Welcome to the game! An electronic pinball machine behind me repeats its welcome ad nauseum as I wait for my date, Emma. I check my phone: I’ll be there in 1 minute, it reads. I am starting to get anxious; I haven’t been on a first date in quite some time. I look up at everyone entering the doors to Two Bit Circus, expecting Emma – even though I don’t know what she looks like yet. Finally, a girl with a shaved head and wearing a flannel button-down shirt explodes through the doors, making her way to me. “Lacey?” she asks as I nod my reply. “You’re very attractive,” she compliments me. Welcome to the game, indeed…
Originally created for the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2017, Red Flags by Capital W has been remounted, now running at Two Bit Circus. This hour-long, heavily-improvised, one-on-one experience has guests going on one of the worst first dates of their lives with Emma, a woman with deep turmoil just waiting to be uncovered. Given the name of the show – Red Flags – it’s easy to go into the experience with a certain wariness; I was constantly noticing the little things Emma would mention that might give others pause, just waiting for the big reveal. However, through the course of our date, Emma encouraged engagement and caught me off guard enough that I shed my preconceived notions of the event and found myself playing along with her.
As a straight female, I wasn’t sure how an event based on a first date with a woman would go. Would I buy into the premise? Would I stay closed off, knowing that this was not reality? It ended up being a bit of both for me. I at once cared for Emma, offering her lots of advice that a therapist may give, as well as saw myself echoed in her personality and anxieties. Emma held up a mirror to all the insecurities and fears I’ve had about myself at one time or another – Will I ever be loved? Will I have a successful career? Am I pretty enough? The list goes on. While, to me, Emma represented my inner thoughts and doubts, I found myself taking on the role of cheerleader for her. I wanted Emma to be happy in life, much as I’d like to be myself, and I answered each one of her fears in an attempt to help her reach the light at the end of her dark tunnel – I ultimately became my own cheerleader as well.
Red Flags is meant to push buttons and see where each individual’s boundaries are in terms of meeting a new person, and I found mine to be at the end of the night. While some guests might balk at the overtly sexual implications Emma throws out toward the beginning of the encounter, I found myself somewhat at arms’ length, talking to and accepting her quirks as I would a friend. It wasn’t until the deeper, more intimate, discussion of fears that the experience progressed for me, giving me a lot to think about, even into the following day. Nothing really fazed me before the last piece of the puzzle was fitted into place, and I only recovered from a personally sensitive issue because, somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew it wasn’t real. If it was a real event that had taken place, I would have had a much different reaction, I’m sure.
Emma is played brilliantly by Heather Ann Gottlieb, both completely disarming and vulnerable. In my experience with first dates, I’ve typically played the one in charge, leading and keeping the conversation going. Here, I didn’t need to. The awkward silences didn’t feel so awkward in the lights and sounds of Two Bit Circus – but maybe they weren’t awkward at all, but rather moments of reflection for Gottlieb’s Emma, who was clearly going through her own internal emotional struggle. I didn’t have to pry much into Emma’s life, because I knew she would open up when she was ready. And if it wasn’t the time for it, Gottlieb deftly improvised her way around the question, keeping me on the edge of my seat, as any strong storyteller would. When it came to fantasizing about our future together, Gottlieb set me so at ease that I thoroughly enjoyed my time dreaming along with her. When our date inevitably ended, I legitimately worried for a girl I had had one conversation with and one that was based in fiction (at least on her part).
Even though Red Flags has such a simple set-up, the interactions can blossom with honesty and vulnerability, if guests are willing to go those emotional places with Emma guiding them. This kind of piece relies on the strength of its actor, and Heather Ann Gottlieb is magnetic. I thought I would find myself on a comically “bad date” with a horrible person, but I ended up relating to Emma, similar to the person I once was, and leaving more optimistic about my life. Offering guests the chance to evaluate themselves and their judgements, Red Flags is a much deeper experience than most, and one that’s not to be missed.
Red Flags is running through November 26th; purchase tickets HERE. For more information on Capital W and their upcoming shows, visit their website, Instagram, and Twitter. For more information on Two Bit Circus, visit their website, Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter. Check out our Event Guide for more immersive entertainment throughout the year.