The Secret Sessions: The Movie Experience (TSS) took us to the grand, golden days of Hollywood for their second edition this past week. The Secret Sessions… offers a unique dabbling in a fictional world from all genres, from cult classics to drama to comedy. The film’s title is kept secret until the night-of, with the only the dress code and location revealed in advance.
I missed TSS’ first instalment which debuted in Toronto in November of 2016 by inviting guests into the world of Ron Burgundy and Anchorman. I was sure not miss out on the opportunity this time around! My thoughts on the evening below…
Message days prior to the event
The interactive / immersive part of the experience starts with the first email you receive days before the event. The email contains instructions on dress code: 1940s style in grey, black or white only. The message also contained a ‘passport’ document that we were to print and bring out with us the night of. The message also instructed you to create an ‘identity’ and back story for yourself. This pre-event message sets you up for what is to come, which I think is very clever. You start guessing what film may be the choice for the night; as well as, thinking of your outfit for the even – All very fun.
As this was a preview of sorts, last minute touches were being done when my companion and I arrived. No one checked our ‘papers’ (passports) until after – on passing by the venue later in the week however, I noticed the captain was checking passports before people entered the venue. This was a great idea!
At first, the actors were a bit timid when it came to interacting with some of us. I do assume that during subsequent evenings, this changed. The first night usually takes a bit for things to warm up. I am certain on subsequent nights, and with more people in attendance, the performers had plenty to improvise with.
The event was catered; the Mediterranean-style food was good. The bar had film-inspired cocktails, which were good but pricey in my opinion… especially if I also consider the price of admission, and coach check. These are practical bits that I believe are important when considering attending an event such as this in Toronto.
Interactive Component Before Film Screening
As I mentioned before, the Secret Sessions is an interactive event. From beginning to end, you are asked to immerse yourself in the story even if you’re not sure about the film. The night I attended it was a media preview – it was also snowing – so the turnout was not as many people. Nevertheless, those of us in attendance were greeted by a host and a ‘captain’ of sorts.
Even if you are identified a member of the media, be prepared to participate. You are as much a part of the event as the actors are. The actors – and dancer in this event –are working to engage with us as audience members. As such, our job is to provide energy and feedback to the actors / dancer in the first part of the event. I noticed some attendees quite engaged in parts of the pre-film portion of the event.
Yet I also noticed others who were just talking to each other and not engaging with the performers. I wish the evening had been a mix of media and non-media attendees. A big shout out to the belly dancer who was great and also got a couple of us on the dance floor with her… the applause should have been louder.
For this installment of TSS it was Casablanca; a film I like but had not seen in a few years. The film addresses many themes about immigration, refugees, and political climate relevant in the 1940s but applicable to today still.
I joked to my companion about having a ‘back story’ so I would not get caught by the authorities. As much as it was a joke, as someone who has moved from one country to another, I found themes in the film relatable… although not applicable in my personal circumstances. I had forgotten how well made the film is and how much I enjoy the performance by the lead cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Reines, and Peter Lorre.
As a film of its time, Casablanca is good. Even if it is your first time watching it while at TSS, it is a film that will stay with you. You cannot forget so many great lines from the film, in my opinion. My companion observed how so many lines heard in other films, or TV shows even, come from this film.
Scenes Played Out Live
One of the neat aspects of TSS is that while the film plays on-screen, the actors play out the same scene seen on stage so to speak. It makes the event multilayered, I suppose. Like in any other performance, some actors stand out more than others… I enjoyed the actor playing Rick Blaine and Captain Louis Renauld a lot. The actor playing Ilse Lund held her ground, although I found her voice a little too quiet at times. It is not easy to be right on cue with each line, of course. Overall, the actors are a good mix and are engaging before and during the film screening.
Setting / Location
For this installment of TSS, Revival was the choice of location, which worked fairly well given its three levels. The main floor and lounge at the top level served as Rick’s Café Américain. The top level worked well as the casino part of the bar (“saloon”). The basement level served as setting for The Blue Parrott bar seen in the film.
The location was TTC accessible and there was parking nearby for those who drove to the event. Although not in the heart of downtown Toronto, Revival was a good choice.
I love dressing up and being part of interactive / immersive events. They put me out of my comfort zone, which I think it’s good once in a while. The pre-festival instructions certainly put you in the mood and add to the anticipation for the event.
I particularly appreciated the great effort the actors and dancer put into their respective performances. It is not easy to perform for a small audience that at times can be too serious or shy. The performances while the film screened were also interesting and worked well within this context.
TSS was a very fun evening out for my companion and I; it was especially fun for my companion who had never seen the film nor attended this type of event before. TSS is certainly more interesting than sitting at a cinema watching a movie… For those of us who love film and theatre, this is time well spent.
Photos by Devon Lowry.