"Don’t be afraid,” director Troy Heard advises theatergoers before they enter an alternate reality that’s a little bit Shakespeare and a little bit vintage Vegas. “You will not be singled out. You will not be embarrassed. You will asked to put on a blindfold at some points. Put on and take off the blindfold when instructed to do so.”
One by one, attendees depart today’s Downtown Las Vegas and enter a fly ’70s-era disco in the fictional-but-familiar town of Lost Wages. Here, William Shakespeare’s “most thrilling comedy” will play out as a “full-scale immersive theater experience.” The plot follows a disastrous effort to wipe the sin from Sin City.
To keep things intimate, each performance is limited to 18 audience members. Seventies attire is encouraged but not required. If the rehearsal we attended is any indication, you’ll want to be dressed up.
“Immersive theater is the next evolution in entertainment, although it’s by no means new,” Heard says. “It’s taken a large turn now that the video game generation has grown up and started producing shows.”
Measure for Measure is Heard’s favorite Shakespeare play, and he says he’s always wanted to set it in ’70s Vegas because of the “organized crime angle and the opportunity for really cool visuals.” While considering how to stage the play, he decided to “tear the script apart” and invite the audience into the action.
The fact that Measure is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays helped. “If you see Romeo and Juliet and don’t get to see the balcony scene, you’ll feel shortchanged,” Heard says. Most theatergoers won’t miss any such iconic moments from this dark comedy. “Although you don’t get the full A-to-Z plot of Measure, you do get a story told through a character’s point of view. When you share the journey with them and become their confidant, it gives you stakes you may not have felt watching it from afar.”
Actor Rebecca Reyes, who plays Julia Rosenthal, says that the biggest challenge of performing interactive Shakespeare is blending the 400-year-old prose with a modern delivery. “I have audience members who are having conversations with me face-to-face. It’s such a personal connection that ... It’s hard to resist speaking to them like I’ve known them for years.”
For Reyes, the challenge of the genre is also the most rewarding part. She thrives on the audience connection. “I like being able to bring them into my world, talk to them directly, give them a hug, watch them play along,” Reyes says. “At the end of the play, you feel like you really know these people. We all leave feeling like we belonged to this production together.”
Measure for Measure September 27- October 21, Thursday-Sunday, times vary, $15-$25. Majestic Reptertory Theater, 1217 S. Main St., 702-423-6366.