Last two weeks for reality-theater tent
Hundreds are lining up in Lakeville to witness the deadly consequences of bad decisions in graphic detail.
“The 99” walk-through reality theater, housed in a massive 20,000-square-foot tent in the Celebration Church parking lot until Sept. 22, features 13 hard-hitting re-enactments of the leading causes of death among young people in the United States.
Organizers say the production’s title is based on Centers for Disease Control reports that say 99 young Americans die daily from primarily preventable causes including homicide, domestic violence and texting while driving.
“Today, 31 (young adults, ages 12-25) will lose their life in auto-related accidents,” “The 99’” director Terry Henshaw said. “Seventeen of those would still be alive if they had their seat belt on.”
He started the traveling theater about five years ago to help wake young adults to the real consequences of negative choices, often promoted in popular music or glamorized in video games and movies.
At the production, visitors are accompanied in groups through 13 rooms where actors vividly portray scenes that include drug overdoses, suicide, gang violence and drunk driving.
The rooms look, sound and smell as they would in reality.
“Our crack house was designed by drug addicts,” Henshaw said. “We asked them, ‘Do you guys know what happens in a crack house?’ They said, ‘We live in one.’ ”
In the crack house scene, garbage litters the floor, disheveled blinds are in a window and intoxicated users perch on tattered furniture using drugs or overdosing as a pregnant girl lies on a bed; an herb mixture pumped into the air simulates the pungent smell of marijuana.
“We’ve had police officers go through this and say ‘Man, I’m here every week,’ ” Henshaw said.
For some local youths, the warning and message of “The 99” has resonated.
Lakeville North High School senior Kourtney Vanalstine plans to go to the event every Sunday night, returning with friends and family in tow.
“I like how they show real-life situations and it’s cool how they didn’t sugar-coat anything,” Vanalstine said.
Emma Hagen, 13, Lakeville, said she did not expect “The 99” to be so realistic.
“It was more scary because I felt like it was actually happening,” the Kenwood Trail eighth-grader said.
The experience left her feeling stronger in her convictions to make good choices, even in the face of peer pressure.
“It showed where you’d end up and how it affects your family, too,” Emma said. “I know not to do that stuff, and now I know what would happen if I did.”
Emma’s mother, Melissa Hagen, said she decided to let her youngest of six children attend the production in hopes it would reinforce wise decision-making.
“A little shock value is not such a bad thing,” Melissa said. “I hope it will help in her future as she makes individual choices when I’m not available to guide her.”
After Emma shared her feelings about the production, Melissa also has plans to attend to better understand her daughter’s concerns and perspective.
“She was telling me how sad it made her, and the parts that were important to her,” Melissa said. “I just want to get into her mind a little.”
Henshaw said 450,000 people around the U.S. have toured the production, and he has received thousands of emails from people who have changed their lives and made better decisions as a result.
He said one young man turned over a knife during the weapons check before entering “The 99” and never retrieved it, deciding against his plan to use it to take his life.
“He told one of the staff people (“The 99”) had really changed his life,” Henshaw said. “He really wanted to live.”
He described the production’s real-life re-enactments as a key reason for its profound effect on people.
“It’s the real deal. That’s why it grabs their attention. That’s why it’s life changing.”
Visitors must be 12 or older to enter, and are asked to read a written warning advising pregnant women and people with heart conditions to exercise extreme caution upon entering due to the graphic nature of the production.
It takes about 45 minutes to completely tour the event, and visitors can opt out of rooms or leave the production at any time.
Counselors are available for prayer and discussion after the experience.
Lakeville is the 36th city in the country where “The 99” has been held this year; they are nearly booked for 2014, and Henshaw said he is not sure when “The 99” will return to the Twin Cities.
“We go where we’re invited,” he said.
Entrance to “The 99” is $13, and is open to the public from 7-11 p.m. Friday through Sunday, Sept. 13-15 and 20-22. Interpreters for the deaf will be available during the last weekend.
Celebration Church is located at 16655 Kenyon Ave. in Lakeville.
More information is at www.whatisthe99.com.