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Upping the Ante-bellum: New show puts the audience into old New Orleans

Strange and Southern: “Antebellum” follows three characters who share a stage but do not interact with one another.
Gogol Annex

It is “Sleep No More” with a Southern spin.

A trio of performance artists fresh off a Moscow tour are bringing a 45-minute whirlwind of New Orleans-styled experimental theater to Williamsburg. Audiences should not expect to just show up and take a seat, the artists warned.

“The audience is encouraged to walk amongst the installation and choose their own adventure,” said director Leah Loftin, who will bring “Antebellum” to the Brick Theater. “We are very interested in the idea of immersive theater.”

As the name suggests, the show features three characters hailing from the Antebellum period, when the South enjoyed a colossal cotton boom before the Civil War. Bricktop, a prostitute and serial killer, the Colonel, a steamboat gambler, and the Nightingale, an opera singer commodified by showman PT Barnum of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, are loosely based off lesser-known historical figures who were notorious in their day, Loftin explained.

“When societies are sliding into war, there is an increase in depravity, surge in prostitution, and surge in vice,” she said. “These characters are all kind-of obsessed with these notions, and it ends up being a commentary on the notion of sane and celebrity in the mid-19th century.”

Though the actors will share a stage — soundscaped by composer Nathan Halpern, best known for his work on the HBO documentary “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” — they will act in their own “pods,” or portions of the stage, instead of interacting with one another. The show might remind some theater buffs of “Sleep No More,” the famed interactive theater production housed in a block of Manhattan warehouses and based on William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

Loftin, who left New Orleans for New York City in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, recently performed in Moscow with her two comrades and fellow “Antebellum” actors, Nicole Kontolefa and Taylor Sutherland, as part of a residency with Studio Six of the Moscow Art Theater. She is adamant that “Antebellum” and other works of shorter experimental theater pack a punch that even the most skeptical audiences can enjoy.

“We do not want to create experimental works that feel inaccessible to people or that cause a lot of eye-rolling,” she said. “We want this to be powerful and potent.”

“Antebellum” at the Brick Theater [579 Metropolitan Ave. near Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, (718) 285–3863, www.bricktheater.com]. Jan. 23–25 at 9:30 pm, January 29–Feb. 1 at 7 pm. $18.

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at mriesz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.

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