We pull into an alley where faceless figures lean against the damp, brick walls. As the vehicle comes to a halt, Germaine leans towards the door with eagerness. The vampire is a slim, handsome man, pale with large eyes sparkling with anticipation. The window rolls downs and he calls to a tall, blonde figure in a knit cap. Their banter is perfunctory and when Germaine invites him into the limousine, the hustler hesitates. Germaine doesn’t even turn to me to demand the money he knows I brought, so intent was he on the kid’s face. I hand it over wordlessly and he lures the young man closer, smoothly pocketing the cash when the urchin makes to grab it. At the sight of the money, the hustler really has no choice, he gets into the back of the car and starts at the sight of me, sitting with a slight frown on my face. “Oh, don’t mind her” Germaine tells him with a cruelty only apparent to me, “… she likes to watch.” As the whore settles next to Germaine, the vampire drapes a proprietary arm around him and I know that I have a hand in however this is going to end, an accomplice to Germaine’s punishment of me, the prostitute and most of all, himself.
For those who are not familiar, The Count’s Den is a multi-aspect project of Rachel Bollinger-Foti, owner of Horror Escapes LA. Known for an array of escape rooms and last Halloween’s Night Shift immersive experience, Bollinger-Foti is also the dynamic set designer for the Ready Player One Maze as well as the Small Foot Yeti Village that were recently mounted at Hollywood and Vine. The Count’s Den was originally launched as a members-only social club where a coven of vampires invites human/mortal guests to mingle. Countess Cora (Dana Benedict), the newly ascended progressive leader, has decided to open the doors to select members of the human race so they might learn from each other and form a stronger union in the modern age, eschewing the more staid vampire traditions of seclusion, secrecy and subterfuge. There are frequent formal gatherings where prospective guests can petition the Countess for the privilege of attending and consequently be inducted as members of the Den. These soirees offer unique entertainment, music and a glimpse into the vampire intrigues that are constantly brewing. On a weekly basis, the Den hosts “Members Nights” where mortals and vampires get together to watch sanguineous cinema, play games, drink (BYOB) and catch up on the hot gossip. The Coven consists of a cadre of vampires who each offer their unique perspective on the un-life of an immortal as well as a vampiric take on such facets of contemporary life such as “immersive theater”, the phenomenon of “pre-gaming” and what constitutes good music throughout the ages. In addition to meetings at the Den, there is a Slack available for members to chat in, compare notes and communicate with the vampires during the day – participants dubbed it “the back-end ARG.” Bollinger-Foti’s visible role is that of “mortal ally” to the Coven. Her family has served Cora’s for generations so it makes sense that she would offer her resources to provide the vampires with a safe haven, and see to any needs they might require. Situated in downtown Los Angeles, the Count’s Den is convenient to Skid Row and the theater district. In terms of a hunter’s menu options, the Den is certainly located in an opportune area.
A newer feature of the Den experience is the origin series Remember Me an immersive sequence of shows in which the vampiric birth of each of the main coven members is unveiled and explored. Earlier in the year, members were invited to attend the inaugural Remember Me: Germaine, which unfolded as a ritual performed by Hakan (Anes Hasi), Countess Cora’s advisor and coven prognosticator and sorcerer. The ceremony took us back in time to the 1980s New Orleans punk scene where a handsome, young musician had fallen in love with a mysterious, beautiful woman named Cora. As immaterial spirits observing, we stood by as Cora contemplated her budding relationship with the charismatic Germaine, much as anyone head-over-heels in love might. Her sister, Ellie (Sarah Uplinger) reassured her that despite some flaws it was apparent that Germaine truly did love her. Unbeknownst to them, Germaine was in an alley negotiating for a bag of heroin. Having jovially obtained his prize, he quickly absconded upstairs to a dressing room, where, tragically, he succumbed to an overdose. Sensing the panic upstairs, Cora, Ellie and Elizabeth (Cora’s “cousin” portrayed by Stepy Kamei) rushed to the dressing room. Finding Germaine slipping into death and catching his human compatriots in the act of fleeing the scene, Ellie and Elizabeth blocked their escape while Cora bit her own wrist and tenderly fed Germaine from her wound. Thus, the youngest vampire of the Coven was created in panic and love. He rose and swiftly sated his sense of anger, betrayal and bloodlust on his bandmate and former friend.
The visitation to this memory explains much of why Germaine is who he is today – surly, resentful, troubled and mischievous. Cora’s patience with him is very thin at times and their romantic relationship seems to have ended some while ago. He has no interest in socializing with humans and frequently makes his opinions on the matter known, whether on a quiet member’s night or in the midst of a formal Den gala. He vacillates between seething silences and disruptive outbursts.
Remember You: Germaine is a supplemental show intended to bookend Remember Me, with no magical time travel required. Since he is typically evasive and difficult to talk to, Remember You affords the participant with a rare opportunity to really get to know Germaine as he is today, a nihilistic, self-hating bastard.
Today’s Germaine has no qualms about arranging for Bollinger-Foti’s mind to be wiped to obscure the fact that he’s meeting a mortal for his own selfish and sinister reasons. I arrived at the Den to find her amnesiac, confused and scared. Being unable to diagnose what had happened to her, I was heartbroken at her condition and angry that her loyalty would be repaid in this manner. Despite her impairment, she recognized me in a very limited capacity and was deeply concerned that I would go away and never come back. I assured her that I would stay or at least return when a gentleman appeared behind me and told me that he had come for me. I barely had time to register the black limousine parked at the curb when Bollinger-Foti sobbed and reasserted that I wouldn’t be back. I told her that I was quite stubborn and would return at some point, no matter what. As I was installed in the backseat of the limo and the door closed, I found myself shut in with Germaine, who was moodily lounging on a side bench and staring out the window at the city.
“This is the only way I can see the lights anymore” he told me, gesturing to the heavily tinted windows. In the quiet, gliding sarcophagus of the limo, I looked out at the skyline and tried to imagine what it would be like to only ever see it at night. “It’s like being at the zoo,” he added, “only now I’m the one in the zoo on display… I want to be alone… but I can’t.” His sudden resentful anger blazed out at me. “You people come in wearing capes and dancing to the Bauhaus…” he sneered. I had never personally committed such a crass faux pas but I realized that I was just a generic figure for him to hurl accusations at as I was still a nosey mortal, sniffing out the magic and mystery of his kind for my own vicarious thrill. The gall he must see us exhibit, bravely hanging out with vicious predators and thinking that their tolerance makes us exceptional. He was drawing a thick line indicating that in the order of things, he was very much above me in the food chain and I was stupid to ever think otherwise. To emphasize my folly, he asked me if I would ever present myself to a Native American gathering dressed as Pocahontas. I laughed despite myself and said “No.” In a flash, he had me by the throat snarling “Exactly” into my ear.
He composed himself and continued to lecture me on my inferior status as a human and how maddening he found it to have us underfoot. He sees us imagining ourselves as his peers when all we were doing was gamboling about in front of our own deaths. I found myself wounded by this glib assessment. Being so young in immortality, had Germaine really been so quick to leave his humanity behind? But then I remembered the time in which he was created. The ‘80s was a hedonistic period where no one, especially the punks, had much faith in the future, so they experienced what pleasures could be had NOW and in quantities as vast as one could manage. Germaine, a true Southern Gothic vampire, was born to survive and bred to “laissez le bon temps rouler” (“let the good times roll”) until the very last… but the end never came and now he finds himself in Los Angeles, cheek and jowl with actual “fang-bangers.” Given that perspective, I could begin to understand his seething hatred. Truly, he would have loved to kill me, but there were “rules” (Cora had promised us complete safety as members of the Den). Perhaps because I was off-limits, he directed the driver to take us to his “favorite part of the zoo” where we acquired the prostitute.
He introduced himself as Justin (Benjamin Berg), Germaine quickly draping a “friendly” arm around him and offering him a flute of champagne. Justin’s street sense must have been jangling because he tried to hand the glass off to me but Germaine swiftly insisted that it was all for him and tipped the glass up as Justin hesitantly brought it to his lips. Examining his new friend, Germaine quickly found the track marks on his arms and noted Justin’s quick, embarrassed attempt to cover them with his hands. As an apex predator would when sensing weakness, the vampire began to dissect the young man with a skill borne of decades of self-loathing. He asked Justin if his mother had given him his name and what she thought about his current circumstances. But of course Justin wouldn’t have ended up on the street if he had a mother that cared about him. How did he think his mother would feel if she knew her baby boy had become a homeless, hustling junkie? Justin’s bewildered eyes found mine and I discovered that I had become incapacitated to even offer a kind word or reassuring look. I was stuck there as surely as he was only he didn’t know what was coming and I knew that I was helpless to prevent it. This was Germaine’s urgent lesson to me. I could imagine myself friends with these mythical beings and feel accepted, but I was also in some great part willfully ignoring the truth of what they are, killers, surviving off of others exactly like me and treating them as pitilessly as the owl does the mouse.
After teasing Justin about his unfortunate circumstances, Germaine decided to gift him with a new name: Victor. Perhaps Victor would fare better than Justin could and perhaps Germaine could find solace Victor’s company – for they did look so much alike. Did he crave friendship with someone who could understand him better? It was hard to tell with someone like Germaine whose rages and desires are so tightly bound together that he probably couldn’t tell them apart. Tiring of his own game, the vampire promised that he would trade Justin/Victor what he wanted for his own brand of poison and he unzipped his pants. Finally back in familiar territory Justin dove into Germaine’s lap.
With his head laid back and his eyes closed, Germaine relaxed and told us (probably just “Victor”) that he had been born in the swamp and it was all he ever knew. His mother made it clear that he was unwanted and considered a burden. His existence was full of cruelty and struggle; he fully expected to die in that swamp, except that his beautiful brother, Victor, however, had promised to take Germaine with him when he escaped the clutches of their dirt-poor life. Ironically, Victor’s last words to Germaine were that if he ever caught his little brother with “that shit again” (heroin, one assumes), he would kill him. Germaine’s visage twisted in grief even as his hands gently stroked the head bobbing in his lap. It was a raw and intimate moment that I was not prepared to witness. He shouted “I love you, Victor!” as Justin’s hand wandered up Germaine’s chest blindly, in a simulacrum of affection. As if that moment of vulnerability, this burning admission were too much to bear, Germaine’s soothing hands clamped down on Justin and as he flailed, Germaine hissed at me to hold Justin’s arms down. I actually leaned forward to comply when I came to myself and said, “I’m not helping you, Germaine.” My moral high ground was weak and felt immaterial as the spasmodic limbs eventually stilled. Tossing the limp body onto the floor, Germaine lunged at me and grabbed me by the throat again. He groaned against my face as I shrank back into my seat, recoiling against this scene of depravity and corruption. No longer an Easter Island Moai parked on the sidelines, I was pulled by the esophagus back into the moment, reminded very clearly that I was a part of this.
Germaine released me and fell back into his seat, telling the driver to pull over while he zipped himself up. As the vehicle came to rest, he tonelessly ordered me to get out. The driver exited to assist me out and taking my freezing hand in his, when I felt my other hand yanked back towards the interior of the car. Justin was weakly writhing on the floor in my peripheral vision but it was Germaine’s burning gaze that onto locked mine as he told me to “Remember this. Remember me.” With a gentle tug, the driver extracted me from the back seat as screams erupted from the floor of the limo. The door shut decisively on the sound but several people standing nearby had already turned toward me, watching me self-consciously avoid their eyes as I strode away from the obvious source of the shrieking. Whatever had occurred in there and anything subsequently happening, I was complicit in it and I felt as stained by their curiosity almost as much as what I knew I was walking away from.
While I was initially enthusiastic to focus on the mysterious Germaine, I was definitely pained by his attitude toward me and humankind in general. Getting to know him hurt because he feels alienated and tormented by his past even after his evolution. But I can’t dismiss that he felt the need to single a person out to explain why. Maybe with just an individual in a captive audience, he could give voice to the turmoil inside of himself. In a patent self-defeatingly human maneuver, he felt compelled to warn me away and yet showed me an intimate portion of himself. Even though he was sure I was unable to fathom his suffering, I detected a strong streak of inner conflict losing to existentialist angst and self-medication in its myriad forms. That kind of suffering I can understand on multiple levels and it is the reason I have hope for him. I don’t hold the conceit that it’ll be our fellowship that will inspire him to consider things differently, but I think that Cora’s desire to remodel vampire society might be the start.
With Remember You: Germaine, the Count’s Den team established themselves to be the mitochondria of the Los Angele immersive theater sector; they are a powerhouse. Matt Vorce’s performance brought to un-life a fully realized being that could have been the warped fiction of the equally, if not more, twisted creation of J.T. Leroy – a Louisiana vampire coming to grips with the abyss of living forever as a corrupt murderer of the soiled and damned. With his angelic face and a bleeding, broken soul, you can’t help but open your heart to Germaine and thus, feel the sting of betrayal three times as badly when he cuts you apart with his eyes and words. Ben Berg’s performance as Justin tortured my momentarily stunted sense of justice. His bewilderment and shifting desperation haunted me for days.
As the first character from the Den to be so intricately revealed, Germaine’s relative youth and angst maintain a genuine quality that caused me to actually consider tempering my usual playful approach, instead treating him with extra caution at future gatherings. Having participated in Remember Me: Elizabeth, I can say you will not want to miss the upcoming events; the writing, production, and performances are exceptional. Prolonged exposure to these characters offers a fantastic chance to take the expansiveness promise of immersive theater further than we’ve seen before – The Count’s Den is weaving an epic narrative of immense proportions, right in DTLA and I would highly encourage immersive devotees to jump in.
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