The entertainment of tomorrow might already be happening today, and it’s coming in the form of a haunting new franchise called Unknown 9 dabbling in otherworldly science fiction and occult conspiracies.
Launched the same weekend as New York Comic Con 2018, the Unknown 9 Experience is a pop up immersive theatrical performance at the McKittrick Hotel, the venue that hosts Sleep No More. Equal parts simulated fright fest, escape room, and performative murder mystery party, the Unknown 9 Experience indoctrinates attendees into a secret society via an otherworldly soiree involving rituals, blindfolds, and just a bit of puzzle solving.
But this experience is one small part of Reflector Entertainment’s insanely ambitious plans for a transmedia universe dubbed Unknown 9. In just a few year’s time, Unknown 9 will have an active ARG, a podcast, a comic book series, a TV show, a movie, a video game, and pop up experiences just like this — hence the “transmedia” — with each focusing on a secret organization called the Leap Year Society.
What does it all mean? I’m not sure, but after attending an early preview performance on Friday evening of NYCC, I think I’m technically a LYS member now.
Participants (some of whom had traveled all the way from Europe after solving an augmented reality game) wore dark stoles around their necks, and, after swallowing a pill to ease the initiation process, we were given blindfolds that doubled as white party masks later on — giving the entire thing an Eyes Wide Shut feel. I was the second person to enter the first room where a man shouted, “STOP!” in my face and smacked a tuning fork against the wall. “For your safety,” he breathed hotly into my ear as he pressed it to my sternum.
Through experiences like this, sparse pieces of dialogue, and mingling with other attendees and members of the Leap Year Society, I started to understand the nature of the secretive organization and its supernatural goals.
All things considered, the Unknown 9 Experience is not for the faint of heart. Participants have to swallow mysterious pills and consume strange food and drink as part of the rite. It’s (mostly) safe, but still deeply unsettling at times.
Midway through the experience, my group was led into an old-timey bar and given zero instruction. Several actors stood around the room conversing. Two of them prepared bite-sized cricket hors d’oeuvres that everyone had to try. Deeply uncomfortable, I wandered over to a vat of mysterious liquid and poured myself a beverage. It was some kind of alcoholic tea, I think?
As soon as I sipped the drink, an elfish man wearing an ornate mask walked over and asked I wanted to go on a “special adventure,” extending the same offer to another woman close by. He led us down a series of dark corridors and strange rooms. I had to run just to keep us as he disappeared behind curtains, flaps, and around corners, giggling and murmuring as he went.
We stepped outside across a rooftop bar where a sullen chef chopped wood and a quiet gardener watered plants. A waitress stared at me with a blank expression as we ran through this empty, gorgeous space, and I could’ve sworn a man in a strange jacket whispered into his shirt. Were these people part of the act? Or genuinely bewildered restaurant workers? I still have no idea.
I later realized this was Gallow Green, the McKittrick’s seasonal rooftop bar and restaurant. Were the restaurant workers “in” on the performance?
After what felt like an eternity, the three of us burst into a room barely larger than a closet where a slightly older Leap Year Society member cautioned us of malevolent forces at work — some kind of being called the Drifter may or may not have possessed one or more people at the party. A side quest! the gamer in me screamed internally.
What actually happened later that night during the rite itself is a secret only Leap Year Society members may know, but there’s still a chance to find out. Even though this Unknown 9 Experience ends on October 6, Reflector hopes to expand with more dates and locations in the future. And it’s all part of a series of transmedia properties set to emerge in the coming years.
The Leap Year Society podcast is already out, and it’s a Serial-style investigation of secret societies — including the Leap Year Society — blurring the line between fact and fiction in delightful ways. Next, the comic Unknown 9 Archives by writer John Ney Rieber and artist Jae Lee is due in early 2019 from Dark Horse Comics.
Beyond that, there’s a novel trilogy by Layton Green (The Dominic Grey Series, Written in Blood, The Brothers Three), a TV series by Tim Kring (Heroes, Crossing Jordan, Dig), a film written by Josh Campbell and Matt Stuecken (10 Cloverfield Lane), and more.
Ultimately, whether the Leap Year Society is “real” or not, the organization already feels more real than the Illuminati or Freemasons — or at least much more accessible. What secrets lie in the future?
Want to talk more about Leap Year Society or have questions about the experience? Email the author right here: firstname.lastname@example.org.