Juliet Bennett Rylah

Journalist, copywriter, editor, and creative fiction writer based in Los Angeles.

Dec 31, 2020
Published on: welikela.com
2 min read
Host, the Zoom-set horror movie that actually scared us. Photo: Shadowhouse

I don’t need to tell you that it was a weird and grim year. Yet if there was a bright spot for me at all, it was seeing the creative ways artists tried to entertain us from afar. So on New Year’s Eve, I’d like to share some of my favorite at-home discoveries, including the art and experiences that helped transcend the walls of my apartment. Feel free to share your favorites with us, too!

Sensory Journeys

In 2019, we were all about “multi-sensory” journeys, like VR experience The VOID or lavish immersive productions. But in 2020, several companies were able to focus on just one sense to create moving work.

I really enjoyed This Yearning’s “The Great Plague,” which heavily involved scent. It was once an in-person Halloween show, but This Yearning’s Tracy Smith adapted it into an at-home experience. Participants receive a bundle of objects in the mail: powders, tinctures, a cedar ball, and other surprises. A short video/audio presentation accessible online discussed the history of the Bubonic Plague, which is obviously pretty unsettling. Soon, however, it transformed into a meditative cleansing ritual using both the objects I’d been sent and a few household items. It was surprisingly relaxing despite, or perhaps because of, its topical connotations. If plague-themed Halloween shows aren’t your thing, This Yearning also has a new experience launching in January. Tickets are about $20 per experience, plus $8 for shipping if you don’t live in Brooklyn.

I also enjoyed two audio offerings, one relaxing, the other scary.

Adventures in the Mind’s Ear from The Unmarked Door consists of several whimsical journeys all recorded using binaural microphones. Each track combines original music, narration, and precise sound effects to create a unique world. At times, it really sounds like you’re splashing around in a vacuous cave or creeping along the windswept side of a mountain. Some are ultra-relaxing, some are a little weird, but they’re all enjoyable. Downloads start at $3.50 per track.

If you’re in the mood for something creepy that isn’t relaxing at all, check out Darkfield Radio. Each show is performed live, though all you’ll have to do open their app, put on your headphones, and listen. Some are meant to be experienced alone, while others are meant for two people in the same home (or over Zoom, if you want to do it with someone outside your household). “Eternal” was so unsettling I couldn’t keep my eyes closed, despite instructions to do so. Tickets are £5- £10 and. Yep, this one’s based in the U.K., so pay attention to time zones!

Dinner & A Show

Some restaurants partnered with game/theater developers to create a night of entertainment we could enjoy at home. Though there are several to choose from, my favorite among them was Shine On Collective’s Welcome Home. The story casts you as the newest neighbor in a seemingly ordinary, tight-knit community. However, the previous occupant of your home left behind a mysterious box that shows things are not what they seem. Through phone calls, documents, and creatively hidden puzzles, players are asked to unravel a chilling truth. Originally, Welcome Home partnered locally with Side Kitch to deliver a full meal. The package is now available for nationwide shipping with 12 mini-desserts from pastry chef Kaye Angeles. Each box is $55.

The Zoom Show

I didn’t love every Zoom show I attended. Some just didn’t cross that medium, dragging on for too long or falling prey to the limitations of technology. Some, however, were able to use the platform’s features to their advantage.

I enjoyed The Speakeasy Society’s Ebenezer, a limited-run holiday show in which each character from the classic Dickens tale had their own breakout room. I also found Shayne Eastin’s one-on-one sci-fi experience Out There surprisingly effective and emotional, even though it took place entirely over Zoom in just 15 minutes. Mister & Mischief’s Objectivity was a fictional decluttering seminar that asked us to consider what our objects mean to us. A surprisingly musical character’s attachment to his ex-boyfriend’s mug added unexpected depth.

The Zoom show that sold me on the medium’s possibilities, however, was KatNip Production’s The Sleepover. Set in the 1990s at a middle school slumber party on Halloween, The Sleepover used just two actors, cast as brother and sister, plus some pre-recorded video to create a compelling, touching, and genuinely funny story. It used breakout rooms to split us into smaller groups that further explored the siblings’ relationship, while onboarding and offboarding emails offered fun playlists and a slice of nostalgia.

The Zoom Movie

If you have Shudder and like horror movies, check out Host. This entire supernatural film takes place over Zoom. Sounds silly, sure, but you may be surprised by how actually scary it is. Thrillist called it the scariest movie of the year, and it currently carries a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Plus, it’s only an hour long. For maximum effect, watch it on a laptop with the lights off.

The Online Escape Room

I wasn’t quite sure an online escape room would work, but as a kid who spent a lot of time playing 90s point-and-clicks, I was willing to give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised to find that solving puzzles with my friends on the internet was not only fun, but a nice way to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in months and a welcome break from the monotony of our reality.

The best games had an employee who acted as our avatar in an existing room. Using a GoPro or similar camera, they were able to show us what was in the room, talk us through puzzles, and even get into character. If this sounds like a fun diversion for you, there are plenty to choose from. Some of our favorites (that weren’t too hard) were Improbable Escapes, The Escape Game, and Hourglass Escapes.

Hanging Out in VR

It sounds kind of dystopian, but ’tis the season. Thanks to productions like The Under Presents’ The Tempest and Deirdre Lyons’ Krampusnacht (which takes place over the app VRChat), I actually got to ‘hang out’ with people in virtual spaces. Sure, I looked like a little robot and was actually sitting on my couch, but there we were! Even Burning Man got in on VR this year, creating a digital playa on AltSpaceVR. Guests could hop into portals to discover parties, art, and more.

I also spent a decent amount of time as a droid in Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge. Though lacking in churros, it was certainly safer than Disneyland—not that Disneyland’s open. It’s also very pretty. If there were ever a time to leave Earth in favor of a galaxy far, far away, it’d be now.

Art Outside

We’ve always had outdoor art, of course, but with indoor museums and venues closed, we needed it more than ever. This year, the city saw clown troupes rehearsing (at a distance) in Griffith Park, drive-in dance and comedy, audio tours of flower-themed street art, a radio broadcast that explored wildfires at a recent burnsite, driveway concerts, and art hung on fences.

Cocktails To-Go

Mixology can be an art, I suppose, and cocktails to-go are one thing I hope sticks around after the pandemic. It’s kind of nice to get a beautifully crafted drink (or a DIY kit) and enjoy it at home. Some standouts for me were Big Bar’s kits, which always included some fun barware and themed trinkets, and Lanea, whose canned cocktails were easy to transport and tasty, too.

Drive-thru Entertainment

Not every drive-thru nailed it this year, but as an emergent artform, some were pretty good! Stunning sets are stunning sets, even if you have to look at them from out a car window, and many offered a creative alternative to trick-or-treating for families.

My favorite was River L.A.’s fundraiser, Rio Reveals, which combined in-car performances with socially distant walking tours. The journey took us through a stable of horses, a garden, and at last a bridge overlooking a performance at the river’s shores. Through Feb. 7, you can book a ticket for Rio Records, a virtual exploration of the river that incorporates performance and storytelling.

What did you turn to for entertainment this year? Let us know and we’ll check it out!