Delusion Master Jon Braver's Alt Delete: Review & Interview

Alt Delete: A Chapter From the Blue Blade Saga lives up to its promotional subtitle: this twenty-minute spin-off of Delusion: The Blue Blade is roughly the equivalent of "Dracula's Guest" - a missing chapter from a novel, published separately and capable of standing on its own. Currently running at the Dragon and the Meeple gaming pub in Los Angeles near Exposition Park, Alt Delete offers a condensed version of Delusion: Interactive Theatre's usual immersive drama, set mostly in a single room. Think of it as a really great "deleted" scene: it doesn't tell a full-length story, but even if you only vaguely recall the events of The Blue Blade, you will have enough context to understand what's going on and enjoy the action on its own terms.

Checking in, guests receive hints about where to acquire their "directive," which helps access a message, leading to a search of the pub for a ticket. This in turn opens a portal guarded by one of the "Keepers," who patrol the gateways of time - these shadowy, sinister guardians with ominously glowing "faces" are the play's only concession to the Halloween season. Once past the guardian, participants find themselves back in the 1980s (the era nicely conveyed by arcade games and "ancient" computer hardware (including floppy disks), where the quest is on to download an important file, which hopefully will help seal one of the rips in the fabric of time caused by the powerful Blue Blade. This requires some tinkering with time and an alarming piece of action in which one participant is raised by rope to the rafters, in order to redirect a beam of light that will complete a puzzle.

Alt Delete Braver Interview
Dragon and Meeple, where Alt Delete is staged

With its short length, Alt Delete is less a fully developed play than a really entertaining escape room game, though creator Jon Braver prefers to call it "an experiment in short form, micro-experiences." The irony of this miniaturized version of Delusion is that Halloween 2019 is the year when immersive theatre is proliferating in Los Angeles, with numerous productions taking ideas originated by Braver and adapting them into a variety of interactive experiences. Hollywood Gothique interviewed Braver about Alt Delete, the viability of interactive Halloween events, and the future of Delusion.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: How did you end up doing Alt Delete this Halloween instead of a longer Delusion play?

JON BRAVER: I couldn't find a venue for a traditional Delusion large-scope play. Carl had a friend who owns an awesome gaming restaurant, so we decided to try something different and new, even outside of the Delusion traditional brand as Blue Blade seems to be. Carl suggested a Blue Blade spin off, and I agreed, so I wrote it and here we are.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: So this was not a deliberate decision to scale back after the effort that went into The Blue Blade (including a run in the spring earlier this year - the first time Delusion did a production outside of Halloween)?

JON BRAVER: Again, no venue for 2019 though Blue Blade was such a massive endeavor it felt good to take a year off from the large scale productions and do something different and fun.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: For people who are wondering whether they need to bone up on previous plot developments, how does the story of Alt Delete tie into The Blue Blade?

JON BRAVER: While this is a spin-off chapter from Delusion: The Blue Blade, it stands alone as an experiment in short form, micro-experiences. Think of it like a prologue or the epilogue of a Marvel movie. This story takes place in 1982 when Professor Evelyn Lowell, our protagonist from The Blue Blade, ran a black market time travel business. I thought it would be cool to explore that time of her life, before she fully lost her way with the blade. Also, the idea of "Underwriters" for a business like this intrigued me. Placing the guests in that role, as shadowy agents of Evelyn meant to assess risk of time travel, was way cool for me. In Blue Blade guests were tracking her down. In Alt Delete, they work for her.

Alt Delete Jon Braver Interview
Yes, there are Dragons at the Dragon and the Meeple.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: How different (easier?) were the challenges of mounting Alt Delete?

JON BRAVER: Not really that much easier, to be honest. This was a very last minute endeavor. From writing to mounting was about 6 weeks. And this show is very technical. Lasers, computer integration, and interactivity, traps, arcade manipulation, killer score, guest stunt - it wasn't easy, to say the least. I keep getting myself into these insane situations for the love of the show and guest reactions. One day I will wake up and find a less stressful means of creativity... or maybe not!

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: How different is this from previous incarnations of Delusion? Were there any fundamental elements that needed to be ported over to Alt Delete in order to justify it as part of the Delusion brand?

JON BRAVER: It is the Delusion brand, and it is not. But for the purposes of this interview, this is a GreatCo production and "the creator of Delusion" is writing and directing it. I understand it may look muddy, but that's how I see this. Yet, again, I wrote it, so Delusion will come through on this from the quality of actors to the score and interaction. This one is twenty minutes long as opposed to the traditional hour-long plays, so this show moves quick! Plus, we've incorporated the front of house gaming aspect into this, so we're really using the entire space.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: The Blue Blade was a move toward action-adventure and science fiction. Does Alt Delete do much to tie-in with the Halloween season?

JON BRAVER: This is a sci-fi, mission-impossible micro-experience with suspense, mystery, action, and some minor horror elements.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: What is the level of interactivity in this version?  Alt Delete seems more like a game – does this mean participants have more influence on the outcome?

JON BRAVER: There is non-stop interactivity in Alt Delete. It is one part play, one part escape room/game yet weaved into a cool narrative. - and in the '80s no less! There is influence in the outcome in various subtle and not so subtle ways. The overall outcome, and how it adjusts, I won't speak to right now.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Delusion is a leader in this area. There are now multiple immersive and/or interactive Halloween shows. What did Delusion do that made it a hit worth imitating?

Delusion Alt Delete Review
The bartender at the tabletop gaming pub may reveal an important secret.

JON BRAVER: It was innovative. There was nothing like it. I set out to create an adventure for people to embark on together. A meaningful connection to story and other humans! Plus, I brought my film knowledge, stunt work and connections to create a production that made guests feel as if they were inside a living breathing movie with shit they could only imagine in a movie coming to life around them. Again, there was no other experience of its kind at the time.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Have you seen the competitors in this field? How are they different from yours?

JON BRAVER: I don't get out to many other productions. Yet, my favorite was the Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival, in that it captured the Fall season as I wished it to be. But Delusion is very different than others in its rich story and interactivity, production quality, actor excellence, professional stunt work, and original score.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: How have you changed to stay in front of the competition?

JON BRAVER: The competition has grown exponentially since 2011. I can no longer believe Delusion is staying ahead of the competition. That route has only led to unrealistic expectations of my mental and physical capabilities. It sets me back to think too much on that. Gotta stay focused on what I do well and keep doing that while pushing myself to try new things as well. In short, while competition motivates, it can also hinder my truest creativity.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: With the proliferation of interactive plays, is it a challenge to stand out from the others? Will this become a bigger challenge in the future?

JON BRAVER: Yes, it's a challenge. There are so many "immersive" experiences out there now; plus there's a real problem of venues and sustainability. There's just a hell of a lot more competition for one's entertainment dollar than there used to be. I do see this as a bigger challenge for us all - especially with people's attention spans shortening day by day. Yet, a backlash is coming....and Delusion may be the remedy, as it set out to be from the beginning.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Delusion seems unique among L.A. immersive experiences in that it has the challenges of both an interactive theatrical event and a traditional haunted house. How has this impacted your efforts?

JON BRAVER: It has impacted my efforts in format mostly. In order to make this an industry instead of a hobby, I may need to allow many more people into my productions or raise ticket prices significantly....or spend far less on build and labor. This is a delicate balancing act that seems to have hit a crossroads. This has been a labor of love and passion which has wonderfully taking root in people's hearts and minds, and I work to keep that connection locked in as long as I can - plus make a living at the same time. On that note, there are many plans to expand the Delusion stories in various mediums such as the Virtual Reality experience.* Ultimately, Delusion needs to exist in all forms of entertainment to work long term.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: How have these challenges paid off in terms of creating something that is not just another Halloween haunt?

Delusion Alt Delete Review
A dragon behind the bar.

JON BRAVER: It has paid off in life experience, wonderful personal and professional connections and inspiring creativity in others.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: What advantages does Delusion have over traditional Halloween haunted houses?

JON BRAVER: Full ego here: no haunted house attraction can match the level of live cinematic storytelling that we can. From the quality of actors, to the original score, Delusion captivates imagination and wonder like no other. Sounds salesman-y but I'm very proud of how Delusion has helped to create a movement here in Los Angeles. Yet I am not convinced this is an industry. It may be more of a hobby, based on the lack of sustainability.

HOLLYWOOD GOTHIQUE: Looking to the future, can we count on a full-blown Halloween horror show from Delusion next year?

JON BRAVER: If you read everything I just said, I would count on nothing...but be very hopeful for it. And when it does come, I would show loyal, true, and immediate support of this very important art form in any way you can. That said, I know what people want. It's the same thing I want with Delusion interactive theatre. After the way cool, super fun sci-fi experience of Alt Delete, I want to bring back Delusion as a "full-blown Halloween [fantastical] horror show next year" in a way that works for both the Delusionals and myself.

Footnote:

Alt Delete Review & Rating
3

Bottom Line

Delusion Alt Delete Schedule TicketsFor the ticket price, Alt Delete delivers an enjoyable interactive experience roughly commensurate with the price-to-entertainment ratio of the longer Delusion productions. Fans will have a great time, and when they’re done, they can enjoy games, food, and wine/beer at the Dragon and the Meeple.

For ourselves, when it comes to off-brand mini-Delusions, we preferred 2017’s Horror Rewind (reviewed here), which brought a gallery of terrors to life, inspired by Carrie28 Days LaterThe Hills Have Eyes, and The FlyBut even this preference reveals an essential truth: Delusion is its own yard stick; it only ever seems disappointing by its own high standards. Our rating of Alt Delete is relative to previous Delusion productions, which we enjoyed even more. As a one-shot with no expectations to live up to, it probably would have scored higher.

Alt Delete: A Chapter From the Blue Blade Saga – written and directed by Jon Braver and produced by The Great Company – will run through December 15, Wednesdays through Sundays, starting at 5:40pm and ending at 11:40 pm. The address is 3742 S. Flower Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007. Tickets start $38. Get more information at: bluebladesaga.com.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.