Shortly after Michelle Murray Wells opened Sonorous Road Theatre in August 2015, her friends began advising her to start an annual moneymaking holiday show like so many Triangle theaters do.
But she didn’t want to choose just any production.
“I wanted something that would bring on a conversation among the artists and the audience,” Wells says.
After two years of pondering, Wells settled on the O. Henry short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” drawn to it because of its real-life situations.
“It’s such a moving story about sacrifices we make and how they affect what is most important in our lives,” Wells says.
There have been many stage adaptations of the story about a poor husband and wife who sell their most prized possession to buy each other a special gift. But Wells wanted something more engaging than merely watching a play on stage. She decided on an immersive experience in which the audience is in the same space as the actors and move from place to place as the story unfolds.
Here are five things to know about what the experience will entail:
1. The show is set in the 1920s and begins in a speakeasy.
You step into the world of the play when entering the lobby, set up as a New York City speakeasy with a band and a singer. You can sit and order beer, wine or soft drinks while chatting with barkeeps and flappers before beginning the 45-minute experience.
2. The plot has been expanded from the brief short story.
Wells wants the meaning of the story to be more fully expressed, so she developed additional dialogue for Jim and Della, as well as for the shopkeepers where the couple purchase their gifts.
3. The immersive element puts audiences up close and personal.
The three nightly performances are limited to 20 people each. When signaled, you leave the speakeasy and follow Jim home (the theater’s office made into Jim and Della’s meager apartment). You stand only feet away from the actors in “fly on the wall” mode. You then follow them into the street (the theater’s main playing space) to the wigmaker and pawnshop, following the couple back home afterward.
4. There’s also an interactive section in the show.
While you are in the street of shops, you’ll be able to work with shopkeepers to create a small gift you can take with you, such as a Christmas tree ornament.
5. The experience extends beyond the boundaries of the story.
At the end of the last scene in the apartment, you return to the speakeasy to stay as long as you wish. You can order more drinks, listen to the band and mingle with the incoming crowd for the next performance.
This year’s show is just the kernel of an expanded version for the future.
“Next year, you can decide to stay with the wigmaker and experience the story through her eyes,” Wells says. “Eventually, audience members will be able to choose any character to follow for the whole time or different characters at different times.”
What: “The Gift of the Magi”
Where: Sonorous Road Theatre, 3801 Hillsborough St., Suite 113, Raleigh
When: 7 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Dec. 8-9, 15-16, 22-23; 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Dec. 10, 17
Tickets: $25 (show recommended for ages 12 and up)
Info: 919-803-3798 or sonorousroad.com