Sold Out: Arizona Nonprofit Cuts Crowds, Pivots To Immersive Theater

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Coronavirus-related shutdowns have devastated the performing arts industry nationwide — but one small theater in the southwest is seeing sustained sellouts even without the large crowds.

Theater Works, in Peoria, Ariz., re-opened in early September with ‘CURIOUSER & CURIOUSER,’ an immersive theater experience based on Alice in Wonderland. Rather than purchasing a ticket and simply finding a seat, audience members are led on a journey through the entirety of the Peoria Center for the Arts, including dressing rooms, hallways and both of the center’s primary stages. The modified approach lets Theater Works run up to 10 shows per day.

“You, as an audience member, experience Wonderland as Alice would,” the show’s official website teases, “exploring rooms, discovering scenes, meeting the inhabitants of Wonderland, enjoying performances, and immersing yourself in a new way to experience live theater.”

So far, the pivot has been tremendously successful for Theater Works — in its 35th year at the Peoria Center. In a series of emails, Managing Director Cate Hinkle said an initial six-week run sold out in just 12 days; the show’s website currently lists 82 more performances through Nov. 1, all completely sold out.

“This pause in normal programming has forced our organization to pivot and innovate. We took this opportunity to try something revolutionary and different,” Hinkle said. “We are offering a new way to experience live theater and still be safe. CURIOUSER & CURIOUSER also provides a new entry point into theater for people who might not have been drawn to the traditional theater model.”

In a press release, the organization detailed its safety procedures: “In order to create a safe space for both audience members and actors, audience members will be required to wear face coverings, temperatures will be taken upon arrival, gloves will be provided to audience members to wear throughout the experience, all touch points will be sanitized between groups and a thorough deep clean will take place each evening, in addition to other safety protocols put in place.”

Each performance has a maximum of 10 audience members, with tickets ranging from $36 to $48. The limited ticket availability has created a significant buzz on social media, Hinkle said, further fueled by the participation of the show’s cast members.

“With this show, we have not only been able to generate revenue and help sustain our organization, we have also created a new business model, secured a new audience for the theater and given artists work,” Hinkle said.

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