If the Royal Sovereign Republic of Satanas had a national anthem, it would be a ceaseless span of shrieks and percussive blasts. I would know. I’ve relinquished my American citizenship to join the RSRS.
As I defected or emigrated, I fell into the stern embrace of one of Chicago’s leading underground extreme haunt purveyors, La Casa de Satanas, which just completed the run of its 2018 show, Sovereign.
Guests applied to join the sovereign citizens militia of Satanas, premised on actual anarchists guided by the belief that taxation, American currency, and the basic operations of government are illegitimate and must be resisted—with an avalanche of lawsuits if possible, with force if necessary. Applicants to the RSRS must have arrived after they sent home the lawyers.
My experience began with in-person immigration applications that were both absurdist (check here if your race is Dark Blue) and invasive (details on menstrual cycle required, if applicable). Afterwards, I met four other recruits. Our troop would remain together for most of the experience.
Testing continued and quickly intensified. I was forced to put on military fatigues. My hands were bound. I was blindfolded. I was stuffed into confined spaces. I was kidnapped. Austere members of the Satanas militia barked degrading orders. And my only recourse was to obey. How else could they trust me?
Joining the Royal Sovereign Republic of Satanas only provided a loose structure, however. Though initially stressed by the dialogue and tactile experiences, the main narrative line became increasingly tangential, like a jazz melody that got lost in riffs and extended solos. How did I get from processing my RSRS naturalization papers to observing a topless woman capoeira-esquely pantomime a sword-fight during a vegetarian banquet? I can’t say. But I didn’t mind that the riffs strayed so far from the melody since the performance was sufficiently expert and compelling.
Among extreme haunts, Sovereign is on the gritty end of the spectrum, more Last House on the Left than The Shining. The set design was effective but minimal, Spartan décor for a Spartan organization. One room was adorned simply with an old mattress, a mostly burned candle, and a large bottle of Jergen’s that a character reflexively pumped and massaged into my neck and hair to make me “look pretty” (and feel slimy).
I admire how the show elicited fear through suggestion and oblique threat instead of over-the-top brutality. Given its premise, the experience could have easily devolved into unimaginative sadism. Instead, I was afflicted with uncertainty, isolation, restraint, and sensory deprivation juxtaposed with sensory overload.
The performers also deserve credit for the close attention they paid to guests. When one participant whose hands were bound got irritating particles in his eye, a mad doctor paused, without breaking character, to gently wipe the man’s eye. In the ensuing chaos in that same room, my shoe came off, but ten minutes later, when I stumbled out of the Republic of Satanas and back into Chicago, an unseen figure tossed my shoe out after me.
One of the few problems with the experience was the ubiquity of the “national anthem,” the stomach-churning death metal cranked to ear-splitting decibels. The disorientation it elicited was effective for one scene, but, when strung out over several, it detracted from the experience and drowned out character dialogue.
Additionally, La Casa de Satanas could better prepare for contingencies. In a pre-haunt waiting room, I asked a performer if I should leave my jacket there. He said I ought to take it with me. Two scenes later, another performer instructed me to carry my jacket since I had put on an RSRS military jacket. Then, after my wrists were bound, a third performer stuffed the jacket into the crook of my arms so that, unique among the participants, I had to worry about carrying my clothes throughout the episodes of restraint and crawling. As far as I can tell, this was a distracting mistake and not part of the boot-camp experience. There were three points when the problem could have been avoided.
Despite a few off-notes, the grueling endurance test to determine our mettle is a fecund metaphor for reflecting on the medium; those of us who willingly submit ourselves to the suffering of extreme haunts are, at least in some respects, doing so for the sake of the endurance test. Furthermore, the medium and the RSRS metaphor raise parallel questions. Can we survive till the end? It’s impossible to know in advance. Supposing we do, where does that leave us? Among the select initiates of an eccentric yet passionate sub-community. Whom can we explain ourselves to? Certainly not our families and neighbors on the outside. Could we convince them to join our movement? Alas, no, they just don’t get it.
So much for the outside world then. On the inside, however—
¡Viva las Satanas!