“Tell me about 2015,” Agent Pitt asks. She waits for my response, attentive, in a black wool suit, white shirt, and earpiece. No badge, nor anything in the background to give away where she’s calling me from. Which is to be expected given how many layers of “TOP SECRET” and “EYES ONLY” classifications this conversation is probably buried under. I tell her the main thing that stands out about that year was how stressful my old job was in the winter. “So you don’t remember when we first made contact with you? In March?” She probes. I shake my head. “No,” I reply, genuinely puzzled.
The latest from Secret Thing, Out There is a short, free, one-on-one remote experience conducted via Zoom that typically runs for between 15 and 30 minutes. While it’s intended to be accessible to even those who’ve never taken part in immersive theater before, Out There is equally amenable to veterans and roleplay enthusiasts as well. “Anything goes,” as creator/performer Shayne Eastin put it in a follow-up discussion after a preview performance.
Out There introduces the premise a few days before one’s assigned timeslot, via an onboarding email with an attached letter from Agent Pitt. It’s present day, and you are to play yourself. Agent Pitt, meanwhile, is part of a secretive government program in which you volunteered to take part and be monitored, but may or may not remember. The conversation itself serves as a debrief, reminding you of your role in the program and revealing the truth about who you really are. Saying more than that would be spoiling things, and it’s best to go in relatively blind.
One-on-one experiences, particularly remote ones like Out There, hang heavily on the actor’s ability to guide the participant through the story. The room in which Agent Pitt sits during the conversation is completely bare, and apart from Eastin’s (admittedly on-point) costume there are no real props to speak of. Thankfully Eastin is a veteran immersive performer and roleplayer, more than up to the task to tailoring her performance based on how much (or little) the participant wishes to engage and add their own ideas to the story. However, the pre-show letter from Agent Pitt ahead of the preview performance gave the impression that the participant was expected not to have any memory of the program going in. If the goal is to give participants license to be as active or passive during “Out There” as they wish, it might be worth tweaking the language to explicitly say that some will have no memory of their involvement, while others may have partial or even full recollection of why they were asked to participate in the Vault 3-15 program. That way, the door is unambiguously left open to participants to choose how much they want a cooperative or one-way storytelling experience.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the corresponding containment measures, have understandably thrown the immersive theater scene into disarray. While this has forced creators to embrace wholesale what had previously been niche formats – specifically, ARGs and remote experiences – it has also affected the content of shows being produced. We are seeing a swathe of new productions which explicitly deal with the crisis and how our lives have been affected, positioning themselves as either a lampoon of the new normal or an escape from it. And some, particularly those in the horror genre, seem aimed to help us cope by showing us a world that makes the current situation seem tame or normal by comparison.
Out There takes a different tack. Rather than lulling you into a false sense of security in order to hit you with a shocking or sinister revelation, Secret Thing’s approach is instead to slap you upside the head with validation. The conspiracy theory/amnesia narrative quickly morphs into a reminder that this crisis is temporary, and that however isolated or out of sorts you may feel, there are people out there who will value and need you when all this is over. While it’s not the first show to serve as a sort of stealth love letter, Out There does so at a time when there are almost certainly many people out there who could use it.
It’s also worth noting that the show is also a signal boost for other creators with upcoming or ongoing remote experiences. After the experience concludes, participants receive a follow-up email with an Excel sheet containing details for other remote experiences that they can check out if desired. It’s a nice touch, and a creative way of replicating the sort of cross-promotion that’s standard at physical theater productions but seems to have fallen by the wayside a little under the current circumstances.
“Short and sweet” is probably the best way to summarize Secret Thing’s Out There. Clocking in at 15-30 minutes and with little expectation placed on participants beyond “be yourself,” Out There offers an accessible palate cleanser from whatever stress the COVID-19 situation may be putting you under.
Timeslots are at 11am Pacific time on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from May 16th through June 17th. Reservations can be made on the show’s eventbee page HERE. Again, the show is free, though participants are provided with a Ko-Fi link to tip/donate to the artist if they wish.
Creators who wish to have their show(s) featured in the post-show listing of other experiences (doing so is also free) can send the relevant info to Secret Thing via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.