Lovers Anonymous Proves to be Deeply Personal — The EOI Review

The Logo for the Amet Community

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.

Terence Abernathy, the strange founder of the Amet Community

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?

The phrase that proves Love is a mental sickness in Amet.

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.

The two women whose lives you are going to determine.

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.  


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Brassroots District Gets Genuinely Funky — The EOI Review

Logo of the Brassroots District from their album cover.

I stand backstage with the Brassroots District band, holding a ‘band beer’ given to me by their lead guitarist. Normally, I’d be thrilled to have that level of access to a musical group. I’m very uncomfortable thanks to the fight happening between the group’s two lead singers. I may be experiencing a great funk band’s last night together, here in the summer of 1973.

The band producer gives a sarcastic peace sign to you.

Brassroots District: Live in the Lot Summer ’73 offers an unusual hybrid in the realm of live immersive productions. It’s a combination of a real funk concert performed by the Brassroots District band and an interactive narrative about one crucial evening in the band’s history during the summer of 1973.

Audience members become part of the band’s crowd during a parking lot concert before Sly and the Family Stone do a gig. While the band performs, tensions between band members rise to the surface as a producer arrives with his offers of fame.

Copper Jones, one of the lead singers of the band, waves hello to his fans.

Brassroots District: Live in the Lot Summer ’73 offers its audience an immersive experience accessible to almost anyone. Members engage with the story if they wish by interacting with band members, publicists, the producer, a choreographer and even groupies. They can even get a VIP ticket that includes access to the band’s backstage. That backstage area offers more intimate discussion with the characters and unique scenes with actors and audience.

Conversely, an audience member can choose to just come and enjoy one hell of a good 1970’s funk band concert. They can dress up in 1970’s style and spend 90 minutes grooving to music that absolutely sounds like it should have come from that time frame. 


Brassroots District: Live in the Lot Summer ’73 is, quite simply, brilliant. The combination of fantastic music and engaging story works perfectly. During the performance I attended, I engaged with actors and band members throughout. I spotted other audience members doing the same. But I also watched in glee as a ton of individuals who clearly were alive the first time 1973 enjoyed a nostalgia trip. They danced and laughed while wearing outfits that might have been sitting in closets for 50 years. Their enjoyment proves the success of this show.

Ursa Major, the other band lead singer, sings with the dulcet tones of an angel.

Brassroots District: Live in the Lot Summer ’73 works on every level. From the music to the performances, this show creates a synthesis of joy and togetherness. It is the perfect counterpoint to the isolation of the last 16 months and a reminder that humanity is at its best when we come together in happiness and love. If that sounds like I’ve fallen under the old spell of peace, love and joy then great–blame the band. Brassroots District: Live in the Lot is the kind of show that will give anyone that good a time.

Brassroots District: Live in the Lot Summer ’73 has three remaining shows this weekend (Sat at 4 and 7PM and Sun at 7PM.) Tickets are $55 for general admission and $197 for the VIP Backstage Experience for 2 (which from personal experience I highly recommend.) Tickets can be found here.


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Darkfield Radio Enters Your Ears and Invades Your Mind – EOI Review

Featured Image for Darkfield Radio

I sit in a chair in my home with one thought running through my head: I am terrified. There are visitors here that I did not invite and I would love for them to be gone. But I can hear one of them talking to my roommate and the other one is whispering right in my ear and they have no intention of departing. Not while I’m still alive, anyway. Darkfield Radio has done it again.

The logo for Darkfield Radio

Darkfield Radio was originally created in the UK as a collection of multi-sensory audio experiences in complete darkness. Now,  creative directors and Darkfield founders Glen Neath and David Rosenberg have turned their audio narrative skills into a remote experience. Audience members download the Darkfield Radio app onto their phone, put on headphones or earbuds and the performances stream directly into their ears.

Darkfield Radio currently has three different tales that audiences can experience. Two of them (“Double” and “Visitors”) are made for two audience members to experience in the same room at the same time. The final show, “Eternal,” is designed for one person lying in their bed. Each of these tales brings a different type of horror to its audience and they are work very, very well.

Two audience members sit across from each other for Double
Maybe the person across from you isn’t themselves anymore…

“Double” begins as a discussion about the Capgras delusion, a real condition where a person believes someone close to them has been replaced by a dark, evil version. That delusion instantly becomes something to worry about given that you listen to this tale with someone you know (and presumably care about) sitting directly across from you. Have they been replaced? Are they worried that you have been? An incredible performance from Chris Brett Bailey only adds to the terror in the latter half of the narrative. He shifts the story in a subtle way and it is both thrilling and nerve-wracking at the same time.

“Eternal”, the solo show, uses the novel Dracula as inspiration for an intimate show that is all the more terrifying because you experience it lying down. The binaural audio allows Lloyd Hutchinson to get really close to you as he creates a looping narrative that is compelling, dark and nerve-wracking. I had never had goose bumps from having someone just speak to me–until this show.

Lying on your bed might be the worst decision.
Nothing wrong with lying on your bed, right?

For me, the true star of these tales is the show “Visitors.” Two audience members are asked to sit in a very specific way for this show. Then the horror begins as two visitors arrive who are different, unnerving and worst of all, persistant. Visitors is one of the most uncomfortable 20 minutes I have ever experienced and I mean that as a tremendous compliment. Sonya Seva and Greer Dale-Foulkes as the two visitors do an absolutely fantastic job in creating a tense, creepy atmosphere. They hit just the right balance between their calm demeanors and the absolute nightmare of what they want to do with you. Everything about this show works equally well. Glen Neath’s script is perfectly vague, offering just enough information to allow your own mind to fill in the rest. Neath and David Rosenberg’s direction shows they know exactly how to increase the tension throughout the tale.  The binaural audio is so expertly created I literally thought something had happened in my home that only happened in my ears. It is so good I still think it might have been real.

Darkfield Radio is a fantastic set of audio horror experiences. Each one of their shows builds tension and psychological horror in different ways and they are all very good at what they want to do. Best of all, the experiences are all performed each night which allows audiences to spend an evening lost in Darkfield’s world. Darkfied Radio offers audiences the perfect ratio of terror and discomfort for the modern age. Perhaps the best compliment I can give Darkfield Radio is this: I want them to make so many, many more of these so I can come back to their terrifying world again and again. Do yourself a favor and tune in to Darkfield Radio as quickly as you can. Just be ready to have a hard time sleeping after you do.

Darkfield Radio has ongoing performances of each of their three shows for various countries and timezones. Tickets for every country and timezone can be found here.

In the US, the shows run Tues, Thurs and Sat nights through April 29th, with two timeframes based on Eastern and Pacific timezones. Tickets run $7.50/partipant for each show. 


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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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The Autumn Experiment’s On With the Show: A First Love Letter to Classic Halloween

I’m waiting on a street corner, watching two men in kitschy pumpkin-sack masks gallop towards me. They wear shirts that say “10” and “31,” respectively, and grip my arms tightly as we walk down the street towards our destination. I gather that we’re trick-or-treating together, but none of the houses we pass seems just “right.” That is, of course, until we reach the last one. The one with the fog gently billowing out the front drive. I see a small figure kneeling on the ground and I squint to make it out, just as I realize my guides have vanished and I’m now here alone. The figure is a child, her long dark hair over her face, a dress so white it seems to glow. She’s drawing something on a sheet of paper on the ground. I take a breath and crouch down in front of her. “My name’s Mischief, what’s yours?” I answer her and she opens her mouth in a dramatic, overdrawn cackle. It unnerves me. She stops as abruptly as she started, and continues to draw, humming to herself. “Halloween is coming,” she mumbles, her eyes dark and hollow, and I open my mouth to speak just as a set of gentle, firm hands grip me from behind and hoist me back to my feet.

Autumn experiment, on with the show
Tom Blunt and Galen Adair as 10 and 31

Witches. Three of them, their faces hidden from view, they take turns whirling me to face them. One of them dabs at my wrist with a wick soaked in perfume oil. It smells damp and sweet, like Fall. She asks me if I know about “Spook Shows,” the old take on haunted houses that challenged guests to only the bravest of guests. But it was a lie, in a sense. Nothing really scary ever happened at spook shows. They were all just a gimmick to get people to have fun. Another witch gently touches my face with a gloved hand and turns me towards her, putting a cup of warm liquid in my hand: apple cider. It’s perfect. 

She tells me that even though they weren’t truly frightening, Spook Shows were eventually outlawed due to a series of unfortunate accidents. It wasn’t until year later that a young man with fond memories of the Spook Shows of his youth decided to recreate the festive scares. He called it The Autumn Experiment. But then he met a man who claimed he wanted to invest in the idea and…well…something went very wrong.

The autumn experiment, on with the show
Stepy Kamei, Jocelyn Gajeway, and Sarah Uplinger as the Witches

The witches all begin to chant in unison, closing in on me. Something about immersive theatre’s latest and greatest, monsters coming to life, participants being carried off into the darkness. The chanting dies out as there’s a tug at my sleeve. I look down to see the Mischief again, her eyes now wide black pools. I lean down to her and she hands me a drawing. It’s The Halloween Cowboy, drawn in the loving way only a child could, but he looks very sad.

She thrusts the page into my hand. “We weren’t supposed to meet this way,” she says. She tells me he, whoever he is, just wanted to make things like they were, to bring back something people loved. But it’s ruined now. Broken. Now she doesn’t know what happens next. No one does.

The autumn experiment, on with the show
Lillith Barriel as Mischief

She tilts her head back and lets out that braying laugh again, cracking the misty air. All at once she stops and shoots her arm out towards the street I arrived from, one long finger extended. “Warn them. Warn your friends. Halloween is coming. HALLOWEEN IS COMING!” She shrieks and I swim my way back out to the street through the growing fog. 

I inhale the cool air once back on the pavement, that damp, sweet smell still lingering on my skin. If Halloween is coming, I think, glancing back over my shoulder, I’ll be the first to say hello.


Halloween 2019 came, and went, but Halloween is never over for The Autumn Experiment. The above was a recap of the first full Autumn Experiment experience, On With The Show. The show combined classic whimsy with a heavy dollop of the macabre, enough to make the overall essence of the performance ripe with nostalgia for October nights gone by. The Autumn Experiment hopes to bring back that warm and fuzzy and yes, a bit scary, feeling of Halloween’s past, one story at a time, and it’s a welcome addition to an immersive theatre landscape that can sometimes rely too often on a heavy dramatic hand.


The Autumn Experiment is the collaborative effort of Drew Rausch and Jocelyn Gajeway. Find the Autumn Experiment on Instagram and visit their website at www.theautumnexperiment.com to sign up for newsletter updates so this year round celebration of Halloween doesn’t pass you by.


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