatnipProductions’ The Sleepover Review

The Sleepover: an Immersive 90's Experience!

I’m in the back seat of my mom’s car. She asks me whether I’ve done my homework before tonight’s festivities. I tell her “Yes” with a click of my mouse. Her classic “mom-happy” voice tells me to have a good time as she drops me off. Little does she know the truth: Eye On Immersive: KatnipProductions’ The Sleepover Immersive Review

We’re gonna watch Nickelodeon. All night long. That’s what a sleepover is all about.

In the COVID world, entertainment has become something we watch through screens at an astonishing rate. Nowhere has that become more evident than in the rapid proliferation of remote immersive experiences. Some create deep dives into performing artists. Others create escape rooms with live avatars. The immersive community constantly experiments with how to bring audiences into a story while leaving them in their own homes. The Sleepover, a one-hour comedic immersive show set in the 1990’s, makes its choice with a goofy and fun escape into a more innocent past.

Jointly created by KatnipProductions and the Cricklewood Theater Company, The Sleepover casts its audience members as guests at the title event held by teenager Mikey (Jason Lalich.) With Mikey’s parents (played with lovely over-the-top gusto by Misha Reeves Bybee and Joey Bybee) heading out for a Halloween party, Mikey’s older sister Louise (Susan Louise O’Connor) gets tasked with watching over her brother and his audience friends. That’s all the setup this show needs to leap headfirst into the humor of the story.

Mikey and Louise react to their sibling rivalry.

Jason Lalich and Susan Louise O’Connor

Comedy sits at the core of this show and it works very, very well. From the opening choose-your-own-adventure video to the death-defying dare at the end, this is an immersive experience that simply wants you to have a good time. Early on, when the plan to watch television goes awry and Louise claims its because of the house’s ghost, Mikey grabs a handful of Goosebump novels because obviously they have the appropriate research for handling spirits. Later, when audiences get separated into two groups to have smaller scenes with Mikey and Louise, we learn how cool an older sister must be by definition because she has music posters on her wall or how cool Mikey is because he knows how to play the Oregon Trail video game. There’s nothing truly serious happening here and that’s the point. The Sleepover’s plot hangs on quirky, strange little moments of fun that come across as sincere because that’s exactly what nights like that are all about.

Pizza and Goosebump books: a winning 90's sleepover!

The Sleepover sets itself up as a show with a loose plot and lots of audience interactions through Zoom. For this type of show to work, you need actors who can maintain strong characters with sharp improvisational abilities. That’s where this show really shines, as I absolutely loved the two siblings Mikey and Louise. Lalich’s portrayal of Mikey reminded me so much of the earnest awkwardness of a boy trying to impress his friends. It’s a performance that works as silly, sweet and almost painfully accurate. From vocal tone to attitude to facial expression, Lalich absolutely nails that age where boys want to be men but have no idea how to get there.

Susan Louise O'Connor shows you how 'cool' Louise is.

Susan Louise O’Connor

O’Connor’s take on Louise is equally sharp. She portrays the perfect arrogance of the older sibling, convinced of her coolness based on absolutely nothing at all. Certain that she is justified in whatever vengeance she levels on her younger brother for perceived slights. Determined to pose as the sophisticated woman even as she fails to spot obvious traps laid out to bring her down. O’Connor’s performance captures her character’s reality with the ease that only comes from a brilliant performance.

Jason Lalich asks if you're coming to his sleepover as Mikey.

Jason Lalich

The Sleepover has all the pieces necessary to give audiences a great escape from today’s complicated world. It combines humor, strong improvisation and even a heartfelt emotional moments as it lets you enjoy a simpler time. This is an engaging show in every way. It’s the kind of remote immersive experience that could run for a long time when word of mouth gets around. Most of all, The Sleepover offers a very welcome respite for a weary world.

The Sleepover has extended for three shows this weekend, Oct. 23 and 24th. Tickets are $19.90 for General Admission (anywhere) and $49.90 for VIP admission that includes a 90’s goodie box (local to Los Angeles only.)

UPDATE: The Sleepover has extended again for two more performances on Nov. 6 and Nov. 7.

For more information or to get tickets, head to the event link.


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Shot To The Heart: Spectacular Disaster Company’s Temp Cupid

Temp Cupid

I am stalking a man and a woman as they enter a bedroom during a friends’ party. They start talking to each other, allowing me to sneak past the woman and focus on the man as I raise my bow and arrow. She says something cute and I fire an arrow of attraction right into the man’s chest. He reacts instantly, touching her hand as he tells her how funny she is.

I smile, too. I’m just doing my job.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be Cupid? To be in charge of helping individual humans find love and human connection in its many forms and possibilities? If you have, then Spectacular Disaster Factory’s newest immersive creation Temp Cupid might be the experience for you. Temp Cupid places audience members in the role of being exactly what the title suggests: temp workers taking on the role of cupids for the night. It’s a highly interactive experience where each cupid uses a bow and arrow to make targets either like or dislikeother people around them in an effort to give each target some type of love before the night is over. It’s a production that combines aspects of improvisation and gaming to allow audiences to determine the outcome of each character’s relationships.

Temp Cupid
Cassie (Ashley Busenlener) is about to get struck by a Temp Cupid’s arrow

It’s a rather fun idea for a show. Participants are given a bow and arrow each and instructions that no character at the party they are entering can see or hear them. When participants shoot arrows at characters, they can increase or decrease how that character feels about another character by up to three steps (in each direction.) Finally, each Cupid is tasked with helping a specific character (including a cute dossier that gives a quick rundown on each one’s wants/likes.) The new Cupids are then unleashed upon the party, free to shoot (or not shoot) anyone at any time. They can talk to each other, team up with other cupids to create a specific goal or wreak havoc by sabotaging what other cupids are trying to do. Once they’re done impacting the characters however they want, a finale plays out where the outcome of those actions gets shown to the Cupids. It’s a fairly solid concept.

This is the type of experience that works well for audience members who are new to immersive shows as it does not demand much from participants other than understanding how the arrows work on the characters. That’s all a Cupid really can do to control anything within the show, since they cannot interact with anyone in any other way. For newer audience members, making the interaction simple and game-like can make this a really fun way of entering the immersive space.

Temp Cupid
Lonely Hearts Cassie (Ashley Busenlener) and Tracy (Casey Dean) find a match thanks to their Temp Cupids

For those who enjoy watching improvised interactions and are interested in seeing how changing someone’s like/dislike level will impact those interactions, this show also offers great potential fun. During my experience, I chose to partner up with other Cupids to make sure a specific couple ‘liked’ each other as much as possible. That decision meant that I followed that couple through most of the experience.  Having the chance to be a fly on the wall and watching their relationship blossom in front of me was highly entertaining—as was fighting off the sudden attempt by other cupids to sabotage the relationship I’d spent time putting together. Just as the couple was becoming invested in each other, I became invested in holding them together against all the other Cupids.

It’s not a surprise that the interaction between characters is my favorite aspect of the show. The actors involved in the production are solid across the board. Casey Dean’s portrayal of Tracy is almost unbearably cute, even when responding to arrows that make her dislike someone. Orion Schwalm’s Jack is goofy and sincere, with just enough quirkiness to make him really believable and real when someone suddenly begins to like him. Tricia Fukuhara’s depiction of Audrey is almost heartbreaking in itsawkwardness. During my experience, there was a moment where an arrow derailed a friendship she was trying very hard to make happen. Her reaction to the emotional change was so painful it made me immediately shoot her with the arrow necessary to change that back. Ashley Busenlener has the emotional range to go very dark, as evidenced by a sudden change in emotions towards another character during my trip that became the most serious moment of the night. She played that moment exactly correctly. Kristofer Buxton’s eagerness as Clark is as amusing as his coldness when persuaded to dislike someone. He turns perfectly on or off, as the cupids demand. The best performance for me is Lena Valentine. She gives her character Jo a wonderful maturity that runs through whatever emotional alterations come from the arrows. Even when arrows give her rapid emotional shifts, she somehow makes each transition both natural and truly engaging. More than once, I stopped paying attention to the ‘game’ of shooting others just to watch a scene she was part of as it played out. She’s truly compelling. The greatest positive of this production is the exceptional choices in casting and their ability to handle their characters while being impacted with constant relationship changes in real time.

Temp Cupid
Audrey (Tricia Fukuhara,) Jo (Lena Valentine) and Jack (Orion Schwalm) exchange words and cookies in the kitchen

There are other aspects of the show that are less effective for me. The setup for the experience feels overly complicated and far too long. Each character has a specific color. Attraction is coded red and repulsion coded black. So each time a Cupid wants to alter a character’s feelings toward a second character, they have to find the arrow with that second character’s color code and then remember to use red or black, depending on their choice. It’s a setup that takes fifteen minutes to explain and, at least during my experience, still had audience members asking for clarification. While a production likes this clearly needs to have the ‘rules of the game’ laid out, I think this long an onboarding seems to work against the premise of having fun playing a cupid. It comes across as a lot of effort and learning before you can actually go have fun. If the Spectacular Disaster Factory chooses to remount this show again, perhaps they can find a way to streamline the rules into something that can be explained in 5 minutes. I think that would help make it even more of a good show for entry-level immersive audiences.

 

Temp Cupid
From Left: Casey Dean, Orion Schwalm, Tricia Fukuhara, Ashley Busenlener, Lena Valentine, and Kristofer Buxton

The show also feels too long. During my stint as a cupid, I noticed several players who got either bored with the premise or simply got tired of shooting arrows and were sitting down for the last 10 minutes of the experience. This may be a case of too many players per experience slot. Or perhaps the show is simply too long. Once again, if the show is remounted I think some effort at fine-tuning this could generate an even stronger experience. Showing the impact of arrows in mid-scenes as well as at the finale might help audience members stay more connected, for instance.

Overall, Temp Cupid is a fine show, with a lot of potential for audiences to have fun. For those who enjoy seeing their actions have impact on actors, this experience offers immediate gratification as each arrow generates an immediate response. And for those looking for a show that’s light and entertaining and designed simply for some fun, this is that kind of show. The flaws that exist are mostly ones that simply slow down the experience or aren’t holding everyone’s attention as strongly as one would like—all of which could easily be overcome in a remount. Honestly, I do hope they bring this show back again. Cupids may be most common during Valentine’s Day, but Temp Cupids are needed all year long.


 

Temp Cupid closed it’s initial run on February 16th, 2020. Make sure to follow Spectacular Disaster Factory on Instagram, Facebook, and at their website for remounts and new experiences throughout the year.

 

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