Experience theatre in new ways at these unconventional Off-Broadway venues
When you imagine a trip to the theatre, you probably see yourself walking into a lobby with a box office window and perhaps a concessions or merch stand. You then find your seat facing a stage and, once the lights go down, you sit still in the darkness as the show unfolds before you. But seeing a show in a proscenium theatre — theatres where all the seats look toward the stage, like traditional Broadway houses — isn’t the only way to go.
New York offers plenty of immersive and interactive theatre, where the audience can walk around, participate in the action, or simply sit in a different configuration. While some of these productions happen in traditional theatres, there are some venues that are built specifically to accommodate unconventional shows. Some of these venues are home to other artistic spaces. Some are theatres that offer an interactive viewing experience. Some aren’t actually theatres at all. If you want a different show-going experience than sitting in a dark room and looking at a stage, check these venues out!
The Shed, part of the Hudson Yards complex in Midtown, isn’t just a theatre. The complex includes three performance spaces, and they can all host so much more than shows. The Kenneth C. Griffin Theater is the closest to a traditional theatre, with 500 seats facing a stage (on which you can currently see Cecily Strong perform the one-woman feminist show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe). The venue, however, can be split into multiple rooms to accommodate art exhibits, interactive theatre, and small events.
Then, there’s the Tisch Skylights and Lab, a group of rooms used mainly as event and rehearsal spaces. But with a seating capacity of 450 people and standing room for 750, it’s easy to imagine a Broadway-caliber show there, with endless possibilities for how the audience is configured. But the biggest space of all is the McCourt, which is created when the outer shell of The Shed is rolled over the adjoining outdoor plaza, creating a massive hall for all kinds of performances, events, and exhibits. The McCourt holds 1,200 seated people or 2,220 standing!
When it’s not part of the McCourt, the outdoor plaza also serves as an art gallery. Two floors of The Shed’s complex are also museum-like galleries that host rotating art exhibits, and there’s also a coffee bar and lounge area. You can take in plenty of art at once during a visit to The Shed, and you can see a different type of art in the same space each time you visit!
The McKittrick Hotel
Did you know that The McKittrick isn’t actually a hotel? The venue was first home to a group of nightclubs and later warehouses, finally transformed to resemble a pre-war hotel for the immersive Macbeth adaptation Sleep No More. According to the (fictional, but far more exciting) history on the building’s website, the McKittrick was designed as the most luxurious hotel of 1930s Manhattan, but it was shuttered just before opening and lay dormant for 70 years. Then, in 2011, the immersive theatre companies Punchdrunk and Emursive bought and restored the place for Sleep No More. That last bit, if nothing else, is true.
When you arrive at the McKittrick for Sleep No More, you begin at a 1930s-style jazz bar, then are given a mask and are left to wander through the five floors where the performances take place. Each person gets to “choose their own adventure” based on where in the hotel they go. The actors move around, too, simultaneously performing different parts of the Macbeth tale with film-noir twists. You never know who you might stumble on — and you can go back to the McKittrick multiple times and never have the same experience twice!
The McKittrick also has a restaurant, Gallow Green, and bar, the Manderley, to complement the experience.
The venue also hosts other events including lavish holiday parties and, right now, an immersive production of the hit West End horror play The Woman in Black at the venue’s bar/entertainment space The Club Car, which is modeled after a 20th-century train car.
Théâtre XIV is home to Company XIV, the troupe behind some of the sexiest theatrical experiences in Brooklyn. The company is most famous for its annual Nutcracker Rouge show, a retelling of The Nutcracker with burlesque, opera, baroque dance, and circus acts. The venue is organized like a traditional proscenium theatre, but this Land of Sweets — in which the pleasures of both candy and sex unfold — doesn’t just stay on the stage. The actors perform in front of, among, and even above the audience. The same goes for Théâtre XIV’s spring show, Seven Sins, an equally sensual evening of dancing, magic, music, acrobatics, and more.
You’re not part of the shows at Théâtre XIV, per se, but there’s very little separation between the audience and the performances. If you’re on a special date, you can get “love seat” tickets and sit in a two-person plush chair right up close to the action. The front row is so close, you can rest your drinks and treats on the stage! Plus, the actors escort you to your seats and serve you cocktails and food. You can even hang around afterward as though the venue was a regular bar, and sometimes the actors come out to mingle.
The Gallery at Green Fig
Perhaps you’ve eaten dinner at Green Fig, the American restaurant on 42nd Street, or had tapas at the bar on its rooftop. Or maybe you’ve caught a concert by your favorite Broadway star at the Green Room 42, the cabaret-style entertainment venue on the property. But you might not know about the secret little room behind the restaurant: The Gallery, the new home of Drunk Shakespeare. It’s so secret, there isn’t even a readily available photo (the one above is just of the restaurant!).
Besides being part of a restaurant, itself an unconventional theatre space, what makes The Gallery unique is the intimate nature of the experience. At a show like Drunk Shakespeare — where five actors, one drunk, stumble through a Shakespeare play — inhibitions and audience-performer boundaries are bound to be a little lower than usual. Especially since you as the audience are invited to drink along, too. For the price of a premium ticket, you can even become the “King” of the night, where you get to sit in a throne, get champagne and a crown, and have some decision-making powers throughout the play. Just don’t let the power — or the booze — go to your head.
The Flea Theater
The Flea complex holds three performance spaces: the standard proscenium theatre Siggy (named for Sigourney Weaver); Pete, a multipurpose space with an attached outdoor garden for indoor/outdoor performances; and the intimate black box space Sam (named for Sam Cohn). Pete is the most unconventional of the three, but right now, its proscenium space is the home of a unique theatrical experience: Odd Man Out. The show, which tells the story of a blind man’s global travels, takes place in complete darkness. The audience sits in a dark room facing a stage, but they are blindfolded, instead experiencing the story through sound, smell, and touch.