Theater is expensive, and who wants to pay an admission fee when we New Yorkers have front row seats to full-blown displays of the human condition in our parks, on our commutes, and through the thin walls of our apartment buildings? The city is replete with some of the most captivating stories around and they run the gamut from hilarious to heartbreaking to horrifying. So, when it comes to immersive theater, where the theater-goer is let loose to wander around the space and listen to the “private” conversations between characters, why pay a chunk of change for something we get for free, whether we like it or not?
For a theater geek like me, it’s a no-brainer. My first experience with this kind of theater was Sleep No More, a retelling of Macbeth in an old club in Chelsea by the UK production company Punchdrunk. I saved up my babysitting money for weeks in high school and tagged along with my especially adventurous friends. Winding my way through rows of hospital beds splattered with blood and looking in drawers for letters I had no context for, I was in my glory. Having the physical freedom to open set doors into impeccably designed taxidermy dens or coven meetings and follow actors as they sauntered or bolted from one place to another changed my perceptions of how performance works and how the relationship between audience and performer can operate.
People love to brand theater as an escape, and if you’re paying a small fortune to see a play, you should feel transported. The special thing about immersive theater, though, is that you are a part of the world the play is creating. The agency that this format gives a ticket holder changes the nature of that escape. Instead of watching a story from the outside, you enter, inhabit and influence another world, not just abstractly but physically. Characters confide in you or feed you something that might be “poison” and you can explore the set. It engages your senses in a way that lesser money suckers like movies or concerts usually cannot.
The elaborate format of immersive theater can make it sound like Disney World, complete with an outlandish sticker price. It’s certainly a special occasion activity but its decadence is worthwhile. To enter a foreign world, where participation is encouraged and rewarded is a unique mode of storytelling and should not be missed.
Some current immersive shows to see in New York, costing varying portions of your paycheck:
627 5th Ave., Park Slope
Set in a 1930s sideshow rife with bands of bootlegging misfits, jazz club vibes and subterranean tunnels, Curiosities is limited to 50 participants per performance. The show begins its previews on October 4th and continues through late November. It’s especially unique in being staged in Park Slope, in the large, windowless building next to Freddy’s Bar that bears a dated awning boasting “Fine Ladies Apparel”. Bring your Beer Book for a free after-show drink next door.
Then She Fell
195 Maujer St., Bushwick
Based on the writings of Lewis Carroll – mainly Alice in Wonderland – you and 14 others will wander around and interact with characters. Snacks and potions and secrets, oh my!
Tickets: $65, $80 or $99
53-28 11th Street, Long Island City
It’s a month into a post-apocalyptic world and your ticket price dictates the resources you have at hand to make it through this 75 minute experience. Be ready to survive by any means necessary.
Tickets: $50 – $250
38 W. 32nd St
A hybrid of immersive theater and the escape room trend, you have sixty minutes to coax your way out. Think Dante’s Divine Comedy with some later, futuristic influences.
Accomplice the Show
Tickets: $65 – $80
Await an email or phone call a few days before the performance to know where to meet in Greenwich Village to enjoy a half scavenger hunt half site-specific theater performance. There are two versions (hence the price difference) for a truly choose-you-own adventure theatrical stroll.
Sleep No More
530 West 27th St., Chelsea
Set in sprawling space converted to look like a Hitchock inspired 1930’s era hotel, Sleep No More has been a pioneering force in immersive entertainment, and has become almost synonymous with the genre. Attendees are given Venetian-style carnival masks and the set is an art exhibit in itself.