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 –

The “Halfway” Check-In!

Good Morning and Happy Monday, everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. I had a wonderful couple of days that were spent both within Boston where I hosted my 12-4 Saturday show on Indie617– but also out in the Pioneer Valley with my best friend who came to visit through yesterday afternoon. The weather held up nicely until a series of thunderstorms rolled through last night- so I made sure to take him to a couple of great outdoor locations so he could drink in the scenery and the atmosphere.

A full recap of the adventures (with photos) will be up on Wednesday!

Before that, though- early June is typically when I like to “check in” on myself and note my progress since New Year’s Eve. The official start of Summer is just around the corner, 2019 is halfway over- and now seems like just a good time as any to reassess the goals/aspirations I laid out for myself back at the very end of December. I like to take pride in myself on anything I accomplished- and push myself a little harder on the things that I haven’t yet!

I copied my 2019 Resolutions list from my “In a Nutshell: 2019” post from December 31, 2018. Let’s take a look:

Get Healthier/Get Into Better Shape: As someone who loves food and enjoys a good “veg-out” session on the couch while I binge-watch Netflix and Hulu series- this one was admittedly a little harder to get into the swing of after the start of the year. But, now that I’m living in my own place and within a community that both values and encourages wellness, staying healthy and being active- it’s been a lot easier for me to find the time and motivation to make smarter choices about what I’m eating and to exercise regularly.

And honestly- with the views I’ve found in and around the Pioneer Valley since moving here- exercising outdoors is *SO* much more enjoyable!

Stop Putting Up With Bullshit – And Command Respect: I had started the momentum on this resolution near the end of 2018 after a disastrous trip to San Diego in the Fall and and on/off/on again relationship that left me more drained than happy. I began cutting people out of my life who were detrimental to me, my emotional/mental well-being and who were holding me back from achieving my goals- and I didn’t look back.

I’m happy to report that six months later, I’ve surrounded myself with truly wonderful friends I can count on and a guy I might not always see eye to eye with- but whom I’ve built a strong and trusting friendship and connection with and who I care for very deeply. The people who had hurt me, dragged me down, or tried to take advantage of me have all but faded into obscurity and it’s a huge weight off of my shoulders.

Hit Up Some of The Places on My Bucket List: I admit that this resolution is not one I’ve particularly accomplished or have been actively working towards. It’s been placed on the back burner, what with my recent move and everything- however I *have* been able to do some traveling to places like New York and most recently- Las Vegas and San Diego.

I’ve still got another few months to take that unexpected and impromptu trip to New Orleans or Memphis- so here’s hoping I’m able to pull it off!

Get Back Into the Arts: I’ve achieved this goal with a very enthusiastic “oh hell yes!” Between my work with Indie617 and PaintBox Theatre here in the Valley- I have been fully immersed in art, theater, music, creativity and self-expression. It’s been such a beautiful and inspirational journey and I find myself wanting to create my own work more and more with each passing day!

I’m sure living in such a diverse and creative atmosphere will keep me going strong with this resolution, too!

___________________________________________

Obviously, I still have some work to do to reach all of my goals- but I’m really happy with my progress so far. Between some of the completed/near completed resolutions and moving into a beautiful new apartment within this first half of the year- 2019 has been the year of big dreams and even bigger changes these past few months!

Additionally, I like to use the first few days of June for some serious self-care and reorganization. I scrub and dust my living space from top to bottom, make sure everything is spotless and fresh- indulge in a deeply moisturizing hair or face mask (or both if I’ve got the time!) and do some major clean-out of my email and social media inboxes.

I’ve found that with unsubscribing or blocking gratuitous e-mails from companies I had purchased something from months and months ago (and who have been contacting me non-stop ever since. Looking at you- Bath & Body Works and Victoria’s Secret!) as they show up in my inbox- I feel so much better and less anxious whenever I check my e-mail because I can get right to the important stuff I *want* to read without having to worry that it was buried amid the coupon codes, advertisements for new merchandise, etc.

Overall, June is a month of self-reflection, self-improvement, and self-care- be it revisiting goals for the year, getting organized, or simply deleting a bunch of emails to de-clutter your inbox. Whatever and however you choose to “check in’ with yourself halfway through the year is completely up to you- and now is the time to do it so you’ll have more space in your schedule for fun Summertime activities!

And now that just about does it for me today, guys. I’m off to work!

Here’s wishing us ALL a safe, stress-free and laid-back Monday. To the work week ahead!

xx

– Ashley –

Ahoy, Mateys!

When it comes to theater and the arts- I wouldn’t exactly call myself a refined, sophisticated know-it-all- and I like what I like without apology. I was a trained ballet dancer through my teens and a Fine Arts major in NYC for all of thirty seconds in my early twenties before I made the switch to wide-eyed traveler, tenacious law student and tireless writer. But my interest in performances and painting never waned.

I like immersive theater the best- and anything dark, broody or supernatural and spooky is right up my alley given my self-proclaimed “Halloween Queen” title- but sometimes family-friendly and downright silly can be an unexpected delight that I treat myself to from time to time. When that type of theater happens to take place right in the heart of Western Massachusetts- an area I frequent often and truly enjoy spending time in- it’s even better.

My first introduction to Paintbox Theater was in the Summer of 2014 after a return trip from San Diego Comic-Con (speaking of- I hope everyone attending this week has a great time and uploads an obscene amount of photos so I can keep up!) My longtime friend, Troy- an actor with an almost intimidating resume and now company manager at Paintbox- had picked me up at the airport and invited me to come along to a rehearsal so I could see firsthand what it is that they do.

He was also borrowing my car that week- which I’m sure impacted his decision to invite me to some degree- but that’s neither here nor there.

Paintbox- founded by Tom McCabe, a celebrated storyteller (who also serves as a writer and director of the company’s productions)– puts on three shows every Summer that not only interact heavily with it’s teeny-tiny audience members- but simultaneously encourages literacy, kindness, and friendship with each performance. All the things this world so desperately needs right now, really.

They do this by incorporating audience participation and allowing children to add their own artwork to the set- drawings that are shown via a projection screen over the stage that are used to depict scenery, characters, points in the story, etc. It’s a nice and adorable way for kids to feel like they’re *in* on the play and included in the shenanigans and sometimes absolute pandemonium (in a controlled, safe way of course) happening with the actors onstage.

And if you’re worried that there isn’t anything to keep the adults entertained during all of this- think again. Some of the jokes, which are subtle enough to go way above a toddler’s head- are pretty perfect for any parent or grown-up patron who needs a good chuckle.

I was completely moved by the company’s efforts to reach and entertain children back in 2014- and have popped by performances now and then through the years to say hello. Now, in it’s celebratory 15th season- Paintbox is getting ready for their second show of the Summer: “Pirates!” and since I’m always looking to share fun things to do around New England- I thought this would be perfect for those of you reading this (with or without younger ones) who might want to travel to one of the more beautiful areas of Massachusetts and catch a show while supporting a great group of hardworking people.

I, myself, have been a proud supporter of Paintbox for years now- and think you’d all enjoy it!

Saturday- July 21, 2018 @ 10:30 AM & 1:00 PM – Sunday- July 22, 2018 @ 10:30 AM

Williston Theater @ 18 Payson Ave, Easthampton, MA. 01027

(the Sunday show will immediately be followed by a 2nd annual “Pirate Day” with games and activities.)

Wednesday- July 25, 2018 @ 10:30 AM (Rain Date: Thursday, July 26, 2018 @ 10:30 AM)

Millside Park @ 2 Ferry Street along the Manhan Rail Trail

Tickets can be purchased at the website linked above, or by CLICKING HERE.

Enjoy your Wednesday, everyone!

xx

– Ashley –