Editor’s note: Haunting Staff Writer Erik Blair is co-creator and writer of the Captivated series and They Played Productions.
Before They Played Productions‘ immersive trilogy, Captivated, comes to a close in the sure-to-be epic finale, Captivated Act Three: You, we spoke to the cast and creators about the evolution of the story, character arcs, some favorite moments, and what audiences can look forward to in Act Three.
Actors, how have you seen your characters evolve since the beginning of the production?
Katie Conrad (Emma): Well, Emma gets to step away from the laptop. And directly into a crisis. Emma also gets to participate in the story in a bigger way this time. The rest is kinda spoilers. It was fun to finally get a moment when Emma and Mike interact.
Austin Schumacher (Grant): Having started off as merely a character in images and then proceeding to audio and pictures, this would be the first time the audience will have the opportunity to possibly see Grant in person.
Glenn David (Mike): The fun with Mike has been in going from a wild conspiracy theorist, to a wild conspiracy theorist who got one right.
Thea Rivera (Thea/Creator): I remain conveniently placed on the edge of “character,” with just enough connection to real life to help folks sign their waivers and ease their transition into what’s lurking for them in the Captivated world.
Stepy Kamei (Victoria): From the beginning, it was clear that my character had something to hide, but her own personal agenda was hidden behind the drama of Ely and his “new” wife Justine. With each chapter, it’s been more and more clear that Victoria isn’t just helping Ely – she’s got her own agenda. With the finale, we finally get the possibility to see her agenda and her personal stake in all this come to life.
As a performer, it’s been a blast rolling with how audiences interact with Victoria. Most are rightfully suspicious of her, but she’s got some really loyal fans for some reason. So I make sure to dial up the charm, or the threats, as needed depending on what I’m getting from each individual audience member.
Erik Blair (Ely/Creator): For me, I’ve had the strange experience of both writing these characters AND learning about them through the incredible work each of the actors is doing. They’ve all been living with these characters for as long as I have been, and it means that sometimes I’ve added or changed plans I had for specific characters because the actors’ embodiments suggested newer, better ideas.
I haven’t changed the plot significantly through this last year, but these actors are so good it made me write better reasons to get from Point A to Point Z.
And, as for Ely, I’ve been incredibly pleased at how audiences have responded to him. Act One placed him as the potential villain of the story, only to reverse the possibility in Act Two. The level of sympathy for Ely has grown dramatically – and that let me create a very specific moment in the opening minutes of Act Three that I’m really proud of.
Sarah Morris (Justine/Abby): My character/characters have been really fascinating to play because I started out playing Justine and then got to play Abby. Our finale show is where both my characters collide. That moment, or moments, I hope will be just as rewarding for the audience as it has been for me finding those moments to play in.
Josh Ritz (Henry): It’s been interesting for me! There was definitely an evolution of the character from paper to reality, Erik gave me a lot of wiggle room to add definition to the character. In Act One, I worked a lot with Sarah to define our characters’ dynamic. Henry wasn’t just creepy, he became invested. He was always controlling, but now it was more present in the performance. Some of his… quirks… came out during rehearsals the same way. Now in Act Three, Henry has an opportunity to be himself in a way he couldn’t before. He’s not at a party, there’s no need to “pass.” In a sense, it’s a very different Henry.
What do you think has been the most challenging aspect of your role? For Erik and Thea, what has been the most challenging aspect for you as creators? Is this anyone’s first foray into immersive theater? If so, how has the transition been for you?
Katie Conrad (Emma): Fight choreography. I mean it’s potentially a party of 9 people attempting a rescue. I had to figure out how Emma would take control when she’s actually very, very scared. And what that sounds like is very caffeinated. Captivated: Victoria was my first immersive show in all respects. It was the most terrifying, exhilarating, crazy, interesting thing I’ve ever done.
The unpredictability is definitely the best and scariest part. We play audience for each other in practice and try to apply Murphy’s Law. It’s revealed how imaginative all of our anxieties can be. The end result is we learn so much about human psychology. No amount of preparation will show you what strangers will do.
Thea Rivera (Thea/Creator): Hiring a fight choreographer, and making budget decisions. Been LARPping and doing Ren Faire street performance since ’96, in addition to theater stuff, so I’ve kinda always had a toe in immersive my whole adult life, it just hasn’t always been formally “immersive.” Captivated has been my first time formally producing immersive, as in being responsible for the bits and pieces (budget, safety, insurance, the “grown-up” stuff).
Glenn David (Mike): Chapter One was my first foray. For me, the real hurdle was getting over the stage fright.
Austin Schumacher (Grant): I think one of the challenging parts is some of the disconnect. When I’ve given my “performances” for past Captivated shows, it’s not actually to an audience, but is more akin to acting for the camera. Still, no, this is not my first experience with immersive theater.
Stepy Kamei (Victoria): The hardest thing for me has been hiding the master plan that I knew about (as an actor) from practically day one, that over a year later is finally being revealed.
This is definitely not my first foray into immersive theater, but it’s been the longest-running immersive show I’ve ever done. Erik approached me about a show he was developing after he kept seeing me perform in other immersive shows. I remember meeting with him and Thea in coffee shops around North Hollywood, coming up with the basis of what eventually became Captivated. Ah, memories…
Erik Blair (Ely/Creator): From the creator side, the challenge for Captivated has been to pull it off at all. We came out of the gate with They Played Productions’ first immersive production by saying we were not just going to do ONE story – we were going to do THREE. And then we’ve actually done 5 (Acts 1-3, PLUS Act 1.5 and Act 2.5, smaller scenes to flesh out a specific plot moment). That was frankly a bigger challenge than I realized it would be.
Not only do I think we’ve risen to the challenge, I think we’re ending this show with the best part of the show. As everyone has mentioned, we’ve got combat. We’ve got death. We’ve got big reveals and villain moments and hero opportunities.
And this time we’re making audiences the ACTUAL CAUSE of what happens. When we talk about 30 different endings, that means that how this story ends really DOES depend on choices audiences are making during the show. THAT has turned out to be the most challenging thing I think we’ve done of ALL of it. We’re going to have only a minute or two to determine which ending is happening during each show. Figuring out how to do that was a problem all its own. But we’ve already tested it with audiences – and it works very, very well.
Josh Ritz (Henry): I’ve had some experience with LARP (2011, if we’re dropping dates), but this is my first foray into immersive theater. Having that background was helpful for improvisation, but created some challenges when learning scripts, and drawing boundaries regarding what you can and can’t do. In LARP, everyone is a character, things are little different when you’re playing off of people just being themselves. The hardest part for me was in Act One, finding the right balance in playing a realistic monster in a story with heavy elements like abuse. We were in the height of #MeToo when Act One was happening, and we understood we needed to be careful about how Henry introduced those themes. I needed to walk a line between being intense and portraying an abuser realistically without upsetting audience or drawing too much attention away from the rest of the narrative.
Sarah Morris (Justine/Abby): I’ll divide mine into both my characters since they have had very different challenges along the way…
Justine: I wanted to make sure her innocence, curiosity, and discovery of self was and continues to be genuine. This has been extremely challenging as an actor, but also super rewarding. The audience became a huge help to molding Justine into who she was and is now. I love that.
Abby: Abby is a hard-core bitch and I love that about her. She is struggling in life, and not always making the best decisions to stay afloat. Life is freaking hard, and for Abby, she has fought to stay alive. Or should I say “alive?” Things didn’t end well for Abby and finding her inner struggle and creative ways to bribe people for survival was challenging, but a nice change-up from the innocence of Justine.
This is my first dive into immersive theater and I LOVE it! Allowing yourself to be affected by an audience every single performance and being able to jump in and “play” with human beings every single night who are jumping in and “playing” with you is just freaking insane and awesome in all the best ways.
Also, for my first go around of immersive, this cast (including Erik and Thea) has become a family. They are supportive, spirit building (in all senses of that word), and have been wonderfully inclusive of this newbie.
What moments are you proudest of in this production?
Thea Rivera (Thea/Creator): Checking in my third show of the night while trying to keep them out of earshot of the FIRST show of the night, who are outside and still talking about the show.
Katie Conrad (Emma): I’m still stuck on the stage combat. I’m proud I haven’t injured myself yet and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not coordinated or sporty, so it felt like a victory. I was lucky to get to ask questions of the audience in character in the final moments of Act Two.
Being part of the process is what I’m proudest of. Erik gives us a certain amount of latitude to ask questions and make decisions. He has a clear vision, but with the room built in to let us get creative. We challenge each other a lot and have the familiarity to be able to do so. How we are at the rehearsal table is a big part of the magic.
Josh Ritz (Henry): To be honest, I love the extent to which we suspended disbelief in Act One. We had a real apartment and real food from local places in on the show. We had a real off-duty Lyft to have control of the show even outside of the apartment. I could watch the final moments of the show from a window, the look of surprise on people’s faces when Glenn came back was so satisfying.
In terms of personal pride, I ran music and sound during Captivated: Nick (the holiday special). In addition to creating a holiday mix for the radio, I needed to cue sounds and triggers to match up with actions in a different room. Even with a script, there was always some variation and improv. I thought the final result worked really well, even if it was a small detail, I’m proud of it!
Erik Blair (Ely/Creator): I’ve got probably more than I can name in any good length of time (and some of which will probably be listed by others here). So, I’ll go with some of the smaller ones:
* The flashback scenes of Act Two, where I repeatedly had people tell me that even once they knew what was going on, they failed to realize when actors were disappearing to do those scenes. That’s a great moment of coordination, helped massively by Sarah while she was in character.
* Putting photos of Austin around the apartment in Act One, KNOWING that I intended to have him threaded through the later Acts as well.
* And, to reiterate again, one of my favorite moments is yet to come. But I think people are going to be really happy with it.
Stepy Kamei (Victoria): I’m proud of how invested our audience has become. The fans are the ones creating hashtags like “JusticeforJustine.” They come up to me after seeing me in other shows and ask about when Captivated is coming back, rather than whatever they just saw me in! They would get very attached to Justine and wanted to stand up for her, which is certainly encouraging for real-life scenarios where people may need to be called out for problematic behavior. For Act One, an audience member actually bought food during the show to share with everyone, during the show! You can’t get that outside of immersive theater.
Sarah Morris (Justine/Abby): I’m so proud of our audiences. A couple of our audience members started a hashtag in support of Justine. #JusticeforJustine. How cool is that? A few audience members told us they stayed up until midnight to buy show tickets the minute they went on sale. The dedication and support of our audience is something I have never experienced with regular theater or film or TV roles. To have an audience that followed our show from day one and has already bought tickets for our finale, I mean, that’s a kick-ass loyal audience.
Glenn David (Mike): I was super proud of our 1.5 mini-episode we did at Midsummer Scream.
Austin Schumacher (Grant): Honestly, I think it ties into what I mentioned as being the most challenging. Grant, while more or less central to the story, has still kind of stayed on the fringes. I would say that I’m pleased that the character was able to have an impact and stay VERY relevant without actually being physically present, which I think is as much a tribute to the writing as it is to the performance.
For Erik and Thea, what do you want your audiences to take away once they’ve completed the whole Captivated series? Would someone be able to see Act Three: You as their first show from They Played Productions?
Thea Rivera (Thea/Creator): Acts One-Three were all created to be enjoyed by themselves, or as part of an ongoing story. We didn’t want people to think they needed to buy tickets to all 3 parts in order to get a full story, but at the same time, we wanted to provide a fulfilling narrative for those who stuck along all the way through, and I’m pretty sure we got there.
Captivated: Mike was more of a continuation, but also roped people in who were just looking for something to hook into during Midsummer Scream.
Captivated: Nick was really meant to be a holiday treat for our fans, but also caught new audiences who enjoyed it as their only piece of Captivated so far (they bought the first ticket to Act Three).
Erik Blair (Ely/Creator): I’ll answer the second part first. Audiences can ABSOLUTELY see You without having seen any earlier piece of the show. We’ve repeatedly worked to make sure that each story stands alone while still being part of a larger story. Are there nuances that you might miss? Certainly. But we’ve had audiences who only started with the Christmas show we did one weekend – and they still were able to jump right in (and some now have tickets for the next show). It’s been a deliberate choice to keep each piece self-enclosed enough so that people can just jump right in.
As for what I want audiences to walk away from this show with, it’s a combination of things:
* First, I write shows that I would want to go see. Shows that would entertain me and engage me. I think just as a piece of entertainment, this will do that very well.
* But this has always been, for me, a way of looking at obsession and desire. The original Frankenstein story was meant to be an examination of what it means to be human and now, in 2018-19, I realized that the story could be recontextualized in a way that made it a story about what people want, what they need, and what it means to be a monster. In the era of #MeToo, we are all being forced to place a mirror up to humanity and realize how dark it can be at any moment. So, the story of reanimating the dead out of ambition or pride or love or need can give us a different look at that side of humanity. And yet, it can do so in a way that’s just separate enough that it won’t trigger in quite the same way.
Finally, how should we, as the audience, prepare for Captivated: You?
Josh Ritz (Henry): This show is about you. This show relies on you in more ways than one. Don’t just bring yourself, be ready to make choices and see how they fare.
Thea: Well… it is the finale… Choices WILL have impact. Not may…WILL.
Katie Conrad (Emma): Honestly, I think of it as a video game with NPC conversations. You stay in a track as opposed to having the freedom of movement in the last show. But then you get opportunities to make choices that have far bigger consequences than last time.
So, I guess we’re each looking for something different in audiences. Honestly, we have outcomes for every kind of audience. The highly experienced and motivated audience is likely to have a different ending than newbies. If you interact 0%, we have an ending. If you interact 100%, we have an ending.
Stepy Kamei (Victoria): It’s the finale, so dig in and find the answers you’ve been looking for since Act One.
Sarah Morris (Abby/Justine): Please come unprepared. We like for you to be an open book. Come as you are, or come as someone you want to be. No matter what though, just come! You don’t want to miss this.
Glenn David (Mike): Come prepared to make decisions.
Erik Blair (Ely/Creator): As the cast is showing, I think audiences can expect a wide possibility of experiences in our final show. So, the best way to be prepared is to be willing to make hard choices – and don’t forget that NO choice is also a valid choice.
Or you could check out our recap of everything that’s happened in the previous chapters. That’ll give anyone who hasn’t been before, or who needs a refresher, enough information to leap right into the events.
Or you could do it the way I would – take a deep breath, trust that we’ve prepared for you no matter where you start…and go.
Photography by: Josh Ritz and Thea Rivera