Infinite Variety Productions broke new ground earlier this year with Nellie and the Women of Blackwell. This immersive piece based on the true story of a reporter going undercover to expose the truth behind 19th Century mental institutions, garnered great reviews and visibility from TimeOutNY and others for its new style and unusual – but timely topic.
Now immersive is a bad word.
Infinite Variety Productions presented a video of the trip around the building turned asylum and then created an engaging Q&A for all those that saw it and wanted to learn more and those that didn’t get the chance as it ended abruptly for reasons known around the world.
The engaging hour, hosted by Jay Michaels, featured commentary by Jessica Schechter (Director); Ashley Adelman (Playwright, Tillie, Mrs. Standard); Kate Szekely (Nellie); Janessa Floyd (Mrs. Caine, Nurse Grupe); Nicole Orabona (Editor, Police Officer, Nurse Scott, Carrie, Jane, and DA Vernon); Joe Helmreich (The Doctor voiceover); Andrew Dunn(voice overs, sound, and scenic design); Cassandra Jeffries(House Manager); Hadley Katherine David Todoran (Stage Manager).
The realistic trip through what famed reporter Nellie Bly went through to uncover the truth about how women, the mentally challenged and even immigrants were treated in the late 19th century was filled with stunning theatrical touches. Andrew Dunn constructed then deconstructed a haunted house for the setting, allowing for unsettling effects to become real in a unique way while the concept of the doctors being puppets of the nurses was handled by the doctor – ready for this – being played by a puppet with a creepy and humorous voiceover by Joe Helmreich. Jessica Schechter, Ashley Adelman, and star, Kate Szekely, gave stunning accounts of the creation of this piece. One can easily grasp their fount of knowledge on, not only, the topic, but the art of theatre as well. Nicole Orabona brough great wisdom to the technique being a veretan of the burgeoning immersive theatre. And one could only open their heart to stage manager Hadley Todoran as they described being in a box with endless equipment operating the multitude of rooms and effects the immersive building offered. All artists came away from the experience with a deeper dimension of being an actor as each night brought another audience that was as alien to the setting as Nellie Bly may have been herself. One night, a patron decided to assuage his fears by heckling. He was quieted without the rest of the crowd figuring it wasn’t part of the show.
IVP tells true stories. It’s original work and even revivals are human exploitation. The open discussion – no matter how electronic – was just as much a human experience.
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