Inside SOUTHERN GOTHIC: Crafting an Immersive Experience

Inside SOUTHERN GOTHIC: Crafting an Immersive Experience

Pictured: SOUTHERN GOTHIC scripts. To the track the action of each character onstage, there are actually 8 different scripts, one for each actor. Photo courtesy of Windy City Playhouse.

In this 4-part series, PerformInk takes you inside Windy City Playhouse’s SOUTHERN GOTHIC through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past INSIDE articles, click here.

By co-creators Amy Rubenstein and Carl Menninger

When we set out to create Southern Gothic, we envisioned our audience experiencing the juicy secrets of a group of old friends in a new way. By focusing on the experience of the audience, the Playhouse strives to expand the pre-conceived notions of theater. For years, we had envisioned a play, in the traditional sense, that was not experienced in a traditional way. We really wanted audiences to have the chance to be a fly on the wall in the lives of others.

After reading a play written by Leslie Liautaud, about a group of eight friends celebrating a 40th birthday in Ashford Georgia in 1960, one night while falling asleep, I (Amy) shot up in my bed and yelled to my husband, “I got it!” Within the hour, Carl & I had Leslie on the phone and told her how we were going to produce her play as an immersive experience in 360 degrees.

Pictured: Rendering by Scenic Designer Scott Davis, who was inspired by the craftsman architecture characteristic of midcentury Southern homes. Photo courtesy of Windy City Playhouse.

The idea of stepping into that party, in that time, in that town, was enthralling. We wanted to create that. After getting over the shock of being woken up in the middle of the night, Leslie jumped on board with ideas. She was ready to set out to engage audiences in a new way. With simultaneous actions occurring in four separate rooms of a house, we had the opportunity to layer subplots and characters into a complex web of secrets and deceptions. It was an exhilarating challenge for us. With director, David Bell, we gathered a remarkable team and asked them to imagine being invisible guests at a party. It was important to us that the plot of the play was kept intact while enticing the audience to explore the subplots inside of it. And what resulted? We literally dropped a house inside of the theater and started to stage a play that takes place in 4 rooms at the same time. The world and the story unfold around an audience, free to roam at their leisure…. Come play with us!”

Performances for SOUTHERN GOTHIC open February 7th. For more information visit

Amy Rubenstein (Co-Creator) is originally from Chicago and graduated from Brandeis University’s Department of Theater, Magna Cum Laude. Upon graduation, she worked as an actress in Chicago, Los Angeles, and regional markets, earning her Actors Equity Association membership at the Human Race Theater Company in Dayton, Ohio. She has been working in real estate for the past thirteen years specializing in development, adaptive reuse and financial and legal structuring of assets. Rubenstein was thrilled to have the opportunity to combine her business and artistic skills together to form Windy City Playhouse, which has produced ten shows in three seasons, six of which were Jeff Recommended. This fall, Rubenstein appeared as Suzanna in “Becky Shaw.”

Carl Menninger (Dramaturg and Co-Creator) has lived and worked in Chicago for many years and directed the 2016 production of “This” at Windy City Playhouse. Currently, he serves as an Artistic Associate to the Playhouse and is an Assistant Professor of Theatre at American University, in Washington, D.C., where he ran the Theatre and Musical Theatre programs for eight years. While in Chicago, Menninger worked with Victory Gardens and Chicago Dramatists. In addition to working at D.C.’s Studio Theatre and Adventure Theatre, his play “Everything But You: A Modern Romance” received a staged reading at the Keegan Theatre in D.C. His play “Dysfunction Spelled Backward Is Family” was also presented in D.C., and he is currently working on a play about the silent film stars Ramon Novarro and Billy Haines. Menninger is the author of “Minding the Edge: Strategies for a Fulfilling, Successful Career as an Actor.”

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