Don’t call it a haunted house!
Surreal theatrical experiment “Houseworld” will send visitors creeping one-by-one through rooms filled with strange characters. But the show, starting on Oct. 8 at San Damiano Mission in Greenpoint, is no spook-filled scare-fest, says its creator.
“Haunted houses have bloody hands, someone chasing you down a hallway with a chainsaw, shock, and gore — which is cool, but it’s been done a lot,” said Andrew Hoepfner, who wrote and performs in the show. Instead of horror tropes, the building is filled with psychological scenes of humor, sadness, and obsession that are designed to trigger not screams, but self-reflection.
“By exploring these scenes and meeting these characters, the guests explore the self,” said Hoepfner.
Those scenes include a kitchen where an angry, overworked chef fires off instructions, a basement where a locked-up monster begs for release, and a dark room where a woman leads visitors to a bed, places coins on their eyes, and sings their funeral requiem. The goal of each encounter, said Hoepfner, is not to construct a narrative, but to allow each guest to engage with their emotions and interact with themselves through the characters.
“The center of Houseworld is not to tell a story,” he said. “The center of ‘Houseworld’ is to set up a mirror through which each audience member can see various reflections of themselves.”
Audience members enter the 25-room rectory alone, said Hoepfner, but may encounter each other inside, joining together to share the intensely personal experiences, and sometimes moments of catharsis.
“We’ve had people in the house bursting into tears in a good way, breaking through an emotional block,” said Hoepfner.
Hoepfner, who has a background in rock music, got the idea for “Houseworld” while staying in a monastery and daydreaming of a way to use its many empty room. He was also inspired by the infamous Manhattan immersive play “Sleep No More,” where masked, silent audience members wander the floors of a converted warehouse and witness a bloody Shakespearean drama. But in “Houseworld,” he says, audience members are more protagonists than voyeurs — they are unmasked and constantly engaged in a dialogue about their own life experiences with actors and other guests, putting their own stories at the center of the action.
“In Houseworld, you’re very much yourself,” said Hoepfner. “Maybe more yourself than usual because you’re seeing reflections of yourself in all these rooms.”
And because the production depends and thrives on audience participation and is communal in nature, said Hoepfner, the experience bursts into the real world and becomes larger than art.
“It’s a party, it’s a play, it’s a game, it’s therapy,” he said. “It’s a mix of those experiences.”
Still, he says, comparisons to other immersive events happening during October were inevitable.
“It was clear that we were going to be haunted by the haunted house comparison,” he said.
“Houseworld” at the San Damiano Mission [85 N. 15th St. between Banker Street and Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint, (929) 344–2117, www.housew