Doctor Horatio Gardner in Daemonologie: Smoke and Mirrors
Image by Creative Collective • Story by Joey Phoenix
Dusk has fallen, the street lamps are all lit. Monsieur Renee Levesque has invited you into his home for an evening of entertainment and socialization. The occasion? A séance. An opportunity for his new maid Hanora, freshly arrived from Ireland, to demonstrate her gift.
Intramersive’s newest production, Daemonologie: Smoke and Mirrors, is a new game-theatre experience set in the McIntire District of Salem. Produced in conjunction with the Peabody Essex Museum, which owns and operates the Cotting-Smith Assembly House serving as the Levesque’s home, Daemonologie is a foray into mid-19th-century culture, prejudice, and fear. Outsiders are not to be trusted, superstition is represented alongside religion, and the age of industrialism is rising like a specter on the horizon.
“Bienvenue! Welcome, everyone to my home.” Renee answers the door and brings us all inside. The central staircase of the home rises up and away, and two parlors on either side of the foyer invite the guests to enter and mingle with those in the home.
Among those present are Horace Mann’s wife, Mary Tyler Peabody Mann, her sister Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, and of course, Sophia’s husband Nathaniel; but don’t be fooled into asking Mr. Hawthorne about his novels, because having published The Scarlet Letter in 1850, here in 1849, there weren’t any yet.
Prior to entering, we were met on the doorstep by Intramersive’s lead writer and content developer, Diana Dunlap, founder, Carly Naik, and Dramaturge Kristin Harris, who explained what we were about to experience, and the historical setting that we would experience it in.
“A lot is changing very quickly,” Diana explains. “A lot of early New Englanders, even those in Salem, were resistant to the change.”
We were encouraged to question the characters, ask them about themselves, about their motivations. We could follow whoever we wished, engage with whoever we wished, we were only asked to not open any doors if they were closed, or touch the original wallpaper in the left-hand parlor.
Once Renée welcomed us inside, the crowd dispersed to hang up coats and begin talking to those in the house. Some hung back, unsure what to do, clustering together to eavesdrop on existing conversations or take in the feel of the space.
Although game guests are able to sit back and not engage with characters and still have some share in the storyline and see things unfold, a more positive experience favors the bold who charge forth and ask pertinent questions.
If you’re in the right place at the right time, the characters will bring you into conversation themselves, as they are charged with making you feel welcome and part of the fun. It behooves them to let you into their confidence, so they can convince you of their cause.
Whatever it is that may be.
Throughout the evening I chose to follow Renee’s sister Delphine, a New Orleans/Creole voodoo practitioner who had some misgivings about having come to this part of the world, to begin with. Throughout the evening I was privy to public and private conversations between her and her brother, between her and Mrs. Kelly, the nursemaid to Hanora, and many other small interactions that drove the plot into interesting places.
At some points, I was alone in the room with her and whoever she was conversing with, and the two of them would ask if I believed what they were saying and if I would help convince the others. I played along, I said I would, even though I was yet undecided.
In this sort of space, except for at the very beginning when everyone was permitted to mix and mingle, once you began to follow a character or subset of characters, you were committed to this course for the time being. Other scenes were being acted out in other parts of the house simultaneously, and you would only find out what happened there later when you rejoined the bigger group.
Whenever I could, I followed other characters into the corners where they were talking to each other in hushed tones. These moments felt grounded in truth, like something that would happen at an actual gathering. Some conversations happen while other conversations are happening elsewhere, and no audience member can take it all in at once, which is the point.
Game theatre invites audiences to fully immerse themselves in the world, experience empathy, and leave questioning whether or not what they just experienced was real.
Knowing this made the stakes higher, and made what we experiencing more alive. When we all joined up together near the end to discuss what we had discovered, many of us had the same ideas, while others, having experienced different scenes within the course of the evening, had some very different ideas. After talking them through, we were eventually able to come to some conclusion. I’m forsworn not to tell you more about it than this, lest I give the game away.
The experience felt authentic to me because I chose earnestly to play along. I’m not sure how it would’ve been had I sat back and let the plot unfold, but as that’s just not how I do things, I guess I’ll never know.
Daeomonologie: Smoke and Mirrors, co-produced by Intramersive, the Peabody Essex Museum, and Creative Collective, opens October 4 with shows on Friday and Saturday nights. Through November 2. Get your tickets here.
Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at firstname.lastname@example.org
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