For Christmas, I got Jack and me tickets to experience the Future Cinema production of Shawshank Redemption. Although this was a ‘future’ event, I kept it secret from Jack so treated it as a secret cinema event.
Shawshank Redemption was the perfect movie to turn into an immersive experience, because you can actually go through the motions that Andy does – the disbelief of being sentenced, the humiliation of being checked in, the uncertainty and anxiety you feel when you’re first brought in, and the later exhilaration of being released.
(Click above to view trailer)
Although there were instructions on the tickets, I was pretty disorganized so didn’t properly register us for our ‘court appearance’ and also – as a general hater of ‘fancy dress’ (costume parties) – didn’t bother to wear the suggested outfit. I will come to that again later.
For the event, they converted an ‘undisclosed location’ into a prison. They indicated online that this was the ‘Cardinal Pole School’ but didn’t provide an address, so we made our way to where we thought the school was, not appreciating that 1. we went to the wrong place and 2. more importantly, the event starts at court… at a court appearance you needed to book ahead of time.
We made our way back to court (Bethnal Green Library) and I was already in a very high state of anxiety, realizing how my poor planning may possibly have ruined this evening, frantically asking the staff/actors for advice, which they won’t give you because they never break character. It was, honestly, the perfect mood to be in for the full immersive experience. Just terrifying.
You’re first greeted by your defense lawyer who briefs you on the nature of your charges and then manages to disappear and leave you to face the judge alone and unprepared. You state your name and the judge throws the gavel down sentencing you with no further discussion. You’re handed a sentence card, which appears to have other ‘tasks’ listed. Again, I will come to this later.
From here, you are able to purchase a library card, which is later currency for things like booze, hotdogs, popcorn, tiny bottles of Jäger and the like. Though you don’t know that yet. You then are led out into the prison yard with about 20 others and asked to be completely silent. You’re led in a single-file line with your right hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you and marched to an olde timey bus with blacked out windows, which will take you to the secret prison location. While on the bus, the guard tells you the rules of the prison and has you repeat them back, calling on individuals he thinks are whispering or snickering. Then you arrive at the prison.
You’re brought to a large gymnasium and asked to line up according to your size. A for small, B for medium, C for large and D for extra large. When in line, you’re told you have 60 seconds to sprint to the front of the gymnasium where canvas sacks sit, grab a sack (which contains your prison uniform) and place it to your right, getting back in line. The countdown starts and everyone scrambles to do this efficiently and quietly, avoiding any special attention from the prison guards.
You’re then told you have even less time to strip down, remove your socks and shoes, put your uniform to your left with your shoes and library card and then your belongings in the empty bag. Jacket, clothes, purse. This is the point where I realize – ah, that’s why we were asked to wear a white vest top (tank top) and black leggings. I decide to leave my jeans on and – thankfully – have a tanktop to strip down to. Jack, though, strips down to his pink boxers and white tee at this point! Abuse ensues.
You then pick your bag up in your right hand and carry your uniform and shoes under your left arm and are marched outside. For perspective, this is after a rare snow storm and we are barefoot. From there, you’re marched through the prison showers, where one actor is totally naked and another pretending to beat him.
From there, you’re taken to your cell where you can put on your uniform. There are actors placed in the cells with you muttering, “Who do you think is going to crack first?” Lights are turned off and in the pitch darkness you hear someone yell…
When the lights are flipped back on, you are marched (silently) to the canteen where you are given a silver tray, a few beans and are forced to sit silently at long tables. The guard leaves the room and then another guy comes in to ask “Is he gone? Great! You can get hamburgers and hotdogs over there, booze over here, and are free to roam the prison!”
The rooms around the prison all have little crafts, hobbies and prison skills to learn like how to cut film, candlemaking, prison sketching, a library to browse, a chapel to visit, a beer brewing room, etc.
After an hour or so of that, everyone is called to the main hall and it is announced that a prisoner has escaped! On the back of your sentencing form is a song, which everyone finds and starts singing (insubordinantly) to the disgust of the guards. From here, you’re ushered into large screening rooms to watch the movie itself!
On the way in, people buy little lunchbags of popcorn and beer, and then during the movie they make certain scenes interactive. When the men are given cold beers in exchange for tarring the roof, cold beers are passed up each row for you to have at the same time.