This past Thursday evening at Bushwick’s BKLYN Commons, the question I found myself asking nearly every person with whom I came into contact at Hotel Catastrophe—other than “Where did you get those shoes?”, since everyone came to, evidently, show off the best of his or her spring style—was, “Wait… are you performing in this??” The inquiry is, admittedly, an insecure one, but when you know half the room and the event is one of immersive theatre, I think it’s a totally fair question to repeat as often as, “Should we get a refill?” Kudos to the insanely charismatic crew at the venue, by the way—this was one of the classiest and least chaotic open bars I’ve had the pleasure of attending, and the vast majority of attendees was under the age of thirty!
The charming evening of theatre was directed by Nate Shinners and produced by Abi Lieff. These two artists, most recently, had collaborated on Playground Lessons, an intimate experimental performance of independent theatre that I reviewed back in December. Like Playground Lessons, the stories of Hotel Catastrophe were exhibited in vignettes. However, more like a pop-up museum or a circus that you would actually want to go to, the slice-of-life scenes at Hotel Catastrophe were showcased simultaneously in different parts of the space.
And what a space the place was! The design of BKLYN Commons is, at once, both coolly retro and warmly inviting, with simple details and classic, sleek silver. With plenty of room for players and spectators alike, the audience members (or event attendees, I can’t tell which term more aptly applies) are encouraged to stroll around, chat amongst themselves, and be open to otherwise private and strange happenings. These little events within the main big tent included a woman braiding another’s hair with drawings of smoke rings behind them, a bespectacled talk show host chained to his desk who invites others to share their most interesting parts of the week with the reward of a (99% tequila) margarita served in a red Solo cup, a lady clad in Gatsby-era attire contorting her body with the vibes of a movement instructor or yoga devotee, an acoustic guitar singer with an angelic voice, and a young man in a DIY-ghost costume with big headphones and no shoes on.
“the lines between being the spectacle and being the spectator are blurred”
Mr. Shinners, also bespectacled, walked around the room, sweetly greeting the visitors to his pop-up hotel. He was clad with a clipboard, although I wondered why he even needed it. Everyone looked seamlessly at home: glasses of champagne and smiles all around me confirmed this almost immediately. And it’s no wonder: the person you first meet upon gaining admission had Ring Pops on her fingers and a visor on, appropriate for a Disneyland visit. Next to her was a jar for donations, already filled with twenty-dollar bills by the time I got to it, and I was only the tenth person in line. All proceeds will be going to charity: to the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund and to the Margery Shinners Leadership Fund, the latter in honor of Mr. Shinner’s late mother.
At one point, a close friend of mine sat down to be interviewed by the talk show host. Now a part of the performance, she was joined by another friend, and the three of them discussed unrequited love and the troublesome casting decisions of straight actors for gay roles in Call Me By Your Name. I sat about two feet from this conversation, joined by others who were both agreeing with the points being made and catching up about each other’s personal lives.
“coolly retro and warmly inviting”
Later on in the evening, after trying to find a ladies’ room, I found myself one floor up above the performance and peering over the happenings with a fantastic vantage point. I was joined by my boyfriend some friends I hadn’t seen in quite some time, and then by the hotel’s residential ghost. We felt like the cool kids, hanging out in hotels that we hadn’t even booked rooms in, enjoying live music coming from below and seeing friends embrace each other. I think this is the most exciting part of immersive theatre: as an audience member, the art is actually you and all of us, and without these audience members, all the performers would have are ideas. Interactions between the actors and the audience are the actual event, and the lines between being the spectacle and being the spectator are blurred as quickly as your inhibitions after several glasses of Prosecco.
My favorite moment was seeing one of the actresses, who by now had her hair in a perfect ponytail braid, dressed in a colorblock button-down dress. She was looking fantastic yet moving frantically. I approached her and asked what was wrong, and she said she had to go to work and was running late. I complimented her dress and made a mental note to get a similar one for myself later on. She whipped out her phone and told me that her job required such a lovely look, showing me a video of a scene from George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story while doing her best Katharine Hepburn impression. (I’d give her a solid 10/10.) She then got onto her bike, which truly looked like a set prop from Luca Guadagnino’s filmic adaptation of André Aciman’s novel. I couldn’t tell if this woman in front of me really had to go to work, or if that was just the character speaking. But then I saw her riding her bike around the venue and all was well once again.
Per the title of the performance, some part of me—often plagued with neurotic tendencies and anxious inclinations—was expecting a catastrophe of sorts, whether scripted or improvised. At the end of the evening, the only upsetting part of this several-hours-long stay at the hotel was that it was a one-night-only endeavor.
Image: Katarina Keča