This year, immersive and transmedia theatre group The Secret Sessions is throwing a Shaun of the Dead party/immersive theatre experience just in time for Halloween.
Located in Toronto with Little Italy’s local staple The Monarch Tavern transformed into the film’s iconic Winchester Pub, Shaun of the Dead comes to life before the guest’s eyes; just in time for you to get comfortable among your fellow hooligans and living deads (The Secret Sessions encourages complementary attire – in this case, 2004 pub clothes or just generally looking dead does just fine).
A row breaks out at a nearby table as Shaun and Liz argue about spending another evening at the Winchester with Shaun’s go-nowhere schlub of a friend Ed. This marks the start of the evening’s theatrics, and guests are ushered into the lower part of the Winchester for the rest of the show. It’s there that the film is screened with seamless transitions to live performances of select scenes. This is where The Secret Sessions comes alive – in a good way, not the sluggish and undead way. The performances, the pacing, even the costumes – the essence of Shaun of the Dead – is perfectly captured in these moments. With a gimmick that one would expect to be a jarring distraction, the film-theatre mix is so fluent that patrons are hardly removed from the evening’s immersion.
In regards to future events, the experience has some kinks that The Secret Sessions needs to iron out in order to satisfy audiences who pay the hefty admission price of $60 CAD. The usage of the space was awkward: the front-facing seating for the screen made it difficult to turn your attention – and your entire upper body – fully around when a shift from film to theatre occurred at various places around the bar. The immersion wasn’t as intense as one would expect – if you’ve been inside The Monarch before, you might not notice anything has changed aside from a newspaper from the film hanging on the wall, a new backdrop for the pinball machine, and a blocked-off area (a makeup area, for transforming those who get “bitten”). Essentially, while everything else streamed forward, the immersion element of this immersive theatre experience was left behind.
The event skewed more towards a party environment than a theatre, meaning if you’re expecting a good time to mingle, enjoy good food, and meet some interesting “characters”, then expect a great time from The Secret Sessions. If you’re expecting a unique theatrical experience or a comfortable screening of Edgar Wright’s cult classic, you may feel a tinge of disappointment. But overall, you can’t go wrong with a winner like Shaun of the Dead, and the extra elements do bring a refreshing and exciting new spin to a classic.
The Secret Sessions’ Shaun of the Dead Movie Experience screens until Saturday, October 28. Learn more about The Secret Sessions by visiting their website!
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Trevor Jeffery: @TrevorSJeffery