Last night Andrea took me to a 10:30 immersive-theater experience of Then She Fell deep in Brooklyn. To accommodate a maximum of only 15 theatergoers/participants there’s two shows a night; one at 7:30 and one at 10:30. I thought I’d be tired, but that concern disappeared as I entered the re-imagined Greenpoint Hospital between 10:10 & 10:29pm (there’s no getting in outside that window) and it certainly didn’t feel like 12:39am when I left the building following the interactive performance.
What I love about theater is that it’s a completely unique and one-of-a-kind performance every time you see it. Sports are like that, or they were before every second was recorded and photographed and available 24/7 in highlight packages on your phone.
Just like no two sporting matches can ever be the same, each time a show is performed it exists only in that moment and then is gone forever, unlike a book that will always contain those same words or a movie that always shows the exact same scenes.
But what sets apart traditional theater and this new trend of participatory (or ‘interactive’) theater is precisely what used to make theater a performance - a stage in front of an audience. When that fourth wall is broken down and you’re led by the hand of a stranger/paid actor down a hallway and told to sit in a chair until another paid actor comes and gets you, it feels far more real than any theater you’ve seen before. You become an actor in their world.
So for two hours I was led around this wonderland-like dreamscape crafted around Lewis Carroll and his ambiguous relationship with Alice Liddell, the little girl for whom he created Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and an unknown incidence that separated them, leading to his darker follow-up Through the Looking Glass. I knew nothing of this context beforehand and now I’m endlessly fascinated by it.
You would be too after this. Whereas Sleep No More was an epic multi-level free-range sandbox experience (ie. Grand Theft Auto-style of play), Then She Fell is a tightly controlled journey through various rooms, set pieces, mini-performances, monologues, interactions, where I was guided by actors I had to trust (ie. Gear of War).
And while Sleep No More had me running around frantically trying to balance exploring the rooms, chasing the action, and a constant fear-of-missing-out (did you see the bloody naked minotaur disco?), Then She Fell gave me the opposite feeling - these decisions were already made for me, I trusted my guides completely, and I was open to the experiences fate created for me.
I can’t say it’s a spoiler to share that I was given alcoholic cocktails composed from bottles hidden in books, played through a game of chess, made to watch interactions on the other side of a two-way mirror, wrote letters, read letters, told stories as I lay on a bed, painted, observed, had conversations, and enjoyed a tea party drinking a concoction I ordered a la carte.
These aren’t spoilers because Andrea’s experiences and scenes were completely different. What was repeated and rotated amongst the 15 participants and wasn’t would require a few more visits myself. Sometimes I was in a room with Andrea and another person, but more often I was separated from that trio and left in a room with an actor performing only for me. Those experiences I can promise will never be repeated for anyone, as they played off my interaction with the actor one on one.
One such scene that will stay with me forever was when I was made to question everything about the show. There are only two rules: Only speak when spoken to & Don’t open closed doors. In this case I was sitting outside a halfway-closed door observing the actress inside the room, having been told to sit there until told otherwise.
She “noticed” me watching her, turned and pulled the door closer to being closed so I could no longer see inside. Then she asked me: “Is it better to do what you want or do what you’re told?" I sat there, remembering that even though I had been told to sit there until told otherwise, I was allowed to speak when spoken to and that door wasn’t completely closed.
I answered and we talked, the cracked door remaining ajar between us, but that question, with it’s many meta-levels of context and conduct, still sits there beating loudly in my chest, Is it better to do what you want or what you’re told?