Much of why I’m drawn to remote immersive theatre is that it’s a sort of playground for the imaginative. More than simply a stay-at-home version of experiences that are not accessible to all, remotes allow worlds that expand further than they might in person: anyone can be anything. Anything can happen anywhere.
And yet, I don’t think there’s any world in which I personally could have imagined an encounter with Bloody Mary, the fear of an evil version of Lady Gaga coming through a portal, and personally taking on the persona of my ex to apologize to myself as events all occurring in the same show. Luckily for me, Barry Lee Brudnak did—and he put all this and more into INTERACTIVE PSYCHIC STORY, an ongoing immersive experience out of his emerging company, Shadowhaus TV.
INTERACTIVE PSYCHIC STORY 3: REGRESSION was a 34-day event with a simple enough set-up: when a number of “Smitches” (returning participants) are sent to a past life, they—along with the help of the “Shadow Monsters” (new participants)—must figure out how to wake up and return to the present or else die in our world. The focus of the show rotated between the story, tasks of creativity and personal exploration with assigned points attached–which would play into the ability to wake the Smitches up—and puzzles, all of which took place over social media, group chats, and downloadable documents.
The puzzles of REGRESSION, frequently providing a password needed to access said documents, ranged from ten-minute internet explorations to complicated, multi-step processes. Participants were openly permitted to turn to each other for help, which I personally was quite glad for. Those puzzles that I could figure out what to do on were both engaging and satisfying. As for others, Brudnak was wise to have included steps that alerted him as to puzzle completion, allowing himself to gauge when hints were going to be required by most or all of us.
The story, sent out a few pages at a time, was simple enough to follow and responsive to our actions—participants are the characters in INTERACTIVE PSYCHIC STORY productions, and a written scene would often include versions of things that happened in the group chat just hours before. Optional side-paths were also made available for those who wanted to delve deeper into both tasks and plot interactions, one of which became the highlight of my experience. The role of participants in the story is a particularly interesting feature of this concept—but in this case, the idea of being in a past life with no memory paired with the personal introspection required by some of the tasks sometimes made it difficult to tell where real life ended and the game began, and some confusion may have arisen for anyone overly fussy about logic (like me). I imagine in Shadowhaus productions that don’t require fictitious memory loss, this may not be as much of an issue.
It is the tasks, however, that are the centerpiece of the experience. Quite a bit different than what I’ve found in other remote immersives, Shadowhaus TV actually teaches practical lessons in the paranormal. In particular, REGRESSION featured instruction in various psychic abilities and methods of communicating with the soul. Though some participants were already involved in this sort of practice, it offered a relatively approachable introduction for those of us who were complete novices. The show was also heavy on “shadow work” (the exploration of one’s inner deficiencies, past hurts, and fears), asking for radical vulnerability in the form of difficult self-examination—I ended up crying on camera in several tasks. Brudnak, himself both a medium/psychic and a therapist, is well-equipped to guide participants in these moments, and optimistic skeptics with imaginations (of which I am one) are welcomed and encouraged. That said, those entirely opposed to the occult or unwilling to be quite so emotionally exposed may have been poor fits for this event.
For a particularly lengthy show, REGRESSION was surprisingly well-paced. Though it was certainly intense, I rarely felt overly exhausted—puzzles could technically be completed up until the final days, and story-focused moments allowed participation on a level fitting individual availability and interest. Tasks were explained several days in advance of their deadlines to allow participants to plan their time, with one major exception—which unfortunately happened to be the most creative labor-intensive task, not to mention positioned as having some of the highest stakes. (Notably, that was the task I saw the most participants fail to complete, and opportunities to make up points had to be given in the days following.) Nevertheless, Brudnak largely had a good sense for the availability and stress levels of his participants, throwing in breaks to catch up at the moments they were most needed.
As the 3 in INTERACTIVE PSYCHIC 3 might signify, REGRESSION is the third “season” of an ongoing story. A pre-show took place in the days before the start that partially intended to introduce us new participants—the Shadow Monsters—to any history we needed to follow the plot. While this goal was, for the most part, met, certain events or conversations could feel exclusionary. That is not to say returning participants were not kind and welcoming, and it very well may be an unavoidable element of any event with continuity.
Story, tasks, and even some character dialogue featured motifs of Lady Gaga and American Horror Story—both obviously quite dear to the creator—but it is my understanding this may have been less than in the previous seasons. Though these do lend a fun pop-culture touch for those familiar with the references, I believe the cutback is for the best. Brudnak is at his best when it’s his own creative universe he’s playing in as opposed to something derivative. Personally portraying every single character we interacted with over the 34 days—minus one hour-long crossover cameo in the form of Joshua Simon’s 8.bit.witch character (CALL FROM RESTRICTED 2 and the upcoming DON’T FUCK WITH THE MOUSE)—Brudnak’s inventive takes on folkloric figures such as Bloody Mary and Baphomet along with his own original characters truly shined in this experience. Each one interacting using an entirely unique voice, his self-management skills are impressive, to say the very least.
That said, REGRESSION’s finale came with the announcement of several Smitches joining the Shadowhaus TV creative team. This will no doubt take some pressure off of an ambitious creator and may serve to even out the playing field for newer participants by acknowledging the divide in experience. Still, I can only hope that the personal care with which emotionally demanding tasks are given and the conscientiousness toward pacing and participant energy remains under Brudnak’s direction.
INTERACTIVE PSYCHIC STORY 3: REGRESSION immersed participants in not only a fictional story but the world of psychic ability as a whole. Intimate, involved, and appropriately challenging, Shadowhaus TV productions are a magickal journey into the self.
Shadowhaus TV will debut a new style of experience this summer, SEMINARY, with the next season of INTERACTIVE PSYCHIC STORY coming closer to the end of the year. Interested parties can follow Shadowhaus TV on Instagram or visit shadowhaustv.com.