Tension creators reveal plans for The Lust Experience, an immersive, theatrical experience in LA

The Tension Experience: Ascension in Los Angeles last year placed many guests outside of their comfort zone. The two-and-a-half-hour theatrical experience messed with people’s senses and got under their skins. I was able to check out the immersive and intimate show, and I witnessed players in my group crying and feeling shaken. It really did feel like you were in a suspenseful horror movie. (You can read all about it here.)

And if you’re a fan of the horror genre and The Tension Experience, the journey doesn’t stop there. Creator Darren Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV), co-writer Clint Sears, and producer Gordon Bijelonic are hard at work on the upcoming mid-season event and a permanent location for The Lust Experience.

Is casting almost done?

Gordon Bijelonic: It’s pretty much done. We just cast just about 30 actors for this one. This is just the mid-season event. By next year we’ll have a permanent location for Lust. When we did the first Tension: Ascension, we had close to 70 actors when we were in Downtown LA in that enormous warehouse. So it will be up there. It is a bigger experience. It’ll be a lot more than 30 actors; it’ll be well over 50 for sure. The next progression is having a long-term permanent installation the way Sleep No More does in New York.

What’s the scope going to be like for Lust compared to Tension: Ascension?

Gordon Bijelonic: It’s going to be shocking in the way Tension: Ascension was with fear. The Tension Lust Experience is more seductive, sensual, sexual, and way more emotional. We’re now playing with your emotions. Before we were playing with your mind.

Can you talk to us more about the ARG (Alternate Reality Game) element?

Gordon Bijelonic: We started the Tension Lust Experience ARG back in February.

Clint Sears: The way that this usually is going is that we set up a prologue that gives us a tone and a story to go into these events, and as Gordon said, this isn’t going to be our main event, but it’s going to be a mid-season event. We already have the ARG, so everything that our players there will have learned will set up a good payoff when it comes time for the mid-season event. But as far as the outside people, anyone in the mainstream, anyone can come in and they’ll still be able to recognize what’s going on. They’ll still have a complete, awesome, and emotional experience from beginning to end. It’s just that they don’t have that prologue, so the people that do will have little Easter eggs along the way.

And this year, we just try to take everything that we’ve learned, what worked, what didn’t, what can we amp up, and what new things are we going to explore. As Gordon said, a lot of that is going to be based on emotions. And kind of based off of what do you desire, when do those desires take you over, and where they’re the things that are controlling you rather than you working towards them.

Why focus on the mid-season event and not just skip to the main event?

Gordon Bijelonic: On the logistical side of things, it’s about finding the location that’s adequate and that can work. I mean, if you’ve been to Sleep No More, that building is pretty much an entire city square block, on seven/eight floors. And you remember the size of the Tension Experience, we were also an entire city square block in a 45,000 square-foot warehouse. We can find temporary locations all day long, but to find something that’s permanent is a challenge. Because when you’re approaching these landlords, they’re asking, “What is this? What are you guys doing? Explain this to me again? Immersive what? I don’t understand.”

Darren Bousman: We’re not some haunt. And I think one of the problems is that a lot of the places we go to, they immediately write us off as a haunted house. And they say, “Oh, you guys are just like a haunted house.” No, that’s absolutely not at all what we are.

The first thing that we all decided coming forth was when we came back this year, we wanted nothing to do with the month of October. By the way, Clint and I love haunted houses. We’ve actually talked about opening a haunted house, but that’s not what the Tension Experience is; that’s not what the Lust Experience is. So I think the first challenge that we had was trying to convince the landlords, “No, we’re not a haunted house.”

Secondly, when we’re doing this mid-season event, how do we completely move away from Halloween? Are we dark? Yes. Are we macabre? Yes. Fucked up? Absolutely! But it’s not a haunt. And I think that getting people to set their expectations when they walk in is critical to us. Because again that’s one reason the ticket price is the way it is. I love haunted houses and I love going to Reign of Terror, but we are not guys in masks. We’re not relying on animatronics to jump out and scare you.

For Lust, is that why you decided to focus on the emotional aspect or was it just the next evolution?

Clint Sears: I would say both.

Gordon Bijelonic: We started this a little over two years ago going, “This is our third year since we kind of created and found this world that we’re exploring.” To us, the vision has always been to be the Cirque du Soleil of this world, the same way Cirque du Soleil started its first show, then Mystère, then O, then Zumanity, and then Ka. And it has evolved now into this worldwide brand all over the world with a dozen to twenty shows. In the same way, we’ve created and launched this Tension universe. We started with Tension: Ascension for the more fear-based stuff, Tension: Lust for the more sexual and emotionally charged stuff, Tension: Adrenaline for the adrenaline thrill seekers, and then Tension: Nefarious for the more sick and twisted.

And so, the Tension universe is like a fine bottle of French wine. It’s a living organism; it continues to evolve. When you open up that cork, the more air it gets, the more it begins to breathe and the better it tastes. It’s constantly evolving, it’s constantly moving, and it’s constantly growing into this universe. So it’s the same thing with Tension: Lust. What you see in this mid-season event is not what you’re going to see and experience when we open up permanently. And even the permanent installation will constantly evolve. Just because you show up one day, it doesn’t mean if you show up the next day you’re going to see the same thing again. You’re not.

So the mid-season event is just four nights?

Darren Bousman: It’s four nights, and I think there’s something like 75 shows. Like Tension: Ascension, shows start every half hour on the half hour. But the show lasts anywhere from 90 minutes to longer. There’s a possibility of extending, but that’s not in our cards right now. For us, this event is to do two things. Number one is to reward the fans who have stayed with us and continued to play the ARG and not have them wait another 12 months before we open up our permanent one. Number two is to remind people why we’re doing this. It’s a reminder to the people that were able to go to the Ascension that we’re not going anywhere. We’re still here and we’re still doing it. So that’s why I think it’s critical for us to make sure the events played in two different worlds. Number one for the die-hard, number two for the casual, and number three for the people who have never even heard of us. It has to work on all three levels.

Is there a specific date for the permanent Lust Experience?

Darren Bousman: All I can say right now is next year. As Gordon mentioned earlier, it’s a lot of lawyers and accountants going back and forth, because you’re taking a huge step up. Unlike right now Tension is literally just three people: Gordon, Clint and I. We can’t sustain this. The growth can’t sustain this. We’re now going from three people to a team of people that are going to be helping to construct and build a brand. And that’s kind of what we need. We need to be able to break the ceiling and hit more and new people.

Will Lust Experience be more intense in terms of people going, “I can’t do this? What’s the safe word again?”

Clint Sears: I think it’ll be a slower burn for people. Emotionally they’ll finally just start to decide that they’re uncomfortable, and they may tap out at different times. Whereas you can see people tapping out before like, “Okay, this is going to hit.” This one you will start to go inside yourself and I think a lot of them will eventually just get to the point where they have to call it out because of anxiety. I think yes, but in a different way, is a better answer to that.

Darren Bousman: People are affected by different things. If you look at the horror genre, there are so many subgenres of horror. There are monsters, there’s religion, there are zombies, and there’s torture. There are all these different types that affect people differently. Why I might be disturbed by a particular subgenre, Gordon and Clint might laugh at it and think it’s nothing.

I think this is much in the same way. It’s a much different style than Ascension was, and so I think it’s going to affect people differently. I think some people that have a huge problem with Ascension might not have a problem with Lust. People that have no problems with Ascension might have a harder time dealing with Lust. Again, it’s a different style of getting into your skin.

When creating the Lust Experience, are you ever wondering whether you need to tone things down a bit?

Darren Bousman: There are no toning things down.

Clint Sears: You’re basically saying, “How do we want people to feel? What do we want them to learn? What do we want them to take away? And how will they be changed after they come through?” And so it’s a potent mix of all these things and then we throw it down. We have to use the space that we’re in, we have to use the actors that we have, and then we keep dialing it back and forth until we have the perfect concoction of basically an emotional mindfuck.

So for those who are coming into the ARG world, how can they participate and how does it escalate?

Clint Sears: You can come in knowing nothing or knowing everything. The people that know nothing, they’ll be set-up. And if they like the world, if they like the universe, they can go back and find a whole years worth of stuff to look at. We’ve had lots of players that came in and didn’t know anything. They liked it so much they said, “I want to look into it.” Just like reading the 7th series in an anthology, you just go, “I like that so I’m going to go back, and I’m going to find it all out.” The reverse is true as well.

Darren Bousman: The thing with ARG is this – it’s overwhelming when you first see it. The way the ARG works for us is this – you have to be active in our world for us to use you. What that means is that a lot of people think they’re going to sign on the ARG, and we’re going to start calling people in the middle of the night or showing up to their houses. That’s not what we do. You have to earn that. It’s not just something we give you because we’re not charging you for the ARG. It costs us a lot of money to do it because we’re dealing with insurance, actors, locations and all of this other stuff. So what we do is we watch with you and see who’s the most active and who’s the most vocal.

Let’s say that I pick you to have an experience. If I give you an experience and you don’t talk about it, or let’s say I give you an awesome one on one and you just go online and had this one on one and say it’s cool, I won’t use you again. Because you have negated the thing that we put towards you. For us, you have to put forth the effort and if we see you do it, we will then activate you to be a storyteller with us. And some people have done such a good job, they’ve had 15 to 20 experiences. Some people have kind of messed it up and have had one. So that’s kind of how we play the ARG. Be active is what we say, and only the active move forward.

In the ARG world, you guys are puppets for the ODSM organization. Where did that idea come about?

Darren Bousman: Honestly we can’t talk about that.

For more info and tickets, visit TheLustExperience.com.

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John Nguyen
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