Looking at immersive theater in NYC

Audience-cum-participants gather around an actor to help solve the mystery of "Speakeasy Dollhouse." Credit: Provided
Viewers-cum-participants gather around to help solve the mystery of “Speakeasy Dollhouse.”
Credit: Provided

Live theater is a thrill because of the chance that anything can happen — from catching an actor’s eye for a moment to watching a cast cover up a dropped line. For some audiences, though, sitting back and applauding isn’t enough — and theater producers are listening.

Venues across the city are opting out of the red velvet seats and inviting audiences to get up, dance around and put more on the line than half-hearted applause. Of course, immersive theater has been around since long before Chelsea’s McKittrick Hotel was filled with elaborately staged sets for “Sleep No More,” where audiences chase actors through an adaptation of “Macbeth” in ominous white masks.

But the explosive popularity of shows like “Sleep No More,” as well as older ones such as the dance show “Fuerza Bruta” — which has been playing in Union Square since 2007 and recently extended its off-Broadway run — are making way for more theater groups interested in experimenting with their audiences. At The Public Theater, “Here Lies Love” has extended its run twice, with audiences rising to the challenge of participating wholeheartedly by dancing and singing along.

Cynthia Von Buhler has watched the rise of immersive theater firsthand as her show, “Speakeasy Dollhouse” went from a one-off event to selling out nearly every week since opening in October 2011 (the show has extended its run through December and expanded to twice a week).

Von Buhler says she was inspired by “Sleep No More” and decided to use audiences to help her explore the mystery of her grandfather’s murder in 1935 by having audiences collect evidence and sleuth along with her.

“People want to play along, they want to be a star,” Von Buhler says. “It’s like reality TV, and they want to play a part in it. Ninety-nine percent of people get into it and play along.” It’s easy to see why. “Speakeasy” audiences are encouraged to dress for the part in 1930s garb and sip moonshine alongside burlesque dances as they listen to live jazz from The Howard Fishman Quartet.

“Speakeasy” makes no jokes about the immersion, sending emails to the 150 audience members with real evidence, like autopsy reports and news clippings. Though she is keeping mum about the subject matter, Von Buhler is developing other immersive theater projects with the help of Michael Barra of Stageworks Media.

As the fall theater season approaches and haunted houses begin to prepare their shows, audiences can expect even more immersive elements. They won’t just be passively participants in the dark, waiting until curtain call — they’ll be getting a lot more opportunity to play along.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

At 91, Marvel creator Stan Lee continues to…

By Piya Sinha-RoyLOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Marvel Entertainment's chief emeritus Stan Lee may be in his ninth decade, but it hasn't stopped him from adding…

National

Islamic State says beheads U.S. journalist, holds another

Islamic State insurgents released a video purportedly showing the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley, who had gone missing in Syria nearly two years ago.

Local

VIDEO: NYPD seeks shooter in East New York…

Cops are on the lookout for an unknown shooter who aimed and missed hitting a man on a bicycle, instead nearly striking a nearby officer in East New York.

Local

NYS state forces thrift shops comply with ban…

Nine New York City thrift shops were reprimanded by the state attorney general for selling children's clothes with drawstrings around the neck and waist.

Movies

Interview: Jessica Alba is a stripper again in…

Jessica Alba has gotten used to vague phone calls from director Robert Rodriguez, the Austin-based auteur who has made a habit of putting Alba into…

Movies

Interview: Robert Rodriguez doesn't mind that Jessica Alba…

In making a Hollywood-friendly adaptation of Frank Miller's gritty "Sin City" graphic novel series, Robert Rodriguez learned that some things have to go — namely…

Television

TV watch list, Wednesday, Aug. 20: 'Extant,' 'Legends'…

See a two hour block of Halle Berry's scifi show, "Extant."

The Word

The Word: Mischa Barton in trouble, not that…

  People are really, really worried about Mischa Barton. Again. The former "O.C." star is reportedly in deep financial trouble and can't seem to get…

MLB

Shane Greene travels unlikely road to Yankees stardom

Shane Greene was throwing a bullpen session on a quiet field at Daytona Beach Community College one day when the ball started moving.

NFL

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL tight ends (TE)

MLB

MLB Power Rankings: Angels supplant A's, Nationals climb

MLB Power Rankings: Angels supplant A's, Nationals climb

NFL

David Wilson returns to triple jump, sets sights…

Giants fans know David Wilson can jump. They are just more used to seeing him go for backflips, not distance.

Parenting

Fun family activity: Off-Broadway show for pre-teens

"The Love Note" is an off-Broadway musical your pre-teen won't roll his or her eyes at.

Parenting

Barnes & Noble partners with Samsung to release…

Barnes & Noble releases the first full android tablet optimized for reading.

Style

11 timeless gifts for registries or just because

Gifts to prove you're a style maven once and for all.

Food

The Chic Wife tells us how to use…

Kris Schoels, aka The Chic Wife, grew up on a farm with peach trees. August is National Peach Month, but Kris Schoels doesn’t need a reason…