Immersive horror is infectious. In Los Angeles, Blackout’s antithetical style of solo, full-contact experiences spread like an epidemic: with Blackout being the sole purveyor of this style in 2012, Alone and Heretic both adopting similar styles in 2013, and the number of companies consistently rising with each passing year. But this trend isn’t simply limited to Los Angeles; guests who’ve attended immersive horror experiences in other parts of the country are returning home to start their own journey. After attending a recent HVRTING experience, David Higgins is now crafting his own in Wheaton, Illinois; Sam Berrett and Nicci Vicious are doing similar in Portland, OR, after crafting their own game night based on the HVRTING extreme haunt card game; and Charley Galley is doing so right here in L.A after being inspired by Dakota Loesch’s performance in Ceaseless Fun’s Agnosia. When JT Nagle attended Miasma, he returned to his home of Kansas City with a spark and a story to tell – and that story became ICARUS.
Haunting had the pleasure of sitting down with JT Nagle to speak to him about Visceral Theater and ICARUS, the first immersive horror experience in Kansas City, Missouri.
In your own words, what is ICARUS?
ICARUS is a 30-minute immersive horror-thriller. Designed to be experienced alone, each audience member is thrown into a world of greed, tragedy, and revenge. The audience will be asked questions and involved in the plot to create a more individual experience.
Can you speak to the talented team behind Visceral Theater? What was the genesis of the company?
Visceral Theatre was co-founded in 2019 by JT Nagle and Chelsea Rolfes in Kansas City, MO. After moving from Chicago in 2018, the couple felt welcomed by the vibrant arts community in Kansas City, but noticed there was less immersive work compared to Chicago, especially involving horror. Visceral Theatre was formed as a way to produce immersive, unique work in this new market.
What themes or tonality should guests experience within the walls of your experiences?
Visceral Theatre aims to stimulate the gut. We want the audience to have an emotional, personal connection to the work and leave with a new perspective. Our first production is a definite horror piece and we gravitate toward darker themes, but our theater background is rooted in Shakespeare and the classics, and we are not bound to any one genre. We will explore whatever stories excite us with the ultimate goal of creating a world that surrounds the audience and touches all of their senses.
What inspired your team to create this experience? Are there any specific films, novels, comics, or other immersives that influenced you?
While in Chicago, I had the privilege of experiencing Miasma’s No One Deserves Happiness in 2017. This really changed my life in terms of what live performance can be and what it can do to the audience. I left literally looking at the world differently and yearning to bring the intense, emotional vulnerability I experienced to a wider audience. I know extreme haunts aren’t for everyone, so I wanted to find a way to do this without the physical aggression. ICARUS is our attempt at finding the dark, heavy, and intimate emotions elicited by the horror genre without necessarily utilizing the same physical intensity of an extreme haunt.
With so many different subgenres of immersive theater/horror, what is the format of this experience? Will you be led in a linear fashion from room to room or will you have moments of free exploration? Will audiences be able to interact or participate in any scenes or is it more of a spectator performance? Will they have the agency to influence the narrative?
ICARUS, for the most part, follows a linear narrative across multiple locations. The audience is a part of the story from the outset and will be guided to different areas where they will encounter multiple characters. The characters will interact with the audience who in turn, based on what they say (or don’t), can influence the story in individual ways.
Physical touch and safety go hand in hand. What should guests expect in terms of contact in your experience? What steps have you taken to ensure your audience’s safety?
Safety is paramount. Though this piece has little to no touching of the audience by the actors, some scenes take place in unique and very small spaces. The audience is provided a safety word to utilize if things become too intense. Our goal is to bring this work to a broader audience who might not be familiar with the haunt world and having a safety word increases the audience’s control and comfort in this new environment. There is a company member present in every scene to ensure our actors stay safe as well and to troubleshoot any unforeseen issues that may arise.
Locations often become characters in their story. Why was your specific location selected and what attributes were needed to fully tell your story/evoke your theme?
Locations are always difficult. It’s super exciting to picture a perfect environment and then realize it’s either way too expensive or can’t be used safely (I’ve wanted to do so many shows in abandoned buildings). Ultimately the location we are using is perfect for the story we’re telling. It takes place in a residential neighborhood in Prairie Village, KS. ICARUS deals with a family, poor decisions, hubris, large universal themes. The location we have secured amplifies this.
What one thing would you want to someone starting an immersive horror experience in a new market to know?
That’s a great question… If you find an answer to this can you let us know?…Jokes aside, I think our one thing would be, just do it. Who cares if you don’t know everything RIGHT now. If there’s something you want to see, and no one is creating it, be the one. The support we’ve received from the immersive and haunt communities around the country has been wonderful. People reaching out, even if there’s no way they could attend, just excited the work is being created.
What techniques are you using to set the right expectations to audiences in Kansas City? How are audiences reacting? Are they engaged and active? Are you taking steps to create a community behind immersive entertainment?
Kansas City has been great. There are wonderful risks being taken in the theater community every day. The Fringe Festival is about to happen here and some of the work is absolutely bonkers and incredible. It is definitely a rocky road trying to distinguish ICARUS, but we’ve been working with established theaters and artists in the Kansas City community to provide validity and reassurance that the production is professional and safe. For immersive horror theater to work there has to be trust between the audience and performer, and trust comes with time. I think we’re building that trust every day.
What do you want people to walk away from your experience with? What do you want them to feel or learn?
I want to bring a sense of hope. Horror explores the dark side of humanity so that we further appreciate the light. I mean, I also want it to be thrilling and fun, but ultimately, as artists we want to open your eyes to a more empathetic perspective.
Purchase tickets for ICARUS at ICARUS.brownpapertickets.com. Find more information about Visceral Theatre on Instagram and Facebook, or email email@example.com. Follow Haunting’s Event Guide for more immersive and horror entertainment throughout the year.
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