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Creep LA: Awake is the Best Waking Nightmare You’ll Ever Have

At its core, Creep LA: Awake is a surreal experience that brings your dreams—and nightmares—into the real world.

Chloé Harper Gold

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Creep LA: Awake is The Best Waking Nightmare You'll Ever Have
Courtesy of Creep LA/ Hatbox Photography

“Hello, creeps!” she greets us. The woman who signed all of us in tonight is now standing on a brick wraparound bench in the courtyard, right next to a sign that instructs “Creep Wait Here.” The sun is just beginning to set and the temperature dropping. Los Angeles, as it turns out, is not immune to the chill of autumn. But somehow, the cold air seems perfect for what we’re about to do.

“Welcome to the opening night of Creep LA: Awake,” she says. She goes over the ground rules. There are only a few: follow instructions, don’t wander off, don’t take any photos, and most importantly, do not speak.

“You must remain in absolute silence,” she says. “Eyes open, mouths shut.”

She instructs us to line up two-by-two and then whisks us away from the waiting area. In total silence, we’re led around the warehouses-turned-hip-storefronts that populate ROW DTLA. It’s almost completely night, when we reach our destination—an unmarked door. The lines are separated here, with one group entering the room first, leaving the other (mine) outside, wondering in the prescribed absolute silence what was to come.

Finally, my group is ushered forward. We’re led inside and herded into a red-lit elevator by someone else—one of the actors involved in the production.

“This way my dears,” he says. He reminds us to remain quiet. “People are trying to sleep,” he tells us.

As soon as we get off the elevator, actors take us by the hand and lead us to an arrangement of beds in an almost pitch black space. They warned us about this in the beginning: the actors would be touching us. And, as it would quickly become clear, they would be touching us a lot. We’re instructed to lie down flat on our backs, two to a bed. Actors circle around us, acclimating us to the darkness and helping us get settled in for the wild ride that is to come.

I nearly jump out of my skin as one whispers in my right ear and then my left.

“Sleep tight,” he says. “I wish you the best of dreams.”

He disappears. Another actor (a woman this time) comes to the head of the bed, standing behind and between myself and the other audience member on the bed. She strokes our hair and does the whole whisper routine again. It feels like a live ASMR experience. Except there’s an underlying current of only-slightly-controlled chaos.

Creep LA: Awake is The Best Waking Nightmare You'll Ever Have

Courtesy of Creep LA/ Hatbox Photography

Creep LA was started three years ago in 2015 by Justin Fix and JT Swierczek. Swierczek told me that they had come up with the concept as a sort of alternative experience for Los Angelenos looking for something new and different to do during the Halloween season.

“It was only supposed to be for that one year,” Swierczek said. “Instead, we’re now entering our fourth season.”

By “new and different,” he meant something other than the quintessential Halloween walk-through experience, filled with zombies, aliens, and horror icons like Leatherface and Freddy Krueger, and punctuated with bloodied actors jumping out at you from behind corners. From this, the immersive theater experience Creep LA was born.

“It’s not supposed to be horror,” Swierczek says. “It’s more…dream meets reality.”

And that’s exactly what it is. The scenes within the performance are carefully constructed dreamscapes and nightmares in which the audience members are both spectators and active participants. We were herded into designated areas and spoken directly to. In one scene, we were encouraged to put on large, vision obstructing papier-mâché masks and pantomime eating dinner while the scene’s lead actor confronted his domineering and mentally ill mother. In another, we simply observed a rather unconventional wedding ceremony. In between scenes, we were led through wide, dimly lit and foggy hallways, in which actors would suddenly appear next to us, as if they had been present the whole time.

The most striking thing about Creep LA: Awake is how true-to-life, or rather, true-to-dream it is. The dream scenes themselves actually felt like we were walking into someone else’s psychological trauma—especially because many of the elements of the scenes are common in real dreams. One particularly haunting scene, framed as a woman’s recurring childhood nightmare, centered around a tall man wearing a bowler hat. If you’ve ever seen this guy, or a version of him, in your own dreams, you’re not alone. The “hat man,” also known as the “shadow man,” is an incredibly common motif in both dreams and sleep paralysis episodes.

Creep LA: Awake is The Best Waking Nightmare You'll Ever Have

Courtesy of Creep LA/ Hatbox Photography

The performance also touches on sleep deprivation and the psychological effects of it. If you’ve ever experienced the effects sleep deprivation (including cognitive dysfunction, disassociation, and hallucinations), this part may be particularly disturbing because of how close to reality it hits.

That’s what makes Creep LA: Awake so effective as an immersive experience. The artistic team clearly did their research into the most common and disturbing nightmare motifs and brought them to life in an intimate and surreal setting. It was the one of the most interesting Halloween walk-throughs I’ve ever gone through.

Creep LA: Awake runs until November 4th, with multiple performances running each night. You can buy your tickets online.

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