By the time the mute, pouting monster clown Mr. Happy began his shadow puppet show and started making balloons for frightened guests around a dinner table, it was already clear that Haus of Creep is not the standard art show or theatrical experience.
Haus of Creep is the latest iteration of Creep LA, which is back in Downtown Los Angeles for the fall with another horror-themed show. It’s an immersive work of theater that mixes in elements of Halloween mazes, as well as the Instagram friendly pop-up “museums.” The 75-minute performance, with a cast of 23 actors, runs through Nov. 2 at Row DTLA in the Arts District. The show comes from Just Fix It Productions and tickets are $69.
The in-story conceit of Haus of Creep is that guests are arriving at an art show and auction put on by “The Company,” featuring the work of three conceited artists. Guests walk inside an inconspicuous building at Row DTLA but it quickly becomes apparent that the dimly lit, macabre-decorated space is twisted. The art is living, the artists are out for blood, The Company is controlling people and the shows include everything from sexually charged dances and puppet shows to live figure painting.
Justin Fix, the show’s director (who also plays a Company member in the show) spoke with Los Angeles Downtown News about Haus of Creep and why the production crew decided to embrace open-world storytelling this year.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Los Angeles Downtown News: Creep LA has been a regular provider of immersive art around Halloween for years, but this is a pretty different type of show. How would you describe Haus of Creep?
Justin Fix: This is Creep LA’s fifth season, and we see Haus of Creep as being a hybrid or introduction to a modernized haunted house. We think that story should be highlighted this year, to allow people to spend more time in this world and more time with the characters.
Haus of Creep has been a real, true, out-of-the-box new world for us. It’s the first year we’ve done this sandbox-style show, so the guests are the ones who are in charge of the experience. Explore and invest and play your part. As a guest there are no two experiences that will be the same, unless you roll in together and experience the world together without splitting up. We wanted to connect people with performers to create surreal worlds.
Q: Why take the show in this more open-world angle? Were you looking for more of a challenge?
A: In the past, it was a single-tract system, so there’d be an experience every six-seven minutes. So you felt that personalized moment during the show. But for us to grow, we wanted to break out of being seen as a seasonal brand pop up, to see if this format was appealing to the broader audience. The popularity of shows like Sleep No More in New York, which have a very open world feel, showed it could work and I’ve been itching to bring a new spin on theater to L.A.
It was also a kind of proof of concept. Can we work with audiences of 50? Last year we capped audiences at 25, before that it was eight. But we’re keeping it small and keeping it intimate.
Q: There are a few group “scenes” in each performance, but how much of the night is scripted versus improvised?
A: We have a script that’s over 60 pages; we’re a fully scripted production from start to finish. Then about 80% of the show is scripted, and 20% is improvised, to loosen up those threads and have the actors read the audience and drop them into the scenes and then into another tract. The audience hopefully doesn’t notice this is happening. We have an ensemble of over 23 actors, so there are almost 23 possibilities for one-on-one encounters.
Much like a game, you choose left or choose right, it’s going to dictate the course of your show. You just have to buy in, the moment you do that it opens up to you.
Q: Why build this year’s show around mocking the pop-up art shows and “museums” that are so big as Instagram studios?
A: I’m so grateful for Row DTLA for supporting art and entertainment in Downtown L.A. We used to take over 60,000 square feet of space, a football field and a half of performance space. It was a show set up like a big dream nightmare. Then we were crafting this year’s experience and Row DTLA welcomed us back, but said unfortunately the space is no longer there, but here’s this one that’s 5,000 square feet. That is the smallest space we’ve had, but we are trying to build the biggest show we’ve ever done.
How can we make sense of this? We were looking at the mission of our company, which is about bringing people together. We realize that we’ve fallen into the trap of being hooked on social media. That kind of story, that we are trapped to our devices, that we are part of the machine, that’s where that light bulb moment came from.
It’s also a nice tribute to the last five years of our company. If you came through those in the past, you can see the Easter eggs highlighting past Creep shows throughout the space.
Q: Speaking of those past years, the cast is almost all returning actors, right?
A: They are. It’s something I’m really proud of. For instance, Misha Reeves, who plays [one of the artists] Clarissa Hawkins, she’s done every single one of our shows. This work only really exists because of the skill and level of the actors. You get stronger and stronger as a performer each year. I want to build a company of players, it keeps it niche. You have actors playing characters who are the opposite of who they were the year prior
Q: Each show has up to 50 audience members, and it’s a 5,000-square-foot space. Is there a risk of the actors being overwhelmed by the crowd?
A: It’s a 2-1 ratio. It’s insane. Ultimately you drop into experiences where there’s a small cast. It’s all about those intimate performances. It’s worked lovely for us. For the finale, we wanted to create that mass crowd feeling, where everyone is observing destruction. Even with that though, we’re smaller than a 99-seat theater, so it doesn’t feel overpopulated.
Haus of Creep runs through Nov. 2 at Row DTLA, 777 S. Alameda St. or creepla.com.