We need to talk…
For one night only, on October 28, 2017, Chicago will see the return of Miasma: A Terror Experience with No One Deserves Happiness. Guests will enter an undisclosed location completely alone and face fear, physical discomfort, and emotional trauma.
Haunting sits down with the man behind this “extreme immersive terror experience”, who wishes to only go by Justin, to discuss pushing boundaries, creative connection, and the darker side of love.
I’m sorry I’m not the person you wanted me to be…
Due to previous audience reactions, Justin is quick to dispel any misconceptions about the experience. “We’ve had past guests leave angry because they didn’t think miasma was what horror should be and took offense to the non-traditional content and the sickening feeling they left with.” He explains that the Midwest is not accustomed to this kind of terror immersion and as such, “it’s important to me to make sure our guests know, as best as I can allow without spoilers, this isn’t a ‘boo haunt’ and they should be prepared for content they won’t experience in the local haunts. It’s too easy for a guest, new to this, to purchase a ticket, influenced by the commoditizing ideas proprietors of local horror have embraced and sold to them for years in Chicago.”
“If you must have ghosts and monsters with your horror and want to exit with a smile, and there’s nothing wrong with that, this is not for you.”
Leaving behind what Miasma isn’t, Justin is free to focus on what No One Deserves Happiness actually is – “pitch black immersive theater incorporating extreme haunt elements to give the guest a personal ride into their own abyss.” This experience warns of both physical and emotional discomfort: “Expect to do things you don’t want to do. Expect to be asked to engage with the inhabitants. Expect something that might offend you regardless of what political spectrum your beliefs lie on. You will walk away from Miasma without a limp, but it is aggressive.”
It can never be like it was…
Miasma grew out of personal dissatisfaction, a desire to truly connect with an audience. After writing screenplays and short horror stories for nearly a decade, leaving him “creatively tapped out”, Justin was searching for a feeling he thought he had lost.
“The reality set in that I was never going to reach the audience I wanted to satisfy the most: me. I didn’t have the resources or experience to produce my film or the desire to keep going as a writer. I need something that challenged me, was conductive to the type of horror I wanted to create, and allowed me to see how the audience reacted. I discovered that I missed the instant reaction of an audience at live performances in my punk and metal band past – that’s something you simply can’t see unless you watch them reading your story or viewing your film.”
It was around this time that extreme haunts started to gain popularity across the US. However, in a city more known for its comedy scene, it was a challenge for those who crave darker experiences to “find something satisfying”. “After seeing and experiencing some of what was happening on the coasts, I knew nobody was going to do this for me. If I can’t have easy access, I’m going to do it myself.” And that is exactly what Justin did.
Glancing back to Miasma’s first show, it is clear to see how much the project has evolved since then. “It was pure haunt and, comparatively, somewhat more light-hearted, in a sense. The tone has grown much darker. Story is crucial to me and it was not there in the first year. In 2016, after learning what worked and what didn’t, it was extremely important to move forward and actually bring to life some of the short stories I had thrown to the side a few years before. Miasma took on a heavy story element with results that really seemed to have an effect on the guests.”
Now in its third year, Justin feels the latest iteration, No One Deserves Happiness, has finally reached the balance he was looking for: “story focused, without forgetting why the guest arrived – fear, emotion, and exploration.” But the desire for connection remains at its lurid heart: “When we are in the dark with each other and I see you are reacting, there is nothing more satisfying for me and hopefully for you.”
You became a stranger. A ghost sleeping next to me…
“Horror has always been at its most effective for me when fear and emotion collide,” reveals Justin, and it is this merging of full contact and a strong emotional narrative that makes Miasma such a fascinating undertaking.
The themes explored come from a very personal place: “No One Deserves Happiness is based on my, and the Miasma crew’s, collective experiences with the destruction of love in a relationship. It’s painful, grotesque, and debilitating. Most move forward, find something or someone to fill that void – but moments come back with the right triggers. I wanted to personify these moments, those wretched feelings, in an experience that will allow our guest to confront something they may have pushed away or feel how it culminated for me and others in the production. Guests will take part in sequences that are based on real events.”
Although the story is based on common experience, how No One Deserves Happiness is received by each individual is largely dependent on their personal history. “The more honest our guest is with us about our questions, the more they are likely to get a memorable experience.” The show at its core will remain the same for every guest, but it is the conclusions they take from it that will differ.
“Throughout Miasma’s run, I’ve embraced reconstructing narrative order. For some, this may seem a straightforward trajectory and others, representations, or reproductions of moments they are familiar with bouncing off the synapses of memory.”
I never thought when we entered that alley, we’d leave apart…
On a more practical level, guests will find themselves guided through the experience, but with interaction in every scene requiring full participation. There will be little distraction from the narrative and interpersonal connections – sets are minimal, more ambient in nature. However, there are Easter Eggs for those familiar with Miasma’s previous incarnations if you care to look. “Some of our returning guests will recognize a certain object from 2016 (yes, that one) – you will become a bit more intimate with it this year.”
Although the location is a secret only to be revealed to those who purchase a ticket to No One Deserves Happiness, Justin hints that the setting is yet another aspect that sets the experience apart from other seasonal offerings in the Chicago area. No warehouse or haunted Victorian mansion; instead something far more fitting with the theme. “These moments our guests will confront happen in the mundane, everyday life of rather insignificant locations. If you could prepare for them and compartmentalize where they should happen, it wouldn’t hurt so badly.”
In the end, these things have a way of working themselves out…
What does the future hold for the Chicago-based immersive terror experience? Justin has a rather exciting answer: “I’ve had feedback from many, many people across the country requesting it be moved so they can try it. I’d like to embrace that and give more people a chance.”
Another Midwestern city may even find itself the location for a special event, opening up this labour of love to an even wider audience.
I love you. We’ll talk soon…