The Ultimate Guide to Immersive Theater in NYC
“In an era of binge-watching, live-tweeting, and the Oculus Rift, how can theater compete as all-consuming entertainment? Perhaps it’s our desire to be more than spectators — to be sucked headlong into alternative worlds — that has fueled the recent boom in immersive theater, which trades the fourth wall for winding hallways and dance floors, in the hope of giving audiences not a show but an ‘experience.” – Michael Schulman, The New Yorker
Immersive theater is a type of performance that breaks the “fourth wall,” i.e. that invisible divide between performer and audience member. So when attending an immersive show, you won’t be seated in a cushy seat watching the action take place on a stage neatly in front of you. Instead you’ll be surrounded by and be a part of the action. Immersive theater stimulates all five senses, and many immersive shows feel almost like an exhibition in a museum where you can touch and interact with the art.
With the rise in popularity of immersive theatre in the last decade, the art form has evolved to include new categories of experiences, from interactive escape rooms to virtual reality and pop-ups. While not all of these activities would be considered “theater” in the traditional sense, we love them all and their ability to spark imagination and fulfill our love for unique adventures onstage and off.
Check out our advice for how to make the most out of an immersive experience, and find the best one (or two, or three) for you with our list of the top shows in New York City right now.
Dress for the experience
In some immersive shows, you’ll do a lot of walking. In some, you’ll actually be in the show. Make sure you research what to expect so you know what threads will be right for the evening. And when in doubt – wear comfortable shoes!
Eat before — or don’t.
Food can often be a part of an immersive experience, so make sure to know if you’ll be provided with a meal, snacks, or drinks or everything in between. You won’t want to miss out on a tasty treat if you’re already stuffed from dinner.
Arrive on time.
This probably goes without saying, but you should get to the show on time. The cast could move to a different location in the first 10 minutes. You could walk in and all of a sudden be onstage. You never know what’s going to happen in immersive theater.
It’s likely there won’t be room or a place to store your shopping bag, stroller, gym bag, etc. So don’t shlep all of your stuff with you to an immersive experience.
Read the instructions.
A lot of immersive experiences essentially start the moment you buy your ticket. Make sure to read any emails the show sends you in advance so you don’t miss out on guidelines or backstory.
Don’t be afraid to explore.
Part of the magic of immersive experiences is that they’re often in amazing environments. Depending on the show, you might be able to explore your setting by opening drawers or checking out other rooms.
Now that you’re ready, what’s next? Pick your immersive poison with one or more of the experiences below.
Carmen to Havana and Back Again
Feb. 28-March 16 [EXTENDED through May 18]
Inspired by 1950s Havana, this is “Carmen” like you’ve never seen it before. Guests are even encouraged to wear their swankiest ‘50s attire while they sip their complimentary (!) cocktails.
An immersive experience into the world of dreams in a secret location in Williamsburg? Sign us up!
Sleep No More
“Sleep No More” is one of New York City’s most iconic and long-running immersive experiences. This noir adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” has been playing since 2011 at the “McKittrick Hotel,” a multi-floor warehouse building. You can explore every room, following romances, witnessing murders, and choosing your own adventure within the spooky, atmospheric walls. It’s a must-do experience for immersive theater lovers and the ideal, wow-worthy night for newbies ready to venture into something new.
The Hidden Ones
Through May 5
Set at the end of World War II, this dance-heavy immersive piece brings audience members to a secret location where they’re smuggled into a world of true stories of those forced into hiding.
The Poetry Brothel
If you’d identify as a sapiosexual, this is the event for you! “The Poetry Brothel” is an interactive cabaret with live music, burlesque, aerials, vaudeville, live drawing, and fortune tellers. Make a whole night of it, and head to downtown dumpling favorite Vanessa’s Dumplings first.
Through March 10
Performed in a Bushwick basement apartment, the fully immersive “BLEACH” follows Tyler, a sex worker living in Brooklyn. The audience gets an intimate view as he questions his profession, life and commitment to the city he calls home.
The Rogues Gallery
Tired of being the hero all the time? This immersive experience features role-playing and social games while also empowering you to go rogue as the evil-doing villain of the night. You can embrace your dark side and plot your evil ways throughout the course of this unique, choose-your-own-adventure-style show inspired by the golden age of comic books. Think of it as your revenge for all those times you got elbowed on the subway.
“The End of The World Bar and Bathtub” is a gripping play about conviction and choice — it also happens to take place in your own bathroom. Seriously. Just make sure to clean your tub before the cast gets there.
Accomplice the Show
This immersive experience takes you through the streets of Greenwich Village on a “rescue” mission. Explore a little. Talk a little. Drink a little, thanks to your two free drink tickets.
Pop-ups and Exhibits
You might recognize the Color Factory from Instagram, but it’s more than just Insta-bait. This collaboratively produced art event is inspired by the colors of the city and guides you through 16 rooms full of one-of-a-kind, multi-sensory experiences you have to see to believe. With dozens of entry times each week, you can check it out before the FOMO kicks in.
Escher: The Exhibition and Experience
Through March 30
Remember that cool image you once saw in an art history class of two hands drawing each other? It’s called “Drawing Hands,” FYI, and it’s by Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher. The new Escher Exhibition in Brooklyn’s Industry City serves up the perfect mix of art and interactive elements so you can fully immerse yourself in this artist’s fascinating work. And while visiting Industry City, New York’s trendy new hub for creativity and innovation, you can go to Avocaderia — the world’s first Avocado Bar for breakfast or lunch. Or get some A+ pizza from “Shark Tank’s” Table87 in their impressive food hall. So basically: Come for the art, stay for the art. And stay even longer for the food.
Virtual Reality, Games, and Escape Rooms
Being the largest VR attraction in North America is pretty cool. And having an onsite bar? Even cooler. Pop on some VR goggles and transport yourself to a whole new (virtual) world.
Ever since “Jumanji” came out, we’ve always wanted to be part of a life-size board game (minus the perils of the jungle). “Passport to Iron City” brings that experience to life, catapulting you into the dystopian world of “Alita: Battle Angel” as a game piece in a fully immersive board game.
Through March 10
Unleash your creative mind in year three of this interactive technology showcase. Break boundaries with augmented and virtual reality. Experiment with creative code to make new music and dance. And follow your curiosity across multiple floors of groundbreaking multi-sensory installations, designed by today’s leading digital artists. It’s immersive. It’s unmissable. The future is in your hands — for a limited run only.
Beat the Bomb
Enter an ‘80s video game to beat the bomb in the world’s first paint blast escape room! Hack computers, navigate a laser maze, and crack codes on your way to the bomb room in this awesome test of teamwork and communication. Do you have what it takes to Beat the Bomb, or will you get blasted!? Pro tip: this might be the first competitive game that’s actually fun to lose.
Can you escape the room? Adventure seekers go crazy for Escape Entertainment’s premier escape games, including rooms with themes like Alien Attack, Manhattan Mayhem, and Prohibition Pandemonium. Go with a group of your smartest friends and see if you have what it takes to beat the clock and earn some MAJOR bragging rights.
Jump Into the Light
Game on y’all. This virtual reality PlayLab is the upgraded version of an arcade because this time the games will transport you with the magic of modern-day technology. Wander around the Lower East Side with a pack of friends. Pop in for game time. Then relax with lox and bagels at our favorite brunch pick, Russ & Daughters.