A Scary Place Existed
I have yet to do my post-show reflection blog for A Scary Place To Exist (or, indeed, to decide whether or not to count is as one of my 12 Shows).
Many thanks to Vic Sautter for being an excellent collaborator, and Tom Black for willingly acting in a strange little piece.
Creating A World
It was successfully unsettling throughout, rather than being jump-scary. This was very pleasing. It is easy, as Vic and I discussed a number of times, to make a dark room and then scream unexpectedly at someone. It is very hard to create a sense of dread.
Where the audience giggled, it seemed to be in-world, not at-the-world, rooted in that discomfort.
It ran at half an hour. I do wonder whether the show’s tone could have been maintained for much longer than that; some kind of respite might have been needed.
Interactivity And Its Absence
Architecture was not our friend; the Old Red Lion’s heavy wooden benches inhibited movement.
The very structured mechanics were, I think, a little arcane for easy usage [side note: I recently learnt that Cambridge University Library has an arcana section. It’s what they used to call some of the more risqué parts of the collection]. While that added tone, I think it meant that people were unsure about how they could interact.
It was exciting to test something where I (and I suspect others) were genuinely unsure if it would work. It was also exciting to see that the mechanics, focused on changing one part of the show’s world, thus misdirected the audience as to where their agency truly lay (changing the tone of the inevitable horror). Likewise, unplayable mechanics (such as ‘The End Cannot Be Changed’, presented like other mechanics but itself a massive No) caused an interesting reaction as the audience tried to establish what was possible.
I especially enjoyed when some refused to participate in the ritual at all - not out of disengagement, but out of active engagement via a decision not to collaborate in the unfolding horror.
In general, I think the audience were brought into the world of the horror. However, were I doing a horror show again, I would take the first part to build personal connections to the world (for example, decorating a space, or defining rituals and customs around it).
There was too much sitting. I would love to do a horror show in a space where people could move.
Interactive immersive horror, in the more literary than jump-scare-y tradition of horror, is hard. The tension between protagonists lacking agency and interactive theatre audiences requiring it forces the field of play into choosing the style of descent, while the descent is inevitable.
However, I do hope that with careful thought, good narrative structure, ways to engage the audience emotionally in the stakes, and entrapping world structures (such as ‘a house filled with mousetraps’), I’ll see or make a fantastic piece of interactive horror soon.