For the past several months, I, along with many others, have willingly given in to The Lust Experience (for a recap of the prologue, please click here). During this time, we’ve been introduced to new characters and ideas. Noah Sinclair, an aggressive self-help guru who runs The System with his wife, Sarah – they’ve been dealing with some problems, both marital and business. Stacey Erikson runs iConfidant, aiming to help those involved find “a friendship that transcends physical boundaries.” Those iConfidants have started reaching out and corresponding with everyone who signed up for the closed beta test.
On Monday, May 1st, in a group with three others, I find myself in a warehouse in Downtown Los Angeles. Am I there to attend a live training for The System with Noah Sinclair? Will I meet my iConfidant or someone else from the company? No. I am there for in person registration for The Lust Experience.
Stephanie Hyden, recognizable to many of us as one of the handlers in The Tension Experience, greets us, escorts us into the warehouse for our registration. She offers me the chance to purchase merchandise from The Tension Experience, including Overseer’s red dress, which would only set the buyer back a cool $500. Gordon Bijelonic, the producer of The Tension Experience, paces back and forth, engaged in a deep conversation on his phone while avoiding the participants. I speak briefly with Tina, a real estate agent who has apparently been working with “this group” for two years.
Who exactly is this group she is working for? The same people the other participants and I would be meeting with: investors in The Lust Experience.
While stray cats wander the warehouse, we are taken over to a waiting area to relax before the registration begins. From there, Stephanie sends each of us to a different investor. My time comes and I’m ushered to a table littered with food containers, scattered with cigarette butts. A man with a greying beard sits there, nonchalantly inhaling on a fresh cigarette. He doesn’t appear particularly happy to see me and as I sit down, he blows smoke in my face.
I sit, and I wait. Eventually, with an accent I can’t place, he asks if I have any questions for him. Questions spill out of me: “what is this registration?”, “what are you doing here?”, “what am I doing here?” He declines to answer some and dodges the rest, leaving me wondering why those are the best questions I could come up with. I ask him his name, and finally get an answer out of him – Remy. He asks why I’m interested in immersive theater and I explain, “It’s always different and you never know exactly what’s going to happen. There’s an excitement to it. Like today’s registration, I had no idea what I was walking into…”
He accepts my answer, but appears irritated by the whole situation. He explains that they’re trying to correct what happened with The Tension Experience. “It was too convoluted and too complex. We want something more streamlined this year.” I ask about the Sinclairs and he rebuffs me: “I’m the one asking the questions.”
Remy takes the opportunity to rant about his chair (“I normally sit on a $12,000 work of art and they have me sitting on this,” as he gestures at his cheap folding chair) and about Walmarts with McDonald’s in them (“Babies should be fat, y’know? But not that fat”) dragging on his cigarette the whole time. He asks if I watch football and I acknowledge that I do. He surmises that all Americans must with more than a hint of disdain in his voice, so I ask him what sports he watches and am rebuffed again.
“I ask the questions.”
He pulls out a piece of paper that reads, “I promise to fully submit myself to The Lust Experience.” There’s a line for my signature, the number 26 in the bottom right corner, and some kind of design on the back. He doesn’t have a pen for me to sign with, but is unconcerned as he is now finished with me.
You may be wondering more about the other investors. Well, I can help a little on that front. Nicole was flirty, suggestive, and probed into the sex lives of some who met with her. She had an affinity for selfies and even took some with a few of the participants she talked to. Marcos was most interested in marketing immersive events and the locations they could be held in. He asked those who spoke with him what they thought of different possible locations, judging only by the look of the place. Abe had recently lost her husband and after investing a million dollars into this project wanted to make sure it was being well spent.
I am taken to a waiting area near the warehouse’s makeshift kitchen and a friend, Maxwell, is brought over soon after. We take a second to compare our papers. He’s signed his, but I still haven’t gotten a hold of a pen. We put the designs on our papers together, but we’re missing a few pieces (47 pieces in fact, as we would later learn) and can’t make heads nor tails of it. A door opens nearby and a man in a dark suit begins banging a large stick on the ground while beckoning Maxwell inside. Just what is this registration?
I wait alone until another participant is escorted over, but is escorted away to talk to Nicole just as quickly. I take a quick picture of my form and as Tina drifts closer, I ask her for a pen. Before she can return, the door opens again; the man bangs his stick on the ground and it is my turn to be summoned inside.
The room is a back office bathed in reddish light; there are couches in the corner, and tables and desks filled with processing papers and documents on participants from The Tension Experience.
The man with the stick instructs me to stand in front of him in the middle of the room. His accent is indistinguishable, but different than Remy’s. He moves in close and indicates that he doesn’t like it here. I ask where here is, “The room? The dark? America?” He doesn’t answer and continues to stare at me. Suddenly he grabs a box of the paperwork from behind him and throws it across the room with a yell.
He returns his focus to me and stares into my eyes, so I meet his gaze. He places his hand on my chest to feel my heartbeat while our eyes remained locked. He leans in closer and I have no clue what he’s doing until he takes a deep sniff. He relaxes and I do too, not realizing how tense I’ve been. “You are kind and gentle,” he says to me before continuing, “and you’ll need this (he gestures to my head) and this (he gestures to my heart).”
The man asks me to think of a secret that I haven’t admitted to anyone, including myself, and then spins me around to face a mirror I hadn’t even realized was there.
We both stare into the mirror until I ask him whether he wants me to say it out loud. He doesn’t respond, so I continue to stare at our reflection until he spins me around again.
He says something to me about being with “them”, but I have no recollection of his exact words. I am so wrapped up in the thoughts I had while staring into the mirror that everything here bleeds together.
He shows me to the door and opens it, I start to walk out and he slams it shut (“Not yet.”) before opening it again (“Okay now.”) to let me out into a smaller room. Stephanie opens another door and walks me back outside the warehouse.
With that came the end of the registration and a further warping of the space where the fourth wall used to be after Tension. By introducing participants to the investors, and allowing us to talk about The Lust Experience itself, everything was sent spinning.
In the aftermath, questions flood my head:
Were the people at the warehouse actual investors in Tension and Lust? Gordon is still involved on some level – are Darren Lynn Bousman or Clint Sears? Was Tension really just supposed to be a production and were all those characters really just characters? Did Marcos and Abe appear more normal because they were just normal investors or because they were written that way? How does all of this fit together?
What exactly is going on?
All of the afternoon’s events worked to blur the boundaries of what was actually happening. The questions asked by the investors would have been of legitimate interest to those pouring money into an immersive theater event. While that was happening, one of the investors was asking participants questions about their sexual proclivities one minute and taking selfies the next. Everyone was asked to sign a strange pledge, made stranger later, before meeting a man who seemed to have nothing to do with the investors. Was he just part of a scene to give those who showed up some kind of immersive experience? Some of what happened may have been real and some of it may have been artifice, but after passing through the warehouse, it had all knocked me off balance.
And with what looked like the end of the day, Lust’s first major in person event was over. What else could really happen?
Turns out, Noah Sinclair could happen.
He makes a late night call to Meghan, a participant in possession of his burner phone, telling her to meet him downtown. She posts to the Lust forums that she has been “activated”. Then the waiting game begins.
While I try to stay awake, I fiddle around my living room. Eventually, I collapse onto the couch and glance at my phone. There’s a Periscope alert and in a brief moment of panic I realize I hadn’t turned the sound on my phone on.
As I join the broadcast, I see that Noah has taken over Meghan’s Periscope. He spins around with the phone in his hand to show that they’re in the warehouse from that afternoon. He starts off by addressing his dad, making it clear he isn’t where he’s supposed to be, and then all of the participants who had signed up without “any fucking clue what you were getting in to.” While he continues talking, he instructs Meghan to start flipping over sheets of paper that had been meticulously laid out on the floor of the warehouse.
Noah reveals a box of paperwork he has dug up in the warehouse containing processing information from Tension with all of the “emotional data” they had collected from their last “experiment.” He explains that he had been sent into The Tension Experience to clean up the mess, but realizes he was “a huge fucking failure” even though he had had “so much fun.”
In a shocking moment, Noah indicates that his father is holding Sarah Sinclair, seemingly against her will. Noah threatens to air out his dad’s secrets and expose his plans if he won’t let Sarah go. I’m frustrated when Noah doesn’t elaborate on what exactly those goals, but he does give a hint. Meghan has completed her task, so Noah turns the camera to the warehouse floor.
My stomach drops as a stunning image, made up of the papers (almost) everyone who went through registration earlier signed, is revealed. Put together, the papers reveal an inverted version of the Lust logo, missing the key and wings, inside an alchemical Ouroboros. Beneath that, the words, “I pledge my desire for their sacrifice and freedom.” Noah asks those who had signed and are watching what they had gotten themselves into. In the moment, I think that I lucked out by meeting with Remy; he made no effort to make sure I signed the paper.
After the big reveal, Noah addresses his father and says he wants to, “go back to business as usual,” while making sure Sarah is safe. He signs off with a, “peace bitches,” and the Periscope ends.
I had been on the verge of falling asleep before the Periscope started, but now I’m electric. Things are even more twisted than before. A few hours earlier Noah had been a character in The Lust Experience Prologue, an immersive theater piece, but now he’s trying to make sure his wife is safe while issuing ultimatums to his father. The sheet of paper people had signed now looks like it is part of some larger plot.
Was this part of The Lust Experience that the investors had been researching earlier during our registration? Were the investors really investors in the show? What exactly had so many people signed and were the investors complacent in it?
Again, what exactly is going on?
It still isn’t clear, but that’s what makes this so exciting. The lines are so blurry and even when they start to come into focus, ever so slightly, they can be blurred beyond recognition again in minutes. As Lust moves into its first chapter following registration, the state of the fourth wall is in shambles and we are all left to figure out what that means as we move forward.
To catch up on the events previous to this registration, please check out our recap of The Lust Experience Prologue. Phone registrations may be coming soon for those who missed this event.