You know those performances that rob the audience of a ritual applause for discomfort’s sake, never releasing them from the experience? Keeping the audience in the play even once they’ve entered the real world? Yeah, those are scary. Well, The Tension Experience takes this idea and amplifies it by ten, creating a narrative that never stops. The Tension Experience is an immersive theatre experience in Los Angeles designed by film Director Darren Bousman (the mind behind the Saw films and REPO!) that invites you to feel deep tension, discomfort, and paranoia.
First, the audience member must go through a screening process to be allowed into the theatrical experience. You have to register online and give up personal information. This makes sense with the Tension narrative that revolves around a cult known as the Oracular Order of Anoch (OOA). Next, they infiltrate your life: call you, email you, and send messages through social media forums. The world of Tension becomes your world. The line between performance and the real world is blurred.
Megan Reilly, Assistant Professor of Theatre at Macalester College, St. Paul, MN joined The Tension Experience and describes a moment in which real life and the world of Tension were intertwined and she wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t. At one point she was asked to a secret meeting with a Tension character at a bar. He wanted to tell her his story about his previous involvement in the OOA cult and eventually asked her to persuade the bartender into joining. Reilly couldn’t do it – it was weird to involve someone who wasn’t a part of the Tension world, pull them into it against their will. Tension sent her a message from the character who had set up the meeting, telling Reilly that had she spoken to the bartender she would have had the honor to meet the elusive character. Reilly realized that maybe her potential encounter with the bartender may have been planned by Tension. Maybe the bartender was a part of the world, after all. But there was really no way of knowing.
Reilly talks about how Tension tries to “get into your head.” In another instance, she talks about when she was sent on a duty to find a hidden envelope in a park that was essential to discovering more about the narrative. She was told to film the search and other “audience members” or initiates (?) watched and live messaged her, supporting her as she fulfilled the important task. At a certain point, a conspicuous zooming motorcycle passes by and immediately after Tension texts her saying they just saw her and that she “looks nice today.” Reilly says if they were watching her then there’s the possibility they may be watching her all day, and it’s the possibility that’s important, not the reality. She says, “The show doesn’t have to run all day as long as the audience believes that, on some level, it does. By demonstrating that they were physically in the park with me, I began to doubt my own certainty that they weren’t following me elsewhere.” Talk about paranoia.
These were moments Megan Reilly experienced in the first part of The Tension Experience. As of September 8, 2016 the second part, Ascension, became open to the general public, and Bousman has said that he hopes to continue what he describes as a franchise, next on his list being The Tension Experience presents: Adrenaline and The Tension Experience presents: Lust. I’ll be the first one to buy a ticket. How about you…?