Revelers seeking a New Year’s Eve celebration that’s a little more cultured than raucous can head to Frankenstein’s Ball, an immersive theater experience taking place December 31 at the Highland Inn Ballroom in Poncey-Highland.
A production by Found Stages, the play centers on Frankenstein author Mary Shelley as she attends a party hosted by Romantic poet Lord Byron, where the characters of her novel suddenly come to life. In a similar vein to other immersive theatrical shows such as New York’s Sleep No More, a play that audiences walk through and explore rather than sit in a seat and watch, Frankenstein’s Ball invites audience members to mingle with the characters as the story progresses.
“It’s kind of like at any big party, there are some scenes that are meant to be watched, but mostly, the audience has free agency to engage with whichever characters they like,” says Nichole Palmietto, co-founder and artistic director of Found Stages. “They can go learn about electricity from Elizabeth Lavenza, who was Victor Frankenstein’s childhood love. Or they could go mix concoctions with Victor Frankenstein, or see his plans for the female monster he’s going to build.” There will also be a live band playing period pieces and original compositions.
Found Stages, which formed in 2014, is the creation of Palmietto and Neeley Gossett and specializes in immersive productions across different venues. Their first show, Beulah’s Creek, was performed at the Dunwoody Nature Center. “We redesigned the whole show based on the space. The four scenes each had a different location within the Nature Center, and when the audience showed up, they got candles instead of a ticket,” Palmietto explains. “And in the final scene, as the characters were eating cornbread and milk, the audience passed their candles to get corn bread and milk instead.” In the case of Frankenstein’s Ball, the audience can expect to play period games with the characters and share in Mary Shelley’s terror as the nightmare creatures from her book come to life at the party.
Found Stages’s creative process also eschews the traditional “script-down” model that many plays are developed with. “We were all trained in the traditional model and have great respect for that process,” Palmietto says. “In some ways, the process that we’ve developed is a longer, windier one, but it’s also more egalitarian and collaborative because everyone’s voice is heard early on and we build opportunities for the show to evolve based on discoveries we make with each other and the audience.”
Besides immersive plays like Frankenstein’s Ball, Found Stages also has a digital play series. They currently have a “text message” play called The Year Without Summer, which people can start from the beginning on any Monday. The person who signs up to receive texts essentially becomes the play’s protagonist and can watch the story unfold through their phone as play’s characters send texts to the user in real time for 30 days.
For Palmietto and Neely, it’s important to reach people where they are and show audiences that going to the theater doesn’t have to be a stiff activity. This means not having a dedicated theater space. “People can go to a places that they already have a relationship with, like Highland Ballroom or the Nature Center, and then we can make that relationship with the space deeper [through] the storytelling. Then people will connect, not just with the story and not just with us, but also with the spaces that make up their community.”
Frankenstein’s Ball takes place at 9 p.m. December 31 at the Highland Inn Ballroom. Tickets start at $60 and include light bites and a champagne toast at midnight.