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 "Here Lies Love," in New York.
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 "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812," a dinner theater performance in New York.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 "Sleep No More," performing at The McKittrick Hotel in New York.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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

New Orleans-based Water Seed joins Shawna Renee inside the "Soul Lounge" where they introduce listeners to their latest album, a wonderful fusion of jazz, soul and rhythm & blues. The group also explains how the heart of New Orleans influences each of them as musicians and songwriters.