This 'Tension Experience' follow-up asks some tough questions. Are you ready for the answers?

My friend Stephanie gazed at me with her piercing green eyes, the kind of eyes that see right into me. They were filled with concern.

“Larry, this organization gets people out of cults.”

I looked back, not sure what she meant. “Are you saying you were in a cult and they helped get you out?”

Stephanie didn’t move. She just stared at me. Then I realized what she meant.

“You’re saying…I’m in a cult…and I don’t know it.”

Editor’s Note: Check out the previous HiT articles on “The Tension Experience,” Part 1 and Part 2, before reading the rest of this article.

*    *    *

A few months after the completion of the mind-bending, emotional roller coaster of “The Tension Experience,” I found myself in the middle of its follow-up, “The Lust Experience.” Despite its title, there hasn’t been a shred of carnal subject matter.

Instead, I’m receiving anonymous phone calls, asked to write press releases to discredit whistle blowers of a subsidiary of a sinister SPECTRE-like entity, coached by a unstable self-help guru preaching Libertarian principles to help me achieve self-actualization, meeting with representatives of a deprogramming organization, and wondering how many of my new friends in the immersive theater community are actually friends….and how many are really working for aforementioned sinister entity.

Welcome to the world of ARGs – “Alternative Reality Games.” This is immersive theater that extends beyond the borders of a “show” and penetrates the real world. Once on board, you’ll never know when you might get a phone call directing you to a dead drop, a character from this alternate world dropping by your home, or a friend slipping you a note that reads, “They are everywhere. They are watching”.

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The author, Lawrence Meyers, with immersive theater performer and friend Stephanie Hyden. Or is she?

Yes, I am feeling a bit paranoid these days. Thanks for asking.

Despite the thriller elements of this particular ARG, there are genuine emotional rewards to be had. That also includes the opportunity for some serious soul-searching about the things we want out of life, why we want them, and what we’ll do to get them.

ARGs are an offshoot of immersive theater and, when executed well, offer a reflection of real life – just like any other piece of popular culture.

Story beats may be delivered via Twitter’s Periscope feature, Facebook’s Live video, anonymous phone calls, e-mails and even codes buried in the metadata of online communications. Characters are introduced and developed, and story beats are fractal in nature, requiring the community to publicly discuss and theorize their meaning and – as is often stated – “what the heck is going on?”

As the story spins out, and more character interactions occur, participants must make difficult choices about who to trust, who they identify with, and who they align with – all with the goal of entreating emotional responses. Like immersive theater, so much of it feels real, because participants are often tasked with objectives that take place in the real world.

“The Lust Experience” launched with an online forum, with no real information provided. Yet as the collective of participants theorized about the imagery, and as the first few story beats took place, theories developed that this ARG would be centered around self-actualization. However, in order to achieve it, I postulated that we would each eventually be required to confront and assimilate one’s Shadow – that side of ourselves that we are ashamed of and want to repress.

I have driven many participants to drink by constantly harping on this theme, but once a screenwriter, always a-guy-who-seeks-out-story-thematics.

Much of the action has centered around Noah Sinclair, the charismatic self-help guru, who has challenged participants to revisit foods they hated, perform a charitable act, do something they are afraid to do and hop on Periscope to share that which they hate most about themselves.

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That last task in particular bonded the community more than any other activity. It also exposed the very real human frailties and insecurities we all carry. Many of these confessionals were heartbreakingly and emotionally honest, not to mention courageous.

Sounds a little crazy? Perhaps. Yet what else is drama for, but catharsis? It doesn’t have to be a movie or TV show or proscenium theater, it can be in an ARG – and the more participatory it is, the more catharsis is possible. Not only is the story paying off dramatically, but it is having genuine positive effects on those involved

Are these all steps towards self-actualization? As a matter of fact, yes.Shouldn’t us participants just work out this stuff in therapy? Well, yes. Definitely. However, therapy costs money. This ARG is free. I just happen to supplement the activities with a weekly visit to a Jungian analyst…just to make sure I’m not actually going insane.

Because sometimes…I think I am.

*    *    *

As “The Tension Experience” concluded last year, it was revealed that this SPECTRE-like organization, known as OSDM, had constructed the experience with one goal: collect emotional data in order to further manipulate world events.

I was 98 percent certain that OSDM and everything else was all just a construct of creators Darren Lynn Bousman, Clint Sears and Gordon Bijelonic.

Now, I’m not quite so certain. I’m maybe 90 percent certain. Okay, 80 percent. Actually, it’s only about 10 percent. See, Bousman and Sears have apparently been fired by the shadowy investors who financed “Tension” and subsequently warned all of us to walk away. Since then, a lot of weird stuff has been happening.

After “The Tension Experience,” I cast Stephanie Hyden and four other “Tension” actors in a play. We’ve all become friends. Naturally, I’m protective of those I’m close with, so when Stephanie’s social media pages suddenly went offline and I couldn’t reach her, I grew concerned.

And then I freaked out when I received a message on Slack from “a stranger” telling me, “You can’t save them all, Larry.”

RELATED: The Great ‘Texting in Theaters’ Debate

I frantically stepped up my attempts to contact her, only to have her text me moments later, writing, “What is wrong with you? I’m walking to an after-party. Although I did think someone was following me a minute ago lol”.

Lol? LOL? Stephanie was in danger!  I had to do something!  I was frantic for an hour until she finally called and said everything was fine.

Was she?  Or was this part of “The Lust Experience”?  I thought about the theme: what did I want, and why?  After a session with my analyst, I realized I was afflicted with the rather common “Savior Complex” – to be the hero of my own story.  Self-actualization?  Apparently so.

Things only got weirder.  On Labor Day weekend, I got a call from Stephanie’s cel phone, and heard her voice say, “Larry, you’ve ruined my life.  I never want to speak to you again”.  Once I picked my stomach up off the floor, I received a chipper text moments later asking me how I was, and if we were still getting together for lunch. She had no idea what I was talking about when I told her what had happened.

Had she been brainwashed? Subject to post-hypnotic suggestion? Was she messing with me? Was OSDM dictating her actions? Or did I imagine it?

A few weeks later, we both received calls from an oddball named Mason Silver who claimed to work for “The Briarberg Foundation.”Silver purported to be investigating “ethics in immersive theater.” He read back portions of my own article to me, and asked if I “really believed all the crap I was trying to sell people”…and then started crying.

Shortly thereafter, someone leaked audio from a Sears phone call with Bousman, in which Sears says, “I think he’s [Mason] real.”  A few nights later, as Stephanie and I were at an immersive show, Mason tried to set up a meeting with her. This put her on edge, and she wondered aloud, “what if he’s real, and not part of ‘Lust?’”

When it appeared that Mason’s job for Briarberg was to murder everyone involved in OSDM, I became even more paranoid. Especially when I, and six other participants, were asked to come to a loft in Hollywood for a presentation…and Mason was there.

A Briarberg rep told us we were told that “Tension” was indeed an elaborate lure, and that Darren and Clint were merely hired hands to sell the lie.

We were then met by four of the actors from “Tension” – including Stephanie. Each of them told horror stories of how they’d either been blackmailed to participate, witnessed bizarre rituals during rehearsals, or in Stephanie’s case, was witness to harassment and abuse of the actors by the “investors”.

She had pulled me aside from everyone by then. She gazed at me with her piercing green eyes, the kind of eyes that see right into me. They were filled with concern.

“Larry, this organization gets people out of cults.”

I looked back, not sure what she meant. “Are you saying you were in a cult and they helped get you out?”

Stephanie didn’t move. She just stared at me. Then I realized what she meant.

“You’re saying…I’m in a cult…and I don’t know it.”

Shortly thereafter, we were all kicked out and convened in a bar to share our stories.  What was going on? Who the hell were these people? I didn’t have much to go on, but I trusted my friend. I realized that, yes, I and everyone else were in a cult. I needed to get out, and wanted Briarberg to help me. So I contacted them…and have never heard back.

I’ve seen Stephanie many times since then.  I haven’t asked her about that night. I’m afraid to. Not because she’ll tell me that it was all a lie and she was in on it…

…but because she’ll tell me it’s all real.

*    *    *

You can catch up on everything that has happened in “The Lust Experience” here. Anyone may join, no matter where you live. Most of the action happens here in Los Angeles, but Mason Silver showed up on a participant’s doorstep in Minneapolis, so beware.

The Lust Experience: Anointment is a live event Dec 14 – 17, allegedly being presented by the OSDM.  It is sold out. However, I’ll provide a complete recap…if I’m still alive.

UPDATE: A new batch of tickets have opened up for “The Lust Experience: Anointment” and are now on sale at http://thelustexperience.com/tickets/


Lawrence Meyers is a crisis communications consultant, financial writer and former television writer. He has written over 24 hours and produced 60 hours of episodic television. He is also an award-winning playwright, having authored “Porn Rock” in 2016 and “Dark Arts” in 2017. “Dark Arts” is the first-ever play to have an immersive prologue and epilogue, bookending a traditional proscenium show. Contact him at [email protected]