Eastern State Penitentiary will open its doors to 13 lucky — or unlucky — audiences members one at a time. It follows a trend of performances for a single person.
By Peter Crimmins
Theater companies are always trying to get more people to see their shows, but a recent trend has them willingly restricting their audiences. In fact, some performance groups create work for an audience of exactly one person.
A Philadelphia haunted house troupe is jumping on that trend.
Every year, tens of thousands of people walk through Eastern State Penitentiary in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia during the Halloween season. But this year, 13 people chosen at random will be able to experience the prison haunted house alone.
Assistant program director Brett Bertolino says the actors will focus all their efforts on one hapless individual.
“Every actor is going to know the person’s name, we can tailor to them,” says Bertolino. “Maybe we’ll try to figure out more about them and work on whatever phobias they have.”
Performances for an audience of one have been popping up in the theater world in the last few years – mostly in London. While the experience can be both intense and intimate, the costs are prohibitive. The Philadelphia Fringe Festival in 2006 offered an audience-of-one performance, featuring Headlong Dance Theater. Amy Smith is a co-founder of Headlong.
“We heard from a lot of people how great it was,” says Amy Smith, co-founder of Headlong. “It created a buzz. That’s why they did it. But it completely ignores the capitalist structure of theaters and presenters trying to sell enough seats to over the costs of the show.”
The haunted house at Eastern State Penitentiary is the biggest moneymaker for the historic site. The 13 chosen to experience it alone will not pay for the so-called privilege.