As Leo Tolstoy famously opened his novel Anna Karenina, “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” One very unhappy family is at the center of Birch House’s production of Cursed: An American Tragedy, now playing at the Berger Park Mansion in Edgewater. We talked with Birch House co-founder and show director Lauren Fields to learn more about the show and why immersive theater can make for a great night out. Tickets $35, 7pm, Nov. 8-17, 6205 N. Sheridan Road
What can audiences expect from the story?
It centers around three generations of a family—Civil War-era, World War I and World War II—that all believe they’ve been cursed. I don’t want to give away much more than that!
Why is this theater experience so different from traditional plays?
It’s a way to engage with art in a tactile way. I think often people feel that theater can be passive and that they can’t be engaged. With our immersive work, we invite audiences to be a part of things in an authentic way. We put them inside the story. They can walk away saying, “I did that,” rather than, “I saw that.”
This is the second version of Cursed that you’re producing. What has changed?
We workshopped the show last year at the Foxhole Chicago. That run completely sold out and between talk-backs with the audiences and our own notes, we were able to revise and revisit ideas. That space was great, but we wrote the show with the idea of it being set in a family home. Now we get to play with that concept fully.
How does having access to a space like Berger Mansion evolve the story you set out to tell?
Berger Mansion is very theater friendly. The team was really flexible and open to hosting a show like this there. Getting to know the space has allowed for specific details to be worked into the script. Actors get the opportunity to build a relationship between themselves and the house in a meaningful way and this starts with us talking with the actors. They have to know the world, both the physical and emotional, better than anyone else to allow the experience to be as organic as possible.
What do you hope audiences take away from the experience?
Cursed is a really good experience for first time immersive theater-goers as well as for those who know the ropes. You have the ability to engage at your comfort level. There are six separate scripts being run through at once and 15 cast members so nobody ever goes off stage. Everyone always has something active to do, whether that’s scripted or not. I’m excited for the intimate moments of the show. Once people start splitting off, they might see scenes that only they see that night. No two performances are alike.