Immersive Experience: Candle House Collective 's GHOST LIGHT
Courtesy of Candle House Collective

“I simply remember my favorite things…”

One of my favorite aspects of immersive theatre is that each show presents a new auditory-based challenge for me. I know. That’s kind of strange. With each new show that I do, though, I can gauge where I need to improve in terms of adapting and fine-tuning my ability to process the sounds around me so I can better understand what’s being said. Throw in a story that keeps me on my toes and I’m sold. This is where the Candle House Collective ’s format of storytelling provides me with, essentially, the ultimate challenge. With their immersive experiences conducted almost entirely by phonecall, it forces me to focus on what’s being said even further as I have to adjust based on the phone connection, the pitch of a person’s voice, and the like.

That being said, I will be taking into account how I reacted to the Candle House Collective ‘s show GHOST LIGHT versus how someone without an auditory issue might digest it. I don’t think there’s too much of a margin between the two with this particular show but, for the purpose of laying it all out there, I’d rather be forthright about this.

GHOST LIGHT begins with a text from Cheryl of the neighborhood watch located in Massachusetts. This serves as an onboarding experience that conveys a lot of information to the participant before diving deep into the narrative that lies ahead. I learn that there is an old playhouse called the Papaki Theatre. They recently had a showing of The Sound of Music, but strange things have started to happen at the theatre since the show’s conclusion. Lights are flickering on and off with no rhyme or reason. There’s an awful smell that has taken over the neighborhood block. To make things worse (and to make anyone who hates creepy crawlies shudder), there has apparently been a neighborhood-wide infestation of some sort of beetle. After this breakdown, the conversation segues to who I will be talking to. I will be connected with Jean (voiced by Paige Wasserman), where I will figure out what is actually going on at the local Papaki Theatre.

Once I’m connected with Jean, it’s easy to figure out who she is. She’s a bit quirky and loves what she does. She speaks really quickly in an almost manic-like fashion. You can tell that she’s the type to speak immensely quickly and frantically if she gets upset. Jean was involved in The Sound of Music show as a tech crew person. I want to say that she worked in lighting, but the details are fuzzy. There are moments in and out of the phone call where we hear a recording of someone singing ‘My Favorite Things’ in the background. I come to learn that this is a recording of Dessa (voiced by Cassidy Sledge), the leading lady that took on the role of Maria in the musical. The conversation turns to Dessa and, throughout the course of the call, I learn that Jean really liked Dessa. I found it easier to just listen and let Jean talk; her manic, anxious energy was positively reverberating out of the phone and, once she started to discuss the leading lady Dessa, there was no possible moment to really interject.

However, as the story unravels, it becomes clear that Jean is not as sweet and as innocent as she initially presented herself. Her desire for Dessa was clearly unhealthy and, as she becomes more riled up, Jean’s true ugly colors come to light. They went on a date and social cues seemed, at least from my perspective, very much misread. You could hear the hurt and the anger and the contempt in Jean’s voice but, despite all desire to be sympathetic, personal feelings got in the way of my doing so. None of this was healthy. This desire and obsession weren’t healthy and I had a sinking feeling that something bad was either going to happen or had happened. Needless to say, I was definitely right about all of that.

As the call slowly winded its way to a close, I learned that Jean had basically kidnapped Dessa after physically assaulting her. She had left her under the floorboards of the stage, keeping her there and checking in on her. Whether or not Jean realized this was a fucked up powerplay, control tactic, I had no clue. Quite frankly, I was in shock trying to figure out why anyone would do this. But I had to remind myself that there was something clearly wrong with Jean. No sane person would do this. However, despite the fact that clearly everything was wrong here and that Jean was very much at fault, the story ended tragically. Sensing something was wrong with Dessa, who clearly must have suffered some form of internal bleeding on top of malnutrition, Jean spirals. She demands Dessa sing their favorite song, to sing ‘My Favorite Things’. But Dessa can’t. She has no strength. At this point, all I could hear were sobs and as the call was in the cusp of ending, Dessa expired. The last thing I heard before the call ended was the recording of Dessa singing playing, leaving a haunting remnant of her existence implanted in my brain.

Having been familiar with the general theatre tale of the GHOST LIGHT, I was curious to see how the team at the Candle House Collective would tackle the subject. With the premise coming across as some supernatural happening, my curiosity was definitely there. Needless to say, I was taken through an emotional journey that I could really only describe as the gradual peeling of an onion. There’s the surface level, where you’ve been given the low down by Cheryl and Jean explains away the issues that Cheryl has brought up. But then, the layers of the story start unveiling themselves, providing more complexity before the overwhelming fumes from said metaphorical onion attack your eye sockets. This level of storytelling is something that the Candle House Collective continues to excel in and, as always, I thank them for it.

Aside from the storytelling, which is always what makes Candle House stand out to me, one of my favorite aspects of GHOST LIGHT was how much it felt like I was there in the theatre with Jean. It was easy to picture her moving around the different areas of the theatre without it being too obvious. The movement that you could hear over the phone was subtle and any time Jean stumbled or found something that freaked her out, you were right there with her. It’s such a small immersive-related note, but it does go a long way for those of us that get easily distracted on the phone.

My only real criticism stems more from the auditory-perspective. Jean is very much that manic energy type of person, which can make it difficult to follow once she got really emotional and riled up. My only advice would be that, for future performances of this type of character, to just enunciate the lines a bit more clearly over the phone since that type of speed of speech can be impeded by phone connections. However, this didn’t drastically impact the overall feel and delivery of the story.

Overall, I thought that Candle House Collective’s GHOST LIGHT was very much on par with what I’ve come to expect from the immersive company. There was a multi-layered storyline, with the gut punch that I was anticipating at the end. The voice performance delivered by Paige Wasserman as Jean and the way she unveiled the information and Jean’s darker side was well-paced and well-delivered. And the timing of Dessa’s ‘My Favorite Things’ performance was well thought out and helped add an extra layer to that gut punch at the end.

While Candle House Collective’s Under the Bed festival has now concluded, please keep an eye out on their Instagram for future updates.  

Sarah Musnicky
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