"Sleep No More." Photo: Alick Crossley
In most cities you just watch theater, but in NYC you participate. The “immersive” theater experience, which forgoes typical stages and seats for interactive, rule-bending shows, is a growing trend here. Whether being dropped into the set of Sleep No More, having a tea party with the actors in Then She Fell or solving a mystery on the city streets in Accomplice, there’s no sitting back and relaxing at these productions—though you’ll enjoy them all the same. Here’s our roundup of a few favorites.
Sleep No More
Walk through five stories of the faux-1930s McKittrick Hotel to see a modern version of Macbeth with a Hitchcockian twist. Once you enter the property (actually a conglomeration of Chelsea warehouses), you “check in.” Then you’re asked to don a white mask and wander around the set in silence—preferably on your own. You have free reign to explore immaculately detailed rooms or to follow a specific actor around. The set is absolutely gorgeous, if a little spooky, with mood music and lighting tailored to each room and scene. There is also a bar in the waiting room for when you need a break.
Participation level: High. You can rummage through the sets freely. You can also get as close to the actors as you like, but only a select few directly interact with guests.
Photo: Alick Crossley
Then She Fell
The Third Rail theater company has mounted a wildly immersive production that’s inspired by the relationship between Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson), Alice Liddell and Liddell’s family. Using Alice in Wonderland characters to tell the story, the show guides 15 audience members through rooms and hallways to watch narrative dance performances and mingle with the actors. You’ll participate in a mad tea party, dictate letters and try on hats. It takes place in the eerie Kingsland Ward, a sort of sanitarium whose stunning sets, both whimsical and bleak, will make you feel like you stepped into the 19th century. Guests should be 21 and over.
Participation level: High. You’ll be one-on-one with actors and separated from those you came with. They give you alcoholic drinks, tea and fruit (which you can refuse). Expect a lot of eye contact.
The Grand Paradise
From the same team as Then She Fell but worlds apart, The Grand Paradise is a freewheeling, free-love production set in a tropical resort in the 1970s. It’s for less self-conscious theatergoers, as guests are taken by actors through sandy, glittery rooms to hear starry-eyed monologues about life and be on the receiving end of some physical contact. Different paths can lead to different experiences, including dance parties, voyeuristic performances and even CPR lessons. (There’s also a “fountain of youth,” into which the actors occasionally take dips.) This limited-run production ends December 31. Guests should be 21 and over.
Participation level: Very high. The actors will touch you. Literally.
For a steep price, you get transported to a waterfront mansion an hour outside the City (the location is a mystery) in a limousine while actors ply you with champagne. At the mansion you’ll enjoy a sumptuous dinner, watch aerial performances and try to solve a mystery about the Illuminati. Guests dress in formal wear; meanwhile, provocatively dressed (and occasionally nude) actors dance around in animal masks. The party is based on the 1972 Surrealist Ball thrown by the Rothschilds. Performances resume in spring 2017. Guests should be 21 and over.
Price: $450 (yowza!)
Participation level: High. Actors mingle with the guests, as if all are attendees of the dinner party together.
Accomplice: The Show
The Accomplice team runs two downtown shows for adults: in each, a group of 10 travels around the City for three hours encountering wacky actors and acquiring clues to solve a mystery. Food and drinks are served throughout—sustenance for the amount of time you’re on your feet. (Bring comfortable shoes). The show is good for both tourists and locals as it encourages exploration of many parts of the City.
Participation level: High. You’re running around NYC.
This comedic Broadway show requires audience help to solve a murder mystery set in a hair salon. The show is improv heavy and the outcome constantly shifting, so the whodunit formula remains fresh. At the end, the audience votes on which suspect it thinks is the murderer.
Participation level: Medium. The actors participate with the audience as a whole.
Photo: Carol Rosegg
Paradiso: Chapter 1
Inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy, this production asks audiences to solve a sometimes genuinely scary corporate mystery thriller. (The production falls into the escape-room genre of interactive experiences.) Along the way, actors pop up to both help and hinder.
Participation level: High. You interact with the set, fellow guests and the actors.
Photo: Cayla Sharp
The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking
You have to be able to handle your liquor to attend this musical. Originally set in a onetime speakeasy (and now at a theater in Midtown), with an intimate audience of 30-something, three cocktails are handed out to the audience in conjunction with the storyline: the 10,000-year history of drinking. This one’s for those who are 21 and over, obviously.
Participation level: Low. Aside from drinking along to the show, the bartender asks the audience questions.
Photo: Dixie Sheridan
In this production, it’s a cast member who drinks his or her face off—but that doesn’t mean it’s sloppy. One actor takes a minimum of five shots before the show and performs a loose version of Macbeth with his or her sober castmates. Unsurprisingly, things tend to go off-script and plenty of non-Shakespearian jokes are made. Guests should be 21 and over.
Participation level: Low. There is general audience engagement. Two guests can pay $500 to be the king or queen and squire, who are seated on thrones and treated to caviar, champagne, chocolates and the privilege of ordering around the actors.
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Based on a 70-page passage in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, this pop-rock Broadway opera stars big-name musician Josh Groban. The story is set in early 19th-century Moscow and tells the tangled tale of the upper echelon’s love lives. Producers have completely transformed Broadway’s Imperial Theatre to lend it the feel of an intimate supper club. Audience members sit on the stage with tables and chairs, jam along with instruments and are offered warm pirogi before the show starts. Actors sit next to audience members, dance behind them and toast with them (drinking is a big theme). In other words, everyone has a helluva lot of fun together. (Note for Broadway nerds: Phillipa Soo, who played Eliza Schuyler in Hamilton, originated the role of Natasha in the show’s 2012 Off-Broadway debut. Is that a sign that this will be the next big hit?)
Participation level: Medium. The show will be happening inches from your seat, and the performers will act like your best friend, but you won’t be asked to speak or do anything in front of the crowd.