Recently I got the chance to sit down with Erik Blair, the creative director of They Played Productions, and Thea Rivera, the owner and producer of They Played Productions, to discuss their recent immersive three-part project, Captivated. In March they debuted Captivated: Justine. This weekend they will be debuting the second act in their Captivated series, Captivated: Victoria.
Prior to meeting these two, I had already seen Captivated: Justine or, as I will be referring to it throughout the course of the interview, Act One. We are first introduced to the world of Captivatedwhen we are invited to attend an intimate gathering at Victoria Polidori’s apartment. Although it starts off like any other awkward party with a bunch of strangers, it soon develops into this strange mystery. Audience members are left to decide whether or not they want to peel back the layers to unearth what might be happening beneath the surface.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hey guys. First off, I wanted to discuss really what inspired you to create Captivated because there seem to be a few horror references that can be seen throughout Captivated Act One.
Thea Rivera: I think we can safely say without being specific that the classic thriller genre, in general, has really inspired this type of show. I’m trying not to go into much detail.
Erik Blair: Yeah. I don’t want to spoil it yet because the end of Act Two will be the throwdown. At the end of Act Two, everyone will know what it is. Without question.
Thea Rivera: Yeah. Yeah.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Okay. I’ll make a mental note out of that because if you hear me go “AH HA!” in the middle of the show, that’ll be the moment.
TR: Yes! It gets inspiration from a few things. There’s some Hitchcock stuff that has inspired kind of how we’ve put these together. There are some classic thrillers that we’ve had put together. There are some things that play with continuity.
EB: The core idea certainly came from a specific story. As I’ve said to some people before, a specific sort of classic monster story if you think the Universal monsters. It came from one of those. Although, the original story, not the Universal version. And I think sort of the core inspiration, a lot of what we do, and Captivated was absolutely one of these, is we look at older stories or the way stories get told and we think, “Okay. How can we spin that in 2018 and find a new way to tell the story by changing how the focus of the story lives a little bit?” This particular story, the original version, is told from a very specific point of view and this time around we wanted to play with the whole idea of who can you trust, who is a reliable narrator, whose stories land where, whose stories are filled with secrets, and let you, the audience, uncover the story, as opposed to the original version that was pretty laid out and very clear.
Nightmarish Conjurings: And it plays on that idea of agency, which anyone who has watched a horror movie can say that they’ve always wanted to insert themselves and make the decisions for people because we’re seeing it from that one particular lens. Speaking of agency, in terms of the future of the series, you guys gave a hell of a lot of agency in Captivated: Act One and I’m assuming that you guys are planning that for Act Two.
EB: Not only that, but more! More agency now!
Nightmarish Conjurings: I’m trying to figure out how that’s going to happen because I feel like you guys gave us a hell of a lot of agency.
EB: Just wait and see! Think of it this way, the difference between Act One and Act Two, agency-wise for me, is that in Act One the characters had all the secrets. It was your job to uncover that as audience members however you wanted to and however deeply you wanted to go. In Act Two, you are going to have a secret. Every single audience member will get a secret that only they have. The question then becomes what do you do with it. So, instead of us having all the secrets, now you are a part of the game. What do you want to do with it? And the answer is whatever you want! We are good with whatever choice people make.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Is that agency going to be removed in Act Three? That was my spoiler question. [laughs]
EB: No. No, I don’t think this is spoilery either. Our goal is to let every single audience member end the story the way they want to end it. Ultimately, my intention is to make Act Three the greatest amount of agency of all the shows. I think we are getting larger, not staying the same.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Captivated Act One doesn’t feel like a horror story initially. You’re at a party with a decent amount of people.
TR: It’s disarming.
Nightmarish Conjurings: It’s disarming. There’s a subtle horror to it, which you don’t quite pick up on until the end.
TR: Right. I think that’s why I started with saying thriller before saying ultimately horror. Even if it was inspired by horror, I think we play more on the thriller aspect.
EB: And the idea of how it is much more dangerous from an audience point-of-view and an experience point-of-view, it is much more dangerous to realize that there are monsters around you than to walk into a scenario knowing that there are monsters around you.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Personally, I think that is something that reads better in horror and thrillers; when monsters are everywhere but you need to figure out who really is the monster and, again, how the monsters are made.
TR: And how you can impact ultimately what happens.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Are you guys planning on having the subtle horror/thriller tonal change or do you plan on ramping it up, making it more overt depending on how the show develops?
EB: I think that it’ll get more overt. I think Act II continues to be fairly subtle.
TR: There’s something under the surface for sure. There’s some intensity that can bubble up or not depending on what individuals decide to do.
EB: Right. And I think Act Two gets more overt and I think Act Three will be, as the culmination of the story, the most overt. Anybody walking into that one, it will be very clear very early on that you are in the midst of a horror story.
Nightmarish Conjurings: You guys have explained already that newcomers can pop into Act Two. How would you sell Act Two as if they have never done Act One before because I think a lot of people are going to struggle with and have struggled with this line of thinking in this multipart series.
TR: I think that is a fair comment. If I had not seen Act One and was jumping into Act Two, I would want to know if I would be missing huge parts of the story because I didn’t see Act One. I think the entryway into Act Two helps in clarifying things for people that hadn’t seen Act One. It’s a true entry point into Act Two, giving them a launching point where they will be on the same level as everyone else because of where Act Two stars.
EB: I also think that even people who may have seen Act One may find themselves a little surprised at what Act Two does within the first ten minutes of the show. We do something that is different enough not only for the people who have seen Act One but for people who have seen Act Two, everyone will find themselves on even footing as far as the narrative of the story goes. If you have seen Act One, you will walk into this with a lot more knowledge and a lot more background of what is going on, but you will still find yourself having to discover things in a brand new way just like someone coming for the first time. We worked very hard so that this truly is a place where anyone can join the story because everybody will be very quickly back on square one again.
Nightmarish Conjurings: And I think that makes sense to me because Act One is so intimate. You’re invited by Victoria to this small party. Whereas in Act Two, I think it is broader. You have all mixes of people within the realm of the universe. Some who are familiar and some who are not, which is much like real life.
TR: Even with that, it is still an intimate gathering. The ratio is going to be fairly similar. Slightly bigger, yes, but the ratio is going to be about the same with characters and audience members to have that intimacy, that ability to have that interaction. You are doing rather than watching.
EB: We actually worked very hard to make sure that Act Two was something that anybody could go see. There is to some extent a recap of what happens in Act One at the beginning of Act Two, so if you come in you get that. But the lion share of Act Two doesn’t rely on Act One in order to exist as a story. It is complete within itself. And then, if you’ve seen Act One, you have deeper knowledge and, if you come to Act Two by the time it ends, you will be in the same place Act One people are. People will find themselves in the same place in the end.
TR: And you really can still choose how active you participate. If you decide to not engage or to not share your secrets or not start trouble, you can still have a good time. If you decide you want to be a little more active and a little more assertive, you’ll have a good time too.
EB: That’s true. And in Act Two, you can really start trouble.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Ooo!
EB: There are things that the audience can choose to do that will create fairly explosive moments in Act Two.
TR: Choices can be made.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Haha. Please don’t tell me that because the part of me that wants to poke really wants to poke now.
TR: Act Two is definitely heightened.
EB: In all sincerity, part of why we are putting together this show is because of the fact that I like to poke and so does she.
TR: Oh, yeah!
EB: We like to find the boundaries, the safe boundaries of the show. Where does the show wrap around? Where does the narrative end?
TR: And sometimes it’s frustrating when the box is too small. If you are presented with an immersive experience you’ll be able to do those things, but that gives you only a couple of different minor ways that you can really impact. Sometimes it’s great. And some shows, that’s how that show works. I’ve been to great shows where I didn’t need that ability to impact. But sometimes you need that. Sometimes you want to be able to. I’m being given these choices. Are they real choices?
EB: And this particular act is largely about a very somber occasion and, much like in the real world, sometimes somber occasions remain somber. And sometimes wildly inappropriate things come out. This time it’s up to you whether or not the inappropriate things pop up. And if they don’t, we will have a sad and somber event and it will go from beginning to end. If audiences start interacting, things can change fairly dramatically over the course of the story.
Nightmarish Conjurings: How should audiences approach their engagement within the realm of the show?
EB: One of the things that we worked very hard on for this show was to make sure whatever level of audience interaction that people want to have gets rewarded equally. If people want to be very assertive, that’s great. If they want to be a little more passive and be more of a fly on a wall, that’s fine. The show will handle either of them equally and won’t reward or hurt anybody more or less depending on what they do. It would just change the story. Just like I think every single night of Justine, the party was slightly different because of what the audience did. Every single performance we did, it changed.
CAPTIVATED ACT TWO: VICTORIA will run from August 17-19, September 14-16, and 21-23. Showtimes are at 8pm and 10pm and tickets can be purchased at https://theyplayedproductions.ticketleap.com/captivated-act-two/
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