Southern California is a region full of immersive theater, haunted attractions, extreme horror experiences and themed entertainment where Screenshot Productions manages to add a unique touch to the industry with its emotional, raw, theatrical and (sometimes) terrifying shows to an already diverse scene. Whether it’s sadness, loss, anger, or fear, these are shows that evoke emotions in an unexpected way. Since 2013, I have overcome fear, and experienced my birth and death. But this time… it was about exploring the afterlife.
Inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thodol), this experience by Screenshot Productions is described as a “multi-act immersive experience taking you through your own death and soul’s judgment in the afterlife.” My immediate reaction: I’m in. While I do appreciate and respect the non-horror type of experiences that Screenshot Productions produces, I definitely get drawn in and intrigued by the darker side. The scarier it is, the better, and I was ready for this.
At Midsummer Scream, we had the pleasure of hosting Screenshot Productions as they exclusively premiered Act I of Bardo Thodol, where guests experienced their death. The nature of producing an event typically means “you don’t have time to do much of anything,” it was fun and gratifying to take a moment to admire what Screenshot Productions was doing. Blindfolded guests and music blasting from the darkness; it was difficult to truly understand what was happening in there, but that’s the best part of mystery, right?
At the close of Midsummer Scream, I had the opportunity to experience the last moments of my life as Screenshot Productions’ last guest of the weekend. And I must say, what I experienced was extremely dark and depressing, although I don’t mean that in a bad way. In an approximately 10-minute show, I was placed on an operating table as I slowly slipped away from my life on earth. My “loved ones” beside me cried and cried, begging me “to go into the light.” Everything just felt very, very… real. As death came upon me, I was buried. For the first time in my life, as my heart began to race and claustrophobia set in… I almost clapped my hands twice (their version of “safety”). Yes, I almost “safetied” out of an event – something I never have even thought of doing in the past. The key takeaway of these types of experiences – be in the right mindset, and I definitely was not. Exhaustion taxed my brain and body from a full weekend of non-stop work, as I attempted to survive one of the most grim, emotional and extremely real shows I’ve ever experienced. Part II-IV couldn’t come soon enough.
Several weeks later, I received a questionnaire that was mandatory to complete to attend Act II-IV of Bardo Thodol. As with all of their shows, these questionnaires are typically very personal and every guest must answer them truthfully. The answers are then carefully incorporated into the script of the show, enabling a deeply personalized and unique experience for each guest. “The more you give us, the more we give you…”
11:25 AM – in the midst of the busy downtown Los Angeles streets, I wandered through the crowds and began the music track provided by Screenshot Productions on my iPhone. A beautiful soundscape began with a soothing voice as it rang through my ears with dream-like and synthesized sounds. It truly set the tone for what was to come.
Bardo, described as “the consciousness after death and the interval between death and the next rebirth,” definitely has its dark moments. What I found, and what I reflected on deeply, was that my bardo experience wasn’t truly about exploring the afterlife – it was about the decisions one can make during their lifetime, how it can affect others, and how to overcome them once made. My bardo was about who I am, and how I could safely come back from this consciousness based on reflection. It was about reflecting on my actions – how we as individuals overcome emotional demons in life, but how can that haunt you in another life.
If today were your final day on planet Earth, would you look back on your life with a sense of contentment, or with regret?
Certain scenes were uncomfortably intimate (actors were definitely not afraid to touch you), and while the intent of that was in instill fear and uneasiness, it still felt oddly emotional. For any experience whether it’s a haunted attraction, theater show, theme park, or film – writing and storytelling are key. If someone looked at what was happening during Bardo Thodol from a 50,000 foot view – they would think it’s just another extreme experience. I was grabbed, disoriented, and yelled at. But really, it is the context that makes the difference. It’s about the personalized content that every guest is able to experience that begins the minute a ticket is purchased, and where the actors know your name. They know your occupation. And that’s what makes Screenshot Productions special – playing on all emotions someone can have, and for the goal of making a difference in how people ponder their existence. This show was different, and it may not be for everyone looking for a horror experience. But sometimes horror is about real life, not the monsters and gore. While Screenshot’s shows remain fairly low-fi, they still can manage to create an experience that is beautiful. A great experience is about making each guest matter, regardless of what environment they’re in.
While I do still crave something darker (or “scarier” per se) by Screenshot Productions, Bardo Thodol is still a unique show that adds fantastic variety to the experiential entertainment scene. Understand that it’s not a “horror show”, answer the questionnaire truthfully, and let yourself go. These types of experiences definitely vary depending on your mindset. Don’t be afraid, and open up. Trust the creators and actors. And maybe… this will change you, too.
While Bardo Thodol has officially sold out, keep an eye out on Screenshot Productions and their social media for updates on additional show times that might become available soon, as well as other events throughout the year including The Rope, which takes place this October. As of this writing, tickets are still available for The Rope, but are going quickly.
- Johanna Atilano