After weeks of research, I finally set up a time to meet with my contact within the ranks of ALONE inc., Maybe Smith. After friending me on Facebook weeks ago, she began to send me cryptic messages, alluding to ALONE inc.’s true intentions, and promising me the answers I so desperately sought.
I was told to wear something pink so she could recognize me, but unfortunately, I didn’t have anything. Instead, I improvised, and a little ridiculously at that. I stood in a doorway on South Broadway, nervously clutching my ‘something pink’, in my hands. I looked around, wondering where my contact could be. Having never seen her face, Maybe literally could be anyone walking by. I kept my eyes peeled. Within a few minutes, a woman wearing a pea coat stood near me, facing the opposite direction.
“Don’t say a word. Just follow me.” She quickly walked into the building, and into a bar. I followed her, a few steps behind, and anxiously waited for the elevator to make its way to us. When it arrived, we stood there in silence amongst a few others for a ride that took seemingly forever. Eventually, the doors opened into a gorgeous rooftop bar, where Maybe made her way to a table, and told me to join her. Over a drink (she ordered me a water when the waiter asked what I wanted), she began to tell me more of what she knew. She spoke of the city behind the fringes of Los Angeles where secret testing is done. Of what they are trying to do. Of how she has studied me, and my DNA, for so, so long, and how it was a privilege to finally meet me. She put something in my drink, and made sure I drank it all, in order to counteract the things that were to come. And then, just as soon as I had met her, she was gone.
That was how ALONE inc. ACHELAND began for me. With cloak and dagger tactics and clandestine meetings in one of the most gorgeous bars I’ve ever been to, before being plunged back deep into the city, with its seediness seeping from every alleyway.
The last few years have been an interesting turn of events for ALONE. While most interactive experiences of this nature tell their tale, and then move on to the next, ALONE has taken it a step further, and created an overarching mystery connecting every event they have ever done. Last year’s Unweave the Rainbow storyline did a great job of tying it all together, revealing the machinations of ALONE inc.’s master plan.
This year’s storyline, according to their website, will “delve into the psychology of self v. system, personhood v. corporation, and comfort v. threat.” That was on display full force during ACHELAND, as I felt myself becoming prepared to lose control of myself, and become one with ALONE inc. Literally.
In addition to the typical things you might come to expect from ALONE (surreal imagery, beautiful scenes, tense moments), ACHELAND opened up the doors to experimentation for them. There were a few new things they tried, and it worked quite well. For example, the time between meeting Maybe and getting to the actual venue for the overall event was quite clever and extremely well done. Much like it is alluded to on their site, you literally have to give up control of yourself, your individuality, and allow ALONE inc. to assimilate you into their system. It’s extremely subtle, but it’s a great way to put the thought of “you cannot do this on your own, you need us” into a patron’s head.
Another standout moment for me was a barrage of moral questions (that seemed to get more morally ambiguous as time went on), asked by a perpetually cheery, but unseen, ALONE inc. employee set to a slowed down (and thus, creepy) version of Tommy James and The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now.” Also, holy crap, why haven’t they done that before (have they done that before)?! The music was distracting, unnerving, and ultimately, help set the tone even further.
And these were all things that happened closer to the beginning of the hour and a half experience. Literally, the entire thing was filled with great moments that I won’t go into detail here as to not spoil it for you.
When this event was announced, some people were a bit hesitant to dive in because of the price point. Lately, off-season experiences such as this come with a bit of a hit to the wallet, leaving some folks hesitant to make the purchase. However, for avid fans of ALONE’s events, I can say with fullest confidence that it was well worth the price.
You have to remember that ALONE doesn’t begin when your chosen date and time arrives. ALONE begins the moment you purchase your ticket. Not only for the pure paranoia factor that they put in your head early on, but also with your interactions with ALONE characters. Within days of buying my ticket for ACHELAND, Maybe friended me on Facebook. Within moments, she was talking to me about her experience working for ALONE inc., how she had escaped, and how she, and a select group of others, want to help bring them down. She even sent a few select patrons letters and newspaper articles in the mail about ALONE inc.’s evil doings. Yes, you read that right; an ACTUAL LETTER CAME TO MY HOME. That’s creepy as hell.
These touches are simple in the grand scheme of things, but man, they work. They help you immerse yourself into the story that ALONE is telling, well before you even show up for the experience itself. And when the experience starts, getting that payoff is even more satisfying. While meeting Maybe in person for the first time, despite the serious ramifications of what she was saying, I had the biggest grin on my face.
That, to me, is effective storytelling.
Also, major kudos to the actress playing Maybe, because she was incredibly convincing in her role. Taking on a ‘face’ role in something like this is never easy, but I was completely enthralled by her performance and her ability to BE the character for the ten minutes we spent together. That, and the another ‘face’ character at the end of the experience, made ACHELAND quite memorable, so it deserves mentioning.
All that said, if you’ve never done ALONE before, don’t let its mythology intimidate you. It may seem complicated, but even those with zero knowledge of what came before will enjoy their offerings. While you may get more out of it if you do know, it is still easily accessible to anyone coming in.
But now I am back to waiting. Despite quite literally being told at the end that it was over and I could head back to my car, I was still looking over my shoulder for something to happen next. I’ve learned my lesson, and know it’s never really over. Even now, as I type this, when I see someone walk by, I can’t help but wonder if they are real, or someone sent by ALONE inc. to keep watch over me.
While ACHELAND was only a two-night run, I urge you to keep an eye out for ALONE’s further events this year. I am anxious to see how this storyline plays out, and for whatever else ALONE inc. has in store for us next.