The Queen whispered in my ear, questioning my motive to save Stephanie. Was this for “love or glory?”
Is the mind-maze of “The Lust Experience” truly immersive theater, or is it real? Are creators Darren Lynn Bousman, Clint Sears, and Gordon Bijelonic actually behind the operation, or are they just a director, writer and producer hired to deliver an “experience” to individuals like myself, on behalf of a mysterious organization?
Is my friend Stephanie Hyden part of this experience, part of a deprogramming operation intended to extract me from it? Or, is she a brainwashed innocent leading me to doom?
I still don’t know the answers, even after I and more than 100 participants were invited inside the Los Angeles-based headquarters of the OSDM. That’s the aforementioned shadowy organization that appears to be mining emotional data to influence world events.
The OSDM claimed it was offering transparency to the public. It asked guests to “bring an open mind ready to embrace new and unique viewpoints regarding your own personal beliefs, desires, and morals.”
“Desires” seemed to be the operative word, given that this was called “The Lust Experience.” Each person, upon purchasing their ticket was asked three penetrating questions: 1) What do you want, 2) What do you need, and 3) How far is too far?
As participants learned, be careful what you wish for…
* * *
The gifts that immersive theater offers are emotional rewards for those who invest in the world. I fall into immersive worlds easily, excited and fearful, eager to take a journey into the unconscious. It is more than suspension of disbelief. It is a wholesale commitment to being vulnerable, present and aware, and to enter an illusion in which you may be emotionally and psychologically challenged.
“The Lust Experience” challenges participants to consider what they truly desire, and how far would they are willing to go to get it. Yet this is ultimately a honey trap, for in the classic Hero’s Journey, mythologist Joseph Campbell teaches that a hero is one who evolves beyond his extraverted desire (want), and instead pursues self-transcendence, in a quest for his personal holy grail (need).
What I discovered in “The Lust Experience” was that wanted to be a protector, to be the proverbial hero, which was rooted in nothing more than a desire for approval. However, what I needed was to transcend this undeveloped and immature desire and find a greater reason for why the role of the protector truly mattered.
In other words, I had to kill off my “Savior Complex.” To do so also meant having to face and incorporate the worst side of myself, my Shadow. So for anyone who think immersive theater is just entertainment (which it certainly delivers on), there are greater rewards if you pay attention to yourself.
* * *
Stephanie had gone dark two weeks before the Mid-Season Event (MSE). I feared she’d been kidnapped, mostly because the OSDM knew that we were best friends. Information can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands.
Indeed, OSDM began trolling me hours before the event, posting a photo of Stephanie on “The Lust Experience” Facebook page with an ominous quote: “One single thing will always be amiss. Every night every day every year after this…” I feared Stephanie was headed for a blood sacrifice not unlike the one in “The Tension Experience,” where I first encountered her.
OSDM had no intention of being transparent at the MSE. Its “headquarters” was merely a den of iniquity, where several people were held against their will, made to serve a hierarchy of depraved Illuminati types.
The real intent of the MSE was to distract participants by offering us what we desired, and to witness or participate in “The Honoring” – a ceremony in which a woman was to be impregnated with the seed of their blood-god Anoch so he might rise again.
This video summarizes the event’s visuals, tone and the characters I met that evening. It was challenging to avoid these distractions and worm through this trap to find Stephanie. I was relieved to find her. She seemed fine.
For about ten seconds.
She shifted between five different personalities. One moment she was complaining how Bousman had her working on administrative details rather than act in the show, then had no idea who I was, then was overjoyed to see me, and then suddenly didn’t know whom I was. I fought back tears amidst crushing despair that my closest friend had lost her mind.
I tried everything to bring her back. Moments we had shared. The tag line for the play we acted in together. Inside jokes. I pulled her close and whispered a Latin phrase in a shaking voice, the phrase that stopped cult members from “The Tension Experience” from harming themselves.
Neither did The Honoring, by the way. Finding a man and woman to willingly go through with a bizarre sex ritual proved impossible, even in this hell-hole.
Yet as we were leaving, one of the senior members of OSDM strode up to me — the infamous Tom Barrow. He looked me in the eye and said:
“I own Stephanie.”
I brushed past him, defeated, crushed. I had no choice. I would have to return the next evening with one objective: Get her out.
And this was the moment I defeated the Savior Complex that had been afflicting me. I didn’t need to rescue Stephanie to feed the complex, or to play the hero. The act was no longer a selfish one, to feed my own ego, but a selfless one. I needed to rescue someone I loved who was in danger. And if that meant sacrificing myself in the process, so be it.
Such is the power of immersive theater. This felt real, and it was having real emotional and psychological impact. Not only that, I co-curated this narrative. Other participants reported having the same encounter with Stephanie, yet I created this mission in my own mind, the result of our relationship.
I realized I couldn’t go back into OSDM HQ as myself. All of my nobler qualities meant nothing in there. The OSDM was the Underworld. It only understood darkness. Worse, they knew I was returning, would be waiting for me, and knew why I was there.
There was only one solution. I would have to send in my Shadow-self. Shadow Larry would have to seduce, cajole, lie, cheat, betray, manipulate, tease, deny, flatter, scold — everything – to get Stephanie out.
I hate these things about myself, because they exist solely to take advantage of others, to treat them as tools for my own ends. I was frightened at handing control to my darkest self, yet resigned, knowing this was truly the only way to help my friend.
The same denizens were there, and remembered me. This time, however, I heard their tales of woe and despair. I learned how they discovered the OSDM at their lowest points, when they were most vulnerable — addicted to drugs, abandoned by family, homeless, aimless – but how now they possessed power and control.
Distractions were everywhere, yet I remained resolute. I shared whispered conversations with those held against their will, struck deals, made bargains, lied, betrayed, manipulated, lost my clothes in an ill-advised game of Truth or Dare…and listened to every single word spoken, looking for any opening to switch the conversation to Stephanie.
I was forced to be as alert as a tiger on the hunt, operating at the top of my senses and intelligence.
Finally, while sitting at the feet of a striking bald Nigerian woman I refer to as “The Queen,” my opening came. She said how great it was to have the power over who stays and who goes. We reached an understanding. I would pledge myself to Anoch, and she would release Stephanie.
I found Stephanie moments later, putting on a cloak, took her arm and said, “I am not leaving here without you.” She shot me an annoyed glance, and said, “Okay!”
Seconds later she screamed.
She was to be forcefully impregnated for The Honoring. As she was being undressed, the anger inside me rose. That tiger inside me had been awakened — the fiercest of protectors, one I didn’t know even existed in my soul.
I felt the Queen’s hand on my arm. I turned and stared daggers.
“You promised,” I growled.
“Be patient,” she said.
More undressing. Tom Barrow yammered on about Anoch. Stephanie was crying now. I turned back to the Queen, my anger growing.
“Trust me”, she said.
Stephanie was sobbing now. My heart was cracking as everyone around repeated the words to pledge themselves to Anoch. I spoke them half-heartedly, to show the Queen I was holding up my end of the bargain.
I became aware of a hand interlocking its fingers with mine. My friend Chelsea sensed my anger, and had interlocked her fingers with mine. My friend Cristen placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. I felt other hands – hands intending to hold me back, lest the tiger be released.
The Queen whispered in my ear, questioning my motives. Was I there for “love, or glory?” Was I there to save the friend I loved, or to feed my complex?
Now the chanting began. Stephanie’s sobs filled my head. I felt the hands on me, some for support, some to restrain.
“Love, or glory?” she whispered again.
More chanting. I could feel myself losing control to the tiger.
“Love, or glory?”
The chanting reached its crescendo, and a voice came from within – a voice I did not recognize, a voice in the form of a roar, a voice driven by love and sacrifice.
“LET HER GO!”
Every muscle was coiled and ready to spring. At that moment, the ritual was interrupted by an alleged OSDM “resistance group”, whose arrival was a bit too coincidental. All that mattered was that I heard Stephanie weakly call my name, asking me to take her home.
We gathered her things. I got her safely into my car. Strangely, she clutched a mysterious ornate box that she would not let go of.
We held hands most of the way back. We looked at each other from time to time. Otherwise, we were silent. At one moment, I just looked to her and said, “You’re safe.” Then I looked back to the road and repeated quietly, “You’re safe”, as if to reassure myself.
“The Lust Experience” Mid-Season Event was daring, sexy, challenging, riveting, delightfully twisted, and was a jolt of pure adrenaline. It felt like a real-life thriller, with genuine emotional stakes, fiendishly provocative characters and danger at every turn.
Stephanie is home safe, by the way. She has no memory of the weekend. I fear the OSDM controls her via post-hypnotic suggestion, able to activate her at any time with a phone call and a code word. So I’m hunting for a hypno-therapist to undo the damage.
I haven’t asked about the box yet. Part of me is afraid to. But the other part needs to know what secret it holds.
You can catch up on everything that has happened in “The Lust Experience” here. It is now shifting back into Alternative Reality Game mode, with a grand finale show in 2018. Anyone may join, no matter where you live. Most of the action happens here in Los Angeles, but one character showed up on a participant’s doorstep in Minneapolis, so beware.