One of the most anticipated events of the season, DELUSION, returns this October with their newest interactive and immersive show HIS CRIMSON QUEEN. From the moment I moved to California, my boyfriend and I were told that if there was one thing that we needed to experience it was DELUSION. As it'll be my first time attending, I wanted to sit down with creator Jon Braver to learn more about his latest show, what someone like myself should expect, as well as what goes into creating such a large production.
Shannon McGrew: To start things off, how did DELUSION come to be and what inspired you to make such an immersive experience?
Jon Braver: Well, DELUSION came to be from having a bit of disillusionment with haunted houses. I just wasn't a big fan of them. I always felt like there was something lacking, that emotional connection to a story. Putting yourself inside of a scene and having an actual story was a big appeal to me. During this same time I was a big gamer, like with old school video games and such, especially RPG's. The beginning of these type of game you could take on the role of somebody and really dive into the story. The RPG games had such a profound effect on me that my friends and I would make them into real life by setting up elaborate adventures in my neighborhood in Chicago. We would trespass and hop over the fences of these botanical gardens and run around setting up treasure hunts for our friends and I remember thinking, God this is so cool. So, DELUSION kind of came from that combined with my disillusionment of haunted houses. I took over my parents house in 1996 and created my first sort of immersive play and it was from then on that I had this crazy rush and its how all this started.
SM: For those not familiar with your newest show, HIS CRIMSON QUEEN, can you give us a little bit of background on the story?
JB: HIS CRIMSON QUEEN is sort of a tale of love, loss and supernatural, all mixed into an original vampire lore. I've kind of toyed over the idea for a few years on doing a vampire story, in the classic vein of like "Salem's Lot" and "Interview with the Vampire." I hadn't done it prior because I felt like the vampire genre was a bit overdone so over the years I left the idea to the side and figured I would revisit it at some point. Zombies are the thing right now so I thought, you know what, lets tackle that vampire story. I found this venue which has lended itself so well to that feel I'm trying to get. The story of HIS CRIMSON QUEEN focuses on the audience members playing the children of these two people, Berke and Selene. Everyone is under the impression that their mother, Selene, died in a fire when they were too young to remember. Berke gets word that that might not be the case anymore and he needs the children to meet him at this old villa where has has found something shocking. The story sort of starts there where the audience, playing the children of the two, go up to the villa and help search for their missing parents. Meanwhile, they find out more about their lineage, bloodline and where it came from, as well as who their mother really is.
SM: Is there a common theme that ties all your shows together or do each one of them stand on their own individually?
JB: Well, there is something that I've been developing for awhile called the "Delusion Universe", where each of these stories exist in a similar plan of existence. In some ways, they are connected directly and in other ways obscurely, in a spinoff sort of way. This performance will connect in an obscure way to the previous ones but all of them are pretty much standalone shows. Over time we want to develop these stories into other mediums like graphic novels, comic books, television series and features. We should be announcing all of that stuff sometime soon.
SM: What do you think sets HIS CRIMSON QUEEN apart from the other shows you've done in the past?
JB: All the shows have the DELUSION stamp on them, meaning artistically, visually, action orientated because that's how I write them. This one has a different twist in that it's a bit more action orientated, a bit more phrenetic, but it definitely has some things we've never done before. It's a bit more elaborate than any other show we've done, so technically it's the most ambitious one and I think action and stunt wise it's the most ambitious one we've done. There will be more action happening around you and the score, the score is a big thing. The score is quite epic this year.
SM: Is this production on a bigger scale because you took a year off last year?
JB: Well, that's the thing that no one really realizes. It wasn't so much like we take a year off and we have more time to develop something, that was not the case at all. I took off the year because my mom passed away from Leukemia and it was a massive blow and I needed to remove myself. The other reason is we never found a venue. We had a venue that was a year round thing for awhile but the finances didn't work out to make that one realistic and of course with the personal thing that happened I just said I'm out. I absolutely loved taking that time off as I got to hang out with my daughter more.
SM: I am so sorry for you loss but glad that you were able to spend time with your family. Sometimes life gets in the way of things to show us what really is important. Now that you are back, did you run into any challenges when creating HIS CRIMSON QUEEN?
JB: These shows are what I call hideous bitch goddesses (laughs). They are fucking horrific and not just in tone but in putting them up. You think it would be easier over the years but oh my God it's not. One of the big obstacles, and this is something that the Delusion fans know of and is a double edged sword, is having an authentic and real property, like an old mansion or an old villa to go into. To do that, in putting out a commercial event in a residential area includes zoning and permits and it makes the business model of Delusion completely insane. Why would anyone do this? (laughs). You have to hope you get your permits on time, you have to hope the neighbors are cool with it, cause if they complain they can shut your show down, which happened to us in 2013 which was devastating. So many things are up to the whim of the neighborhood. My producers, Jackie and Niyia, along with the production designer Kevin, are the most unbelievable people on the planet. They make this production work and every single day there are obstacles to overcome.
SM: For somebody like myself who has never experienced Delusion, what can we expect and what sets you apart from other immersive experiences/haunts?
JB: First thing I always say is you are going to the theater, that's what you are doing. You're going to the theater, you are seeing a play that exists throughout an actual venue and you are moving through this play. You should expect to get top actors, special effects, stunts, music, everything you would expect from a big budget Hollywood film in a play format. It's all story orientated, every show is very heavy on story, and though it sounds tripe, people will say it's like living inside a horror movie. You really are a character. I mean our tag line is "play your part" for a reason, you really are playing a part. We put a lot of trust in the audience to play these parts and to play them the best they can and sometimes it goes well and sometimes it doesn't. I'm writing this show for people who can actually live that character and try to let themselves be completely immersed. Interactive theater and immersive theater are words that are being used a lot but all the Delusional fans have come to learn that when you go to a Delusion show it's not just a buzzword, it's truly interactive, truly immersive to the point where we need you to actually move this story forward. You are such an integral part in it. So I need people to come into the show with open hearts, open minds, and childlike imagination to be able to experience this new world that they are going to be able to go into and let themselves completely go. It's not about just being scared, it's never been about just being scared. I'm not even a big horror fan but the idea of having people experience something together and then at the end of it seeing strangers coming together to hold hands and hug and share stories, that's the most rewarding thing. You should just expect an adventure. An adventure unlike anything you've ever experienced before.
SM: Wow. That's a lot to take in and I can't thank you enough for taking time out of your day to speak with and I can't tell you how excited I am to experience HIS CRIMSON QUEEN. Thank you so much.