I am sitting across from our host, who has consumed a mysterious brown liquid that he claims will stop his heart. The guest to his right has his fingers on his wrist, tapping on his leg to the rhythm of our host’s heartbeat. As our host’s body begins to slump and his heartbeat slows down, my heartbeat begins to race. The tapping has become intermittent and slowly comes to a stop. All the guests are staring intently at our host, wondering what will happen next. With a gasp, his body jolts up, his eyes wide. He has come back from the other side and is ready to tell us about the spirits he encountered.
The Other Side: A Psychological Séance is the second mounting in New York City of famed mentalist Jason Suran’s microtheatre event, in which he recreates a true Victorian séance for an audience of seventeen brave souls. Previously performed in a private residence, this remount takes place in a beautifully historic five-story mansion, where guests mingle with other participants before learning about the history of spiritualism, as well as watching and participating in a few magic tricks. There are only two moments of physical interaction throughout the night: one is the light touch of guidance between Mr. Suran and a guest when chosen to help assist him during a trick; the second is during the actual séance, during which all guests are instructed to hold onto each other’s wrists to not break the circle. While the show is not billed as a horror piece, it focuses on the concept of fear and why people in the 1920s, and even still today, are so fascinated with the idea of death.
According to The Other Side’s website, microtheatre is described as “a multi-sensory genre of performance art…unlike immersive theater, which seeks to give large audiences a variety of individual experiences, microtheatre strives to give a small group of strangers a powerful and unifying experience.” This definition is exactly what this show does and excels at. Even though I attended by myself, I was constantly reminded throughout the 90-minute experience that I was not alone. I was taken on an emotional and unexplainable journey that 16 other guests experienced right along with me.
It begins the moment guests enter the space – participants, who are all dressed in cocktail attire as there is a strict dress code, are given a complimentary cocktail and hors d’oeuvres, and are asked to mingle with the other attendants. If you’re lucky, your group will do what mine did; discuss whether we believe in ghosts, and our personal experiences with them. Then guests are led to the basement where the magic begins. Even if someone is not chosen to help out with a trick, due to the intimate nature of the space, they will still feel as if they are a part of it. The fear of the participant who has to choose which paper bag to crush with her bare hand not knowing which one is hiding a board with a nail sticking up is palpable. Guests are equally shocked and emotional when Suran calls out someone’s deceased loved one’s name and describes a memory associated with that person. Even though you may not know that deceased person, the reaction of that guest to hearing their loved one’s name, pulled seemingly out of thin air, immediately sparks empathy. Those watching are astounded and moved, hopeful that Suran can talk to one of their dead loved ones as well. Then, of course, there is the séance during which it is imperative that the whole group be connected, physically and mentally. Every minute leading up to this moment unifies the participants one way or another, but it is this séance that is the glue. By the end of the séance, everyone will have experienced multiple indescribable instances; participants will want to chat with each other at length to figure out what really happened. While the physical connectivity may be brief, the emotional connection that the group of strangers can share will linger well beyond the actual event.
The incomparable host, Jason Suran, is supremely charming and captivating. The whole experience rests solely on his shoulders, as there are no other performers involved. This is essentially a one-man show with intermittent magic tricks, and while that may be too much for any other magician or mentalist to handle, Suran pulls it off with an ease that is comforting yet mysterious. He allows the tricks to speak for themselves, leaving guests intrigued and on the edge of their seats wondering what he will do next. He’s firm when he needs to be, making participants want to follow his directions as closely as possible. He’s funny, even if his jokes don’t land as hard as he wants them to, but he is so genuine in his delivery that it’s difficult to mind if they are not funny. His ability to oscillate from warm and welcoming to hard and stern disarms guests and holds their attention for a full hour and a half.
From the moment Suran greets his guests, they are assuaged of any fear they may have. He creates an environment where it’s okay to be honest and vulnerable, which can be difficult for some to do. The room in which the experience takes place also facilitates a close and safe energy amongst the guests. Audience members enter through a secret passage in the wall and led into the basement. Here, the dim candlelight illuminates photos of other famous mediums and spiritualists lining the walls. On a side table, a book filled with photos of Victorian séances is offered for perusal. Suran is quite happy to regale guests with stories about those in the photos, and knowing the history of the experience allows the guests to mentally prepare for what is about to occur, whether it be excitement or fear. In the next candlelit parlor, where the séance takes place, guests are instructed to sit in one of the seventeen chairs that have been placed in a circle, while music plays from an actual gramophone. The house itself is so old, that there is not a lot of set decorating needed to transport audiences to the Victorian age. The only downside of an old house is the creaky floorboards, which in most instances will enhance the mood, but in this instance might have given away a secret to one of the tricks. Thankfully, the creaking did not take away from the experience as a whole.
While The Other Side isn’t a horror experience, it is a scary one. It’s frightening when things unexpectedly fly across the room or move of their own accord. But the truly scary thing is becoming vulnerable among strangers, and facing the unknown. Jason Suran truly does a remarkable job of engaging audiences not just with his tricks, but also with his words. His charm, wit, and skill create a chilling experience that most immersive events can only hope to accomplish. While I was entertained, I was also moved, which was only possible due to the execution of Suran and the group I was paired with. Leaving The Other Side, I felt personally connected to all sixteen other guests, knowing we shared a hauntingly beautiful experience together. As it turns out, conjuring up the past can make you feel more alive and connected to the present.
The Other Side: A Psychological Séance is sold out of the remainder of its run. For more information including possible remounts, see their website. Check out our Event Guide for more immersive and horror entertainment throughout the year.
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