As I pass through a dimly lit and haphazardly furnished room, a disheveled woman takes note of my presence. A half-finished bottle of liquor is gripped tightly in her hand. Staggering her way toward me, she begs me to let her have just one more drink. Each plea slurs from her mouth. I think nothing of it and let her finish the bottle. A large man suddenly storms into the room and turns toward me with piercing eyes, questioning why I would allow a pregnant woman to consume alcohol. A tremendous amount of guilt fills up inside me and I’m regretting the little thought I put into my careless decision. The woman cries out. She stumbles and holds her stomach in pain. The man lifts her onto table and now her dilemma becomes my responsibility, and I have no other choice but to deliver her baby. STAG STAG
STAG: An Immersive Horror Experiment
Entering its fourth year of operation, STAG: An Immersive Horror Experiment is a horror experience hidden in the small city of Saginaw, Michigan, approximately two hours from Detroit. STAG returned last August with Addiction, their most recent ticketed show in which guests journeyed through a series of conflicts involving broken characters enslaved to a prison of sex, drugs and alcohol dependency.
Offering two options to enter the 30-minute show, guests could either go through Addiction completely alone or select the “couples” option where they and a partner could go through together (though no promises are made that the pairs will remain by each other’s side).
“Take this. It’ll help you feel better.”
Addiction has a suspiciously calm start. As I wait for my turn sitting isolated in an empty theater, STAG creator Blayne Adams walks out on stage, escorting a guest who had just used the safeword to be taken out of the show. Adams sits the girl down next to me and heads back to return to her duties, promising it will be my turn shortly. The girl and I begin light conversation to ease her mind and calm her nerves since she’s still a bit shaken up. A real connection between us forms as we discuss art and theater. She’s soft-spoken and kind, and I’m honestly quite surprised she even considered going through an experience like this. Then she springs the question on me:
“Will you walk with me to my car? I don’t feel comfortable going alone.”
At this point I realize I’ve been successfully conned and have already been in the show since the girl was first brought over. I am on full alert now. As we make our way outside, it’s only a moment before my head is bagged and I’m plummeted literally into a raving dungeon of revelry where every bad decision is painted to be ever so enticing.
Descending into the Den of Addiction
From the outside, it isn’t obvious that Saginaw’s local community theater, Pit and Balcony, would contain a full-contact horror experience within its walls, but Addiction finds its home nestled deep within the theater’s basement. The cold, stone walls drown in vibrantly colorful party lights over the decay creating the feeling of walking through a buzzed and hazy dreamscape.
Addiction follows a structure familiar to that of a traditional haunted house walk-through, in that guests pass through a multitude of different themed rooms. What sets Addiction apart is its emphasis on intimately bringing you down to each character’s level and putting you through an assortment of sensory experiments that range from physically enduring (your bare feet tingling while having to run in gelatin) to the squeamishly disgusting (having to “pleasure” someone through the use of your mouth). At each room’s conclusion, I’m blindfolded and handed off to the next, already losing track of where I’m positioned from where I originally began.
Another notable distinction is that the individuals that inhabit their designated spaces aren’t screaming “boo” and rushing you to keep moving forward. Here, they want you to stay with them; they strive to share their torment by having you experience simulated situations where you slam shots of liquid substances, swallow down pills and inject yourself with the same needles that help them escape their own reality.
A Cast of Volunteers Bring the Tortured to Life
Addiction wouldn’t be what it is without its strong emphasis on performance and theater, which is brought to life by STAG’s incredible cast. It’s apparent through their enthusiasm and passion that so much love is put into the show. “What we’re looking for in a performer is that they must be confident,” says Adams. “They must be willing to get vulnerable and uncomfortable, are not afraid to discuss taboo topics and also willing to get dirty.”
The vulnerability in these characters is an element that especially sticks out because there are very few instances where those you encounter are making claims that they want to harm you like in most horror shows – at least, not intentionally, that is. The cast brings a great authenticity to each of their struggles. For example, a scene where you’re helping someone get high off heroin becomes a harder thing to endure than being threatened with violence. After some time, their tragedies stayed with me longer than a cut or a bruise.
“Are you having a good time? Because it’s not over.”
As its name suggests, STAG: An Immersive Horror Experiment is an unconventional experience that takes experimental risks with its content, stabbing at all of your senses with equal attention, and testing your body through peculiar procedures; just the kind of experiments I want to take part in.
STAG will be making its return this summer with a new show entitled Occult that will be running from July 11th through the 14th. Tickets for Occult can be purchased here.