Sunday, June 12, 2016

Immersive Adventures in Los Angeles Part 1 - THE TENSION EXPERIENCE

Look at that. It's been an entire year since I last wrote. Oddly enough teaching kept me pretty busy this year, but now that it's summer hopefully I can have some adventures to write about.

This weekend I took a trip to Los Angeles for several reasons, all of which fall under some category of immersive or interactive theatre. I'm going to write about each of them, and if I'd started this last night I could have done it in order. Instead, I'm writing about The Tension Experience first, because I have a feeling that doing so with some urgency might serve me well.

The Tension Experience is, as far as I am able to tell at this point, an Alternate Reality Game fused with immersive & interactive theatre. Weird things happen, participants get contacted by characters via phone, live events occur, and we all meet up to discuss everything on forums. At this point I am not even sure how I heard about The Tension Experience. I think I read an article back in early April, and eventually found the website and joined, but I don't know where the bread crumbs started that led to any of that. I'm not going to go through my whole "tension experience" thus far - others have far better stories, given that most of the action takes place in LA, and I'm in Minnesota. I do want to write about what happened to me today though.

When I woke up this morning, I had an email that read only "do you have a car? 4pm." I wrote back yes. I didn't hear anything else for several hours, and today was the first day I was scheduled to be at a workshop with Live Action Set (more on that later). When I got to the workshop, I was told that I was unlikely to have any cell phone reception and internet was very spotty, so I knew I wasn't going to be able to stay and also be available to make whatever was going to happen at 4pm. Luckily the workshop participants were in the mood to have a less structured day than the rest of their week has been. During the conversation around 2:15 my phone miraculously rang - I had already tested the reception problem by asking Travis to call, and he went straight to voice mail, so the fact that the phone rang at ALL was lucky. Since I was sitting in a room with ACTUAL interactive theatre nerds, and many had a sense that something was going on, the room fell quiet while I answered and prepared to write down whatever I was going to be told.

Phone guy: "Megan, what part of town are you in?"

Me: "Uh - Glendale."

Phone guy: "You need to be at a computer with internet at 4:00."


My initial thought was come on, we have computers and internet in Minnesota. Give me MORE.

The interactive theatre nerds wanted DETAILS, and so I told them what little I had. Let me just say this - I was sitting in a room full of creative people who *love* making art like this. Maybe not "scary" art but art that truly involves the audience. They started positing situations.

"What if you meet them, and the first thing they say is the exact same monologue the guy said to you in your one on one last night?"
"What if the waitress at the pizza place was one of them?"
"What if you get there and they have video of today's workshop?"
"What if......" etc.

I loved it. It's one thing I really love about my life, the moments spent with other artists and people who love what they do and have the same passion to create.

I left the workshop and headed back to where I'm staying (with a friend Terami & her husband and cat Steve). I sat and waited and around 3:50 my phone rang again.

Phone guy: "Not 4. Soon."


OK. So, I'm going to sit here until "soon" happens.

I was getting a little queasy so I asked Terami if there was any peppermint tea. As we were making tea, the phone rang AGAIN.

Phone guy: "Megan. Do you have Periscope?"

Me: "Yes."

Phone guys: "I'm giving you a head start."


Exposition you need to understand what's going on here:

Last week there had been another incident of a Periscope video that showed an envelope being hidden at a park in Los Angeles. It started a race to the park to see who could find it first. I figured something similar was about to happen. The other backstory piece to this is that within the narrative of The Tension Experience itself, which centers around a mysterious group called the OOA, we were given the opportunity to ask three questions of the current "Gatekeeper" of the organization. I know. It sounds nerdy. Trust me, it somewhat makes sense, and it's a ton of fun to follow, even from Minnesota. Said Gatekeeper promised to answer two of our three questions on Saturday (today). As a group, those involved in The Tension Experience came up with a list of questions and submitted them. As of the above phone calls, we had not yet heard any answers.

And I had not really connected the fact that something was happening for me today with the arrival of those answers.

I pulled out my phone and pulled up Periscope, and there it is - a feed titled "For Megan - from III." "III" is the Gatekeeper. I watched as the video panned around a park, stopping to show a sign that read "Echo Park." The camera panned away from the sign and whoever was holding it (assuming it was III) walked down the sidewalk to a row of bushes. He had two black envelopes  in his hand, and hid them between two of those bushes.

I didn't actually watch the whole thing before I was putting my shoes on and saying "Terami, gotta go NOW, sorry, tea later!" I figured I'd have time to catch up on the video, and I had to get on the road. Once I saw the Echo Park sign, I ran out of the house, got in my rental car, and pulled up directions.

I think it took me about 25 minutes to get from Terami's house to Echo Park. When I was ALMOST there, my phone rang AGAIN. These calls always come from a "No Caller ID" number and I've started just referring to them to myself as "NCI calls." Yes, I now answer every NCI call like it's the call I've been waiting my whole life for, not like it's someone telling me which candidate to support or that I've won a free cruise.

Phone guy: "Megan. Do you even know where you're going?"

Me: "I'm headed to Echo Park. I'm trying to get there, about 5 minutes out."


Not a very talkative guy, this phone guy.

I finally arrive at the park, FINALLY find a parking space, and finally get out of my car. I had promised people I would be on Periscope, so I turned on and started livecasting my search. Let me say this again, in case it's not clear: I live in MINNESOTA. I've never been in this park in my life. I have no idea where the spot is and the park is enormous. I just start walking, and eventually notice that people are commenting on the video, telling me which way to go.

After a LOT of walking and fruitless searching, my phone rings. How many times is that now? In one day?

Phone guy: "Megan, are you lost?"

Here are some things that you might not know about what's going on here, phone guy.

1. I've never in my life driven in Los Angeles. The only city I've driven in that is worse than LA is Boston, and that's really not saying anything, because there is NO city worse than Boston. Boston is just in the pantheon of bad driving cities so we shouldn't even count it.

2. For some reason, my phone has stopped talking to me and verbally giving me directions while I drive, which is nervewracking and tends to lengthen drives because I have to keep looking at where I need to go next rather than being told. It slows me down.

3. I busted my knee pretty badly recently and I am NOT supposed to be walking LIKE THIS - frantically, quickly, not mindfully. I've been healing and I'm fine, but my knee was tired and sore.

4. There is a TON of adrenaline pumping through me and I am not thinking straight. I am also aware that I'm live on the internet, and am more than a little uncomfortable with that fact. I'm not thinking straight. AND the fact that you have repeatedly called to ask about my whereabouts tells me that you didn't drop the envelopes and leave. It tells me you are still in the park, you'd eventually see me, and I wouldn't see you. And that adds to the adrenaline.

Let me repeat that last part, because it gave me pause.

You are in the park.
I don't know why, but I honestly figured you'd dropped the envelopes and left.

So yes, I was slow getting there.

Eventually I see that Tension themselves have logged on to Periscope and are now watching me, and they start giving me hints on where to go. Then, I see that somehow Travis has logged on - how did he even know this was happening? I didn't know that when I started broadcasting on Periscope, twitter notified the world. Tension directs me to walk out of the park and back towards the street, so I do. Eventually, after several millennia have gone by, I manage to coincidentally be in the right place. And walk right past the envelopes. Tension - and everyone - start telling me to turn around. (Note to self, don't Periscope things.)

I find the envelopes, with lots of help.
I sit cross legged on the pavement and open them.
Inside are documents that answer two of our three questions.

I'm going to frame the yellowed one and put it in my office.
I spend a few minutes showing Periscope the documents before packing up to head out. And that's when a motorcycle - I think - speeds by loudly. A note pops up on Periscope from Tension that they had left, had just passed me on the bike. And that they would see me soon. And that I looked very nice today.

What was a "pause" earlier now stopped me in my tracks. I really don't like not being in control of a situation, and I was NOT in control here. Phone guy was in the park and watching me, had seen me, and I had no idea where he'd been and hadn't seen him.

Tonight, I went out to see another show with the Hollywood Fringe (more on that later). I come home to this message:

You should have never gone. They know where you are now Megan.

I do not scare easily. I'm an extremely logical person. But I had just been *actually* watched in a park. Not told I was watched and not actually watched - really, truly watched. Any other night I would have blown off this comment as nonsense, but my nerves were a bit shot.
I didn't sleep a bit. Every noise in the house and outside it kept me up all night.

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