Boston Bar Bloodsuckers
Produced by Cricklewood Immersive
As experienced in Burbank ~ October 2022
The Experience & How it Works:
Boston Bar Bloodsuckers is a live, immersive, interactive experience that takes place in the real world. You show up to the Roguelike Tavern in Burbank, California and are given a nametag—so everybody knows your name (which can be real or fictional)—then, you’re directed to your seating section. Since general admission tickets include a drink, you can order one upon arrival for no extra charge. (This patron enjoyed the Rainbow In the Dark, but you can pick your poison—#spoileralert).
The show begins and you feel like you’re actually sitting inside an episode of Cheers-with-a-vampire-twist. Characters have names that allude to those in the show, for example, Carol is the sassy waitress—a modern-day, vampire version of Carla, and Liane the intellectually superior one, channeling Diane. They rattle of joke-laden dialog and each laugh-line is followed by canned-guffaws—there’s something amusing about encountering a laugh track in real life.
About halfway though—at the point where, on television, we’d encounter a commercial break—something unexpected happens in the storyline and turns the experience in a new direction. This is when the interactivity gets turned up a notch and the audience is asked to participate, first by brainstorming, then by group-interviewing individual characters and finally by voting. Aptly, the experience concludes with TV-theme-song karaoke.
Why it’s Interesting, IMHO:
In case you’re not aware, sitcoms are my jam. I’ve been obsessed with finding ways to make the form immersive and interactive. And Cheers was one of my pandemic binges. Also, I attended—and thoroughly enjoyed—one of the writer/director/producer’s previous interactive experiences. In short, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a reason why this concept is not interesting to me.
Initial Impression & Critical Discussion:
From the start, this show does a great job of creating an immersive interactive experience. Upon arrival, you have something to do: order a drink. And, because you’re seated in a setting that’s familiar to most people as a place to strike up a conversation and chat with others, it’s not unlikely that you’ll start interacting with others—be they audience members or cast members—before the show even begins. While in theory cast members could be indistinguishable from audience members at the start, it’s most likely you’ll be able to tell them apart. Cast members have slightly sharper attire and, while audience members are invited to wear fangs, cast members are all sporting them.
One of the most noteworthy things about this experience was that the precision of sitcom felt less essential in this immersive environment. The show isn’t the equivalent of what one would see at a multi-cam taping, and being inside the world with the characters, instead of outside looking in, somehow makes that much more acceptable and enjoyable. That being said, the performers did a phenomenal job of channeling the Cheers characters that the vampires were based on. It was truly remarkable and absolutely heightened that feeling of being inside—immersed in—a TV show.
The audience at this performance was fairly go-with-the-flow and didn’t require a lot of improvisation by the performers, but when the unexpected did happen, the cast rolled with it quite nicely. There was, of course, improvisation implicit in the group interviews. During our performance, Dan, the barkeep, adapted nicely when I tried on the props the interviewers were to examine; when our time together ran out, he simply brought me me along to the group who was interviewing him next.
It was a bit unclear to my group whether we actually gained any new and unique information from our private interviews of the characters, but having a specific reason for a sustained interaction was welcome. More time to confer with group members wouldn’t have been unwelcome; the groups were large enough that, with a lot happening rather quickly, it was challenging to form a group mind in the time allotted. On the other hand, there was never a lull in the action.
Overall, having the audience members be characters in this world and allowing them to interact with each other and the performers were successful choices carried out well by the production.
- Take a sartorial risk. This show attracts a fun and committed crowd. There aren’t so many opportunities IRL to dress like a vampire, so consider taking advantage of the opportunity. You’ll fit right in!
- Order early. Roguelike Tavern has a full menu, including food and drinks. While you’re absolutely able to place orders during the show—and are encouraged to eat and drink during it—this patron recommends taking advantage of the fact that the doors open a half-hour before the show. This way, once the action begins, you’re focused on the show and not the menu or making your way to the bar.
- Pay attention. The entire space is part of the immersive experience and, if you keep your eyes open, it’s possible you’ll discover a clue while meandering about.
- Okie-dokie karaoke. We all know TV theme songs, but it’s actually kind of hard to recall one of the top of your head that would be fun to sing along to. Consider revisiting some of your favorites in advance and having a crib sheet of theme songs you and your friends may want to sign up to sing.
Experiential Viewpoint Expression (E.V.E.):
Embodied, 1st person visual, 1st person narrative, participant, mortal
When Lilith turns two-hundred, Frederick enlists the bar owner and patrons to throw her a birthday party, and then [something unexpected happens].
Note: It is possible to be more specific about the complication—or act break moment—in this show, but in hopes that Cricklewood Immersive might revive the show, we are attempting to refrain from spoiling the plot. If you’re curious to know for research purposes, you’re welcome to reach out privately.
Pillars of Game:
Voluntary Participation — check!
Goal —to find out whodunnit
Rules —you may interview characters, examine props and vote via webform
Feedback —you receive responses from the performers you interview and, at the end, Frederick announces whodunnit
Conclusion: It’s possible this is a game experience. There is a clear goal presented to audience members at the act break. There are rules and players receive some measure of feedback, although because it’s coming from characters who are invested in the outcome, it’s not clear the feedback is reliable. In that case, the only reliable feedback would be when Frederick announces the culprit at the end.
This author’s suspicion is that the same character is culpable in every performance. If this is the case, then the game is a short one—it’s to guess correctly and then the feedback is Frederick’s pronouncement at the end, which tells you whether you were correct or not.
However, it’s also possible—though admittedly less likely, all things considered—that the vote determines the culprit, in which case it would not be a game, but a story whose outcome is decided by the audience.