How a Rock Musician Transformed an Old Rectory Into Brooklyn’s Trippiest Immersive Theater Experience

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Interior spaces are often a reflection of our interior lives. But with Houseworld — a mind-bending immersive theater experience in Greenpoint — creator Andrew Hoepfner and his crew of collaborators take that idea to a whole new level.

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Houseworld is immersive theater — the kind without seats or rules. It is performance on the order of Sleep No More, where each audience member decides where to go and what to do, co-creating their own experience in the moment.

For each performance, 30 people are allowed into Houseworld, meandering through its odd spaces — a cave, a movie editing suite, a bathroom attic — and interacting with its odd performers — “the woman in the bed” or “the man with sensitive ears” or “the monster.”

The show is a waking dream from the mind of creator Andrew Hoepfner, a rock musician who conceived of the show in the midst of an existential career crisis.

“I was in a creative block,” Hoepfner admitted to Brownstoner as he gave us a tour of Houseworld‘s latest digs — a once-abandoned rectory near McCarren Park.

“I was daydreaming in my dining room, thinking about how everything I make I have to take to a bar or a club or an outdoor stage,” he told us of the show’s inception. “And I started imagining a soothing, choreographed performance in my sunlit living room. And thought that oh, one person would be taken to my bedroom for a personal serenade. Then I thought, and there’s a monster in the basement. And another room with someone crying. Or two people having sex. At a certain point, it became a personal dare to make the show happen.”

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Hoepfner looked into his pool of friends and acquaintances, recruiting various performers to enact the roles he imagined, in rooms that would tap into different parts of experience or emotion.

The first version of Houseworld debuted nearly a year ago and cost about $8,000 to create. Following the initial run of performances, Hoepfner decided to build and enhance the show, successfully launching a Kickstarter campaign that raised $35,062.

But finding a new venue for Houseworld proved the greatest challenge.

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

“I spent two months just on the sidewalk, on calls, online looking at properties,” Hoepfner told Brownstoner. “It was the least fun part of the whole thing. Rents are crazy.”

He looked at rundown buildings far from transportation. And one house occupied by squatters. He even looked at a space in the Pfizer building, a repurposed industrial space that is now a hub for creative Brooklyn startups.

“It was cool but it wasn’t Houseworld,” he said. “We couldn’t have transformed it.”

As a last resort, Hoepfner made an arrangement with the church where he plays as a musician — the Franciscan San Damiano Mission. They had a rectory next door to the church that housed a couple of offices. They also had an organ in need of repair.

Hoepfner and the Franciscan Friars came to an arrangement. He gets to use the rectory building for his show and pays them rent for the new organ.

The building was perfect. Built in 1911, the 25-room rectory is old enough to have character-laden, oddly shaped spaces with secret closets in the top floor, and a basement ripe for creepy transformation.

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Over several weeks, Hoepfner and his scenic artists turned the home into their dream world. There are rooms that look ordinary. Rooms that lead to other secret spaces. Rooms with wacky lighting or hundreds of balloons or hundreds of white fabric strips dangling from pipes spanning the ceiling.

Then they populated it with its cast.

“It’s like each character is a part of the mind,” said performer and co-creator Mike Campbell. “My character asks questions. And often when they answer, people tear up. We give them a place to experience their whole emotional being.”

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn     Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn  Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn    Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn  Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Immersive Theater Hosueworld Greenpoint Brooklyn

Hoepfner told Brownstoner that people have come from all over the world to see the performance: “It’s funny how many people come here on their first day in New York City. We’ve had guests from Argentina, from Europe, all over.”

It’s a singularly strange first encounter with Brooklyn’s creative scene and spaces.

Houseworld runs through the end of November.

[Photos: Barbara Eldredge]

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