Moon of blood, the latest production from Vigilance Theater Group, looks a bit like their previous shows. For one, the venue isn’t disclosed until guests purchase their tickets. It also invites the audience into an immersive theatrical experience defined by a decidedly frightening or unsettling tone.
The similarities end there, however, as the show, which now runs until Sunday, June 5, marks a bit of a departure for the company. As Moon of blood writer Sean Collier explains, the show is more scripted and structured than previous Vigilance efforts. The first one, hollow moontook participants through a haunted house (an Airbnb in Lawrenceville), and the second, Welcome to the edge of the moonwas set in a weird otherworld (the old Lava Lounge club on the south side).
For their new production, Collier and the rest of the Vigilance team, which includes Moon of blood instead, director Renee Rabenold drew inspiration from classic, obscure slasher films from the 1970s through the 1990s.
“I’ve loved the slasher subgenre since I was 13 or 14 and I’ve exhausted a VHS of Scream when I was a kid, and I really liked the kind of traditional setup, the group of young people who get together and things go wrong,” says Collier, who is an editor and film critic for Pittsburgh Magazine. “So we wanted to see if we could write a really good slot in this genre.”
Outraged Screamhe says the production was also influenced by John Carpenter’s iconic 1978 film Halloween, black christmasand a “cheesy but fun werewolf movie” called The beast must die.
Described necklace Moon of blood as “more of a sit-and-watch show” compared to Vigilance’s previous works, but adds that it is “still immersive in the setting and in the environment and in the interaction therein”.
“It’s similar, but it’s a bit more of a traditional game in structure,” says Collier. “We have interactive sequences, there are periods in the series where the audience will basically have the opportunity to question the characters directly about what is happening. And ultimately, the audience will be tasked with deciding who they think the killer is.
The production announces the return of Vigilance after the pandemic prevented the young company from connecting with the public for the past two years. It also shows that immersive theater has started to return to the city, despite some casualties. Quantum Theater, a company known for its site-specific productions incorporating immersive elements, has already returned and even announced more productions for its 2022-2023 season. Meanwhile, one of Pittsburgh’s most respected and active immersive theater organizations, Bricolage Production Company, has essentially disappeared during the pandemic and has yet to announce any new projects. His last big show, the one inspired by the technology industry Amelia Projectwas staged in 2019.
Collier credits Vigilance’s re-emergence to being small enough to withstand the effects of COVID-19. As the pandemic progressed, the band also created the virtual show Dawn’s Trail: A Cosmic Uncertainty and a radio show that Collier says will be released as a podcast at some point.
“I think the pandemic has been particularly difficult for companies that are a bit bigger than us but not huge if that makes sense,” Collier says. “Where they have staff to pay and they had some sort of structure and commitments that were just impossible for two years. Since we don’t have permanent staff, it wasn’t hard for us to say, ‘Hey, we’re really not doing anything for a few years.’ But yeah, it will be interesting to see who bounces back and how and in what form.
Collier says the pandemic has even given them the chance to reassess Moon of blood, which has been in the works since 2019, as well as what it means to be “immersive” now. Collier cites how the term has been used more loosely to define art exhibitions around Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo, as well as themed pop-up bars, whereas previously it mainly referred to theater productions that included the public in one way or another.
“Anything that’s not sitting at the Benedum and watching a play and then going home, that has a little bit of extra environmental membership, you know, anything that’s really trying to put people in an experience matters” , says Collier . “So I guess we can do anything.”
He also references creators who have pushed the immersive concept in new directions, including Meow Wolf, a company that creates massive experiences that transport audiences to “fantastic realms.” Collier remembers how a production of Meow Wolf, Omega Martturned a Las Vegas-based warehouse into a massive “bizarro grocery store” owned by a super corporation specializing in the manufacture of genetically modified products.
To this end, Moon of blood was more liberating for Vigilance, which was originally trying to create an overarching story arc with its productions.
“And when we were first talking about Moon of blood, it was going to be more or less the same, you know, it was going to bring all these characters back and continue the story,” Collier explains. “And then when we walked away from it, part of it was a response to just think, ‘OK, that was three years ago, I don’t know if anyone remembers the last show.’ But also take a step back and say, “You know, this will probably be more successful if it’s more disconnected and more inviting to an audience that may not have heard of us before, certainly hasn’t seen our previous shows.” So we really threw away the original concept to do something that was a little more recognizable within the genre.
Collier says the show was even written with some cast members in mind and provided opportunities for new performers, some of whom recently graduated from Point Park University.
As for the future, Collier says that while they may never reach the heights of something like Omega MartVigilance looks forward to continuing to experiment and surprise the public.
“It’s kind of philosophical, but I hope people get the idea that they shouldn’t know exactly what we’re going to do next, that they shouldn’t assume, ‘Oh, we’re going to see these characters again ,’ or that it’s going to be structured like the last one or it’s going to be interactive the same way that the last one was,” Collier says. “I hope some people who have kind of gone through the experience of hollow moon so what Welcome to the Lunar Side was a little different, but kind of organized the same way, now come on, ‘Oh, OK, they could really change the way this experience feels with each progressive production. So hoping that people who have been with us before will be surprised and happy.
Vigilance Theater Group presents Moon of blood. Continues until Sunday, June 5. Location disclosed with ticket purchase. 18 and over. Proof of vaccination and face masks required. $60. vigilancetheatre.com