By Kayla Caldwell
“What makes you happy?” asked Rosay, an artist dressed in head-to-toe pink with a beret and decorative jewelry. The question was a bit curious, as we sat in near darkness, at a birthday party thrown by a sad clown ironically named Mr. Happy. An answer earned you a sticker from said sad clown, who remained mute throughout the experience.
However, that’s not to say he didn’t have his own way of communicating - be it the balloon objects and creatures he made, or his own version of sign language, which left him very frustrated should you not understand.
At one point, he tied my hands - as one would with rope or a pair of handcuffs - but instead, he used a manipulated, red balloon. It seemed in the case of Mr. Happy, what made him, well, happy, was other people’s discomfort. But in that, he was not alone.
It’s clear now that I’m painting a scene, but what on earth of? Well - I have an answer, though it will likely only lead to more questions. I’m talking about my night at the Haus of Creep, an immersive theater experience put on by Just Fix It Productions.
JFI, as described by director Justin Fix, are, “just a bunch of creatives who have no money, who are trying to make cool things happen.” They’ve put on their signature, theatrical haunts for the last five years now. Under the Creep umbrella, they’ve launched beloved haunts, “Creep,” “Entry,” “Lore,” “Awake,” and now, “Haus of Creep.”
“Haus of Creep” is set up like a twisted art show, wherein competition between artists, disrespect for subjects, and disdain for the artists themselves run rampant. The tension mixed with the bright, eye-catching colors and myriad of media made it feel like you were stepping into Netflix’s “Velvet Buzzsaw.”
Once inside the art gallery, we met a young woman, who I believe was named Becca. She was outwardly friendly with a bright smile, though her eyes shone with more than a hint of crazy. This was furthermore illuminated when she gleefully insulted the gallery’s artists or attacked the poor, old woman working at the front desk. She did it all with a smile though - so you were not sure if you should smile and nod along, or crab walk away.
Clarissa Hawkins was the event’s curator. She was quick to pass me her card and insist that I speak to her if I felt any of the art was to die for. A call to the number on her card was met with her recognizably chipper voice, sounding almost threatening as she said, “This is Clarissa Hawkins. This is your chance. Don’t disappoint me.”
And she was just as intimidating in person. Friendly and gregarious, yes. She wanted to make sales, after all. But there was something dark beneath the surface, a Regina George-esque quality that made you think she was just as likely to trash talk you behind your back as she was to hold a knife to it.
As the night progressed, I would see that my hesitancy towards her was not misplaced. But I won’t give everything away. I will say, however, that one of my favorite creeps was a young woman dressed all in blue who was initially on display in “the core,” or where the main attraction would later be revealed.
Her movements were reminiscent of the oracle from “The 300,” and she beckoned me closer the moment I stepped into the room. As I knelt in front of her, she held my hands and gave me a sort of reading. It was in that moment, distracted by her grey, wolf-like contact lenses, that the rest of the exhibit faded from few. That is - until the interaction grew tense, with the woman intuiting that I often held my tongue, harboring thoughts that were never spoken aloud.
That was a moment of connection for her, as she explained that THE COMPANY, the entity behind the art show, wanted to control her words and actions as well. The trance was broken completely with her foreboding final words to me, which were that she could not and would not be silenced.
Creep LA’s lounge was back this year, by popular demand, but even the bartenders were deep in character. I, perhaps stupidly, tried to initiate a conversation with someone I thought I recognized, though she was quick to correct me. “My name’s Cinnamon. I’ve worked here for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she told me. Snapping me back into my current reality, which was, of course, the titillating (and slightly unsettling) art show.
“Haus of Creep” veered from the “Lore” production that had been my introduction to JFI, in that there was no specific path visitors had to follow. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure, though your key to unlocking the overarching story and revealing secret rooms and sideshows is speaking with the creeps themselves.
At different points throughout the night I was made to write down the worst thing I had ever done, before giving the note to a complete stranger, sing Happy Birthday as instructed by a clown, follow a stranger into a small, dark room, watch a very NSFW puppet show, and look upon the living art version of an IRL dick “pic.”
Cameras are banned at “Haus of Creep,” where true artists are sick to death of social media culture and the rise of Instagram popups. Those of the “pics or it didn’t happen” mentality needn’t worry though, as there are three photo booths scattered around the gallery that promise high-quality keepsakes you can send right to your phone.
The “Haus” reminds visitors that art is alive and cannot be restricted to the little square photo that so governs our daily lives in 2019.
There is a bigger story that can only be gathered by speaking to the different creeps and venturing through the many displays and hidden rooms. Those inclined to sit back and watch as others interact will be woefully disappointed as they either miss out on the experience or are forced to take part by the living art pieces themselves.
Every experience is different, though all come back to the main points, such as art is chaos and cannot be controlled. JFI made great use of their space at THE ROW, building a delightfully distressing series of vignettes throughout the gallery. There are also more encompassing scenes meant to be witnessed by the group as a whole.
For fear of giving anything away, and tempering what is truly a unique and memorable experience, I will just say this, I’ve never had so much fun being uncomfortable as I have at Creep LA productions.
A visit to this immersive art gallery - which runs Thursday through Sunday from September 13 to November 3 - will not be one you soon forget. Should you even make it out unscathed, that is.