On the night Donald Trump stunned the world by being elected the next President the United States, I found myself on the damp streets of downtown Toronto as the first polls closed. Unlike many out that brisk rainy evening, I was not looking for a dry place to watch the beginnings of, what turned out to be, an extremely long night of political pundits and results coverage. Instead I strolled through the entertainment district towards an event so secret that its location and dress code were only revealed by email 24 and 48 hours prior respectively.
What could warrant such secrecy? Well, it turns out quite a lot. To truly appreciate The Movie Experience, one needs to fully embrace its “don’t spoil the surprise” style allure. Organized by The Secret Sessions, The Movie Experience is a fusion of film and theatre that literally immerses audiences within popular cult movies. Think of it as an adult evening of play where dressing up and getting into character is not only recommended, but highly encouraged.
While the blending of actors and audiences have made things like Murder Mystery dinners popular, The Movie Experience’s unique appeal is that it does not follow a traditional structure. The event not only puts one on the set of an iconic film, but also has an interactive screening of said film once the initial key performances are done. Truth be told, the “performances” start from the minute the doors open and do not end until the final credits roll several hours later.
The two things that struck me most when I first entered the mystery location were: the loose atmosphere and the wonderfully detailed sets. The actors, who remarkably rarely break from characters, ensure that they go around and mingle with every guest, multiple times. I am fairly certain that there were some strategically placed individuals posing as guest in the crowd who aided with this as well. Regardless, it helped the production to not only emphasize the film that would be acted out and screened, but allowed individuals like myself, who had initially showed up alone, to feel less like a wallflower at a cool kids’ party. The inclusive vibe, and the ability to interact with the outstanding sets, added to the gleeful sense of fun imaginary play we were all taking part in. The format, which goes from crowd mingling to re-enactment to mingling again and so on, also added to the enjoyable atmosphere of the evening.
Since the five-night run of this particular session ended last night, I can reveal that the secret film of the evening was Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. A comedy, which aside from the hilarious anchorman brawl, one of the many scenes re-enacted live, I have never been fond of. However, I was completely taken by the live reimagining of key scenes from the film, which is a testament to the note perfect casting on the part of The Secret Sessions organizers. It got to the point, when watching the film, where I found myself chuckling at my memories of the live performances more so than the actual scene currently on-screen.
This does bring me to my one qualm, and it is a minor one, I had with the production. When the actors’ re-enactments and the actual film overlap, it tends to be a little jarring. You can tell the cast are trying their best to deliver their lines at the same time as the actors in the film, but this does not always blend well. Hopefully The Secret Sessions organizers will find a way to smooth this out, say lowering the volume of the film in these moments for example, so that their talented cast, seriously they are great, can carry these scenes more.
Offering an engaging and immersive experience, The Movie Experience succeeds in making the audience feel that they are part of something special. Similar to the movies that inspire them, The Secret Sessions is a wonderful way to indulge in one’s imagination for a few hours. They offer a safe haven for adults to embrace their inner sense of play by allowing them to eat, drink (Burgundy’s favourite bar Tino’s no less) and converse with their favourite fictional characters. As Ron Burgundy would say, there is nothing classier than that!