Come to the theater, ride a chandelier, play a role in show

Fri Jun 26, 2015 1:26pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Aerialists descend in a giant chandelier and lift a guest back up with them, a showgirl leads an audience member back in time to a 1920s Parisian nightclub and actors single out guests for a mysterious experience yet to come.

Immersive theater productions such as "Sleep No More," an adaptation of "Macbeth" that has been running in New York since 2011, have brought audiences into the performance.

But simply putting on a mask to follow the action through vast, rambling warehouses or old hotels is not enough for some audiences. The latest immersive theater lures them in by giving them roles and responsibilities.

"It is a necessary step in the evolution of the form," said Noah J. Nelson, editor of the immersive and interactive theater guide No Proscenium. "Somebody had to try this and there is a real chance it could take off."

Cynthia von Buhler, the creator of "Speakeasy Dollhouse: Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic" which is playing in New York, believes directors and producers are just touching the surface of what is possible in immersive theater.

In her show based on the death of Ziegfeld Follies showgirl and actress Olive Thomas in 1920, guests are transported back to Prohibition-era New York and the Ritz hotel in Paris, where Thomas died.

Audience members, many dressed in period costumes, enter a hidden theater in New York's Times Square for a show within a show. Guests are given roles and some create their own, blurring the lines between the audience and actors.

"I want to keep pushing it further, like how immersive can you get?" said von Buhler.   Continued...

Delysia La Chatte performs as Josephine Baker in "Speakeasy Dollhouse: Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic" at the Liberty Theater in New York, in this undated handout photo provided by Matt Ross Public Relations. REUTERS/Matt Ross Public Relations/Handout