We’ve all experience bad dates. It’s hard enough meeting a stranger for the first time, while working through if you truly have feelings for this person; it’s even harder when that date takes a sharp left turn into red flags territory. Having had my fair share of horrible dating stories, my interest was piqued when I heard that the theater based company, Capital W, would be showcasing a new immersive production, aptly titled, RED FLAGS, about a bad date that goes very, very wrong.

RED FLAGS is a show that takes place between one actor and one audience member. Prior to meeting our date, whose name is Emma (played by the very talented Lauren Flans), we receive an email questionnaire. This is so that Emma gets to know us a little bit better and we get to know Emma a bit more. Emma, we find out, can’t live without Jane Austen novels, her rescue dog, or love. All answers that seem normal and appropriate. I responded that I can’t live without my cell phone, my car, or my job. I guess that says a lot more about me than I realized, and looking back, I wonder why I never said love.

The day of the date, I received a text message from Emma making sure I would be at the designated sot on time. She was fervent in making sure that I texted her as soon as I got there so that she wouldn’t miss seeing me. I arrived at exactly 5pm and texted Emma only to get a response that she was running a few minutes late followed by, “I’m usually only late when I don’t care about people…but I care about you!” I found this to be an odd thing to say to someone but I shrugged to myself and waited.

After a few minutes, Emma appeared and hugged me and proceeded to tell me how attractive I was. I smiled and said the same, but I noticed she had an aura of nervous energy surrounding her. She asked me if I would like a drink and I obliged and was led into the incredibly alluring Sassafras Saloon. As we waited for our drinks, I told Emma how in awe I was of the design of the bar, and she remarked that she had been here before on a date but upset the girl she was with when she hit on one of the other dancers. Not knowing what to say I just nervously laughed as we took our drinks and sat in the back of the bar for privacy as we got to know each other. From the moment we sat down, Emma’s nervous energy enveloped her and I felt myself becoming a bit uneasy. Even though what I was experiencing was just a theatrical performance, something about the intimacy of what was happening, the stories we were telling each other, the pain that was clearly apparent in Emma’s eyes, threw me off.

RED FLAGS is more than just an immersive experience, it’s a study into the lives of those who want nothing more than to be unconditionally loved. It’s heartbreaking and it’s uncomfortable, but I think it’s something that needs to be felt in order to truly understand it. Even as the biggest red flag of them all was revealed, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Emma. When she spoke of what she had done, her only question was if I hated her, to which I replied, “do you want me to hate you?” At this, she bowed her head and said she needed to go. As I gathered up my belongings, I followed Emma outside of the bar where she once again told me I was attractive and asked if I would give her a hug. I did so, and just like that, she left.

As I walked back to my car, my phone buzzed and I looked down to a text message. It was a picture of Emma and I that she took. She had informed me that she took a picture of all her dates in case they either murdered her or became the one to be in a loving relationship with her. That picture would be the first of what she hoped would be many, unfortunately, it seemed that a lot of those pictures were just a one time thing. Since my meeting with Emma, our encounter has stayed with me and I haven’t been able to shake off the conversations that we had. I know what it’s like to search for love, and I know what it’s like to wait until you are ready for love to find you. I know how hard it is to keep a terrible secret that pains you locked deep inside for fear of what people will think about you. I’m in a relationship with the most marvelous man, but it took me a long time to get there and I had to experience a lot of relationships that had the warning sings that I refused to acknowledge.

If you are someone that is looking for a new and unique type of immersive experience, then RED FLAGS is a definite must see at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, as it’ll force you to confront feelings about relationships and dating in ways you didn’t know where possible. As of right now, their run is completely sold out but they will be adding new shows so make sure to join their mailing list at www.captialwperformance.com. For more information or to purchase tickets to RED FLAGS, visit the Hollywood Fringe Festival website at www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/4773.

Shannon McGrew
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