I’m a theater addict. After reading (i.e. devouring all novels fairy-tale and fantasy and witchy), it’s my most significant hobby, and it’s my husband’s and my favorite date night. (We basically haunted the fabulous Shadowbox Live theater in Columbus when we were local, and trips to NYC to binge-watch as many shows as possible are our ideal anniversary celebration.) In the last four weeks, I’ve been to five plays, which to be fair is more than usual, but I’d say I average 1-2 shows a month.
So when I say that Frankenstein’s Funeral, an immersive theater production by Found Stages, was one of the coolest shows I’ve ever seen, I mean that it was something truly special.
We’ve chosen to categorize this post as part of our Urban Enchantment series because this production, and all of Found Stages’ projects, are about bringing theater into unexpected and unconventional spaces. They are re-purposing and, in effect, re-enchanting urban spaces with storytelling. AND WE ARE HERE FOR IT.
The play unfolds in the gothic grounds and interiors of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Georgia. In the tradition of interactive productions like Sleep No More and Then She Fell, Frankenstein’s Funeral makes use of multiple spaces, and the audience is guided through the rooms and the narrative itself by the actors. We first assembled in the church’s sanctuary under a gargantuan stained-glass cross as haunting music swelled from the organ. Mary Shelley (played by Jennifer Schottstaedt), the author of the novel Frankenstein, met us there and welcomed us to the mourning and celebration of Victor Frankenstein’s life. Then she took an audience member’s hand and led us into another room, and another, entwining the events of the novel with her own complicated history.
(Mary Shelley was kind of a badass. The daughter of early feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft and fellow political philosopher William Godwin, she ran off with the Romantic – and, uh, married – poet Percy Bysshe Shelley at age sixteen. She began writing Frankenstein at age nineteen, a work that is often cited as the first science fiction novel and continues to have an enormous influence on contemporary horror and pop culture. Despite an overabundance of personal tragedy, she was a prolific and accomplished author, editor, and political radical throughout her life. Brittany and I think she is fantastic.)
The 40 person audience followed Mary up stairs and around corners. And later, at their invitation, we followed other actors portraying Victor Frankenstein (Jake Krakovsky) and the Creature (Joseph Pendergrast). We gathered around the railings of an open stairwell and saw Victor give life to his Creature. We watched the Creature pluck leaves from an exquisitely crafted tree of knowledge and helped Mary teach him the meanings of the words inscribed there.
Throughout the production, audience members were included in the action, from the simple act of taking a character’s hand to reading passages of the novel aloud or casting a vote. These invitations to participate were thoughtfully offered and skillfully managed by the cast – the effect was a dream-like experience where the audience could inhabit the story and help it unfold.
The costumes were absolutely stunning, especially the strange and marvelous garments worn by the creature – flexible enough to allow his wide range of movements but intricate, with almost labyrinthine patchwork, beading, and webbing that echoed the composite body of the Creature from the novel. Music lent cohesion to the production as we and the actors dashed between rooms. The incredible physicality and movement of the actors, especially Pendergrast as the Creature, was, quite simply, astonishing.
Basically, the entire thing was amazing and skillfully done, and I would like more please.
Which brings me to… FRANKENSTEIN’S BALL: an immersive New Year’s Eve Experience. Though Frankenstein’s Funeral‘s final show was this past weekend, Frankenstein’s Ball will take place from December 29 to the 31st, and we have no doubt that it will be an immersive, fantastical theatrical enchantment. Tickets and more information can be found at www.foundstages.org/frankensteinsball. Perhaps we’ll see you there! And we can’t wait to see what other enchantments Found Stages has in store.