Words escape me. Fleeting images dart in my mind, but disappear as soon as I try to form words to describe them. They refuse to solidify. Instead I’m left with feelings of bewilderment, wonderment, and transcendental mystery. What did I experience last night?
Then She Fell is an intimate immersive theater that reworks the story of Alice Liddell, Charles Dodgson’s (aka Lewis Carroll) inspiration for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and asks what happened to Alice, but more importantly what were the psychological effects of Dodgson’s perhaps unseemly attention to little Alice? Only fifteen people are allowed per show, which means that each audience member gets a very close and personal experience with the performance and the actors.
Prior to the show, we received an email that the doors would be open between 10:10 and 10:30. No latecomers would be permitted to come in. We arrived at 10:15 and I was glad we arrived early. The “theater” was transformed into a Victorian insane asylum. Nurses in starchly stiffed uniforms greeted us formally, even a little coolly. They explained the protocol (no photos, no recording, personal belongings needed to be locked away, no speaking unless we were spoken to by the actors). From the beginning we felt as if we were entering as patients in a mental ward. A nurse handed an elixir (mulled wine) to us. Like a good patient, I silently drank “my medicine.” We were given a set of keys each and permitted to explore the room, unlocking various locked boxes that revealed more photos, letters, torn pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and medical notes. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted as long as we did not open locked doors. Until show time Ben and I carefully explored the room along with the other audience members.
A few minutes before the start, Ben and I sat down. A nurse sat behind a desk and began speaking into a microphone. She explained a concept called liminality, “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.” Little did we know that this was theme of the night.
Seemingly small and innocuous choices, such as where you sit and where you go, have a major impact on how you experience Then She Fell. As the nurse droned on about liminality, audience members were beckoned by the nursing staff to exit the room and follow them. Four people had already left the room by the time Ben, four other people, and I were instructed to leave. We made our way to another room, where we found Alice, a mournful Alice who hauntingly looked past us silently unfolding crumpled paper. When the door opened and on the other side there was a well-dressed man (White Rabbit? Charles Dodgeson? I don’t remember). Alice’s face lit up. She smiled, stood up, and walked toward him. Then there out in the hall and staircase, they performed the most intricate and creative pas de deux that I’ve ever seen. It was hauntingly beautiful and ephemeral.
I don’t want to describe in great detail everything that I’ve seen and experienced because Then She Fell is best experienced when you don’t know what to expect. Confusion and uncertainty are a big part of what makes Then She Fell work. You’re not just an audience member; you BECOME a part of the cast of Then She Fell. Your participation is just as important as the actors themselves.
We were warned that we would be separated from the rest of the audience and whomever you came with. Ben and I tried to stay together, but we were separated pretty quickly. Every audience member gets a unique experience of Then She Fell. There are several rooms where things happen, and the order in which you experience them (or even if you get to experience them) is determined by the deceptively small choices you make, like where you sit and wander. Every audience member spends a good portion of the play alone in a room or with an actor or two. There’s an eerily personal quality, despite the fact that much of the play is wordless. The actors gaze piercingly into your eyes. I found myself trying to respond back with my eyes. I sat in my chair, but moved my body in tempo to their dance movements.
Our favorite scene is the tea party. I was in the room with another audience member where a nurse barked questions of what I preferred. Based upon my answers, a special tea was made. Then the doors open and in walked Ben and a girl from our original group. I was thrilled to see Ben because I wondered what he had been up to, but we had no opportunity to talk or even get next to each other. We sat around a table and the actors did an elaborate act with the tea cups, saucers, and spoons. Since they were performing the actions repeatedly, Ben and I did our best to mimic their actions. Then the
Mad Hatter White Rabbit announced, “We’re late!” and motioned to Ben and the girl to leave.
Our favorite character was the White Rabbit played by Elizabeth Carena. Her performance was superlative. Her long limbs enabled her to twist and contort her body, much like we were on hallucinogetic drugs.
I also really enjoyed my scenes with the White Rabbit and the roses. Whenever I was offered a drink (or food), I took it. I wanted to fully involve myself in the moment. I still remember how hard my heart was thumping as the White Queen offered me a grape from her sweetly perfumed fingers. I was scared. Of what? I don’t know. I just never knew what to expect. There were some really memorable rooms, such as the room full of roses and the room with a moat.
I met up with Ben at another time in the play. The Mad Hatter took me to a millinery room and handed a rolls of cloths to me while peppering me with questions. She opened a door and there stood Ben. He looked incredibly surprised to see me. To him, it was as if we appeared out of nowhere. We stayed together for a bit. For a short time we were separated again and when I came back to him, I found him with his cheeks stuffed full of food. For a brief moment, I thought they fed him a sandwich and I wanted one too. It was actually a tangerine.
The two hours that Then She Fell takes flew by incredibly quickly. Afterward Ben and I tried to compare our notes on what we experienced. Although we experienced much of the same events (albeit in different order), there were some experiences that were only experienced by one of us. Because the storyline is not linear and we never knew what to expect, we came away with fractured memories of Then She Fell. Much like a patient with problems with reality, we wondered what did we experience, what just happened, and had intense feelings of confusion of not remembering what happened.
I think Ben said it best when he said, “I can’t remember what happened. I know I was there and things happened, but I can’t remember any of it. I don’t know what went on.”
Then She Fell is an incredible phenomenon blurring the lines of reality and fantasy.