Can you believe it’s March already? 2018 sure is flying by so far! But that just means that the Hollywood Fringe Festival is just around the corner, with tons of fantastic new shows and productions for us to check out. And speaking of which, while browsing some of the upcoming things we have to look forward to, one production caught my eye. That is “God: The Apologies Tour” from They Played Productions.

Made up of Thea Rivera and Erik Blair, these two are breaking into the immersive scene with not just one immersive production this year, but with a second one taking place just before Fringe.

Rivera and Blair were kind enough to answer some of our questions, and tell us a bit more about what we can look forward to from They Played Productions.

HorrorBuzz: Tell us how They Played Productions came about. 

Rivera: Given that we both had theater backgrounds coming into Los Angeles, we did what almost everyone who really wants to get involved in theater here does–we just did theater. We threw ourselves into various theater projects with multiple companies over the past few years, doing everything and anything we could. Directing, acting, stage-managing, even volunteering if there was nothing better available. We’ve worked with some great people. We also had our share of drama—both good and bad—working with those companies. Every now and then, we thought, “We’d have run that show differently.” Or “We would have managed that situation differently.” We definitely had some strong opinions over the years, and we wanted to see if we could take what we loved, drop what we didn’t and do it our way.

Blair: I have actually created a full theater before, back in Texas. It was called The Phoenix Theatre and I was very proud of it. When I moved out here to do film/tv, I stopped doing theater for a long time. But over the past few years, I’d begun getting heavily invested again and realized that I now had a significant number of ideas that would work better in a theatrical environment than in any other medium. In the meantime, I’d been working with Thea on multiple shows and we knew that there were ideas and concepts that we wanted to try and generate our way, under our own banner.

Rivera: During the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2016, after seeing a ton of fantastic theater created from everything from individuals to rag-tag companies to big established companies, we decided “Let’s put something up next year!” Fast forward to Fringe 2017, where we put up something big—an ambitious, full 90-minute, specially costumed, 10-person musical.

Blair: Yeah. We tend to think big.

Rivera: That spring, we also decided to get squared away as a company to make producing these things easier and to establish ourselves as a legitimate company and to stake our ground. We learned a great deal last year—including some things we don’t want to do again—and this year we’re expanding to shows both before, during and after Fringe 2018.

Blair: While our first productions are all horror-based, and I think that will always be part of our schedule because I love horror stories, in all their forms. But I think our brand is going to be about telling traditional stories, traditional tropes and ideas in modern, unique combinations that allow us to re-examine what those stories are about.

HorrorBuzz: What are the roles that you two (Erik and Thea) play?

Rivera: Since there are only two of us so far, we’re both doing a lot of everything. However, during our productions to this point, Erik has been primarily the writer/director (and occasional actor) while I have been primarily the producer. But it’s not a complete split—Erik still spends a ton of time doing producer duties and I contribute creatively on multiple levels.

Blair: I think by next year’s Fringe, we’ll see our roles reverse at least once. Thea has one show she’s wanted to direct for years—with a unique twist that I can’t wait to see onstage—and she’s also writing a show of her own that I personally think is going to blow people away. So I’m looking forward to seeing her creative endeavors come to fruition just as much as I enjoy seeing mine.

HorrorBuzz: Can you tell us about your show for Fringe Festival? How did the story come about?

Blair: This year’s Fringe show is called “God: The Apologies Tour.” The premise is simple—you, the audience, will get to meet The Creator (as in the one who made the universe) live and in-person. You will have the chance to ask that one question you’ve always wanted to ask…and get an answer for once.

This show is quite literally a decade in the making for me. It began, frankly, as a stand-up comedy idea that I had back in the late 2000’s. I have studied most of the world’s religions throughout my adult life, and I began to realize that many of the traditional answers to religious questions are both very telling of the human spirit and very funny. I was originally going to mount a stand-up show that would present the answers to religion as comedy.

Over the years, however, the idea kept changing. I started to want to bring more truth to the show. More honesty. To accept ideas as being real, even if they were still funny. And after 2017 started and I saw exactly how terrible our world has become, the final bit clicked.

What if The Creator returned to Earth, took one look at what we’ve done with it, and realized that Free Will was a terrible mistake? Not because it’s not a great gift but because we are the reason we can’t have nice things?

I could not shake the idea of making that moment happen. And I knew, instantly, that in order to do this show justice, it needed to break free from the original idea and become something truly immersive.

That’s why our Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to help pay for the show include interactions from The Creator with every single pledge level—because I want this show to reach beyond even the expanse of the stage area and into the homes of anyone who helps fund it, regardless of whether they can make it to the show or not.

I am tremendously pleased about this show—and more than a little terrified. It’s not humble, putting yourself into the role of The Creator. Lightning may strike me down instantly during the dress rehearsal. But if the show does what I hope it will do, I think audiences are going to be really surprised as both what happens during the show…and what happens at the end. Because this is one of my shows—you can be sure there’s something darker underneath the surface.

HorrorBuzz: You’re also mounting a show in March as well! Tell us a bit about it. 

Blair: As I’ve said, we don’t think small. We’ve also launched a three-chapter immersive production called Captivated: An Obsession in Three Acts. These three chapters are designed to be enjoyed either alone or—if you really want to get the full story—as a three-part event.

March’s event is titled ‘Chapter One: Justine.” During the last three weekends of March, we’re hosting a party for Victoria Polidori and her friends, the audience. It’s a night of drinks and pizza, a small and intimate gathering where old and new friends can meet and enjoy themselves.

At least, that’s what it looks like on the surface. When the audience begins to interact with the characters, they’re going to begin to spot that there are some serious problems and secrets happening underneath the surface. Everything is most definitely not what it seems.

We’ve designed this as a 60-75 minute show of only 5 audience members per show. That way we can guarantee that every audience member will get quality time with our 5-person cast.

One thing that really excites me about this show is that no audience member will get to see everything happening. We’ve designed the story like a jigsaw puzzle–if you really want to know what’s going on, you’ll have to chat with the other audience members during or after the show and piece it together.

The second thing that excites me is that this is a modern retelling of a very classic horror novel. I’ve taken a story that audiences have all seen before and spun it into a modern tale, one that will percolate in Chapter One, simmer in Chapter Two and explode in Chapter Three. I think when audiences realize what horror story they’ve actually gotten themselves into here, they’re going to be dying to see how it all comes out. And that’s even before the big surprises start rolling out.

HorrorBuzz: What about immersive theater draws you to it?

Rivera: For the past few years, we’ve experienced a tremendous amount of immersive theater. It’s definitely an emerging form that provides incredible opportunities for unconventional storytelling and theatrical performance without requiring a theater. That’s something we both understand very well from other avenues of story telling.

We each have over 2 decades of large scale LARP experience as players and storytellers/game-runners. I’ve also got 2 decades of improvisational Renaissance Faire performer experience. We’ve even created our own short-lived online ARG (Alternate Reality Game), where the highlights were when the games broke free and became real-life encounters.

Immersive theatre, for me, is a fairly natural amalgam of our shared conventional theater experience and the unconventional experiential storytelling that we’ve been involved with already for so many years. It’s a form that’s getting more sophisticated every day. Audiences become savvier and are expecting more with every new experience they encounter. It’s a challenge to think outside of the box and way beyond the fourth wall. Challenge accepted!

Blair: I think I’ve been drawn to immersive theatre my entire life, long before the term was coined. In high school, I put together a production of Waiting for Godot in a school alleyway, transforming Vladimir and Estragon’s lonely vigil into that of two teenage kids waiting for a drug dealer to get there. The show did exactly one performance before the principal got a call from the superintendent to shut it down.

When I owned my theater, I expanded a production of Our Town to include the entire theater both before and after the show, making it a ‘touring’ production being put on by the actual town-folk. I tried to find ways to make early text-based online games expand beyond the words and I’ve created fictional worlds in LARPs for two-hundred plus people at one time in the middle of hotel ballrooms.

So I feel like I wasn’t drawn to immersive theatre as much as it simply was coined as a term around what I was already doing. And yet, surprisingly, I managed to miss much of the actual immersive theatre that was happening until the past few years. Once I found it, however, it was like coming home for me. It was as if the rest of the theatrical world had finally caught on to what I already knew—that it’s simply more fun to make an immersive production.

Whether it’s scaring you, thrilling you, making you sad or happy or confused or devastatingly uncomfortable, there is something legitimate about immersive theatre that simply cannot be effectively replicated in any other form of story telling, as far as I’m concerned. I love theatre. Send me to a musical any day of the week and I’m a happy man.

But give me the tangible emotions that immersive theatre can generate and I will not stop talking about it for days afterwards. It is my hope and my belief that the five members of our first immersive show—and the Fringe show and the larger casts we’re contemplating for the later chapters of Captivated—are going to give audiences that same feeling when they come see exactly why a young woman named “Justine” has amnesia. If we can create that reality of emotions for them as so many other great immersive theatre people in Los Angeles and elsewhere have done for me—that’s one of the greatest goals I’ve ever had for the creations and stories I make.

Thanks so much to Erik and Thea for answer our questions!

For more information on their upcoming shows, visit them online at http://theyplayed.com