Interview with Darren Lynn Bousman and Clint Sears of The Experiences

An Interview with Darren Lynn Bousman & Clint Sears of The Experiences

The Experiences saga began in early 2016 with The Tension Experience, an AR (alternate/augmented reality) journey into the heart of an apparent cult, which culminated with the live experience, Ascension, in November of the same year. Then, in February 2017, came The Lust Experience, taking its followers deeper into a world of broken hearts and power struggles.


With the promise of the action resuming shortly, the date 2.14.18 ominously posted via their Facebook account and the message “…everything changes”, it can be no accident that the second act of this narrative begins a year to the day that The Lust Experience forums first went live. After all, what better time for some Lust than Valentine’s Day.


With big things on the horizon, Haunting sits down with “creators” Darren Lynn Bousman and Clint Sears for a peek behind the curtain, discussing the high and lows of developing arguably the most immersive experience ever seen.



Lust Neon Sign

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



“We all LUST after something…” – The Lust Experience: Anointment

Also referred to as the Mid-Season Event, The Lust Experience: Anointment took place in mid-December, 2017. A fully immersive in-person event that invited veteran participants and newcomers alike into the domain of the OSDM, a nefarious data-collecting organization with cult-like tendencies, Anointment was not the grand finale to Lust as Ascension was to Tension. Instead, patrons experienced a snapshot of the ongoing narrative, finding themselves pushed to confront their own desires and often leaving with more questions than they entered with.


Sears describes Anointment as “an experiment in creating a reality around the themes we had already been exploring with Lust – passion, what you truly desire, how relationships with others help or hurt that desire, how do you find fulfillment in what you believe you want…”


Inspiration for the event came from Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 movie, Eyes Wide Shut, the story of a man’s odyssey of not only sexual, but moral discovery at a secret, masked party. “That was the catalyst for the whole experience, and what we were driving towards.”



The Lust Experience - Anointment - Immersive Midseason Event - Tension Experience - Darren Lynn Bousman Clint Sears Sabrina Kern - L'Cheriyve-Studios

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



But more than the decadent visuals of the scenery and masks, “it was also important that everything felt visceral, dangerous and uncomfortable more than just sexy or tantalizing…  more turned out than turned on. I wanted to hold up a mirror as to why you were reacting to the things the way that you were.”


“Our goal with these experiences is to push you out of your comfort zone. Confront taboos, and overall, slap you in the face and remind you that you can feel,” Bousman explains. “This isn’t about sex, or nudity, or embarrassing you… it’s about reminding you how to feel. Even now, I still walk through so much of my life as a zombie. I detach instead of feel. Why? It’s easier… Our hope with those who entrust us with their time is they will be confronted with situations and scenarios that force them to feel something. That feeling might be rage. It might be embarrassment. When we set out to create any of these experiences it all starts the same way: what do we want someone attending to feel?”


However, as Sears points out, being pushed to break out of your comfort zone can cause a variety of reactions: “We had audience members who felt we went too far here and there and audience members who felt we didn’t go far enough for the exact same things… The trick, or cheat depending on how you look at it, was to try and say, “Why do you feel this way?” and then throw you a curveball at the end that maybe it could or should be about something else entirely…”



The Lust Experience Anointment Masks

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



The Challenges

Beyond achieving these more esoteric goals, Bousman and Sears faced many interesting challenges when crafting and executing this complex and detailed experience. The first was satisfying two very different types of audience – those involved in the long-running ARG component of The Experiences and those attending for a stand-alone experience.


“It’s a balance act that is easier or harder depending on your base level concept,” discloses Sears. “Coming off of two years of mythology and still making a two-hour experience that completely plays for someone off the street and for someone who devotes their daily lives to us is harder than you might think at first.”


The pair provided a multitude of tracks that participants could find themselves on, based upon the interactions and decisions made inside the walls of the location. But things did not always go as expected, as Bousman explains:


“There is ALWAYS free will.  And for every action taken, a consequence awaits.  We are always surprised at the complacency we sometimes witness.  Meaning someone asks you to do something, and it’s done.  We always write in alternatives to every ask.  “NO, I do not want to call that person,” “NO, I do not want to undress,” “NO, I do not want to…” The reality is most people say yes… There were various times within Anointment that scenes could have gone in a vastly different direction but did not.  Maybe guests were scared to push back, or maybe they did not know they even could push back.”



The Lust Experience - Anointment - Immersive Midseason Event - Tension Experience - Darren Lynn Bousman Clint Sears Sabrina Kern - L'Cheriyve-Studios

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



“An example, and to lift the curtain a tad.  There is a moment early on where you are asked to make a phone call… In conceiving of the idea, we never expected anyone to actually follow through… There was an entire sequence, or lesson, when the guest refused.”


They soon realized, however, that the majority of patrons would not refuse. “We were running ten groups of ten people per night through; so by the second night, the “alternative” scene was never performed a single time. What happens when you do a show this many times, consecutively, is actors become comfortable, and they ad lib… Since the “Alt” scene was never performed, it was almost forgotten.  On the third night, we had a few people who did not want to make the call, and instead of getting the scene, they received ad libs.  In turn, this looks unplanned, and suggests that there is no agency. As a director, I watch this, unable to intervene and I cringe.  The hope, the idea here is for every scenario, there is a choice.  Every situation, numerous outcomes.  With Ascension, we had weeks of rehearsal to iron out these types of issues; with Anointment, we had two days… A lot was learned on what not to do moving forward.”


“There are ALWAYS things you want that you don’t get or that need to get cut with any creative endeavor,” says Sears, before giving us another glimpse behind the curtain. “The entire role of the Madam (your guide) was actually centered around an actress that wound up not playing the role.  We had other Madams who had to drop out and we had some drop in.  Production schedules, real-life, etc., always get in the way.  We try and get everything we want but eventually asking, “what do we have and how can we use it?” is pretty much the only way we can operate.”


“It was such a short run that we didn’t have time to workshop and re-tool, which is very important to any successful theater and doubly so for one as… sensitive as this one.”


But Sears is quick to credit the cast for their role in creating such a complex structure in such a limited timeframe:  “Actors always inform their characters and we always try to create to their strengths… this time with the short amount of time that we had, we tried to force that as much as we possibly could to really help ourselves out and create a short cut to great performances.”



The Lust Experience Anointment Close Up

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



“Fear has evolved into desire…” – From Tension to Lust

Going back to the beginning, 2016’s The Tension Experience was unlike anything seen before, creating an entire new genre of immersive theatre, and as such, propelled the team to the forefront of the art form. Their innovative form of storytelling continues with The Lust Experience which is currently on hiatus, allowing the pair a brief moment to reflect on their immersive revolution.


“It’s hard,” says Bousman. “We are all just figuring this out. I was lucky to find Gordon (Bijelonic, The Experiences’ producer), and with him, and well… our investors, we charted a course and enacted a plan.  There is no forefront.  It’s just a big sandbox, and we are all trying to build cool-looking castles.  Our castle might be great to some, but not to others.  This art form is still so new, I am not sure any of really know what we are doing.”


Sears sees this “newness” as largely positive: “Because it is so new, and because there are no set rules, it can be both exhilarating and frustrating.  I try not to ever think of what anyone else is doing and just try and execute the coolest things that we can do.  The fun part comes from when we both laugh and say, “why not?” because nobody has proven it can’t be done yet.”



Photograph courtesy of The Tension Experience



The Meta-Narrative

One of the most prevalent, and fascinating, aspects of both Tension and Lust has been the meta-narrative, or a narrative about the narrative. For those not versed in postmodern theory, meta-narratives focus on the idea that absolutes, such as truth, are extremely elusive or non-existent. As such, the ones telling the story will openly insert themselves into the narrative of the story, self-aware that it is a story. In immersive theatre, these may be the Creators, the actors, or the audience themselves, all hyper-aware that they are within a grander narrative that may not necessarily be real at all.


“It’s tricky at times,” says Sears, “but partially, we try to aggregate the items that we feel are most believable, and also won’t jeopardize any of the relationships and trust that we’ve built. The other, more strict part of the deal, is that they must always give winks and acknowledge some of their more obscure realities so that the audience can technically say they have a choice of sorts. If it was all completely hidden or out in the open completely then what they require wouldn’t work.  Allegedly.”


Bousman adds, “At the end of the day, like with any job, we have people to answer to and to be completely honest, some of the decisions we make are bread crumbs that help us out more than the story or the audience.”



The Lust Experience Anointment Figures

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



The Audience

It is this audience, or more accurately, the unique and vibrant community based around The Experiences, that sets the project apart; and Bousman is acutely aware of the importance that community plays in their ongoing success:


“They are the gas; the experience is the vehicle.  Neither can operate without the other.  Gas allows the car to propel forward.  No gas, no movement.  Once you grasp the simple necessity of our fan base, everything clicks.”


“Originally, I became a director to tell stories.  However, in my years as a director that has changed.  I am a director to affect people.  I want to make a difference.  Scare them, turn them on, make them care, make them angry… I want to rattle them from their everyday life so when they go to bed, they are different than when they woke up.”


“I have found movies getting harder and harder to have that effect.  Yes, there are some that still shake me, like mother!  or Phantom Thread. But a great deal of cinema now I shrug off… Not because the narrative isn’t compelling, or the story weak… I am DISTRACTED.  I am staring at a screen of flickering lights and sound.  It happens without me.  It exists without me.”


“Immersive theater does not exist without the audience.  Tension, Lust cease to live without them.  It’s such a unique dynamic, and an exciting aspect as a creator.”


“It’s a learning curve that never stops and I’m very grateful for it,” says Sears. “This year, the biggest difference was that we did no hand holding with the narrative like we did last year with the Gatekeepers as pseudo guides… It left a vacuum of power and confusion that I hope we somewhat mimicked, in feeling at least, with a broader theme regarding today’s political climate for many people. I think no matter what side of the aisle you fall on, we can all agree that there has been a strong sense of uncertainty to our national consciousness that hasn’t been there for a long, long time. I feel like we tried to parallel that a bit in our universe with questions of, ‘Who in power can I trust’, ‘Are they telling the truth’, and ‘Do they have my best interest at heart’.”



The Lust Experience Anointment Sabrina Kern

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



“So, did you get what you came for?” – The Power of Expectations

But with active and engaged participants across the States, and some even as far away as the UK and Japan, the demands placed upon the “creators” are many and varied, and Bousman is very honest about what he has found the hardest in his work on The Experiences: “managing expectations from our community.”


“There was a lot of vocal negativity from some of our loudest voices within the community.  It was, and is, hard to hear, especially from those we care so deeply about.”


“Unlike traditional entertainment, the audience acts as creators as well.  Their time, their relationships, their own story telling within the lead up help connect dots.   What happens is the community itself has ideas and concepts of where this is all going… they hope to see or uncover certain aspects.  When that doesn’t happen, there is a strong emotional response (sometimes not the emotional response we want). When you invest as much time as our community does, there is an ownership to the story and world.  A real investment.  When your investment does not yield the return you were hoping for, emotions take over.”



The Lust Experience - Anointment - Immersive Midseason Event - Tension Experience - Darren Lynn Bousman Clint Sears Sabrina Kern - L'Cheriyve-Studios

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



“Clint and I have really struggled this year to play in two worlds…: the community and the audience.  Those are two vastly different entities.  The ARG is [the community’s].  It is created and curated by them.  We try our best to keep it free, to encourage as many people possible to contribute.  The [paid] events, however, are open to the public.  These events are extremely costly, and require so much that goes unseen it would make your head spin.  Finding the balancing act to appease the community, and yet not push away the audience, has been a struggle since we launched.”


“It’s important that we continually disrupt expectations, or the brand will start to feel long in the tooth…” Sears adds. “The way to do that, to try new things yet retain the fans that want to stay with your original premise and ideas is something we have to navigate every day and we do so with varying degrees of success. How do you play the new stuff when everyone is holding up their lighter and just wants to hear Free Bird again?  The only solution is to create something better than Free Bird.”


Bousman describes negative reactions by some of the community to their Anointment experience as “a bitter pill”.  “This was constructed as a midseason event.  A middle point… We wanted to provide something to help fill the void of The Experience absence.  I think a lot of people entered hoping for Ascension.  Wanting the three-hour journey, and resolution to the mystery and characters they had been following.  We aren’t there yet.  That wasn’t what this was.  It’s the direction we are heading but there is still a lot of ground to cover.  In turn, sadly, we lost some of our supporters… People hoping for something that we weren’t ready to provide… not yet.”


“Everything they desire… everything they ‘lust’ after will come… but not before storm that is heading their way.”



The Lust Experience Anointment Mirror

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



“One single thing will always be amiss. Every night, every day, every year after this…” – A Look into The Future

With rumors of plans for a permanent location that guests can enter, have a drink, and interact with in-game characters, something that would be monumental for the Los Angeles immersive scene, the big question on everyone’s lips is: could this ever become a reality?


“From the very beginning of its inception, the idea was long term… That is how Gordon Bijelonic and I always saw this,” explains Bousman. “This was never about one thing, it was about a lot of BIG things… These pop ups we continue to do are baby steps, securing a fan base, and allowing us to workshop various concepts and ideas…”


“We believe in the power of Immersive Theater.  We believe in the power of human interaction.  Our hope is like the quote from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” But the reality is, we are still in the wild west of this art form.  People are still confused about what it is. The groundswell and fanbase is building, but to maintain a permanent installation, we need HUNDREDS of people 5 nights a week, for 52 weeks.  It’s a large ask.  Are we confident these people exist?  Absolutely.  This is why we have been stretching Tension, and now Lust, on to lure, guide, and expose this unique art form, and let those watching know… ‘We are coming…’”


Westworld is fiction; our hope is soon it will be reality.  No, we won’t have robots…  But, we do envision an environment that is open world, and your choices within the story will constantly dictate your experiences… including numerous return visits.  Imagine every single time you return your story continues.  A never-ending story… You can be who you want to be while inside our walls…”


“It will be awesome and utterly fucking exhausting.  The usual,” adds Sears, who is still holding out for something he calls “The Puppy Experience”.



The Lust Experience Anointment Dressing Room

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience


“The storm gathers in the calm…” – Final Thoughts

To conclude, Haunting asked the pair, “What do you want people to walk away from your experiences with? What do you want them to feel? What do you want them to learn?”


Bousman answers: “That they have been seen.  Heard… Regardless of how you react to our narrative, or characters, or world.  Our hope upon leaving is that you realize you were critical to us.  We are trying to create a safe place to be dangerous.  We want to build a world in which you can do and be something that scares you… If we have done our job correctly, when you leave you take some of what was uncovered out into your real life and are stronger because of it.”


For Sears: “I want them to be entertained first and foremost, but I also want them to leave feeling a little different; I hope they can see themselves in a different light and come away with some more knowledge about who and what they are than when they went in.  I think this medium, when it hits on all cylinders, can be mildly transformative in that way, but I’m also not above a dick joke or two.”



The Lust Experience - Anointment - Immersive Midseason Event - Tension Experience - Darren Lynn Bousman Clint Sears Sabrina Kern - L'Cheriyve-Studios

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



In a universe as dense as that of The Experiences, that comes complete with encyclopedias of characters and abbreviations compiled by its dedicated fanbase, it can be hard to know where to begin for a newcomer. But getting involved and up-to-date is not impossible.


“We have had several people dive in at different points during our entire run and become completely enamored,” Sears reassures. “I think it’s a little like any running serial, as long as we keep things fresh and interesting, and we try our hardest, then there is always something new happening to grab you and pull you in.  There is absolutely no reason to be intimidated by our history.  Every new development is a new story and a new beginning.”


Bousman’s advice is simple: just take the plunge. “I hate to use this comparison, but it’s a soap opera.  You can start whenever you want.  Yes, it might take you a minute to know who is who… But we try to construct this, so it plays on numerous levels.  As a long-term participant, you will have stronger connections, more emotional ones, if you have a history with someone.   These experiences are in a way, a second life.  You are able to step into this world and interact with strange and unique characters and storylines.  As with life, you are not around from birth with the people you meet.  You come in at varying points of someone’s life and form bonds… You learn who and what they are as you interact with them.  Sure, the storyline is dense, but it’s all just history.  Entering into this world, you choose which history you want to uncover, and you uncover it.  No need to be there on day one.  No need to stay through until the last day.  It lives, and breaths, and continues whether you interact, or someone else does.”



The Lust Experience Anointment Hooded Actress

Photograph courtesy of The Lust Experience



For more information on The Experiences, or to get involved, visit the website and follow them on Facebook and Instagram.




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About The Author

Victoria Camps
After receiving a Masters degree in Creative Writing, specializing in the areas of Young Adult Literature and Editing, Victoria now works as a Learning and Development Manager during the day, helping others make their words as beautiful as they can be by night.

1 Comment

  • Anonymous ARGer. on January 31, 2018

    Great article. I love the Experiences. But I think it’s time to lose the ARG element. I fear it’s a necessity for real growth.

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