How to write about The Chalet? It’s not really an experience that can be spoiled, as every participant’s encounter will differ depending on his or her own response to the scene that unfolds. But I’m still loath to over-explain or describe in too much detail, because it’s such a beautiful, personal thing.
It’s from the The ABC Project, and based on their A(partment 8), but modified to specifically suit this space: The Timberline Lodge, a gorgeous, sprawling beast of wood and stone, filled with shadowy nooks and long, looming hallways. It’s – as the festival’s name likely indicates – the hotel responsible for the exterior shots of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and The Chalet feels very much in that spirit, while still something much more intimate and emotional.
Here’s what I can say: I found my way to a previously undisclosed location in the hotel, where a woman told me to leave my bag and phone, anything that I feel might hinder my experience. She told me to take my time, but when I was ready, to walk across the room, through double doors and down a hallway, where a woman in red would meet me. She told me to spend the walk clearing my mind, preparing myself for what was to come. “Because nothing is more important than this experience.”
I walked slowly, repeating that phrase softly in my head. “Nothing is more important than this experience.” I breathed in and out, deep, shaky breaths, and I felt weirdly tearful already, for reasons I still can’t explain. I walked through the double doors, and there was the woman in red, dark makeup around her eyes, a gentle look on her face. She handed me a small cup of fragrant tea, and told me it was intended to prepare me for the experience of living in another person’s skin. She told me that whatever felt right and appropriate for me to do or say, I should do or say. Whenever it felt right and appropriate for me to leave, I should leave. She handed me a blindfold and asked me to put it on when I was ready. I did, and she guided me into another room, where we stopped.
She told me that, before I entered this other person’s skin, I would learn the last words that person thought before I became a part of them. She had me repeat the phrase, over and over, a startling, dramatic phrase. She put headphones on me, and I heard the phrase again. She then guided me further, into another room, and sat me down. The woman on the headphones told me I could remove my headphones and blindfold when I was ready. I did, and was greeted with a shocking scene.
This is where I’ll stop describing what unfolded, and tell you instead how I felt. Moved, and saddened, and immensely riveted. I could think of nothing else, and felt utterly unself-conscious. My mind never wandered. It was beautiful and powerful and painful. I did and said whatever felt right and appropriate. I left when it felt right and appropriate.
The experience followed me. I left and went straight to my room, where I softly wept and drank a shot of whiskey to calm my nerves. It was some time before I felt like myself again – before I felt like I was no longer in this other person’s skin.
If you have a chance to be a part of an encounter like this from The ABC’s Project, please do it. It’s an incredibly special experience, one that will stay with you and maybe even change you a little.