I walked alone onto Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood feeling rather emotional. It was dark, almost 2:00 AM, and I was still processing the beauty of what I just experienced. I felt confused as to why I felt so emotional about something that was supposed to be scary for most – it was really an odd feeling. What I experienced was Parturition – a “highly individualized 25-30 minute experience through the beginning stages of life.”
With such a vague description, most wouldn’t quite understand what type of attraction this is. I was fortunate enough to experience Screenshot Productions’ first show last October called Fear is What We Learned Here. It was unique, surreal, dream-like and completely mysterious. From what everyone thought would be another 18+, “sign this waiver” and “walk through alone” type of haunt, it wasn’t really that at all. I was really impressed by how professional and different the approach was, and was already immediately looking forward to their next production. It wasn’t a haunt. “Boo” scares didn’t exist there. Fear Is What We Learned Here’s intent was to play with your mind (and scare it) – not just physically. I had a sense of what to expect once I received information on Parturition, but this time it wasn’t about fear… it was about my birth.
In early January, I was pleased to open an email from Screenshot Productions. It stated that I experienced and overcame fear, and was invited to join them once again, for Parturition. Questions were then asked to help mentally prepare for my birth experience. The questions varied from what time I was born, to my earliest childhood memories, to asking if there were any complications during my birth. As someone who loves these types of personalized experiences, I had to tell the truth. Yes, there were complications. I actually almost died. The umbilical cord was wrapped around my neck, and I came out of my mom blue. I remember replying to this email and wondering how this would affect my “birth” during Parturition. Would they emulate my almost near death experience?
Several weeks later, I received another email asking what type of birth experience I’d like – “Natural Birth” or “Theatrical Birth”. The biggest difference between the two options? Natural Birth is literally natural – you would walk through the experience completely nude. “Just as in life, you will be delivered without clothes.” That’s not my thing, so I opted for Theatrical Birth. I understand the appeal, and have many friends that went for au naturel, so it was interesting to compare our experiences.
Fast-forward to a late Friday evening. It was time for my birth. At exactly 1:00 AM, I opened the door. I was greeted by darkness, and a figure appeared. I was told to sign the waiver (it’s funny that I never read those things anymore) and take off my shoes. I was embraced tenderly, headphones were placed over my head and I walked forward. My birth began at that moment.
I wandered through a familiar maze of black plastic sheets; Fear is What We Learned Here began the same way. I walked slowly, making my way through, but listened closely to the headphones, as what I was hearing really took a hold of me. The sound of being in a womb. What I really love about both productions of What We Learned Here is the soundscape. Whether it’s a particular song selection or custom score – it has managed to suck me deeper into the experience than I ever thought it would.
I wasn’t this calm the entire time. At one point, the disorientation almost made me feel uneasy. A white sheet was placed over me, as I stood in an empty space for what felt like an eternity. Once I began to ask myself, “When in the heck will this be over?” I was grabbed aggressively. I have to admit, these type moments are thrilling – the feeling of uneasiness and the unknown… then suddenly being taken to God-knows-where. All I remember was being placed on a gurney, a doctor screaming, “Cut the umbilical cord!” and the taste of salt.
I have to really, really applaud the crew at What We Learned Here for one particular scene. Without giving too much away, this scene felt like a dream. The use of fog effects and light really captured the mood. It felt real. I was lying down, and couldn’t see anyone but the bright LED headlamps shining in my face. I couldn’t really hear anything other than the music pulsing through the speakers as I observed the movements of the actors above me. I watched these actors silently, and couldn’t help but to think how well done this scene was being executed. I wasn’t scared… I felt oddly calm. I was intrigued and impressed by something that was so minimalist, but effective. I was the patient, they were the doctors. I was born.
So why the hell were you so emotional, Johanna? The answer is: I don’t really know. There’s a point in the experience (similar to their last production in October) where you lie down to watch a short film. Shot and edited by creator Nicholas Sherwin Jr., this film was absolutely beautiful. While I wasn’t particularly a fan of the last version (a wee bit too long), something about this film hit me fairly hard. I was calm. And then I listened intently to these lyrics:
“My little hawk, why do you cry?”
“We’re all gonna die.”
I just felt so… sad. The music just felt so right during that 4-5 minutes of lying there and watching the film. For me, it was really emotional. An experience made me think; much deeper than I thought I would.
It ended with a beautiful monologue by one of the actresses. I sat comfortably as she spoke to me. It felt so raw and emotional, as she held my hands and I held them back. This is the point where it was personalized – she mentioned my near-death experience as I was being born. Whoa. Ironically, at this point, I didn’t feel emotional. I felt comfortable and warm. I’m curious to hear how this scene was for others.
Parturition stood out for me. I understood what was going on, the actors were fantastic, and everything just felt so… real. The theme spoke to me more than Fear is What We Learned Here’s did; I just wish it was longer. It got really, really good, but the pacing felt slightly off. I felt that there should be more going on, especially for something that is $50+. I understand their approach, but I’d like to experience more. I love that they make each experience personalized. The emails and questions can set the mood weeks in advance, and that really works for me. I’d like to see guests have more interactions with their actors, and the environments, and perhaps explore other darker themes. They’re on the right track. They really are.
I have to agree with the creator – Parturition is not a haunt. It falls in a weird category of live theater, but appeals greatly to haunt fans and those wanting to do something different. Screenshot Productions‘ intent is to have an emotional impact on their guests. And they achieved that with me.
Make the most of your life, while it is rife / While it is light – “Fourth of July”, Sufjan Stevens
– Johanna Atilano
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