Fringe - Ascend

Fringe 2019 – Ascend – Playing with the Gods

This year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival has seen several immersive productions that allow at least a passing comparison to more traditional LARP (Live Action Role-Play) events. Out of all of them, Ascend has the closest connection to that style of experience. In the process, it creates one of the most enjoyable family-friendly productions that I’ve seen so far in both Fringe and Los Angeles.


Fringe - Ascend


The concept behind this production starts very simply. You, the audience member, have learned that you are the child of a god (making you, in return, a demi-god) and they have asked you to meet them and learn of your heritage. Easy, right? Who wouldn’t want to learn that they were the children of gods with supernatural powers? You even get somewhat of a choice as to what parental god you have through a questionnaire that you fill out online before you arrive.


But as is often the case with gods, the reality turns out to be far more complicated. There is a dangerous anti-god who may be resurfacing, and the gods have assembled to fight it – and they’re hoping for your help in some form or another. Moreover, this assembly is not merely one pantheon of gods. No, there are multiple different mythologies present, and some of them don’t play all that nicely together. Finally, some of the gods have decided that giving humans free will was a terrible idea, and they’re ready to reverse that decision. Others continue to stand for the concept of allowing humanity to have its way. You put all of these pieces together and it quickly becomes clear that your happy trip to meet your parent may turn out to be a much more dangerous scenario.


Fringe - Ascend


Honestly, I found the set-up of this entire production to be one of the best parts of the entire show. The creators have given Ascend a strong starting point where audiences have many different choices they can take. And you actually can take those choices. If you want to stand proudly by your parent, you may do so. If you want to try and alter the course of humanity’s future, have at it. And if you want to do what I did – which was sway a god toward removing humanity’s free will, help my father find his true love and then swear to him that I would never speak to him again, not even for the next thousand years because he chose to stand against me in the final battle against the anti-god…well, that’s fine as well. Because Ascend truly gives the audience the ability to approach this experience in whatever fashion they desire.


For someone like me, with a strong LARP experience, shows like this are beautiful things because they truly allow audiences agency to explore the world and setting in the way they choose. For those who are new to this type of experience, Ascend wisely offers multiple avenues of help and guidance with characters whose sole purpose is to direct confused or shy audience members into choices that will help them enjoy the experience as well.


Fringe - Ascend


Moreover, Ascend has a large number of gods. I mean, really large. That allows for a large audience for each show while still allowing most audience members to feel that they’re having an impact on the outcome. And you truly can have that impact. There are entire segments of the show that are determined entirely by what choices the audience makes, from which gods end up on which side of debates to actually battling gods themselves and altering the course of humanity in the end. All in all, Ascend has built the framework of a show that could last for years.


Only a few aspects of the show faltered and they are all things that can be tweaked and fixed with a little work. First, there are a few characters that seem to be focal points for multiple paths/choices throughout the show. Because of that focus, there were some bottleneck moments during which I found myself or other audience members standing in line waiting to speak to someone. Ideally, the various options audiences can take would spread out more and keep audience members moving.


Fringe - Ascend


Second, some of the choices were options that could be repeated by multiple audience members, such as a cursed sword that could theoretically be broken with the right item. When multiple audience members are sent out to do that and return with the item – and then others are also sent out to do the same task – it diminishes the impact of having done that quest for both the earlier and later audience members. Ideally, when a quest is completed the first time it should be done, and no one else should be able to do it. That makes each choice the audience member makes matter in the same way it would in real life – and that’s a far more powerful outcome that tends to last in an audience’s mind for a long time.


Overall, however, I truly enjoyed Ascend. With aspects of both LARP and gaming included in its mix, Ascend shows how effectively you can blend multiple different styles of experience and still have a workable, exciting immersive event. I sincerely hope the creators re-work the few small issues and mount this production again in the future. I would be happy to step into the world once more and try my luck with a different god or goddess any time.


Fringe - Ascend


Find out more information on Ascend and buy tickets here. Keep up to date with all of our Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019 coverage here. Follow our Event Guide for more news and reviews throughout the year.




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