Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth opens on March 1, 2014.

Stageworks Media

Cynthia von Buhler's
Speakeasy Dollhouse: 
The Brothers Booth

Directed by Wes Grantom
Written by Cynthia von Buhler
 with additional material by Mat Smart

Long-running immersive theater piece SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE
Starts a new chapter . . .
This time delving into the sibling rivalry between
John Wilkes and Edwin Booth.

At The Players Club, 16 Gramercy Park South

Three Special Monthly Performances
Saturdays: March 1st, April 5th, and May 3rd at 8:00 pm

Stageworks Media is pleased to announce Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth by Cynthia von Buhler.  A new chapter to Ms. von Buhler’s Speakeasy Dollhouse, which has over the past two years become one of the city's most unique, interactive, and surreal theatre experiences, Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth brings von Buhler’s unique brand of immersive theater to the legends of John Wilkes and Edwin Booth.  Directed by Wes Grantom (Eager to Lose at Ars Nova), Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth will play monthly performances (on the first Saturday of the month) at The Players Club (16 Gramercy Park South) beginning in March 2014.  For tickets and more information, visit www.speakeasydollhouse.com

Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth is an immersive time-traveling theatrical experience, set in the renowned Players Club -- the former home of Edwin Booth -- which explores the sibling rivalry between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth.  Set in 1919, the various characters presented in Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth include John Drew (the then-president of The Players Club) and John Singer Sargeant, as well as the ghosts of Edwin and John Wilkes Booth.  Like the original, Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth also features live jazz, moonshine and burlesque.

According to Speakeasy Dollhouse creator Cynthia von Buhler, “My research on the Booth family has led me to believe that Abraham Lincoln was murdered as a result of sibling rivalry, and not because of John Wilkes’ love of the confederacy. Edwin Booth, a staunch Lincoln supporter, was honored by the president -- and even saved Lincoln’s son Robert from being crushed by a train shortly before the president’s assassination.  Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth encourages audiences to roam Edwin Booth's former mansion in search for the truth. Utilizing Shakespearean themes, longtime conspiracy theories, and surreal vignettes, Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth weaves together a story of the brothers' troubled lives.”

Artist and author Cynthia von Buhler is the creator of Speakeasy Dollhouse, an immersive theatrical hit that explores the murder of von Buhler’s Italian immigrant grandfather, Frank Spano.  A speakeasy owner, Spano was shot and killed on a Manhattan street in 1935.  Though the shooter was caught, his case was inexplicably dismissed, leaving the question of motive forever unanswered. Long haunted by the mystery, von Buhler, whose mother was born the day her grandfather died, began interviewing family members about the killing and scouring autopsy reports, police records, and court documents. Inspired by a 1940s investigative technique called "nutshell studies," von Buhler first recreated the crime scene in an elaborate dollhouse diorama (which can be explored on location during each performance).  Von Buhler brought her miniature set to life in Speakeasy Dollhouse, which was first intended to be a one-night theatrical staging (via a successful Kickstarter campaign). It has since become a hot underground theater ticket, going from monthly performances to weekly performances as it consistently sold out, and extended its run repeatedly over the past two years.

Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth is the first show of its kind to be staged at The Players Club, which was founded in 1888 by Edwin Booth, America's pre-eminent Shakespearean actor, and 15 other incorporators (including Mark Twain and General William Tecumseh Sherman).  Located in a Greek Revival townhouse facing historic Gramercy Park, modeled after London's famed Garrick Club, The Players was the first American club of its kind.  Its purpose:  "The promotion of social intercourse between members of the dramatic profession and the kindred professions of literature, painting, architecture, sculpture and music, law and medicine, and the patrons of the arts . . ." Today, leaders from a variety of professions in the arts, business, and commerce enjoy The Players' unique spirit of conviviality and discourse.  Edwin Booth's bedroom remains on a top floor of the club, undisturbed since his passing in 1893.  2014 marks the 125th anniversary of The Players Club. 

Cynthia von Buhler’s Speakeasy Dollhouse: The Brothers Booth, directed by Wes Grantom, will be presented at Edwin Booth's mansion, The Players Club (16 Gramercy Park South) monthly on the following Saturdays in 2014:  Saturday, March 1st at 8pm; Saturday, April 5th at 8 pm; and Saturday, May 3rd at 8 pm.  Tickets (advance only) are priced at $75 (general admission) and $125 (VIP, which includes exclusive access beyond the staircase to the third floor, VIP-only scenes, and lounge and cocktail service).  Tickets are now available by visiting www.speakeasydollhouse.com.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Speakeasy Dollhouse Featured in July's American Theater Cover Story

Speakeasy Dollhouse is featured in the July/August cover story of American Theater magazine by Diep Tran. Tran was given the role of the police sketch artist in the play. Here are three of the six pages:

Three pages are missing here. We will be linking to the full article soon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Wall Street Journal Visits Speakeasy Dollhouse

Photo by Claudio Papapietro for The Wall Street Journal
Kat Mon Dieu and Lillet St. Sunday perform at the ‘Speakeasy Dollhouse.’
The Wall Street Journal, NY Culture
Mobsters and Murder on The Lower East Side
by Nell Alk
From an opera singer belting it out in a barber-shop-meets-bakery to a birth to an unsolved death—which both occurred on the same day—there is little down time in “Speakeasy Dollhouse,” a recurring re-enactment of a Prohibition-era murder mystery on the Lower East Side.
“There’s constantly something happening,” said Cynthia von Buhler, the creator of this immersive and somewhat secretive gig. “I don’t want there to be lulls. If you’re downstairs, something’s happening. If you’re upstairs, something’s happening.”
The murdered man, Frank Spano, is based on Ms. von Buhler’s real-life grandfather, who was killed the same day as her mother was born, in 1935. “Speakeasy Dollhouse” was born from Ms. von Buhler’s obsession with his death.
“This is a mystery in my family. My mother was very against my looking into it,” she explained, saying sheer curiosity caused her to dig deeper and deeper into the research. “Now [my mom] thinks it’s the greatest thing.”
No ordinary theater experience, the story is brought to life in three hours by rich characters—including mobsters, authorities and burlesque girls—who interact with the crowd as the action unfolds. Held at the Back Room with interiors, tunnels and an alley setting the scene perfectly, ticketholders line up outside on the first Saturday and Monday of every month, supplying a password they’ve been sent via email at the door. Additional emails sent in advance of the event include news articles, court documents and autopsy reports.
“Every show is different from the previous. It’s a working crime lab,” said Josh Weinstein, who assumes the role of German-Jewish-American mobster Dutch Schultz.
“We improvise a lot of it,” added Ms. von Buhler’s husband, Russell Farhang, who also acts as her late grandfather, Frank Spano.
“We’ve made a lot of changes,” explained Ms. von Buhler. “The show has become more surreal. I’m from 1979.” Though surrounded by people dressed in flapper garb, her own outfit included Chuck Taylor sneakers and a tattered Ramones tee, as well as a black wig styled in a bob with bangs.
“I think dressing up is fun, no matter the occasion, so I was all into it,” offered Mark Becker, a handyman and part-time actor himself. “It creates a sort of solidarity among people, and this event was no exception. I noticed lots of folks admiring each others’ costumes. I’m not sure what era my style is from, but I did my best with a paperboy hat and suspenders.”
Though the monthly production launched in October 2011, “It’s kind of underground,” Ms. von Buhler said of her creation, which actually began as a Kickstarter campaign and was meant to run only one night. “It’s been entirely word-of-mouth and social networking,” added Mr. Farhang.
Ms. von Buhler and her team also have an unconventional approach to generating buzz, plastering tiny wooden doors with peepholes throughout Manhattan, each containing a QR code providing smartphone users with additional details.
“It’s selling out,” Ms. von Buhler beamed. “It’s like this thing that started small and just keeps growing.” She continued, “We have people come back who have been to every show. We see many of the same faces.” Maybe that is why it has been extended through June, possibly longer.
Nino Giaimo, perhaps better known as Vinny Guadagnino’s Uncle Nino on “Jersey Shore” and “The Show with Vinny,” acts as the undertaker, Dominick Grimaldi.
“It’s exciting,” Mr. Giaimo said. “It’s fake, but it’s real.” To this Ms. von Buhler chimed in, “It’s more real than reality TV!”
As for his favorite aspect of the performance, Mr. Becker shared his affinity for the macabre. “I was definitely most impressed with the coffin scene, based on what went into it.”
Mr. Farhang later said, “It’s actually pretty traumatic to go through the whole thing—the fighting and the dying. Then to hear people grieve at your funeral? It blew my mind the first time I did it.”
Of the actual casket, Ms. von Buhler said in all seriousness, “I want to be buried in it.”