In large part due to an addiction to Kickstarter that has been described as “compulsive”, I recently backed the production of Then She Fell by Third Rail Projects, an immersive theatre experience that revolves around Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland. As part of my backer perks, I was invited to a dress rehearsal last night – below are some broad thoughts and observations about the performance (mostly contrasted with Sleep No More as a reference point) in advance of the opening later this week.
A few introductory notes:
1. I’m staying away from detailing specific scenes/sets/story points; this will mostly be about the experience. Some might consider this spoiler-y, so if you want to go in with no preconceptions at all, stay away from the rest of this post. SPOILER WARNING.
2. This was a dress rehearsal, which meant the show wasn’t quite ready. There are a handful of minor complaints I’m leaving out of this post as the team gave every indication it’ll be tightened up for the opening. (We were allowed to give feedback at the end of the show and those points have been lodged there.)
3. The show is already sold out for the entire run and it seems unlikely that they’ll be extending it into perpetuity as Punchdrunk has with SNM. If this interests you and you don’t already have tickets, you are most likely out of luck.
Down the rabbit hole we go.
Those familiar with SNM will recognize common elements between the two productions. There are scenes with multiple actors that are conveyed through dance instead of dialog, and there is a certain amount of climbing up the walls and furniture for most of those numbers. The set is a series of rooms, somewhat arranged into logical areas (one side seemed more “hospital”-like than the other). And the show does somewhat loop and repeat scenes, as you’ll recognize from points in the soundtrack and other noises you hear. (The closest connection to Sleep No More on the evening: the weird circumstance that found Kelly Bartnik and Tori Sparks seated at our table before the show started.)
But that’s about where the similarities end, and there are three very large differences that play into the structure of the show to make it feel very different from SNM.
First, the audience is limited to 15 people a show. (The McKittrick, comparatively, packs in a couple hundred at a time.) There are more rooms in the set than there are audience members, and nearly more cast members (11 company members are detailed in the program). As such, you will never be stuck with people trying to jostle or out-position you for perspective on a scene as has become a regular SNM occurrence. In fact, there won’t be a scene where you have more than three other audience members in the room with you, and many scenes you will be taking in alone.
A large part of the reason for this TSF hands down one rule at the beginning of the show that seemed bizarre at the time: *you may not go through any closed doors*. At first this seemed to be rather inhibiting – I’m very used to testing doorknobs or pushing through doors at SNM, and lacking that freedom seemed like it might take away from the experience. But in fact it was just the opposite – the show is very focused, where every room you are put into will have a purpose and a scene. It’s less exploratory, sure, but that also means you’re not seeking/chasing cast members around the set. The show will play out for you over the two hours running time, and your path will still be different than everyone else’s. So it’s still very immersive, just in a different (more passive?) way.
And as for that much beloved anonymity that Punchdrunk provides the SNM audience? There are no masks at the Kingsland Ward. The cast go far beyond just acknowledging you being in the room – they will talk to you, particularly when you’re alone with them. They will ask you to do things and will want to have a conversation with you. You are free to shy away from interacting, but the best moments of my evening were when I embraced the situation and played along as much as I could.
The ensemble are a talented group, and all fill their roles well – but I would be remiss in not giving an extra shout out to Elizabeth Carena. She fills the role of the Hatter in a pitch-perfect manner, giving a truly memorable performance full of manic energy.
So: that’s about all I can say without actually spoiling specific details, as much as I would like to. Then She Fell opens in previews Wednesday and in full on Saturday. It is completely sold out through mid-November, so you’re either going or your not at this point.
For another perspective, Kathryn Yu also posted her thoughts about the rehearsal.