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The São Jorge cinema will receive a mega immersive experience of fear and terror

It’s called “Cinema Medo” and is an immersive experience that will occupy the Cinema São Jorge in Lisbon in 2022. As part of the program for the 72nd anniversary of the cultural space, it is an initiative that will combine immersive theater with cinema and a competition between the audience elements.

Conception of the project began in 2019, when EGEAC challenged director, playwright and actor Michel Simeão, creator of Projeto Casa Assombrada – dedicated precisely to offering immersive horror activities – to come up with something for São Jorge.

“I made a proposal that combines cinema more in the horror genre with a travel experience that I would call ‘nightmare’ rather than ‘terror’ proper,” Michel Simeão tells NiT. “The public has already become accustomed to the fact that we never repeat ourselves and that everything we do has its own world and context – and is always directly related to the spaces themselves in which we work site-specifically.”

Here they could use practically the entire building of the Cinema São Jorge, which will be the stage for this dynamic and immersive piece. The experience begins with the screening of a short film. “It will work as a kind of invention. You’ll be able to see what someone went through and why you, the viewer, will end up going through it too. That’s the premise. Let’s see some hints of what you can find during this experience.

Then follows a journey to the “nightmare and trauma of the protagonist of this tale”. Michel Simeão assures that it will be a more psychological fear and less “frightening jumps, the fear behind the door or that more immediate shock”.

Each session can have a maximum of 36 participants. They are divided into three groups and the show culminates in a competition. Winners are entitled to a “prize, one last privilege, one icing on the cake”.

The cast consists of Michel Simeão himself, Rita Ruaz, Luísa Fidalgo, Inês Melo, Joana Sapinho, Marco Augusto, Miguel Sousa, Miguel Mateus and Ricardo Denzel.

What story is this?

Simeão created a story about a woman who wanted to be an actress in Lisbon in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Throughout the experience, participants will learn their life story and understand the various traumas that left a deep mark on them.

The woman spent her life at the Cinema São Jorge, watching the great divas of cinema and trying to imitate them. “This journey is all about her frustration – never being able to get where she wanted to be. He is someone who has accumulated trauma all his life and his demons inhabit the Cinema São Jorge.”

Almost all cinema rooms are used.

The playwright explains that São Jorge will be like a limbo, “as if we’ve entered this woman’s brain”. “Eventually he died, there he stayed and remains there to this day. And we’re going to explore why – how he died, who he was, what happened to this woman that led to her being trapped in this theater with her demons roaming around.”

The competition

The audience is divided into three groups that compete against each other. It won’t be, Michel Simeão guarantees, as if it were an escape game. “It’s not about who has the best arguments for deciphering puzzles. This competition will be judged on your bravery. You will be given a challenge and every time you have the courage to advance you will earn points. If you don’t, you won’t win – or even lose points. If I ask you to go there alone with a certain person and you say no, you lose with your group, I don’t know how many points. It even forces people to work together if they really want to achieve the goal of earning such a privilege.”

The “privilege” is an extra, as if it were a post-credits scene that gives more information about the outcome of the plot. In addition, winners of this aspect of the competition will be able to enter a “secret cinema room” rarely used by São Jorge – and not open to the public.

This is a small room with a capacity for 20 people, used by the censors during the dictatorship – that’s where they watched the films to see if they could approve their premiere in Portugal. There are also rumors that the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar himself used to visit the room to watch films, although this has never been officially confirmed.

“It’s practically a museum piece because it’s intact. And so we really want to create that competitive spirit so that people will want to get the experience to enter this space at any cost.”

The privilege of space

When Michel Simeão made the technical visits to the São Jorge Cinema to get to know the place better and understand what spectacle he could create, he was afraid. This is because São Jorge is a complex and “labyrinthine” space with numerous rooms and levels. And pretty much every angle is used.

“It has this historic charge. We don’t have to invent anything like that here – and when we work there, it’s very easy to feel that this weight exists. When you are alone, indoors, in certain places, in certain rooms, you will feel the importance of this cinema.”

And he adds: “Here I lift the tip of the veil a little: At some point you might be sitting alone in an 800-seat cinema. Or at least with the feeling of being alone – without anyone around. It’s an experience that doesn’t happen to us every day and it can be overwhelming.”

The protagonist is an aspiring actress.

The starting point for creating the narrative was the “secret room” used by the censors. And the “idea of ​​what it would be like to have a first horror film shot in Portugal at this time” is being explored. “How would it have been received? In this hypothetical scenario, what would have happened if someone had tried to make a horror film in Portugal in the early 1960s?”

Michel Simeão promises a room “of a long journey”. “There is a lot of walking in São Jorge, it is very big, there are many stairs, corridors and we have everything at our disposal – except the work offices. That means the public can go anywhere – from the basements in the engine rooms as they looked in the 1960s, to the changing rooms and bathrooms that people don’t know about.”

In addition, all cinemas will be open. Another area that participants can enter is the “catacombs”. “São Jorge has a trapdoor with a ladder that takes you underground.”

The room will not be changed – it will remain as it is, with its 72-year history. What can change are only the lighting conditions in some places.

“There’s a lot of dynamics in this experience, in the sense that you walk into a room, you see a situation, you have contact with an actor or a scene, and everything happens quickly. They last two, three minutes and then you walk away and go into another room, see a different scene, always from side to side.”

When and how can you join Cinema Medo?

On Wednesday February 2nd, the organization will put tickets on sale at Ticketline and in São Jorge. They cost 20 euros and there will be 20 dates in 2022. Each date has five sessions per night, one per hour, between 8pm and midnight.

Ticket sales begin on February 2nd.

If the participants are divided into groups, they will inevitably have to live together in order to work together. “It’s also a great opportunity to meet people in a different environment, or you can form your group by joining 12 friends.” Michel Simeão even says they’ve already started committing themselves to shows by Projeto Casa Assombrada make a date. “People who didn’t know each other but were in the same group clung to each other and from there it happened.”

The Haunted House Project’s next show

Although “Cinema Medo” is now being presented, Michel Simeão is already thinking about the next show of his project. “I’m just starting to cook an upcoming show – this one to be on stage full time. It’s going to be a really cool surprise because it’s about two very media public figures who approached me about doing a horror thing together – they want to produce and they invited me to create and write it myself. And it’s an amazing space. It won’t be in Lisbon but it will be very close and I think it has everything to be a big thing and to stay for a long time. I think it can flag terror in Portugal in an unprecedented way.”

The idea is that it can debut in the summer. Nothing has been decided in terms of narrative, but it is an “incredible” mansion that “allows for a lot”, in the conventional style of a haunted house. “I can say that it is my desire to adopt the concept of [casa assombrada de] Good and increase it. Then it will certainly become more of a terror.”


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