The Tension Experience: Ascension – Spoiler Free Review
The Tension Experience: Ascension has arrived!
Wonder what that odd crashing sound you heard in the background of your life was this weekend? That was the sound of every theatrical norm in the city of Los Angeles being destroyed. Ascension sets out to break molds and redefine what a theatrical experience might be for a willing and game participant.
Arriving like some mischievous, rambunctious child set out to conquer, destroy, and take over the playground before it, this thing is thrillingly ambitious and daringly provocative.
The question is not whether you should go, the question is…
… ARE YOU READY?
Russell: Since it was first announced, this event refused to set boundaries or clearly define what it was going to be. It didn’t call itself a haunted house and it didn’t call itself immersive theatre. They claimed it was a mixture of both of those things and more. Having gone through it, finally, I dare to define it as an immersive theatre piece unlike any other. It boldly uses haunt and escape room techniques in a manner that is guaranteed to deliver on the title. This isn’t a straight drama. It isn’t a horror piece. To call it a thriller might be getting a little bit closer to the point – but does not do the piece justice.
Mike: This really is something that stands on its own. To me, this is immersive theatre with haunt elements, escape room elements, and other types of immersive elements. You will be frightened at times. You will be smiling at times. Your heart will be racing at times. When you combine all of these things, you really do have a one of a kind experience that blows the doors off of everything you thought you knew about “theatre”. When you purchase your ticket, you learn the basics of the story. This is taken from the front page of Tension’s website:
“We invite you to enter the doors of the O.O.A. Institute, a mysterious organization that promises enlightenment, but at what cost?
Nothing is quite what it seems and something sinister lurks behind every welcoming smile.
Participants lucky enough to be permitted inside will discover fervent disciples, tasks that probe and chronicle the darkest recesses of their mind and, sometimes, unexplainable terror.
Individual decisions will unravel whether this is a true path to enlightenment or merely an elaborate trap set by a dangerous cult.
Ascension is more than immersive theater, more than a haunted house and more than anything you could possibly imagine. It is a journey into darkness with the possibility of being reborn in the light.”
This is taken from their press release:
The Tension Experience: Ascension is –
– An indoor, interactive experience covering an entire city block that will last over two hours.
– Part haunt, part theatre, part escape room and a completely new, living, breathing… alternate reality.
– Completely immersive. Everything and everyone is there to be interacted with.
– An entity designed to let the audience mold and shape the mysterious and terrifying narrative through their own actions and decisions.
Russell: Like Mike said, this has influences from all over and be forewarned, this is not a theatre piece for the timid. As promised, it is “a journey into darkness.” You are expected to react. You are expected to participate and engage with the characters as they engage you. You will be asked awkward questions, often personal and intrusive ones. You will be made uncomfortable…again this is “The Tension Experience.” The O.O.A. Institute needs to make sure they recruit the right people and these questions are how you are processed.
It should be noted, that for the last seven months, some passionate participants have engaged in The Tension Experience: Indoctrination through online forums, Facebook, and other social media. They have explored an odd alternative reality game, engaging characters in clandestine real-life meetings scheduled by random sudden phone calls in the middle of the day, joining a community online that, at times, rabidly sought answers to questions that seemed to actually have no answers, deciphering puzzles and clues that began to introduce a series of characters. All provided free of charge to anyone willing to devote the time of playing along.
Participation in that portion of this story is NOT necessary to enjoy Ascension. The event stands on its own as an individual experience.
Mike: We’ve spoken about this on many podcasts and articles. If you are new to The Tension Experience and want to catch up on some of the crazy things that have happened, please check out podcast episodes 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17, 18, and 20. You will hear our personal accounts, opinions, and journey up to this point. It’s quite a ride. Like Russell said, you do not need to know anything about the last 7 months, but if you have participated, you may see and hear some Easter Eggs contained inside. Keep your eyes and ears open.
Russell: With any immersive theatre piece, the key is the world that is created. In the case of the Ascension, you enter a somewhat twisted form of narrative involving an organization which some believe is a cult with questionable intentions.
Mike: Nothing is random within this experience. From the moment you arrive, you are engulfed in this world whether you’re ready for it or not.
Russell: Being an immersive theatre piece, there are hidden things to be uncovered.
Mike: There are secrets to find. There is an opportunity to be rewarded with private scenes and secret rooms, but in order to find them, you have to pay attention, explore, and take what is given.
Russell: The key here is to play the game. The ambition on display here is groundbreaking. The Los Angeles theatre scene has been blessed with stunning immersive achievements the last couple of years; This is the Wilderness and their beautiful “The Day Shall Declare It” and The Speakeasy Society’s “Johnny: The Shell” come to mind. This piece is stunningly ambitious because of the level of interaction. You will not see everything, and that will change your narrative as compared to other patrons… even if they start their journey at the same moment as you.
This is not an immersive world you explore on your own, like the famous Sleep No More in New York. There are moments when you have the opportunity to explore rooms and discover clues about the environment you are in, but you are led through the event by characters and they will interact with you. Sometimes those interactions are exciting moments, at times they can actually be somewhat unpleasant.
Yes, this is immersive theatre…. but this is so much MORE, as well.
Mike: As soon as I walked out, one of my first thoughts was “What didn’t I get to experience and how soon can I come back to try and see what I missed?” This is the same thought I had after seeing “Johnny: The Shell”. You can go through Ascension multiple times and see things you haven’t seen before. This is so ambitious and I love that they are allowing this to happen. Being able to change things and give someone a new experience when they come back is such an important part of immersive theatre to me.
Russell: The environments you enter are stunning. Huge, beautiful rooms that create unnerving cold office spaces or hallways that seem to transform as you move through them. Sometimes the effect is subtle and understated, other times bold colors blanket large spaces that actually feel disorienting as you spend more time within the walls. (Or perhaps… that was the tension actually getting to me!!!)
Mike: For me, being able to be completely immersed in a story heavily relies on the setting. Inside Ascension, I was instantly transported to this world. I was not on a set. I was not at a random building in Los Angeles. I was inside the O.O.A. Institute. I was communicating with O.O.A. members, not fictional characters. For those two plus hours, this was real. The emotions I felt were real. Everything and everyone inside was real. This had so much to do with the design of everything within those walls. If you can let go and truly immerse yourself inside this world, the benefits are truly incredible.
Russell: You will encounter a series of challenging sequences that will test your comfort level on many different platforms. You will feel awkward at times. If you are willing to “jump in” and play along, there are some deeply emotional rewards to be had here. You may witness the destruction of innocence in others. You may be challenged to reassess your own life choices that brought you to where you are now… in life, career and relationships. Perhaps there are even plots of deceit and murder to be uncovered. However, this is not “shock theater,” there are bigger ideas at play here than simple shock and thrills.
Purposes or allegiances of the characters will change at times, even as you’re speaking with them. You are entering a real life mystery that has some incredibly dark overtones. If this is a cult, they are going to test your mettle to judge your worthiness. It is hard to describe almost any sequence, because almost every scene holds some sort of jolt or surprise. I do not want to spoil anything, but I feel it necessary to warn about certain aspects of the event.
Mike: Remember, this is called “The Tension Experience”. This is not a feel good story. It is a dark story and some dark things may happen to you. With that being said, this is not an extreme haunt, but there are elements and inspiration from them. Because not all people are into things being like this, there is a safe word that can be called if the experience gets too outside of your comfort zone. I will say this though, our group had a mix of people who have never done haunts, never done immersive theatre, etc, etc, and none of them called the safe word. Were they tested? Yes. Were they put in uncomfortable positions? Did they persevere and push their personal boundaries, limits, and test themselves? Yes. Will you be put through these same experiences? Yes. If you expect the unexpected, I do believe you will make it through the entire show… and trust me on this, you DO want to make it through the entire show.
Russell: This show challenges you to be present at every moment and engaged with every moment. As a fan of immersive theatre, I challenge you to go explore this world and experience this amazing experiment in storytelling. It will not be to everyone’s liking. It may unnerve you. It may very likely offend you, but you will not walkaway unaffected. Finally, Los Angeles has a huge ambitious, sprawling, epic theatre piece that warrants multiple trips through to learn just how deep and twisted the world it creates may be… let us embrace it.
Mike: The things I saw, found, and noticed inside brought smiles, fear, gasps, anxiousness, TENSION, and even anger and rage. I heard friends shout my name and shed tears based on things they were seeing. Getting that range of emotions from us just tells you how impactful this show was for all of us. Please, if you’re a fan of dark, twisted, immersive theatre that mixes in some haunt elements, that will leave you questioning everything you think you know, do yourself a favor and go to this show.
As of this writing, there are dates through the end of October, with September (minus a couple days) being sold out. I do believe that once word gets out about this show, dates will sell out quickly. If this happens, we can only hope that additional dates will be added so more people can witness what happens within the O.O.A. Institute’s walls.