Below are short, bite-sized reviews of several Midsummer Scream 2019 immersive experiences. Read our reviews, watch the teasers, and make sure to keep an eye out for upcoming shows. Thank you to Lacey Pawlowicz and Cristen Brinkerhoff for helping with this article, Kevin Hsu for filming, and Jon Kobryn for editing the videos!
Midsummer Scream brings more than just mini-haunts, horror panels, and the best vendors in the Halloween business to Long Beach. It has also become a convention where immersive companies and shows can offer fans a small taste of larger experiences to come after the convention. This year was no exception as a few different experiences were possible for those in attendance. Haunting made sure that we caught it all and have put together a round-up of the immersive side of Midsummer Scream 2019.
Neversmile: A Scene with the Director
Neversmile was one of the more unusual and surreal moments of Midsummer Scream 2019. The premise was quite simple: You are auditioning for “The Director” for a role in his upcoming movie. What is the movie about? The answer is a little unclear thanks to slightly different answers from each person you could ask. Those waiting outside, including an Australian member of the crew, seemed to think it was a movie. Others suggested it was a documentary about how The Director makes his movies. The wardrobe crew seemed to think it was a movie about you, the one auditioning. So there seemed to be no clear answer. But was that deliberate?
Speaking of the wardrobe crew, they seemed fully irritated with The Director, which made them choose some very random clothing for each audience member (in my case, it was a Jedi-like robe and gloves). Then a PA came to get you, reminding you that The Director never wants to see you smile (hence the name) or hear laugh – at any point, at any time.
What came next was different for every “auditionee.” Some were put into improvised scenes with other members of the crew. Some were asked questions and told to perform a monologue. Some were asked to tell a story. Some were yelled at about their choice of wardrobe and then watched as The Director yelled at wardrobe instead when it became clear they were the ones at fault.
The only thing that was entirely consistent within the experience was the demand that the audience member never smile. But how serious was The Director about that? Stories vary. Some intentionally tried to break the rule in order to be yelled at and were not. Others accidentally broke the rule and left the room shaken by their encounter with an angry Director.
The other consistent thing was the question many had after leaving: What was this experience leading to? Is there more to come? The only possible trail left for us is the Instagram account for The Director. Given that every audience member had to sign away the rights to the video taken by them in the audition, it seems likely something will happen soon…
The Ritual – Shine On Collective
Shine On Collective teased their upcoming show The Ritual by sending three members of a witch coven through the Midsummer Scream convention floor. These women were extremely creepy to watch as they stopped in front of various people and suggested that they had seen them before (Where? At a ritual? In a scrying mirror?).
They were even more compelling when they would break into an incantation during which all three spoke the same words at the same time. It is amazing how terrifying it can be to have three women stare at you and tell you about a cat, a raven and a mother. Add their quick move to place a thread necklace over your head or in your hand and this short interaction had a memorable effect.
Jack’s Halloween JamBOOree – The Opechee Haunt
Sponsored by The Opechee Haunt, Jack’s Halloween JamBOOree was a fun, family-friendly scavenger hunt through the entire Midsummer Scream event. Starting in the Hall of Shadows, we found that Jack was missing. Where, oh, where could he be? The only answer was to grab a magic key and a map of different locations around Midsummer Scream and find out.
The truly enjoyable part of this experience was that there were actual animated locations around the floor of the convention that would turn on with the magical key. These scenes included special effects, voices, even television sets that would turn on and play scenes. It was a rather impressive level of interactivity and budget, and it made the ‘hunt’ far more interesting than it would have been with static pieces.
The only downside was that the choice of a couple of locations turned out to be right next to very loud stages, which made it so hard to hear what the animated stations were saying that the story could get lost.
During a convention, devoting as much time as you needed to experience this in its entirety wasn’t necessarily easy. But as something unique and different than other experiences, it was quite a good time overall.
Jack’s Halloween JamBOOree will have a more complete event this fall. You can find more information here.
Ready or Not – Sinister Pointe
Brea’s Sinister Pointe haunt teamed up with 20th Century Fox to promote the upcoming horror thriller, Ready or Not, about a bride-to-be whose in-laws play a murderous game before welcoming anyone into the family. While the film asks whether the bride will survive, Sinister Pointe asked: Will you?
Modeling their experience after the film’s terrifying game of hide-and-seek, Sinister Pointe challenged groups of six to hide for their lives. Before the game commenced, guests were brought into a lobby area displaying select pieces of paraphernalia and props used in the film. The masked host of the evening then briefed the players on the game, gave them flag-football belts with two removable flags, and instructed them to hide in the darkened family mansion. If a player was found, they relinquished one of their flags until they had none left. If a player still had a flag left at the end of the three-minute hunt, they lived. If they had none… well, you get the idea.
The players were given 20 seconds to hide before the music intensified and the sinister family was on the hunt. The spacious play area was divided into several different rooms – a bedroom, kitchen, dining area, living room – providing hiding spaces for the players; there were even two trap doors somewhere in the house, if someone was lucky enough to find them. After the three-minute, adrenaline-fueled game was over, guests were given participatory shirts and posters for the film, and offered some fake weapons for a branded photo op.
The Ready or Not experience was tightly themed to the film and a fantastic promotional opportunity. I do, however, wish the playing area was a bit brighter so players could see where they were going better, but would that have spoiled the fun for the blood-thirsty seekers? The inclusion of the displayed props and thank-you gifts were also a nice touch and helped elicit excitement for Ready or Not. The physicality and interactivity gave guests a burst of excitement and was a nice way for Sinister Pointe to get on guests’ radars, especially when they open their free-roaming haunt, The Mist, in the fall. Find more info on their website and Facebook page.
-sponse, Response & Re-
Keen-eyed Midsummer Scream guests may have noticed a non-descript booth just across from Cross Roads Escape Game’s The Séance: a single, unadorned table with a pair of signs loosely taped to the curtain behind it. One read “I am just Devon Paulson,” the other read the title of the performance, -sponse, Response & Re-.
Behind the table was, in fact, just Devon Paulson (Alone), wild-haired and warm, clutching a spool of white tape, crumpling papers and haphazardly tossing them around his space. By the end of the weekend, his booth – if you can call it that – looked as if a bomb of unfinished paperwork and lost ideas had exploded within it. But it was no matter; by that point, the performance had grown far beyond any constraints of Paulson’s assigned location.
“Performance,” seems both strong word and a somewhat inaccurate one for -sponse, Response & Re-. Paulson, one half of the creation team behind Alone, spent the weekend in a constant state of play. He alternated between passing out blank business cards, signing guests up for a mailing list that doesn’t exist, throwing himself onto passersby and climbing their limbs like a ladder. He insisted that all comers join him in breaking down even the broadest definitions of “immersive theater.”
At one point, having traversed the con floor with his white tape, attaching strangers to him like a vast, giggling amoeba, Paulson burst in on the performers at HVRTING’s BL4CKT4PE. There, he mixed his own adhesive with the ongoing art experiment before stumbling back out of their tent, snipping himself free, and shuffling back off to more adventure.
-sponse, Response & Re- is that kind of indescribable thing that you don’t expect to find somewhere like Midsummer Scream, amongst the hawking wares and grinning ghosts, but it’s so, so welcome. Paulson embraced the business of the place, constantly evolving to insert himself brashly and memorably into the days of an unsuspecting crowd. It was not a thing to be understood, it was a thing to be toyed with, laughed at, and, yes, responded to.
By the end of the con, with the tables folded and the curtains taken down around all the booths, the crumpled notebook paper swept up and discarded, -sponse, Response & Re- was still just Devon Paulson, and it was just everyone else who was fortunate enough to get caught in his orbit. And that’s just enough.
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Check out our Event Guide for more immersive and horror entertainment throughout the year.
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