Immersive Theater: Sam’s Place…

Good Morning and Happy Monday, everyone!

If anyone ever asked me what my earliest immersive theater experience was, I would immediately say “Sleep No More”– but not the obscenely priced incarnation that exists in New York City today- but the smaller, more intimate, more eager version that took place in an abandoned school in Brookline, Massachusetts circa 2009.

My best friend Sean was the one to discover “Sleep No More” that Fall when we were looking for new things to do around Halloween that didn’t involve tripping over children at haunted attractions or getting stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in Salem. This discovery, in turn, served as my introduction to immersive theater. For those who have never experienced it before, immersive theater is a play/production that goes beyond the limitations of a single stage and allows the audience to participate and explore the performance spaces freely, interact with the actors, and sometimes change the outcome of the performance with the decisions they make along the way.

It’s a very unique style of performance art and has quickly become one of my favorites over the years. I am by no means an actress or a seasoned veteran of the arts- but if given the opportunity to perform in an immersive theater play- I would absolutely agree because it’s not a matter of learning lines or the repetition of motions. Everything is spontaneous, off-the-cuff- and depends entirely on the audience member you’re interacting with. It’s improv- and like improv- you have some basic guidelines to drive your character. The rest is completely up to you- and the crowd.

“Sleep No More” has become the pinnacle of immersive theater- with hundreds if not thousands of people flocking to see it at it’s current home within the McKittrick Hotel in NYC every year. I’ve been to many of their performances and parties over the years- and I’ve always had an incredible and memorable time- but the problem with “Sleep No More” is that it’s so big, so expansive, and so easy to get off track. If you wander the wrong way for even a moment- you risk missing huge parts of the play/story, if not the whole thing. Actors/Actresses move from room to room, they separate and head into different directions- and with four or five floors with multiple rooms, nooks and crannies to cover- it’s easy to get lost.

I’ve seen “Sleep No More” possibly seven or eight times- potentially more- and I have yet to see the full performance. Even following guidelines that have been laid out by other enthusiasts online to help those in similar situations has left me stuck- roaming from empty room to empty room in silence until a stage hand directs me to the big finale and that’s it.

I’ve kept my eye out for other companies doing similar work but on a smaller, more tightened and less sprawling/confusing scale. Last year, my dearest Troy invited me to see an immersive theater performance he had been involved in called “Deux Ex Machina” which was put on at the Shea Theater Arts Center in Turners Falls by Eggtooth Productions. I was blown away by the show- which encapsulated everything I loved about immersive theater but with a more reasonable price of admission and a venue that prevented audience members from getting lost and/or missing out on key elements and moments of the show. We were still allowed to roam freely- but there was always a cast or crew member to guide us back to the action if we were getting too far off track.

The sets, the costumes, the spooky, sort of otherworldliness of the story and the characters was spectacular- and I’ve since become a big fan of Eggtooth’s other works.

Since moving to the Valley, I’ve met a few people- friends of friends, etc.- who have been so kind, welcoming and enthusiastic about me being a part of the community now. Through Troy and my own curiosity, wonderful people affiliated with Eggtooth had encouraged me to come to their most recent event: Sam’s Place (which was also held at the Shea.)

The event spanned across three nights- with each night representing a different era in the club/bar scene. This past Thursday night’s performance was inspired by 1920s speakeasies. Friday night’s performance was a nod to 1960s folk clubs- and Saturday night- the event I went to, was a neon and Aquanet soaked throwback to 1984 and all it’s decadent glory. Although I didn’t really have a 1980s inspired outfit to wear- I did rock some teased hair and neon eyeliner- so at least I can say I tried.

I had an incredible time, and the multiple interactions I had with the cast in various areas of the theater were so wonderful. I left with a pocket full of mementos that were handed to me at various intervals (pictured above)– including a portrait of me that was done by one the actresses who never actually looked at the paper. She just stared at my face and drew. An uncanny likeness, if I do say so myself.

And closing out the night dancing to 80s club hits (I lost my mind at “Sheila” by Ready For The World) was a pretty perfect way to end an evening and wind down what had been a pretty long, tedious week.

Speaking of winding down- June is nearly done and over if you can all believe it- so the next few days will be spent recapping my favorite things from this past month as well as looking back at these past few weeks a whole in my “In A Nutshell” post (which will be up on Sunday!)

On Wednesday, though- I’m giving you all a glimpse into an incredible roadside Summer shack I discovered over the weekend. I’m still so full of lobster and fries as I write this!

Have a great start to your work week, everyone! Let’s see it through to Friday!

xx

– Ashley –

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