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New Immersive Play Makes You Pick A Side In The Battle For Oz

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Immersive theater company The Speakeasy Society is running a new show that takes guests into a tumultuous Oz. It's gritty and grim, just the way Oz was meant to be. You'll be required to collect objects, learn about Emerald City's power players, and claim a side. And depending on where your choices take you, you might need to scheme and lie to complete your mission. Many of the films we loved as children were adapted from books. Many of those books were actually dark AF. Frank L. Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is no exception. The Wicked Witch doesn't just send flying monkeys after our heroes. She sends a pack of wolves, which the Tinman dutifully hacks into pieces. She sends a murder of crows to pick their eyes out of their sockets. The group is saved when the Scarecrow snaps their fragile necks. She sends a swarm of bees, which only the Tinman can withstand while the rest cower for safety. In the end, they, of course, defeat the witch and the wise Scarecrow is left in charge of Emerald City while Dorothy returns to Kansas. But things are not as happily ever after as you were perhaps led to believe.

Speakeasy Society's The Kansas Collection takes place after Dorothy's departure and focuses on the unrest that grips Oz now that the Wizard has been exposed for a fraud. The Scarecrow and his camp are firmly anti-magic, believing the smoke and mirrors that surrounded the disgraced wizard are the root of Oz's strife. Unfortunately, this means the new regime has also cracked down on good magic, which, as you recall, was a key element of the witches of the north and south. The audience is left to learn about each faction jockeying for power, and to choose whom they will pledge their allegiance. It can be confusing at times, and there seem to be multiple points at which one can decide to be a double agent. Adding to the disarray is the fact that time flows differently in Oz, meaning you might not be able to trust when you are, let alone who you are with.

The story unfolds in a series of relatively short chapters, each its own 15-20 minute performance held in a different location. In between performances, more information is revealed via emails and videos. What your email says and which video you receive seems to depend on which side you're on—or, as the case may be, purporting to be on. The first installment, "The Key," saw guests arriving at a campfire set outside a colorful tent. (Very mild spoilers to follow.)

I encountered a very enthusiastic gatekeeper, who let me know that I was about to join the Scarecrow's Armed Militia, a choice that promised a host of opportunities in a region otherwise stricken by the Dust Bowl. It felt very much like I was agreeing to join the Imperial Forces in their fight against the Rebel Alliance—or maybe like I was joining Amway. I was ushered, along with one other recruit, into the tent and asked to fill out forms. Then, we were split up to go talk to recruiters individually. Certain recruiters held secrets, and I later learned I had a much different experience from my fellow recruit. Each of us was told a different thing regarding a man in a top hat. The story further bifurcated depending on whether or not we chose to seek him out. That choice unfolded in its own separate mission, which required us to, on our own time, go to a completely different location and complete a task. In this way, the Kansas Collection is part-immersive theater and part-alternate reality game.

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If you've never played an alternate reality game, it's a narrative that unfolds using elements of both fiction and real life. A character may call your real phone to talk to you about what's going on in the story, or you may be asked to go to an actual place and interact with characters while surrounded by people going about their daily lives. For example, players in 2016's The Tension Experience were occasionally asked to go to parks and find objects or to meet with characters at bars.

A second chapter of the Kansas Collection, "The Axe," began as a secret mission in which guests were spies infiltrating a rival faction (or weren't, depending on where their loyalty led them). Yet the mission took another turn, leading to even more choices.

If starring in your own cloak and dagger, fantastical spy movie sounds appealing to you, you might want to jump on The Kansas Collection before the story progresses too far. Each show lasts about 15 to 20 minutes, but offers space to hang out, socialize, have a glass of wine, and glean information from other guests, who may be on a different path than your own. At $15 a ticket, it's a deal.

If you're just getting started, you can do a few things. You can read this spoiler-filled recap of The Key here, though this account is only one possible track. If you go, you may have a different outcome. Or, you can wait for Speakeasy Society to re-stage The Key and The Axe, which they are planning to do in March. Get tickets here, or follow them on Twitter for the latest updates here.

You may also want to keep an eye out for the third installment of The Speakeasy Society's The Johnny Cycle, which works as a retelling of Dalton Trumbo's anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun. Read our review of the last episode of Johnny here.