This is a detailed recap and review of my experience at CURIOUSITIES: AN IMMERSIVE THEATRE EXPERIENCE.
Last Thursday I got my hands on a couple of tickets to “Curiousities” (Thanks Show Score!), an immersive theatre experience by Deaths Head Theatrical. The show is set in the 1930s at a carnival sideshow. The intimate show felt like a small production as it’s running for a couple of weeks in December and invites up to 75 guests per show only.
I’ve never been to an immersive theatre experience before, and it feels like it is all the rage right now *coughSleepNoMorecough*, so I was very excited to take part. I asked a colleague to come along (team bonding, perhaps?) and set my expectations very low…
First off, there is incredibly limited information about the show. Aside from the usual Broadway/theatre media outlets talking about it for a few sentences, the only other information you can find out about the show lives on its website: http://www.curiousitiesnyc.com.
The show takes place in a secret location which they don’t reveal to you until the night of the performance. Before the performance, they tell you it takes place at the Elektra Theatre. As I was given free tickets, the instructions on how to redeem the tickets were quite confusing. They told us to pick up the tickets from the box office, so I assumed it was located at Elektra Theatre since the secret location had no box office whatsoever.
When I arrived to pick up my tickets, the security guard (whose shift was at the show) had no idea what was happening either. In the end, we all made our way to the secret location which was a glass door that was cardboard-ed up and had “Are you curious?” scrawled across it, pictured below.
They opened the doors at 6:45PM, and as it takes place in a speakeasy bar, as soon as you walk in…you are already a part of the experience. An old timey bouncer/carnie checked our IDs and there was another person who had a list of names of people who bought tickets inside (I guess this was the “box office”).
Once you walk further in, there was a compulsory coat check for $2. After checking our coats, you lined up to go into the “bar”. The waiting area was dimly lit by small candles and had posters of cancelled acts or performers from the Professor’s carnival show all over the walls. While we waited, Professor Mysterium paced strangely throughout the room. Some audience members really got into things and came dressed as part of the Depression Era.
As it got closer to 7PM, they took ten of us at a time to go up some stairs and into a dingy corner. It felt like a haunted house with butcher sheets hanging from the ceiling to create “rooms”, blood splatters on the floor, demonic symbols(?), small candles (no lights on, so luckily I brought my glasses), various scary decorations (skulls, weird hanging strings, etc) and a thick layer of “fog”. We were introduced to the show by a carnie and the Professor. They briefed us in a creepy manner to not run off by ourselves, be careful of where we step and encouraged us to interact with everyone at the show. We were also told that we were not allowed to take pictures inside the bar or share what ever happens outsides. Hopefully the Professor doesn’t come after me for writing this.
We were then led through a room with more butcher sheet makeshift rooms and blood splatters and then into the speakeasy bar. They had a small bar serving Professor Punch, wine and beer in one corner, a jazz band (who were dressed in modern clothes?) in the middle, and a fortune teller who sat in the back corner. Seats and couches were like you’d find in a speakeasy bar. There were already cast members walking about and props set up — including a poet’s notes and books, peppermint-flavored shots (I drank one!) scattered and “Reserved” signs on tables.
My colleague and I ordered a drink and proceeded to have our fortune told by the teller. We took turns to see her and she drew three cards faced down and asked me to choose one card. I had “The World” and she told me that I had a great gift, and although the world was on my shoulders, don’t let anyone stop me from using my gift.
Funnily enough, my colleague chose the exact same card and had the exact fortune. We circled back to our seats and the wandering cast members would approach us. They either directed us to talk to someone or simply started a conversation. Other cast members would be “enjoying” the band or interacting with other cast members. It was really up to you on who you wanted to interact with and how much you want to get to know the story.
As our first independent act, we approached the poet’s table (sans poet) to check out her notes and books. We were instantly approached by another cast member, Sylvia (dressed as innocently as a lamb), who asked if we knew the poet. She told us she was the “new girl” due to perform at the end of the show. Meanwhile, a male host introduced himself to tell us about the performances coming up. From there, my colleague and I split up to talk to different cast members. We asked similar questions — “do you know the new girl?”, “how did you get to know the professor?” and “what do you perform?”. Through several interactions, we found that pretty much everyone was scared of the Professor, had no idea who the new girl was and had some sort of sad backstory.
I proactively interacted with Sylvia, who was petrified of performing. She didn’t know what she was performing and neither did anyone else. Only the Professor knew. After talking to her quite a bit, she took me out of the bar and into one of those butcher sheet makeshift rooms. It acted as her dressing room. She asked me to help pick out her costume for tonight. There were a bunch of dresses and she told me her backstory in detail whilst trying on different outfits. There was a whole thing about how the Professor told her that she would save everyone in the show. The Madame of the bar bursted into our dressing room whilst Sylvia was changing and demanded her to wear a very burlesque outfit. There was obviously some tension going on. After all of this, the Madame led me back to the bar. I did make an effort to tell Sylvia to run away if she didn’t want to perform.
Reunited with my colleague, we shared more of our findings as she had been talking to more cast members. All the while, the sideshow performers were on stage. They included a fake contortionist, strippers, singers, and other “burlesque” acts. They weren’t spectacular, but they tried. If they were really amazing acts, I feel like the show would have been a lot better. While my colleague and I were talking about what to do next, a carnie approached us and noticed our empty drinks. He bought us each a wine to our surprise and I asked him about the Professor and new girl — his answers were much like the rest. He didn’t know what the new girl did, the Professor did scare him but the Professor had saved him. Weird.
Meanwhile my colleague talked to a Half-Man Half-Woman performer and told me he/she had similar answers. At this point my colleague was taken way by the Madame to the “dressing rooms”. The contortionist then saw I was holding two drinks (one for me, one for my colleague) and began conversations. He asked if he could help me out with my drink situation, and I offered him my cup of wine. He took a sip and was much more touchy feely than the rest of the cast. He had similar answers to my list of questions but was noticeably a warmer and more caring character of the bunch.
By this time, I noticed more and more audience members had half of a clown smile painted on them — in the style of one of the cast members. So I approached the clown, and he was mute! He played a quick game of “guess what’s in my hand” and when I finally got the right answer, he led me to his dressing room also. Not keen to be painted on, I quickly asked if he was going to paint on my face. He said, “Not if you don’t want it”. So his character was not actually mute. With a Romanian(?) accent, he told me his backstory and I asked him about the new girl and if he was scared of the Professor. Same answers as the other cast members, but I did tell him the new girl was petrified of performing. He told me to smile at her and give her some happy encouragement. He seemed like a character with a lot of heart.
Coming back into the bar, my colleague had also returned and, swapping recounts again, she told me she was given a lap dance by the Madame and then a bag was put over her head. There was some argument with the Professor, who also came into the dressing room. When they removed the bag from her head, the Professor held a razor to her neck and told her to make better choices. She was sent back to the bar after this. Intense, huh? I would have pissed my pants. Thankfully I talked to the clown.
We spoke with a few more cast members, an older lady who made a speech like a drunk aunt, a singer, the poet (who actually wrote a poem for my colleague and had written backwards at the end of it: “Fear the professor”), the bartender and a handful of others. At this point, we were just getting the same answers from everyone so I decided to talk to the professor directly. I caught him at the bar and promptly asked if we could have a drink together. Instead, he actually bought me a drink of my choice and I asked him about the new girl. He wouldn’t say what the secret was, and excused himself.
Approaching the end of the show, we spoke to some most cast members but got no closer to figuring out the story. Finally, Sylvia took the stage and began her burlesque show. She wanted to run off halfway but the Professor stopped her and demanded her to take off her clothes. He announced he was selling her virginity. He held the same razor from before towards the audience, threatening anyone who wanted to stop him. The poet sprung up and held Sylvia, trying to protect her from the Professor.
At this point, my colleague and I were already confused but became even more baffled. The Professor fell down suddenly and “died”. It could be that we stood in a spot with an obstructed view and didn’t see what struck him but it honestly looked like he just fell to the floor. Personally I think the poet sliced his throat!
Another performer came to cover him up with a sheet and slowly each of the cast members and band left the bar. The host of the show was standing next to me, and before he left, I quickly asked if he was scared of the professor and he said, “Everyone was”. He was shaking with shock, so I comforted him and told him to go. He grabbed another performer’s hand and left the room also.
One of the last performers thanked us for being a part of the show and we were all led back outside. The cast members all stood along the exit pathway and thanked us for coming.
To be honest, my colleague and I had so much fun. I mean we got free drinks and we felt like we were in Westworld talking to the cast members. It was totally immersive (and a first for both of us). So I think it makes a great “first immersive show”, but you really had to be proactive and put yourself out there. A lot of the times, you had to take notice of the little interactions between the cast members. For example, when I was speaking to the Drunk Aunt, we were watching the Madame and Sylvia talk and she told me to find out what they were talking about.
My colleague noted that the people who just “sat” at the bar probably had a shit time, which would explain a lot of the mediocre reviews you can find online. We spoke to so many people and we were still confused by the ending…I can’t imagine what those people thought. At least we had a lot of fun with finding out each of the backstories of each character.
The biggest downfalls of the experience was the cheap-looking set, lackluster performers and the too mysterious and ambiguous storyline. The bar itself was much like a speakeasy bar, but rooms we were led through were terrible. The makeshift dressing rooms were weird and seemed like we were in a cheap haunted house. However the Clown’s dressing room was an actual dressing room, and I couldn’t help thinking that if only the rest of the set was as real as this, then it would be much more interesting and cool.
The performers were also disappointing. It’s meant to be a cabaret/burlesque, circus/cirque du soleil type of show but we really had subpar performers. If they were much better performers then it really would have made a difference. The contortionist, though a sweetheart, was hardly a contortionist. He was doing basic yoga moves. The standout performers were probably the singer and the burlesque dancer.
It was nice that each character had a backstory, but for a two hour-only experience, they should have each had a clue or piece of the story to help you understand better. We only know that each performer had a real sad story and the Professor helped them, no one knew the new girl, no one got paid properly and they were scared of the Professor. These all seemed like the start of a story, but it just went around in circles. Everyday my colleague and I now ask each other, WTF happened to the Professor? Also, I couldn’t help but noticed some cast members (e.g The Madame), stumbled with her improvisation when I asked too many questions about her story. I don’t think the cast was equipped with a full story or maybe she was shitty improvisor.
Overall, we had fun but there were definitely some gaping holes in the production. It was a great gateway into immersive theatre as I wasn’t so keen on checking out any immersive experiences before this one. Now I am totally up for it. I liked that this production was very affordable (even though I got free tickets, the price is around $50 only) compared to other immersive experiences ($100+). Obviously a lot more happened during my experience but it’s impossible to recap everything without this turning into a 10,000 word recap so I tried my best to give you a glimpse into what happened. I’d recommend the show to people but it’s definitely not the Hamilton of the immersive theatre. If you’re planning to watch it, do it quick, as it ends this week!