You can thank Visa and MasterCard for your Halloween kicks this year.
One of the clearest trends in contemporary theater is the rise of immersive audience experiences, which have grown in impressive number across the country in the past decade thanks to shows like 2011’s Sleep No More, widely considered to be New York’s paragon of interactive theater. It’s a boom that’s taken its time to settle in on the West Coast, where creators are maxing out their credit cards to keep their passion projects afloat—but all for the sake of art, theater, and giving people one very shocking October surprise.
CreepLA, a smart DIY horror house that’s become the buzz of Los Angeles, is the brainchild of actor Justin Fix. It’s a nascent endeavor only in its second year, but the show, created and directed by Fix, has more than doubled its size for round two after the sold-out (“All but two!” says the director) run last year. This year’s no different, boasting celebrity guests every weekend and another almost sold-out stint.
Perhaps more impressively, Creep doesn’t boast the same established pedigree that its counterparts have built. It’s a theatrical start-up, as bawdy and amateur as you can get—but that only adds to the power of what Fix and his team of actors have created, especially in a town that’s yet to define its municipal theater identity in the way that New York or Chicago have. Los Angeles has all the pieces to mirror those theater scenes, but has never quite coalesced in a way that helps reduce the barriers to entry for young theater entrepreneurs, leaving producers like Fix to rely almost entirely on their belief in artistry and ambition.
“I knew I wanted to play with this immersive landscape and integrate the audience into the story, but I really didn’t know if LA was ready,” says Fix, a lifelong actor and 10-year resident of Los Angeles. “L.A. is not a theater town, and that scares me because we do have a lot of really good theater, but at the core, we need to keep it going as a basic operation. People have pulled out of bringing year-round immersive theater to L.A. But I think the proven model of Sleep No More or Queen of the Night tells us that yes, L.A. could do it, and there’s definitely a desire and a need, especially in the fall, which I think allows us to get away with that stuff.”
Fix credits the immersive explosion to the rise of experiences like escape rooms or production companies like Punchdrunk (the experimental British theater troupe responsible for New York’s Sleep No More), Secret Cinema (an international company that turns films into participatory spectacles), Woodshed (a nomadic collective of large-scale location-based productions), and Blackout (a show in New York and Los Angeles). “They’ve all proven to people that we as a generation are looking to engage differently and go a little more into stories,” Fix says. “What VR is doing for cinema, I think is what this immersive world is doing for theatre.”
Creep is rooted in many of the same basic tenets that have come to define the immersive theater genre, particularly those leaning into the seasonal atmosphere, and combines them with familiar scare tricks of a haunted house. In an aesthetic marked by unnatural sound and lighting, audience groups of eight head through a series of vignette rooms, each filled with actors offering their own disturbing scares—some slightly unsettling, some outright violent—to tell a larger story; this year, about the deranged remaining cult members of a baleful artist named Erebus Burwyck who disappeared in the ‘70s.
Fix believes that Creep stands apart from similar experimental productions thanks to his creative spin on the types of stories told through the medium, as well as the title itself. “You’re dealing with fear and the word ‘creep,’ and it’s already an unsettling vibe that immediately puts people on their toes and makes them pay attention,” he says. “We wanted to introduce the idea of what a Creep was—you can look at it as both the Creep in the room, or as the audience member creeping into these stories. Playing with that is really fun, and really unnerving for the audience.”
The project is entirely unincorporated and self-funded, but Fix—who launched the show last year in just seven weeks, with 13 friends and $60,000—only sees the potential to grow, even if it means leaving behind the fall and moving forward. “I’ve had my doors open for four months in the last two years, so it’s all about the transition of going from a side project into something that can expand beyond Halloween,” he says. Up next, he hopes to embark on a June show underneath the Creep umbrella based on I Know What You Did Last Summer. “Audiences would come and immerse themselves in the story for 45 minutes, and then watch the movie at the end of their experience.”
Come fall 2017, Creep will likely rise once more for a third round, but with the goal of upping its cache as a young business and expanding beyond the limits of a scrappy start-up budget. “We have a really talented team, and really, we’re just a bunch of broke artists with really big, ambitious dreams,” he says of his creative cohorts. “It’s a scary business for entrepreneurs, but when we have more resources, we could really do a lot of damage.”
CreepLA runs through Oct. 31 in northeast Los Angeles.