Immersive theater continues to grow and expand. I believe we are still only scratching the surface of what is truly possible in this new category of entertainment. A perfect example? Recently I was literally the very first person to experience a new immersive theater event in New York City called RED, which is an all new event that debuts on May 11, 2017.
The reason I say event is that it’s really hard to classify RED. It’s got elements of an escape room, immersive theater, first-person video games and more. I’ll do my best to break it down for you. Participants are lead into a pre-show room and given basic instructions on what’s about to go down. Actors will be around us, there could be light touching, some strobe lighting, and so on. We are then individually lead via an actor to our starting point in the game via blackout glasses that block our vision. After being lead into a room (and separated from the rest of the group), we find ourselves holding a literal bag and are given one more audio pre-show before taking off our glasses and start to get our bearings on exactly where we are.
Imagine a two-story building with various rooms, hallways and open spaces to explore. This is where your game takes place. Turns out we have entered a simulation where an apocalypse has destroyed most of civilization as we know it. We, as players, have just gotten off a bus in a foggy haze and arrived in a shelter where we must fend for ourselves. Once you get your bearings, you realize that the only thing inside the bag you’re holding are instructions. You’ve been told to look for supplies such as food, water and flashlights.
Now this is where things get interesting, confusing and exciting. You can choose to start to find those items and/or you can start to explore the world around you. There are people (both actors and players) running around also trying to figure out just what the hell is happening. Basic questions were flooding my mind: “Who the hell are these other people?” “Where am I?” “What is causing the apocalypse?” and “Am I truly ‘safe’ in this shelter?”
As luck would have it, the more digging you do, the more answers you’ll get. And no doubt you start to realize that just like the real world, an apocalyptic situation is complicated to say the least. You slowly realize that there are characters you can trust and ones that you can’t. There are also objects scattered around RED that can help you uncover more information that can help aide your survival in this unfamiliar world.
Now this is where RED will delight some players and frustrate others. You cannot figure this all out during one visit. Now if you’re familiar with immersive theater in the slightest, you’ll know that this is par for the course. It just doesn’t work like that. Now the main difference is, let’s say you come back and experience RED for a second time? You have a leg up on the game. You know the layout of the building, you know where key components are located and you know what elements of the game are vital and which ones to ignore.
Now if you plan on trying this new immersive entertainment experience out for yourself, I do have a piece of advice: pay attention to everything. Much like an escape room, not everything you need will be spoon fed to you in the form of written instructions. Sometimes you’ll hear an actor say they need a particular item. Find it and deliver it to them and you’ll most likely be rewarded with more information or perhaps an item that you need. RED is very much a live-action video game that you’re in control of. You can take your time exploring the nooks and crannies and opening drawers and finding pieces of backstory or you can interact with characters. Your involvement in the game (or lack thereof) depends entirely on your ability to figure out just what the hell is going on and contribute to the chaos of your surroundings.
Finally, once completed, you will receive a score based on how you performed during the simulation. That score is based on how well you interacted with the characters, what you may have found to understand the story and essentially how well you would fare in a true apocalyptic situation. You’ll also get a debriefing once you get home via e-mail that will give you that ranking and more info that could help you on your next journey inside RED if you so choose to return.
Now what did I think of RED? I loved it and I’ll tell you why. In an experience like this, you need a robust cast of actors who are able to think quickly on their feet. The audience is going to come up with questions, scenarios and do new things during every performance and your cast has to be nimble enough to respond to that while keeping within the confines of the story. A slip up and the entire illusion, show and game can all fall apart.
I was throughly impressed with the cast of RED and they are the primary reason I want to return. I still have many unanswered questions. Who exactly were some of these characters? Could they be trusted? Could the government be trusted? And what caused the apocalypse to begin with?
If you’re a gamer, an immersive theater fan or enjoy escape rooms? I highly recommend this. RED is currently running in New York City, but could eventually expand. Check out their website and make sure to reserve time slots in advance. There are only 15 participants per show, so space is extremely limited. I’ll definitely be back.
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