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

Mutant worms stay sober, even on alcohol

U.S. researchers have developed "mutant worms" that do not get drunk by alcohol, a breakthrough that could lead to new treatment for people trying to quit drinking

Local

K-9 nose helps capture $150K in cocaine at…

A furry, four-legged security agent helped authorities stop an illegal cocaine shipment from sneaking past JFK customs.

National

Minnesota man asked to leave Southwest flight after…

A man and his two sons were asked to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after the man sent a tweet complaining about being treated rudely by a gate agent.

National

Man sues hospital after surprise penis amputation

An Alabama man who went in to a hospital last month for a circumcision awoke after surgery to find his penis had been amputated, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Movies

Review: Brett Ratner's big 'Hercules' movie is small…

The latest "Hercules," starring Dwayne Johnson as the half-god beefcake of Greek myth, strips its hero and tale of most of its fantastical elements.

Arts

Scientists recreate world's smallest Monet copy

Scientists have reproduced a famous Impressionist painting using nano-printing, to create what has been described as the world's smallest work of art. Reworked at the…

Television

Jerry Seinfeld is ambidextrous, and other Reddit AMA…

See some of the weirder highlights of Jerry Seinfeld's recent Reddit AMA.

Going Out

Grab a pedestrian and start dancing at What…

As a New Yorker, I’ve mastered the art of focusing my gaze straight ahead. Though it occasionally piques my interest, the absurdities that play out…

U.S. Soccer

Orlando City takes shot at NYCFC over Frank…

Orlando City reminded the world how big a signing Brazilian star Kaka earlier this month with a photo of Kaka mobbed by fans juxtaposed against Lampard.

NBA

Jeremy Lin says 'Linsanity' is over as he…

Jeremy Lin lit up the NBA two years ago with his play for the Knicks but he has no desire to recreate "Linsanity" in his new career with the Lakers.

NFL

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player…

2014 NFL Fantasy Football Top 100 overall player rankings

U.S. Soccer

NYCFC announce signing of Frank Lampard

The tease of a big signing Thursday by new MLS side NYCFC ended up being one rumored for weeks. England midfielder Frank Lampard agreed to…

Tech

Forget Wi-Fi: Li-Fi could be the future

Li-Fi technology – developed by Mexican company Sisoft – is wireless internet connectivity using specialized LED light.

Tech

Weather app Climendo might be the most accurate…

The wait for a truly accurate weather forecast could finally be over thanks to a nifty new app called Climendo.

Tech

Napkin Table puts focus off the phone and…

Michael Jan, a design student at Tunghai University in Taiwan, has invented a serviette-picnic blanket hybrid called the Napkin Table.

Style

Essie's new Color Boutique

Essie launches high-tech kiosks at major airports and malls across the country.