LA’s new 2-hour immersive theater will disturb and shake you

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(Photo credit: Tension Experience)

It was a Friday night, and I arrived at a creepy parking location, near a dark alley. I wasn’t sure if it was the right location. A parking attendant and a small group of people were standing around and waiting.

“Are you guys here for the Tension Experience?”

“Yeah.”

I felt relieved, but this was just the beginning of my uneasiness. A black van, with its headlights turned off, slowly creeps up in the long and dark alley. We were instructed by the man inside to put a black hood over our head as we entered. One by one, our small group of nine entered. We were now on our way to the secret location of the O.O.A. Institute, an organization that’s actually a cult.

It was probably a short trip, but it felt like forever. Classical music was playing in the van’s stereo, and eating a big meal before the experience was definitely a terrible idea (The driver was cursing loudly at who knows what and violently swerving left and right.) We weren’t allowed to talk, and if someone was trying to lift or touch the hood, the van would stop and the person was told to get out of the vehicle. Everybody remained silent for the rest of the trip. My stomach felt relieved once my hood was removed and I was taken outside. The vehicle left, and there I was, alone, outside a large building in the middle of nowhere. My next move was to knock loudly on a lonely metal door.

That was just the start of The Tension Experience: Ascension, a new immersive theater located in Boyle Heights, CA, from the minds of director Darren Bousman (Saw II, III and IV) and co-writer Clint Sears. The daring will experience a very intimate and interactive show catered towards them. The goal was to make them feel uncomfortable, and it has two and a half hours to do so, in a giant 24-room warehouse filled with 40 actors. (Many of whom will only experience just half of the rooms.)

This is a new breed of immersive experiences that has evolved from the haunted mazes that you’ve experienced when you were a teenager. I have watched many horror films and played many horror video games, and so I’m always looking for that next scary- but safe- fix. Haunted mazes at amusement parks are another option, but the idea of waiting in long lines and walking inside a packed maze like you’re on a conveyor belt for a very short experience doesn’t scream terror for me, at least.

I’ve tried my fair share of creepy immersive theater experiences, such as Delusion and Creep LA, but after hearing that Bousman was working on his own version, I knew I had to try it out. (I haven’t tried Blackout yet, since that felt too extreme.) We had the chance to interview him and producer Gordon Bijelonic before our experience (you can listen to it here.) The one thing they wanted was for people to step outside their comfort zone. With this show, that meant that they won’t have a phone with them, they won’t be wearing their own clothes, and they would be by themselves or with strangers.

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(Photo credit: Tension Experience)

There will be spoilers for the initial experience, but if you don’t want to be spoiled at all, please look away.

I knocked on the door a couple of times, but nothing happened. I finally decided to knock as loud as I can. A young woman opens the door and exclaimed, “Now that’s more like it.” Walking inside a tiny and cramped lobby, a receptionist asked me to fill out the questionnaire. It asked me of my fears, like whether I was afraid of nudity in public. An older gentleman takes a photo of me in the next room and warned me if I knew what I was getting myself into. He said it’s not too late to turn back, and gave me a safe word if I felt like quitting. It’s good to know that there’s a safe word for an experience like this, and after hearing the word, there’s no way I was going to say it.

I then headed to the living room, where I was united with the rest of the group. One by one, members of the group were sent to the processing room. I was grouped with three others, and before venturing on, we had to put on a uniform. I took off my shirt, but the worker told me to take off my pants too. The others were hesitant to strip everything but their underwear, but as we learned, to proceed, we’d have to do what they say.

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(Photo credit: Tension Experience)

As the show went on, my group slowly went from nine, to finally two. I was blindfolded, tied up, made to taste and drink the unknown, and I was enjoying the hell out of it (I knew I was in good hands.) There will be times when you’ll be told to do awkward things with people you don’t know. Don’t worry, it never goes too far. One room felt like an escape room, and another was pitch black. There will be rooms where only you will get to experience, and the whole experience, itself, depends on how you respond to an actor.

I estimated around 11 rooms that I was in, which meant I wasn’t even halfway to 24 rooms. There was a moment when I felt like I was by myself for an eternity, not being able to see or hear. My mind was quite busy as I was trying to absorb everything that has happened to me so far.

The show’s finale really displays the impressive work that went in to putting this whole thing together. There are many layers to this, including a surprise ending that made me very thrilled, but that’s all I’ll say about it. After everything was over, I was reunited with the group as we shared stories about our unique experiences. Some started off very reserved, and later felt very liberated. Others had no idea what they had signed up for, since they were tagging along with their significant other. The actors were all great and super friendly after the show.

The Tension Experience isn’t for everyone, but if you’re willing to have an open mind and are willing to step outside your comfort zone for a creepy experience, it’s definitely recommended. The ticket can look pricey ($125), but it’ll make you feel like you’re the main character of a unique and psychological two-and-a-half hour show.

For tickets, visit TheTensionExperience.com.

Listen to our latest episode about The Tension Experience below.

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John 'Spartan' Nguyen
John 'Spartan' Nguyen 9071 posts

Assassin, scoundrel, editor-in-chief.