Immersive LA show, Theatre Macabre, to take you out of your comfort zone

Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV) and his team set out to create an immersive theatre experience that started with The Tension Experience. Their goal was to make the guest the main star of an immersive and interactive play, where no two experiences are the same. The show then continued with The Lust Experience, but the team is breaking away from that this October and is going for a standalone show called Theatre Macabre. Bousman and co-writer Clint Sears chat with Nerd Reactor to explain why it’s going to be a standalone show with no ARG elements, what their plans are, and what emotions they’ll try to bring out of their guests.

Nerd Reactor: With Theatre Macabre, will this continue the story from The Tension and Lust Experience?

Clint Sears: This is going to be a standalone event all by itself. There’s not going to be any ARG elements. We want people to come in and feel like they’re in a different place and a whole different setting. That is important for us.

When you say “No ARG,” this isn’t a trick, is it?

Clint Sears: I know we always do that, right? Who knows what might wind up happening, but that is the plan right now. It is completely self-contained for those hours that you’re under our roof. There’s a couple of different reasons, but the main thing is that we hadn’t done it before. We wanted to make a completely standalone event. In the past, we’ve had people that had never seen anything or didn’t know what was going on.

Darren Lynn Bousman: Tension, Lust, and all those experiences will still continue. But this is hopefully something for those that might be overwhelmed by the amount of time needed to participate. Tension is overwhelming. There’s a year-long ARG going on with a year-long storyline. People could get overwhelmed very easily if that wasn’t their thing. With something like Theatre Macabre, we wanted to provide a standalone experience that anyone could walk off the street and say, “I want to do this; it looks cool,” and not be overwhelmed by 9 years or 9 months of mythology.

What can guests expect when going to Theatre Macabre?

Clint Sears: I think what they can expect is being transported into a different space. There’s going to be a lot of multilevel things going on. Initially, this all came out of Grand Guignol. That’s what drove Darren into the idea in the first place. In Paris, there was this extreme theatre that they did. It was all about social mores and taboos and going against the social things at the time. The whole idea was to replicate this old-timey extreme theatre but also wrap around everything that we’ve learned and all the tricks that we’ve learned from our immersive experiences and to do both at the same time.

So the exciting thing is that no one will be seeing the same show twice. Where you are at in the show and what you’re seeing will all pertain to who you’re talking to. Sometimes you’ll be in front of the stage, sometimes you’ll be beside the stage looking through a curtain, and you’ll be on a balcony. Each time that you’re in these different positions, it will change your perspective of why the theatre is doing what it’s doing and how they’re doing it. So that was the exciting part to us. How multilevel can we make this one singular experience, where we have a show within a show and change everyone’s perspective depending on what they get and the journey that they follow?

Since it’s inside a theatre, does that mean there will be more guests in the group?

Darren Lynn Bousman: It’s still the same. The formula hasn’t changed. It’s still intimate with a group of 9 or 10. That’s what we do and that’s our thing. I love haunted houses and I love going to Halloween Horror Nights every couple of years, but Halloween Horror Nights isn’t scary. There’s no personalization. You walk around with thousands of people in line with hundreds being pushed through [a maze] for a few minutes. What sucks is that you have these beautifully designed houses and amazing-looking sets, but five people in front of me I can see they’re being scared, and four people behind me I can see they’re being scared. So what that does is it takes the intensity off of me as a person. We aim to make everything unique to the person. You are not being corralled, hurdled, or pushed through a line. You’ll be sitting in the big theatre by yourself. To me, there’s just something more intimate and unnerving about that.

What goals do you have to make the guests emotionally uncomfortable?

Clint Sears: It’s everything. I think that’s what we pride ourselves on. Fear is the easy one, but we also want people to feel unsettled. We want them to feel shaken to their care. We want them to question their beliefs and what they would do in these situations. We also want to make them laugh and maybe this time make them cry – like we’ll try to pull on their heartstrings. So it’s the whole range of emotions, even though horror is the easiest for selling tickets, marketing, and getting butts in the seats.

Darren Lynn Bousman: Lust is a very different show. It was extremely risque and Tension was extremely tensed. [Theatre Macabre] is going for different emotions as well. There’s shock in some of it, and I think more than that, it’s engaging with the characters. This is much more of a storyline than Lust was. Lust was more about the feeling of that uncomfortable, disgusting kind of nature of “I can’t believe this happened around me.” What the writers are doing with Theatre Macabre is making dense, crazy, and unique character interaction and vignettes that are taking place all around you. It’s going to feel like a kebab wheel show set in hell.

With Lust, were you happy with the results?

Darren Lynn Bousman: Well, Lust was polarizing, no doubt. If you go back and look at my filmmaking career, and you look at a movie like Repo, you see that Repo was a lot of people’s favorite movie. And they’re like, “Oh my god!” Some of the critics gave glowing and amazing reviews. But at the same time, if you look at someone like Ben Lyons from At The Movies, he said, “This is not only the worst movie of the year, but this is the worst movie ever made.” It’s awesome because there’s no middle ground. It’s either love or hate, and I think I’m lucky to be attached to projects that kind of elicit that type of rage.

Mother’s Day is one of my favorite movies that I did. I remember the day after it screened at Fantastic Fest, I was reading the tweets, and it was like, “Bousman’s best movie.” The next one was “Bousman’s worst movie.” I think that the immersive theatre world is the same thing. With Lust, we had people that were gushing after it, and we had people that were so enraged after it. And I think that’s kind of what I do. It’s going to be a polarizing experience. Am I going to tell you that everyone is going to love it? No! But there’s going to be people that absolutely adore it and come back again and again and again.

Like in the previous events, guests are encouraged to not bring cell phones, purses, etc.

Clint Sears: Part of that is that we don’t want anyone to bring anything from the outside world in there. You are in our environment, and we want you to completely lose yourself and immerse yourself into that. If you’re bringing things from the outside and are worrying about your valuables, if you’re wondering about this or that, your head’s not going to be in our game completely the way we want you to. And that’s just a part of it. The rest of it is too much to give away.

Guests are also encouraged to dress as seriously as they wish to be taken. Care to elaborate on that?

Darren Lynn Bousman: Here’s the thing, you’re spending $150 a ticket. This isn’t cheap. You’re not going to a cheap haunted house and have someone jump out at you. You’re going into a theatre, and if you’re going to the Pantages and see a show, you’re not going to dress like a slob. I think a part of what we’re trying to do with this whole experience is to give people an experience and take them out of their comfort zones. Put your ****ing phones down, get off your Instagram and your goddamned Twitter for a minute, have some libations, listen to some music, and see some people die. Dress the **** up! If we don’t take ourselves seriously, how can we ask the audience to take them seriously? So yeah, dress up, leave your ****king phone in your car, come watch some debauchery occur, and be present. There’s going to be some libations there. Communicate, talk to people you don’t know.

You can get tickets now at

theatre macabre

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