I take an Uber home from my therapy appointment. The car window is open; the cold wind biting at my skin. The driver drops me off, and I am soon slipping off my shirt & pants and climbing into bed. My wife is already sound asleep. I try not to wake her, but my efforts are futile.
“You’re home?” She asks sleepily. “How was therapy, hun? I’m so glad you decided to go.”
We talk about my session: the atypical nature of the location, the personal details we touched on, and the issues I still need to address. But as the conversation continues, my eyelids start to feel heavy. “You look tired. Why don’t you get some rest and reflect on your session? I’ll go downstairs and read a little before bed.” She climbs out of bed, and I roll over and fall asleep. But before sleep reaches me, I hear a voice in the back of my head. It’s comical, cartoonish, but it’s one I’ve heard before. The lights shift from a midnight blue haze to bright stage lighting, highlighting a platform with theater curtains to the side of my bed. The voice instructs me to get out of bed and stand on the stage. I comply, and formless figures beyond the lights start to whisper and giggle. I am now painfully aware that I am standing on a stage in my underwear in front of an audience of people.
This was my introduction for the second half of Therapy & Dreams, the first ticketed event of the immersive theater experience Have You Seen Jake (HYSJ). As a member of a search party, I have been tasked with finding Jake, a forgotten friend. Where I have previously sought information from one of his closest friends, Heather (see Bars & Hotels recollection), I now seek answers from Dr. Eileen Roberts, Jake’s former therapist. Her goal is to lead a personal journey into my thoughts and mind, ultimately unlocking memories buried within. This experimental treatment whisks me away into a surreal, dream-world that blurs the line between fantasy and reality.
The first half of Therapy & Dreams was grounded in reality and focused on a real therapy session. Prior to my meeting, I filled out an extensive Intake Form containing questions ranging from how I handle anger to my sexual habits to abstract questions regarding the ocean and an empty box. This questionnaire was then used as a primer to lead the conversation with Dr. Roberts. Further, this session was moved out of the typical study with a chaise lounge and into the cold unknown of a park bench. This bold choice removed the safety inherent in a therapy session and had participants constantly looking over their shoulder. However, despite the location and the brevity of the session, participants still felt vulnerable and some even experienced personal growth.
However, the calm nature of the Therapy portion was quickly replaced by the descent into a dream. Darkness gave way to bright rooms; quietness into screams; and introspection into choices with real consequences. This section was where the real beauty of experience shined. I entered scenes with characters who felt like old friends—because I have been interacting with some for three months now. The acting in these scenes always impressed me with how natural it was; and growing my relationships with them felt intimate and meaningful. I was tortured by Them, animal-masked antagonists who came with a complete arsenal of tools. This felt frightening because They knew I wanted an intense show. And I even unlocked a secret message by reciting a correct phrase that I learned by solving a puzzle on their Instagram.
This further reinforces the main success of this experience: the personalization in this experience. Starting with the therapy session—it was all about me. I could ask about Jake, but Dr. Robert’s wouldn’t betray patient confidentiality. She was more interested in us: our fears, insecurities, worries. And then once she began to open up our subconscious and see our vulnerabilities, we entered our dream. In this, we were given choices, interacted with characters, and witnessed abstract events. But each of these events varied depending on the participant. A specific character interacted with each participant to reveal more insight into the narrative, but who it was and what was said was also different. Finally, a rather physical and visceral scene was customized to the intensity level desired for each participant. Here, I was pushed to the level of an extreme haunt because that was what I wanted—but others came out with a much gentler experience because they don’t enjoy the physicality of extreme haunts. This level of customization allowed for intimate scenes personal to the individual.
The framework of the dream was the only way to account for all of the different locations experienced within a thirty-minute timeslot. This was handled well with transitions incorporated into the narrative in an organic manner. However, dreams do come with downsides. The narrative was abstract and surreal by nature, but it is difficult to determine how much of it was actual memories and how much was artistic styling. Further, the narrative was pushed forward in a non-linear manner. This gave us pieces to a puzzle, but not enough to have a clear picture. However, this is their first event, and thus, setting up questions and an atmosphere for their world is expected—and gives room to fill in more puzzle pieces in the next two shows. Finally, with an ever expanding roster of characters and developments, HYSJ faces a challenge in engaging old (and especially new) participants while managing an increasingly complex narrative.
Ultimately, Therapy & Dreams was an extremely personal foray into an abstract dream-world populated by familiar faces and masked tormentors. It set up a world, posed more questions, and provided a strong foundation for the next two shows. And even more so, it proved that the team behind Have You Seen Jake can execute an ambitious, evocative, and incredibly moving experience that exceled in interactivity and choice. I look forward to my next experience.
For more information, check out Have You Seen Jake or email us for more information.