I stare out at the water, now dark and accompanied by a biting wind that cuts at my face like fire. Digging my sandals into the sand, I nervously sing “My Darling Clementine” under my breath. My instincts tell me not to be here, that I know it’s a trap, and any moment I’ll be violently grabbed from behind. I then notice a shadow walking towards me, and tense up. It’s time to be strong—there are people who need my help, and it’s already too late to run…
So began Water & Fire, the second ticketed event in the ongoing Immersive Theater experience Have You Seen Jake. As a member of a search party, participants are searching for Jake, a forgotten friend, or any information pertaining to him. Lured by a possible sighting of Jake in Seal Beach, participants met with Jake’s friend, Buoy. This meeting quickly propelled participants into a series of encounters, all with one purpose: finding Jake, no matter the cost.
As with the previous event, Therapy & Dreams, Water & Fire presented a balance of both heartfelt character interactions and tense encounters with haunt elements. While Therapy & Dreams had patrons react to strange, dream-like vignettes, Water & Fire presented the participant with an active role that propelled them, providing constant motivation and drive. Whether it was racing across the beach, solving in a puzzle in a pitch black hotel room, or comforting a friend during a moment of true vulnerability, events in Water & Fire gave the participant a sense of purpose beyond that of just an observer. This sense of urgency is in large part the result of a strong and versatile cast that has developed customized, personal relationships with participants. These relationships are paramount to reinforcing the idea that participants are integral part of Jake’s world. This level of immersion is groundbreaking, and results in a powerful effect—evolving even the most casual interactions into curated and unique moments.
Themes of loss, abuse, and accountability pervaded Water & Fire. A meeting on the beach revealed two parallel sides of loss—one from a heartbroken sister who lost her brother and one from the sinister parents who took him, desperate to do anything to get their son back. A chance to save that brother revealed an urgent race against the clock that could potentially end in failure. An encounter with the animal-masked Them transformed into a dark, cynical parody of parental roles: both during a childhood bath-time scene involving a torturous game in the water, and during a surreal 50’s style infomercial revealing the antiquated lifestyle of Jake’s parents. Overall, these scenes explored the nature of abuse and its emotional consequences from an intimate, interactive lens.
Further, while Have You Seen Jake has only hinted at supernatural concepts in the past, Water & Fire brought them to the forefront. In a stand-out encounter with a deceased character, participants were given insight into the emotional and narrative cores of the show—addiction, accountability, loss, and regret—in a powerful, touching moment.
As the second core entry in the search for Jake, Water & Fire was heavily narrative-based, and ran the risk of having events potentially inaccessible to newcomers without much prior knowledge. However, the Have You Seen Jake team made an effort to provide resources beforehand to get participants to speed. They also tailored the dialogue in the show to the individual, allowing characters to be introduced, critical information to be shared, or even hints to be given in a natural and accessible way.
More than ever before, Have You Seen Jake shows continued growth and finesse, and shines when using personal touches to engage its participants within an increasingly complex narrative. It is an unprecedented approach, and one that should set the standard for immersive theater for some time to come.