The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the film "The Wizard of Oz", is a fantastical story filled with lovable characters, an evil witch, an all-knowing wizard, and a yellow brick road. Granted, it's been a long LONG time since I've seen the movie and I don't know much about the other stories that belong in that world, but I can appreciate what the film means to the many people who love and adore it. I'm sure you are wondering why I'm even talking about this movie in regards to an immersive experience but it's because the fine folks over at The Speakeasy Society, an LA based Immersive Theater Company, have put together a unique adventure based around the stories of Frank L. Baum's "Land of Oz" novels. As I already mentioned, I was familiar with "The Wizard of Oz", I mean who isn't, but not so much the "Land of Oz" novels. I wasn't sure what to expect when I was to attend Chapter 1 of the Speakeasy Society's newest event, The Key, but I found for myself, it was much better going in blind as I was able to see everything unfold around me with fresh new eyes.
I know that seems like a lot of convoluted information all at once, and it is, so I think the best way to explain what The Key is would be to give you readers the description that I was given:
"After Dorothy left, the Scarecrow took charge of the wonderful land of Oz and things have gone awry. Oz and it's citizens are in distress. There is civil unrest. There is violence in the streets. And you are being recruited to serve in the Scarecrow's Armed Militia. But there is deception around every corner and things aren't quite what they seem.
Kansas, you have a choice. The Mid-West is in the midst of the dust bowl. You are in need of food, money, and shelter. Opportunity is scarce, hope is nowhere to be seen, and the future looks bleak. When a curious group of strangers set up a colorful tent on the edge of town - you have a decision to make - one that could unlock a 'world of new possibilities.' All they ask is a brief moment of your time... There's a storm on the horizon. What side will you be on?"
When I first read that description I was sold. This was a world that I wanted to be involved in somehow, someway, and I'm so glad that I had the chance too. Upon my arrival at a location in a residential neighborhood, I waited by a fire after being handed a ticket with a number on it. Shortly after settling in, a man came up to me and asked for the number I was given and I was brought behind a house where I was greeted by the most exuberant gentleman outside of a colorful tent. He set the rules forward and asked me a slew of questions to determine if I was ready to enter the tent. As I listened to everything he told me, I couldn't help but let a smile creep over my face. Something magical was about to happen, something unlike anything I've ever done, and I could feel the excitement build within. Once I stepped through the flaps of that colorful tent, I knew that everything I ever thought about "The Wizard of Oz" would change and that a new, and at times frightening, world laid ahead of me.
What sets The Key apart from other immersive experiences is the passion, devotion, and love for what these creators and artists do. This isn't an experience that needs to rely on heavy set-design and over-the-top production costs. The actors are able to fabricate a world that is believable by their performances and the few props that they have at their disposal. If there was one thing that impressed me the most it was the creative ingenuity that is lacking in so many theatrical performances and/or immersive haunts. Even long after my experience had ended, I still felt the effect that the performance had on me and I loved having an experience that lingered on for days on end.
The first chapter of The Key only lasted about 15 minutes and it's here that I met Phoebe Daring, who also turned out to be OZMA (a name you might recognize if you are familiar with the "Land of Oz" novels). She switches back and forth between personalities and at this point I realize I don't know which one to trust. When she's Ozma she's very determined to find the location of the Lost Princess aka the Patchwork Girl aka Dorothy as she believes that the Patchwork Girl is trying to get in the way of her ascending the throne. After hearing Ozma tell me more of her story, she asks that I join the Scarecrow Militia as it's the right thing to do. After I've agreed to join, she hands me a small key and instructs me to meet a man in a top hat and to stay quiet about what she has told me. After I leave, I search out the man in the top hop, who upon meeting me, reveals that he is in fact The Wizard of Oz. He notifies me that I'm in grave danger, that I should turn away from what I'm doing and not to dig any deeper. I nod, but on the inside I know I want more, and he graciously delivers. He advises me to be careful with what Ozma is saying to me and that if I'm going to continue down the rabbit hole, so to speak, that I should follow his advice. At this point he hands me a blue index card with coordinates on them and tells me to follow the numbers to seek out that which I am looking for. I take his warnings under advisement and then immediately decide to follow the coordinates to wherever they will take me.
The coordinates led me to a location where a secret message from the Scarecrow was awaiting me. If I thought this was the end, I was wrong, completely and totally wrong. Since then I have received another message, this time from Phoebe Daring/Ozma, and both messages want the same thing: find the Patchwork Girl. This is far from over and from what I can gather, these performances will be a series of chapters that happen throughout the year. I can't tell you how excited I am for the next chapter, and if rumors are true, it should be happening sometime in February. If you are interested in checking out Chapter 1 - The Key, I've heard that the Speakeasy Society will be doing an encore presentation before Chapter 2, so make sure you are on their email list for when they make their announcements. This is one show you won't want to miss out on.
For more information on the Speakeasy Society, visit their website at www.speakeasysociety.com and follow them on social media on Facebook at TheSpeakeasySoc, Instagram at thespeakeasysoc and Twitter @TheSpeakeasySoc