News / Arts & Entertainment

Off-Broadway Plays Draw Audience Into Action

This undated theater image released by The Public Theater shows Ruthie Ann Miles, center, during a performance of
This undated theater image released by The Public Theater shows Ruthie Ann Miles, center, during a performance of "Here Lies Love," in New York.
Theater is designed to engage the heart and the mind, but it's mostly a passive experience. Now, three off-Broadway shows in New York have created interactive environments that engage the audience physically as well.  

Several years ago, when rock star David Byrne considered doing a musical on the life of Imelda Marcos, the wife of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, he made an interesting discovery.

"When I heard some years ago that Imelda Marcos really loved going to discos and that she had a mirror ball in her New York townhouse and  turned the roof of the palace in Manila into a disco, I thought well, here’s a powerful person who lives in that kind of a bubble, but also brings her own soundtrack to it,” Byrne said.

He collaborated with Fatboy Slim, the British musician, on an album a couple years ago. Now it's been turned into a musical at the Public Theater in downtown New York.

Called Here Lies Love, the story is set in a disco. Not only do audience members move around the dance floor to follow the action, they also dance along.

"Sometimes the audiences are amazing extras and, sometimes, they’re taking in a play, but they’re on their feet," said Annie-B Parson, the show's choreographer. "So the sense of who the audience is changes throughout the piece."

The audience is partying with a corrupt figure.

"You’re very aware that you shouldn’t be dancing with Imelda, but it’s too much fun to stop," Parson said. "So, I think it works."

Across Manhattan, another theater has put up its tent - literally. Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 takes an episode from Tolstoy’s epic "War and Peace" and sets it in a large tent, made to look like a Russian nightclub, with red velvet curtains, and chandeliers.

This undated theater image released by The Hartman Group shows Blake DeLong, left, with an audience member in This undated theater image released by The Hartman Group shows Blake DeLong, left, with an audience member in "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812," a dinner theater performance in New York.

Dave Malloy, who wrote the pop opera, says he got the idea when he visited Moscow to do research for the show.

"I went to a club called Café Margarita, which was this Russian, you know, bar that was full of people sitting at these crowded tables eating vodka and dumplings and then, in the corner, there was this little pop/classical music trio," Malloy said. "When I saw that room, I was like, 'Oh, this is the setting for this piece.'"  

The audience gets a glass of champagne, a shot of vodka and a full Russian dinner before the show. The action takes place all around and sometimes in the middle of the audience.   

"And they have to be acting as if they’re on film, with sort of that level of realism," explained Rachel Chavkin, who directs the actors, "but the size of the physical gestures has to read across space, to the person on the opposite side of the room."

Intimate gestures in intimate spaces have kept audiences flocking to another show, Sleep No More. It's an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with references to 1930s Hitchcock. It's  probably the most interactive of these interactive theater experiences, said producer Jonathan Hochwald.

In this theater publicity image released by the O+M Co., Luke Murphy is shown in a scene from In this theater publicity image released by the O+M Co., Luke Murphy is shown in a scene from "Sleep No More," performing at The McKittrick Hotel in New York.

"As an audience member, you can get lost in the woods or in a hospital ward or in a train station and really experience something unique," he said.
Audiences are handed masks as they get on an elevator that takes them to one of seven floors. They’re instructed to remain quiet and to not remove their masks. 

"It creates the effect of almost being a ghost, where you can float through the halls of this hotel and witness or experience whatever you chose to do," Hochwald said.

Audiences at the shows share one thing.

"That energy of being in the middle of a piece, is a real thing," said Parson. "And so, it’s a very different experience than sitting in your chair, you know, 10, 20, 30 feet away from a play, where you’re squinting your eyes to see if the person’s laughing or crying."

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley












Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”