This Interactive Play Asks You To Get Naked And Vulnerable. So I Did.
Parturition is an immersive play about your birth. We went this week and learned that our birth is one that must occur alone, mostly in the dark, possibly while we're totally naked. I went to Parturition on Wednesday night, but my journey began several weeks prior to that date. I was first asked to answer multiple questions about the circumstances of my birth. Where was I born, and to whom? I was born in the spring, in the Midwest, to two married, working-class, first-time parents. I was asked to detail my earliest memories.
Several days later, I was asked if I would prefer a 'Natural Birth' or a 'Theatrical Walkthrough.' The main difference is that the former option is more intense, and you have to be naked.
Let's be clear: While I am not bothered by the nudity of others in the slightest, I hate being naked. Sure, sure, I shower naked, and that's about it. I can't sleep naked because what if there's an earthquake or a fire? I would never participate in World Naked Bike Ride, because what if there's an earthquake or a fire? I am totally content not being free, never being one with nature, and being fully clothed at most times.
But after finding out a few other people I know were going in nude, I felt like I had to choose the natural birth. I tend to enjoy the more intense experiences with immersive theatre and haunts. I loved Heretic House's Hex, where I was thrashed about, clawed and had a nude woman 'vomit' blood in my face, after all. I can't chicken out now! Maybe, I thought, I would only be naked for a very short time, in the dark. Maybe there wouldn't be an earthquake or a fire.
The naked thing really became all I could think about in the days leading up to Parturition. I went back and forth on changing to a theatrical walkthrough several times. Finally, on the day of Parturition, I was given my instructions and confirmed my natural birth.
Parturition is the latest production from Screenshot Productions, which mysteriously surfaced last Halloween with the show, Fear Is What We Learned Here. As is the case with many of the immersive haunts—Alone, Heretic House, Blackout—it seems the minds behind What We Learned Here will continue to offer programming year-round. And much like Alone, What We Learned Here has departed from horror-themed entertainment. Screenshot co-founder Nicholas David Sherwin, Jr. is the brains behind Parturition, and while he was a project manager for Vortex Productions LLC, which puts on Blackout, Parturition should not be interpreted as a 'haunt.' With Parturition, the aim is to recreate the sensation of birth, via a strange production that is both unsettling and inspiring.
I was told to come to a specific location in North Hollywood at precisely 11:15 p.m. Not a minute earlier, nor a minute later. I was previously told not to tear anything down while fumbling my way around, and to not resist or speak. If I wanted the performance to stop, I was given a gesture—similar to a safe word—that would end it. (No refunds!)
I had met writer Noah Nelson talking about escape rooms on his immersive entertainment podcast—No Proscenium—and found out he was going for a theatrical walkthrough 15 minutes after me. We decided to carpool and so, after a drink at a nearby, barrel-shaped bar during which I mostly fretted about nudity, I located the address and opened the door at exactly 11:15 p.m.
I was greeted by a man who had me sign a waiver I didn't read—after enough of these things, you really just have to trust that they won't kill you. And then, he confirmed my choice of a natural birth and asked for all of my clothes. So, my hopes that the naked part wouldn't begin until say, 20 minutes into a 30-minute experience were dashed. However, it was dark save a headlamp worn by the greeter, and he wasn't the leering sort. In fact, I found him to be very kind and calming.
So it began. Naked, I, as a creature about to be born, was asked to move down a short hall. I stopped in an area of near darkness. The floor is colder and more tactile when you have no shoes or socks, but of course, you'll acclimate to this, and to the darkness. Then, a calm voice began to wax poetic about birth in my ear before slipping a pair of comfortable headphones on my head. There was pretty, ephemeral music and at a certain point, I was encouraged to walk forward.
I'd advise taking this part slowly, but purposefully. There's some mild wetness as you progress down a long, winding tunnel. It's plastic, and lightly coated in something like a jelly, but not too sticky. Words began to pour into my ears. I won't spoil this, but they're very pleasant. This isn't a performance about the insignificance of your being in comparison with the vastness of the universe, but the magic of your very existence. As a cynic, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of this revelation with the unsettling fumbling through a dark, slick, tunnel that may or may not have been representative of a baby making its way out of a vagina.
Once I reached the end, my headphones were taken away and things got real. I'll try not to spoil too much here. I found myself for several moments in a trippy, bright, noisy place, though I was thankfully covered in a shroud. (I was very excited about the shroud.) This was very well-done, and I could have spent more time there. When my birth began, I was taken forcefully, but not painfully. There were complications. Something went wrong. I was moved around from place to place, sometimes by foot, sometimes on wheels. My vitals were checked, and at times, I couldn't tell if this was supposed to be my birth or my death. This is a good time to have a lot of deep thoughts about mortality and your childhood. I found myself thinking I should call my mom in the morning.
The rest of your birth is a process of songs and videos, during which you can choose to process what's happening however you like. There's enough here that you can go to a good place or a dark place, depending on your mood. There's also a beautiful monologue by an actress who will connect with you in a way that seems comfortable and familiar, but also divergent—in a good way—from the rest of the show.
As far as the nudity goes, I think it might serve to create a sense of vulnerability. Parturition is reproductive, but it is not sexual. You never feel like you should be giggling, and you are not exploited. However, after comparing my experience with Nelson's, who remained clothed, I feel like we had very similar births. So if being naked is a no-go for you, I feel like you can still get all of the important feelings from a theatrical walkthrough. (You can read Nelson's review here).
Parturition is exciting, because not only is it a total immersion, but it's another clue pointing to the year-round sustainability of these types of intricate, personal shows.
Parturition is a limited-run show, playing now through January 31 in North Hollywood. Tickets are $50 for a single-person show that will last about 30 minutes.