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Immersive entertainment abounds

Theater is an always changing art form. For many there is nothing like the joy of attending a great musical; while others prefer the intensity of a good drama. The only thing that might challenge either is the laughter generated by a well-written comedy.


That was then, this is now. In recent decades, a new popular style of theater has evolved that combines elements of the three traditional forms - while inviting audiences to actively partake in their creation. The new genre is known as immersive or interactive experiences. A sub-type of the interactive experience is the murder-mystery at which the audience helps solve the crime.

This week area audiences have an opportunity to experience one of the first hits of immersive theater. Playing at Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs, Thursday - Sunday is “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding.”

The raucous comedy-satire first appeared in 1988 and ran in New York until 2010. Combine the N.Y. run with its performances at more than 200 other cities all over the world and you define blockbuster popular.

Under the category of “It takes a village,” the show started as an ensemble concept that over time found its form. Created by the improvisational Artificial Intelligence comedy troupe, the show’s copyright is owned by 13 members of the original company.

The idea is simple. The audience is asked to become guests at a stereotypical Italian wedding. Actors play various characters like the bride, groom, attendants and relatives. There is a loose script but much of the action and dialogue is improvised. It’s all designed to engage and entertain an audience by encouraging them to become involved with the frivolity. Everyone will get a chance to sing, dance and act silly.

The premise suggests a typical ethnic wedding is fraught with comical conflict. Indeed, the families of the bride and groom are the future in-laws from hell. 

After a quick ceremony, the reception follows in the same space. There is a D.J. and the audience is invited on the dance floor. They are also requested to participate in the bouquet and garter tosses. All are great participatory events ripe for exaggerated humor.

However, one area that is treated with respect is the Italian dinner that is part of the package. Yes, you might find Chez Whiz on crackers among the hors d’oeuvres, but overall, the dinner is for real. 

It’s more than real; it’s genuine because it’s catered by Angie’s, the extremely popular Italian restaurant in Ballston Spa. A buffet featuring salad, antipasto, Baked Ziti, Italian Meatballs and Chicken Marsala should be the ideal meal to further the environment of an Italian wedding. If you want to purchase tickets or find out more about the show go to at uph.org

Murder Mysteries are another form of participatory entertainment. Traditionally, the audience watches a crime unfold and become witnesses when the crime-solver appears. In some forms of the genre, willing audience members take a more active role in the performance. The event is almost always a dinner theater event. 

On Thursday, Creative License, a very serious theater troupe that performs at the Cohoes Music Hall, is letting its hair down and producing a murder-mystery at McGreivey’s restaurant in Waterford.

“Mr. Potter and the Garden Club Mystery” is typical of the genre as it blends comedy and mystery. The plot involves a missing man and a mysterious locked box. It is all linked to a dead archeologist.

The show also uses history. Trying to solve the crime, the world famous psychic, Gwendolyn Greer, unearths some dirt on the sordid past of the century old Upstate New York Garden Club.

“Mr. Potter and the Garden Club Mystery” also involves dinner. McGreivey’s is serving a five course meal offering as entrées five of its most popular menu items. In other words you get to choose from five meal selections. For tickets and information call 518-238-2020. It starts at 6 p.m. Thursday.

If you go, remember, as an audience member it’s important to follow the rules of the game. Anyone attending either show should understand they are also members of the cast. Immersive events are not passive experiences. If you go, you have an obligation to participate. It really is more fun that way.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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