An Immersive Offer I could not Refuse at The Collective

Mark C. Marino
4 min readDec 12, 2023

As Last Call Theatre opens The Harvest its latest immersive offering, I wanted to post a review of their last show, The Collective (dir. by Riley Cole), a highlight from the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I first saw this troupe a year prior in the Fringe with their offering Signals. This troupe continues to grow and innovate in the immerseive form.

Outside of the show, the vibe was already growing. I sidled up to the bar beside a fella in a fedora and ordered a drink. Like knows like. Immersive game knows game. Turns out he’s Ed Trotta, star of stage and voiceover. He’d never seen an immersive show from Last Call but was eager to try. Something told me this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Me and Ed, Capos in Caps or Good Fellas in Fedoras

Following a summons to go outside, we found ourselves in a crowd of audience members, quite a few of whom were in period garb for this last night of the performance. We were given some basic instructions and found our way inside.

Guests arrived in garb from a variety of time periods.

There was a trivia question and some basic rules. I guess I was saddest about the “don’t touch anything unless a character gives you permission.” Apparently, my chaos monkeying had made an impact. So… I consented. And soon, we were ushered into the ball roomroom.

At the outset, I could see how much this company’s production levels had increased. While Signals was more pipe and drape and Abandoned an artfully lit black box with what I might call decorated stations, this large ballroom was quite well appointed for tonight’s event, the choosing of a new boss from four capos for, you guessed it, the Collective — named, I susspect, to avoid the overdetermined labels for such criminal organizations.

The production level was also elevated through the use of costumes (credit to Kale Hinthorn), projections, as well as some delightful in-character song (by Sylvia Sterling) and dance, which broke up the evening in delightful ways and was not unconnected to the mystery. I enjoyed these add ons because it’s important for immersive theater to remember they are theatrical amusements!

Alexander Whitover (Shepard Rivera) & Ashley Busenlener (Valentina Telletino)

The Collective was structured similar to the previous offerings: with characters assigned to teams, sending us on missions. While Signals and Abandoned gave every character their own missions, causing a bit of a traffic jam when multiple people needed to talk to the same actor, this show solved a bottleneck problem by assigning two members for each team or mission.

The Last Call quest model has become more clear to me. Quests required interviewing characters, examining documents and photos, and uncovering information. The murder mystery and ballroom setting mostly in one room gave a clear context for our activities. You had the freedom to play out these quests or leap off to another, though I got the sense most people got on a track and stayed on it. But chaos monkeys….

Since I don’t want to write a bunch of spoilers, let me offer a few observations:

  1. Interacting vs. Interviewing. Audience members were encouraged to interview the characters, but I much more enjoyed interacting with them as a character. Don Immerso was my character’s name. And I tried to play with the actors rather than treat them like sources of information.
  2. Open-world Sandbox vs. Missions. While the quests offer missions, I much preferred making my own merriment. I think I may be in the minority here. But in any case, they tolerated my antics.
  3. Meaningful decisions and discoveries. While many of the quests revolve around discovery — what motivates the audience members to interact with characters — I was glad that the show ended (like Abandoned and Stardust (by a related company) with a big decision from the audience — or really a kind of end game state.
  4. Clues, clues, clues. Last call likes to put things on paper for you to find. But this production also included photographs held by the private eye (played by always amusing James Bilinsky).
  5. Good monkeys vs. Bad Monkeys. Though I like to classify myself as a chaos monkey, I am apparently a benign one. In the first show I attended where Last Call served alcohol, there were apparently some guests who were choosing their own adventure from a few too many cocktails.
Me, Daniel Herman, Kale Hinthorn, and Mike DiNardo

At the end, I got a chance to kibbitz with some of the cast and crew. There were whispered rumors of next shows. But hat wasn’t all. Ed, it turned out, had written 400+ pages of an immersive theater work sent in prohibition.

Last Call, you continue to inspire even as you are developing the art! Salut!

Go see The Harvest this weekend if you are in LA!



Mark C. Marino

writer/researcher of emerging digital writing forms. Prof of Writing @ USC, Dir. of Com. for ELO, Dir. of HaCCS Lab