A relaxed evening in your friend Victoria’s apartment. Pizza, drinks, and engaging conversation. But all is not as it seems: a dark tale to unwind; an obsession to explore… This is “Captivated: An Obsession in Three Acts” by They Played Productions. The first part, “Act One: Justine”, taking place in North Hollywood on selected dates until April 1.
Haunting sits down with Erik Blair, one half of the dynamic duo behind They Played Productions, also known for 2017’s Nothing Bad: A Werewolf Rock Musical, and the upcoming God: The Apologies Tour set to debut at this year’s Fringe, to explore the inspirations that drive the pair’s first foray into immersive theatre.
Act One: Beginnings
They Played Productions was formed in 2017 by writer/director Erik Blair and producer Thea Rivera, both of whom possess an impressive resume. Rivera is a graduate of USC Cinema School, whose career has mostly focused on technology, but boasts an impressive twenty plus years of experience in all areas of theatre. Blair is also an alumni of USC Cinema School, and has a degree from Northwestern University’s theatre department. He has directed and performed in over 100 productions across the States, and worked on projects with Sony, Disney and Warner Brothers.
With all of that under their collective belt, “eventually we decided we had some concepts, some stories and some approaches to live entertainment that we wanted to bring into being,” says Blair.
“That’s how They Played Productions was born–a place where we can tell stories that transform well-known tropes and concepts into something brand new. Each of our productions starts as a way of answering a question. What is the core emotional idea that we are seeking for this piece? Then we work to develop the best narrative and theatrical angle to tell that story.”
“In a general sense, I think both Thea and I are really inspired when we can find a new way of looking at well-known ideas and stories. Last summer, our first production was a rock musical that was designed to take the old Wolf-Man story and examine how that story of rage is altered when you make a woman the bitten-creature instead. It’s that kind of transformation (pun intended) that really excites us–how do we utilize emotional reality and investment and agency to re-examine older ideas or emotional truths? When we can find something that instantly makes us excited, that’s when we know we have something worth doing.”
Speaking of the decision to venture into the realm of immersive theatre, Blair explains, “we’ve both been involved in the larger concept of ‘immersive entertainment’ for a long time. We have extensive LARP (Live Action Role Play) experience, especially as storytellers who have developed entire narratives and worlds for audiences of up to 200 people at a time to exist within. So, while this is our first official immersive experience, we’ve been helping audiences invest in stories for many years already.”
Act Two: The Present
Blair describes “Captivated” as “a modern retelling of a well-known horror tale set right here in Los Angeles in 2018.” But the tale in question? That is a well-kept secret.
“I think part of the fun of this experience is having that experiential moment when an audience finally realizes what tale they’re actually living within during the experience. But I will say that this story is the outcome of combining that original tale with the modern outlook on relationships and power–and seeing what happens when the two are combined. I’m very, very excited that test audiences have all recognized the original tale.”
“It’s called an ‘Obsession in Three Acts’,” he continues, “because that’s the emotion that circles throughout the story–the spine that all three acts are going to be centered around as we tell them. While each Act may be very different in structure and design, over all three pieces we’re going to give audiences a dark, psychological horror story that reflects both the original story’s roots as well as modern concepts of love, desire and grief.”
“Act One focuses on an intimate party where the audience will be guests of their psychiatrist friend, Victoria Polidori. It’s supposed to be an easy-going, conversational event where friends will mingle and enjoy themselves. But when the planned event begins to go awry, the darker underbelly of some of the guests at the party will begin to show–and it’s up to the audience to put the pieces together and decide what, exactly, is going on around them.”
“Conversations will ebb and flow within the group as a whole, individually, in sidebars, balcony discussions, car chats, and whispered asides. The dark story weaves around relationships, friendships, loyalty, and other pitfalls of social interaction. The friends (our intimate audience members) will need to listen, question, explore, and dig deeper if they dare. There is more to these new friends than is on the surface, for as they say… Los Angeles has all sorts.”
“I think the closest format is to call this a narrative LARP-style event,” Blair explains. “Audiences will be playing themselves and they’ll be able to interact throughout the entire experience. We want them to interact. One of the things that frustrates me often with immersive theatre is when I run across a moment where I want to save the girl or stop the ritual or some such…and there’s no chance for me to even interact with someone, much less make a difference.”
“So, for this production, we want people to ask questions. To interact. To react to what’s happening. It’s a party–act like you’re at a party.”
“Once your evening concludes, it’s up to you to compare notes with your entourage to know what else was said and fill in missing pieces to the puzzling tale. You can’t be everywhere at once.”
“From a narrative standpoint, there are limitations to how much you can influence this particular act, because it’s part of a larger story. But by the time we’re done with all three acts, we think audiences will realize that they’ve had a large influence on how it all ends.”
Act Three: What Is To Come
One of the many intriguing elements that has surfaced since tickets went on sale is the aforementioned Victoria Polidori. Appearing on Instagram and even popping up in our very own Haunting Slack channels, Polidori began connecting with new friends… and potential clients. While it is her apartment patrons will be visiting for the first show, this enigmatic character is not confined to Act One.
“Between the acts, we expect to continue utilizing Victoria (as well as other characters found within Act One) as ongoing pieces that audiences can interact with and influence before the next piece of the story begins,” Blair reveals.
Looking forward to Acts Two and Three, each act is to be staged in very different ways. “What begins in Act One will be looked at from a very different perspective in Act Two–which means we’re going to generate a very different type of experience to match that new perspective. The same will be true of Act Three, which we are currently contemplating will be a much smaller audience for each performance–maybe even a solo experience.”
“In each case, we’re continuing to tell the same tale. But the different aspects of the story require, for us, equally different strategies in engaging the audience in the proper mindset and approach.”
“We call this an ‘Obsession in Three Acts’ because the concept of ‘obsession’ has become very troublesome in the last few years. And much as the real world has begun to examine how this dark emotion can impact relationships and power, ’Captivated, Act One: Justine’ delves into that emotion from a narrative angle. Every one of the characters in the show has their own obsessive tendencies, and we want the audience to find them. We want the audience to “solve the story” of this party and those within it.”
“In an ideal experience, audience members will each end up with different pieces of the story–and the fun (and the fear as well) will come when they start to put them together and realize what is right in front of them. We want them to end up caring about these characters through their interactions and wanting to keep traveling with them through the rest of the tale.”
A few tickets still remain for “Captivated, Act One: Justine”, which runs on selected dates between March 16 and April 1, with shows at 7pm, 8,30pm and 10pm. Tickets are $30.00 per person and are available here. Patrons must be 21+ as food and drink will be served.