As Amy Guerin said last year, "time to performance studies the shit outta this!"
The Book ReleaseOn March 15, a book release party was held for the commemorative glossy behind-the-scenes book about The Tension Experience at the OOA compound. This was seemingly advertised as a party and a last chance to say goodbye to the place where the immersive piece was held, and to socialize with old friends and cast members. Which is exactly what it seemed to be, in the beginning. I wasn't there, because my impromptu trips to Los Angeles will be curtailed somewhat this year (see last blog post) even if Travis doesn't entirely remember the last one. I saw friends posting photos of themselves seated on the stage (where I was sacrificed my first time through Ascension). Many people talked about conversations with the actors and exploring spaces in the warehouse they hadn't gotten to really see before.
At a certain point everyone was gathered in the main sanctuary space and Michelle, a character introduced close to the end of Tension last fall, walked in. The character, not the actor. And, well, here's what happened:
And in the aftermath several participants recounted stories of talking to actors that they suddenly saw in a different light - as in, they weren't talking to actors, perhaps, but to the characters.
Again, I am so fascinated by this and the ongoing discussion about consent, and what one can or can't consent to. I don't believe for one second that the group of people in that room were ones to be concerned with at all in this area - they all have long since acknowledged they wholeheartedly wanted to take part in this craziness. But as in other areas of life, there are always people who want to step in and dictate where the ethical line is. Tension has always pushed against that and I love it (but I've loved exploring lots of areas in life that have pushed against that line).
Think about other areas where consent is involved - can one give blanket consent? Or do we have to consent to individual acts and incidents? What is the definition of "informed consent," and does it apply here? I know that this probably seems like an extreme comparison to some, but for a lot of people experiences like Tension really skirt the "extreme" line, and even Sleep No More occasionally pushes the boundaries of consent. Is it ok to invite people to an event under the pretense that it is one thing, and then have it actually be something else - something that involves violence and the threat of MORE violence?
Personally I have long maintained that when we all signed up last year the website made it very clear what we were getting ourselves into, and we jumped in knowing that. We WANTED that. These are thrill seekers, after all. I want to be able to say "I'm an adult, I want this experience, I consent" and accept the consequences. I want to believe that everyone else is with me on this - of course that's not always the case. There are always people who will take issue, and that makes creating art like this inherently risky. The fact that they DO it just makes me love it and want to support it more.
First Encounters & BlackmailA week later, participants Bryan & Lia were set up on meetings ostensibly with self-help alpha-male guru Noah Sinclair on the same night. Noah's website is the only real revelation of Lust so far, and we all jumped right in to sign up. Some of us have been told we have what it takes to join his "system," some of us - myself included - have been told unequivocally that we are "losers." My email also had a nice love note specifically for me referencing the chip on my shoulder, which makes me wonder where "my story," if there is one, might head this time through.
Bryan was in Austin, TX at SXSW with the Tension crew when they did their panel and was supposed to meet up with Noah there, but that fell through - instead he had a meeting on Wednesday. You can see his recap here, on Periscope. Simultaneously Lia had her meeting.
I don't know Lia at all, but Bryan is a good friend. And Bryan's approach to interacting/playing is so...amazing. I could spend an entire year just watching him, and make THAT an entire study in performance. See, I think what I learned at the end of last year was that the thing that I don't do - perform - is what a lot of people ARE doing more often than I realize. They may have the original jolt of fear (when the phone call turns out to not be their best friend, for example, or something else disturbing happens), but reality soon sets in and they realize it's Tension...however, because it's fun, they keep playing that fear. All last year I sat there and thought you can't seriously be THIS scared, you know who is doing this. Bryan's "jolt" lasts much longer. He stays in that moment where things are "real" for longer than others do and maintains the illusion without. When I say that I want to not know what reality is - that's what I'm talking about. For a period of time I think he really believes that what he is experiencing IS actual reality, and he is NOT performing. For someone who is incapable of performing (me) that just sounds amazing, and completely unattainable.
(Sorry, Bryan, this will be the last blog post about you.)
One last thought - and I had this because I tried to give some thought as to what could possibly cause me to have the experience that he had that night, and I realized what could do it. Over a month ago there was talk of some people expressing concern over people being too bothered by the language on Noah's website and personal issues it could trigger. I think it may just be an automatic cultural response now but it surprised me, because it wasn't something that came up at all last year, not once. Those of us who do this choose to do this. This is meant to be emotionally challenging, possibly devastating. The creators talk frequently about destroying us. Only one of us is a delicate flower. I think that it's quite possible the second timers might feel a little nervous because we were dumb enough to do this once, and they now have the ammo they need to be incredibly effective this time around - we're still here anyway. It's like there's a sign that reads "you must be this tall to ride the ride" when you sign up for Lust. My self-esteem is as fragile and fractured as they come but I weigh that against the experience and make the choice for myself that this is worth it - and there's the possibility that I might even be better for it on the other end. Not all experiences in life and in art are about beauty and rainbows and pastoral scenes and mothers and children and kittens and stuff. Or even social justice issues and fighting for a better world. Some of the ugliest, most uncomfortable experiences in life and art can cause the most profound and personal changes, if you let them and are open to them.