POST: 'Curiosities' - deeply intimate
What it's about.
Curiosities is an immersive experience set in an illegal jazz club in the 1930's, featuring a motley crew of minor criminals, entertainers, and outcasts - all of whom have joined together under the protection of their keeper, The Professor.
I got to take my mom to this show, which was cool, because she doesn't see a whole lot of immersive theatre, and immersive theatre is kind of my thing.
She met me outside my office and we rode the train together into Brooklyn, where we found an adorable little Italian place that didn't have air conditioning, but did have amazing, authentic comfort food. After dinner, I let Google Maps guide us to the venue, which it said was a short five-minute walk from the restaurant. This is where the problems started. The ticket confirmation that was emailed to me said that the venue was located at the following address:
I walked until the little blue dot on my Google Maps app matched right up with my destination, and looked up to find a super sketchy, abandoned-looking door. But the numbers printed above the door were unmistakable: 627. It looked like nobody had opened this door in quite some time, and when I tried the doorknob, it was locked. I rang the buzzer, feeling kind of iffy about the whole thing. Again, no response. This made no sense to me, because I was sure that I had the right address. I felt like I was living out the part of the horror movie where the naive women get murdered over something stupid like walking into a building that doesn't look safe just to see a show. But we couldn't even get into this building. And we had under a half hour to go before showtime.
The business directly to the left of the mysterious door was a bar called Freddy's Bar. It too, I noticed, had the address: 627 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. Okay... So this had to be it, right? I knew this show was set in the 1930s, and I dunno, if they were going for a speakeasy/jazz club vibe, a bar made sense to me as a venue. I went straight to the source, and asked the bartender directly, and she informed me with a smile that the place I was looking for was actually the white building further down the block. Strike two.
But when we approached a white building with an awning labeled, "Fine Ladies Apparel," I thought there was no way this could be the theatre venue. Oh, how wrong I was...
On the wall to the left of the entrance were the words AREYOUCURIOUS? bunched together in large, black text.
And, quite honestly, YES, yes I was.
There was so much that was unknown surrounding this show. I hadn't heard any buzz about it on the ol' interwebs, so whatever secrets were about to be revealed inside were still very much secrets. Having done no research prior to receiving my ticket confirmation, I had to admit that I had no idea what the hell I was in for. But I was excited to find out.
It wasn't until the choreographer came outside to where we were all waiting behind a velvet rope that I learned that this was only the second night of previews. We were told to enjoy, dance, drink, enter any space where the curtains were pinned open and refrain from entering any space where the curtains were pinned closed, and lastly, to fill out comment cards at the end of the experience so they could improve future performances.
And just like that, we were inside. There was mandatory and complimentary coat and bag check, and I felt very strange without the familiar weight of my purse around my shoulder. But it was for the best. In exchange for my and my mom's belongings, I was given a ripped piece of a playing card, a 2 of Hearts, which I stored in my bra for safe keeping, having no pockets between me and my mom who were both wearing dresses.
To a large degree, we controlled our own experiences, were allowed to wander, encouraged to follow, to drink (there was an active bar), to sit, or whatever else we felt at a given moment. Other times we were called over by performers, or taken by the hand and brought to specific places throughout the space. It wasn't long before my mom was deliberately taken away from me, leaving us to have our entirely separate experiences. As much as I might have missed her at first, I appreciated not having to rely on always having her at my side.
Curiosities was deeply intimate. All conversation was whispered directly into my ear in urgent tones. The stakes were always high, and the mixture of tension, intensity, and drama was palpable. I was surprised at how much physical contact there was. Hand-holding and arm-stroking, hands clasped over my knee, my thigh. Over the course of my experience, I was whisked away to dance with not one, but two performers, the second dance nearly turning sexual in nature when the actress thrust her full body weight into mine.
Then it got... quite frankly, uncomfortable. She sat me down in a chair, facing her while she stood, picked up a wooden box, opened it, before suddenly slamming it shut, hard. I jumped in my seat, more than a little on edge. She opened the box again, this time revealing a silk black tie. She had me place my hands together like I was praying, which felt especially weird considering pages of the Bible littered the ground, and then she tied my wrists together, moving my hands above my head. Um...okay.... She stroked my face, and even sat on my lap a little bit. Whoa. What was this? A lap dance? More than once I was convinced she was going to kiss me. She kept looking at me, less than an inch away from my face, stroking my cheek. Finally, she placed a black sack over my head and I started to panic. She whispered, "I'll be right back," and I tensed, bracing myself for something to happen. The unknown, coupled with having my hands tied and a sack over my head, was really starting to get to me. I sensed a presence in front of me, and a large man was right there, lifting off the sack, so close I could smell his breath on my face, holding a (fake) blade dangerously close to me.
I'll spare you the rest, because the magic of Curiosities comes from knowing as little as possible. But that's to give you a taste of just how different and up close and personal my experience was...by far the most immersiveness I've encountered at the theatre. The more I gave, the more I got back. Whenever I took initiative, as opposed to simply waiting for the show to happen around me, it always, always paid off. I loved that I wasn't just sitting passively, that I wasn't quite sure of the boundaries, the etiquette. There wasn't a moment in my entire experience where I wasn't curious.
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