In March of 2018, deep in the dusty hills north of Los Angeles, we gathered to celebrate the union of our friends, John and Eri, in a town stuck in the past. The scene was a peculiar one: man in a plague doctor mask waved solemnly, almost in slow motion, while he leaned against a mid-century gas pump. Three women, cackling like hens, foisted canapés and cookies on us, vying for attention. Still another man loitered suspiciously in an outdated convenience store, selling stolen ties and secrets. This was just the beginning of a full day immersive wedding, based around a clever idea from the bride and groom, and executed flawlessly by the team at Metaforyou, the new company from immersive stalwarts Terence Leclere, Dasha Kittredge, and Niyia Mack. Metaforyou aims to bring immersive theatre to the public in new ways that go far beyond a standard production.
What if you could have your own idea come to life around you in a way that your guests or clients never anticipated? What if you could bring them inside your mind? Metaforyou is here to make that happen. Haunting connected with founder Terence Leclere to discuss how Metaforyou came to be, and what’s ahead for the new venture.
Tell us about your background. What led you to immersive theatre as an actor, and how did Metaforyou grow from that?
Since I began formally studying acting, I’ve always been drawn to “truth” and realism, and subsequently the idea that reality is relative to the mind(s) that perceives it. And with that in mind, the potential for hidden connections, like an inside joke, that can occur between actors, audience/participants. Experiences like these, when audience and actor are being truthful and playing “at the top of their intelligence”, such as in the team building bonding that happens in an improv class, or communing watching a movie together, or intimately opening up to someone and inviting them to open up to you, all of these human connections to me are the distilled essence of storytelling in theatre. In immersive interactive theatre, you’re essentially casting the audience members as your scene partner, which in a way elevates those experiences. Metaforyou aims to bring those experiences into accessible arenas, so you wouldn’t necessarily need to buy a ticket to a play or even have to go through an entire play to get to experience these memorable moments of self-reflection and connection.
What kind of services does Metaforyou provide?
We basically create/provide opportunities for people to play. Metaforyou takes the knowledge, art and application grown from the participatory principles of immersive interactive theatre to the masses, in subtle unobtrusive ways, to give guests access to these unique memorable moments. We provide anything and everything from talent to content to consultations to bring these gems of immersive interactive theatre to any event/gathering.
How do you select your actors?
We love actors that listen and respond, and create a space for the audience to play, all while firmly and lucidly establishing and conveying the rules of the new reality they are inviting their audience into. If theatre is the actor’s medium, immersive interactive theatre is the epitome of that statement. The actors in this setting have to carry with them all jobs of moment-to-moment direction, blocking, lighting, sound etc. and while having this awareness in execution, they need to be believable, natural with improv, and above all connect intimately to whoever they’ll be dealing with. That said we hire a lot of veterans of immersive interactive theatre because they simply understand the results of this kind of work, and how to leverage these results into maximum memorable experiences.
What’s been a highlight of the events you’ve done so far for you personally?
We were hired to provide actors on a pretty big pop up for a TV show, which was essentially a space filled with selfie stations. The actors we installed were initially simply there to guide people along, but instead we made them the main on-boarding experience, setting the mental frame of mind for what the audience was about to see. These actors were directed to tease out what the audience were about to see, by asking them questions like ‘you have to believe to see what’s in this next room…do you believe?’ Creating that space and intimately connecting with each audience/participant like this instilled in each of them a sense of peace and wonder that was truly tangible. Inside the large space with the selfie stations that followed the experience we provided there were long queues, and yet the hundreds of people who came through daily all had a childlike kindness and reverence to each other that I had not seen in an activation like this. I truly believe addressing each audience member like we did for the on-boarding was the reason for this subsequent vibe, which proved to me that there is something truly special Metaforyou can provide to events, even if these events already had an “immersive” aspect to them.
What do you think you’ve learned as you start to produce more events? What challenges have you faced?
For what we do, the guests/audience really are essential to the reality we create. Knowing as much as we can about them, who they are, why they are coming to said event, help us know what experience could be best to boost. Other than that, since we layer existing events we are mobile and site-specific, thus finding innovative ways to interact via clever story-relevant props, actual or virtual is a fun challenge for us, and usually very rewarding and Instagrammable for guests.
What are some of your long term goals for Metaforyou?
It seems like audiences are getting more clever to various mediums of storytelling. Immersive in-the-moment storytelling has existed for many years and is not a new concept, but perhaps we are now in a time when it is more accepted and understood, and that the concept of “meta” makes more sense to more people. This certainly seems apparent in the growing number of immersive activations and events like this, and the growing number of shows which exhibit the wink-aside style of comedy, relying on the audience picking up what the storyteller is putting down. Metaforyou seeks to provide these concepts and experiences in as many areas and events as possible. Whether it is to consult existing immersive companies/events into connecting more with their audiences, or to create new immersive experiences for places and events worldwide to give participants opportunities to play and connect, with themselves and others.
TL;dr for Metaforyou to serve as a beacon of clever connection and playing, known to make aware and awake. A worldwide phenomenon and place for play, eventually creating like a sandbox meta-tation app or something.
Are there any individuals or companies you’d like to combine forces and work with in the future?
We are continuously inspired by our LA Immersive Community, and truly love working with all its members, and would love to work with those we haven’t worked with yet! We also love the large scale installations companies like Giant Spoon and Meow Wolf are doing. The bigger the budget, the more we can do, so we are very open to working and getting creative with various companies. We’re excited to work with companies that aren’t necessarily thought of when it comes to live interactive theatrical incorporation. We see Metaforyou essentially as party boosters, and agents of added value, so we are totally down to provide this kind of content in non-traditional ways.
On the technological level, we’d also love to work with app making companies to create live activate-able interactive installations all around the world.
What do you hope your audiences will take away from your productions?
A new, hopefully more joyful, perspective on themselves, how they see their world. I love when audiences walk away with a sense of wonder for their world and themselves, maybe recognizing something wonderful about themselves that got lost in the day to day. Making them more awake and more aware.
What’s on the horizon for Metaforyou in 2018?
We’re just getting started! It’s been fun to see where we can help existing paradigms and where we can forge new paths for immersive projects. We’ll be popping up in various activations and events, which you can keep track of by following us on social media and the ever-present hashtag “#Metaforyou. We’re also sowing seeds for developing ongoing works for actors and creators, and engaging people into eventually creating franchises of Metaforyou around the world.
On that weekend in March, at John and Eri’s wedding, we got to see Metaforyou help take someone’s dream and share it with the world. The newlyweds had this to say about their experience with the team:
“[We] came to Metaforyou with a fleshed out creative outline and relied on them to execute. It was Terence, Niyia, Dasha, and their team’s job to turn out overall vision into specifics with regards to costume, performance, etc. They succeeded at this beyond our wildest dreams…people with a vision for a show but not a lot of expertise in the ins and outs of immersive theatre production can depend on Metaforyou to turn their vision, no matter how vague, into a reality.
Terence and Co. were fantastic creative partners. They got the overall theming of what we were going for immediately, they were receptive to feedback, and they brought their own ideas to the table that made the end product even better than it was in our heads. Tons of people have called it the best wedding they’ve ever been to, and we couldn’t have done it without Metaforyou.”
Up next, Metaforyou is joining Think Tank Gallery’s Sea-Saw installations in conjunction with the Santa Monica Pier. Their production, End of World Party, plays on July 31st and August 1st, from 6-9 PM. RSVP here for free event tickets, or head down to the Santa Monica Pier on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6-9pm throughout August to see what Sea Saw has to offer.