Shelby and Nick just broke up. They are confused, sad, angry, and hurt. How did something that started off so beautifully end up so horribly? Luckily, there is a solution: Closure Inc. is a new start up company that hires relationship analysts to review memories from newly broken up couples to determine where things went awry. Using state of the art technology, Closure Inc. extracts memories from each member of a couple and projects them through a virtual reality headset. By reviewing the memories, analysts are able to examine factors leading up to the break up and provide answers for heartbroken couples. They are hiring talented relationship analysts like you. Are you up for the job?
WHAT WENT WRONG is a 25 minute part immersive theater and part virtual reality experience where participants are tasked to determine what were the contributing factors leading to a couple’s break up. Groups of 6 enter at a time and a discussion between the group members and actors are encouraged creating a collaborative experience. After viewing the couple’s memories, participants are asked to place blame on one member of the couple. What group members don’t realize is that some participants are viewing memories from Shelby’s point of view and others from Nick’s perspective. This provides a somewhat different account of events that took place and can create discord among the analysts. Participants are put on the spot by being asked to side with a single member of the couple and must defend their reasoning. Are you Team Shelby or Team Nick?
Most marriage and family therapists would agree that no one person is the cause of a relational problem. The concept of circular causality, shared among all family systems theories, speaks to the mutual effect that people have on each other that can contribute to a dysfunctional relational dynamic. When one person is scapegoated in a family and made into an “identified patient” or problem person, most marriage and family therapists seek to remove this label and help the family gain insight into dysfunctional relational patterns that maintain the problem. Given that we are relational analysts at Closure Inc, the request for participants to place blame on a particular person in a couple seems counter intuitive but it makes for interesting theater.
From a social psychology perspective, it was also interesting to see how peer pressure among the group of analysts may have persuaded individuals to side with a particular team. Analysts may feel pressure to conform to the most opinionated participants or the majority to avoid feelings of rejection by the other group members and maintain group cohesion. The power of conformity is outlined in the famous Solomon Asch conformity experiments. These experiments resulted in the majority of participants providing a clearly incorrect answer in at least 1 trial to conform to the majority of group members who were confederates that answered incorrectly on purpose. In this way, WHAT WENT WRONG has the power to also expose unconscious group dynamics is observing how participants decide who is at fault.
On many levels, WHAT WENT WRONG is an exploration into interpersonal relationships. Participants take into account their own personal relationship experiences in identifying who is at fault, which may conjure memories of their own failed relationships. Given the talent of the actors and writers involved in this piece, the memories appeared realistic which assisted participants in immersing themselves in the story. Although the VR provided a clear image, the implementation was somewhat confusing given the lack of instruction (in particular how or if participants should use the handheld device). However, using the medium of VR to present realistic accounts of human experience is a very original and fresh concept that broadens the usage of virtual reality in entertainment. WHAT WENT WRONG is a fun, fascinating, and provocative piece premiering at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival. Tickets are on sale from June 17-June 22 and can be found at http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5331.