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New Columbus theater “experience” allows viewers to live out plays firsthand, not just watch them on a stage

New Columbus theater “experience” allows viewers to live out plays firsthand, not just watch them on a stage

Jack McLaughlin

I want to start by saying that I would not consider myself to be a theater person. I respect it as an art form and generally enjoy the productions I’ve seen but it rarely finds itself at the top of my “things to do on a weekend” list,

Whether you want to call it theater, or instead an  “immersive experience,” or something entirely different, I can tell you this: I am most definitely a The Sleepwalker of Holstenwall person.

I attended an immersive performance of the new production from Columbus Children’s Theater last week, and even though the spooky season is technically behind us, I would urge you to grab tickets (with or without the little ones) to the show’s final set of performances this weekend.


Before we get any further, though, let me explain the idea of “immersive theater.”

While takes place with a lush and intricately designed backdrop (the village of Holstenwall, personal homes, police stations and an eerie carnival), no stages are involved. The show begins when an actor comes out to greet the audience in the building’s front-room, and from here audience members are free to wave their ways through what feels more like an alternate reality than the set of a dramatic production. The audience can talk with actors and interact with set elements, in a true “choose-your-own-adventure” atmosphere.

And speaking of atmosphere, The Sleepwalker of Holstenwall has it in spades. Following plot points from what many consider to be the original horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the Columbus Children’s Theater production hovers around several townspeople who are witness to a eerie carnival act that rolls into the quiet village of Holstenwall. Led by the mysterious Dr. Caligari, a fortune teller who seems to be acting from beyond the grave offers an ominous reading for one kf the show’s main characters, and things slowly begin to unravel.

Due to its interactive design, you feel as if you’re witnessing a movie play out you’re stuck inside of one, instead of just watching one on a screen or stage. You are quite walking through Holstenwall after dark, and even into the homes of different characters. Because of this ( and the tactful use of lighting, sound effect and smoke machines), I had unique, visceral responses to the plot points, I truly felt the action of the production, and the creeping dread Dr. Calligari brought to Hollstenwall.

While the production is family-friendly, due to how effective it was, I would personally caution against bringing children who are too young, or who are easily spooked. That being said, the show finds a nice balance between fear and friendliness, and employees are on hand to escort anyone having a difficult time safely to an exit.

All things considered, The Sleepwalker of Holstenwall is legitimately fun, frightening and entirely engrossing. It brings a unique new artistic medium to Columbus drama that stands somewhere between watching a production and quite literally living it out. Make sure to get tickets while you still can.

Note: The show is produced by Columbus Children’s Theater, but is actually held in an adjacent warehouse space that’s located at 278 N. Fifth St. in Downtown Columbus.

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