The Hoffman House is a notable place for Muhlenberg events on campus, from alumni dinners to being the welcoming location for students during orientation weekend. However, the space was held for a family dinner hosted by a new family to grace the Muhlenberg community, the Crowlin family.
The Muhlenberg theatre and dance department hosted the first Assembly performance of the semester with “You Are Cordially Invited.” The piece welcomed guests to a grand party with an immersive experience between the actors and audience members. The performance space allowed for everyone to share the same experiences as the actors. It was real interaction in real time.
“Working in the Hoffman House as opposed to a theatrical stage has its pros and cons. When the audience has permission to interact with you, it can change the course of how the flow of a scene goes, but it’s very interesting in terms of breaking the fourth wall and was personally helpful as an actor to learn how to navigate certain changes throughout both the process and performances, continued Hannah Verdun ‘24, Myra Crowlin in the production. “It was a blast to perform.”
“It was also really cool that it was a devised piece that was done in an immersive, interactive, audience included way!”– Samantha Kalt ‘23
Verdun’s character Myra, the proud owner of the Hoffman House (or so the audience is led to believe), is the host of the party with her mysterious husband Vaughn Crowlin so they could celebrate their anniversary. The party only gets more insane from here, as the audience explores the Hoffman House and the secrets located in the props, costumes and other areas.
“The process was far different than any other show I have worked on in the past, although this was my first Muhlenberg production, so in terms of Muhlenberg shows, I don’t have much to compare it to,” stated Katie Harris ‘24, who played the role of Charlotte in “Cordially.”
The group of actors worked together with the director, Sarah Levine ‘22, and assistant director, Margery Leit ‘24, to create the script from scratch. The devising process first started with character work and focus and then opened up to discovering the story of the Crowlin family and the mysteries in store.
Verdun stated, “The process changed over time. Absolutely had its learning curves but by the end we were definitely into a rhythm which worked to curate a unique script and which multiple scenes were happening at the same time in different places of the house.”
Levine allowed for the devising process to flow and for the Crowlin family to be discovered.
“When something wasn’t working, Sarah had the courage and determination to work through it with us. She made sure that each and every cast and crew member was able to share their voice and contribute to the show,” stated Harris.
Samantha Kalt ‘23 served as the production stage manager for the piece and helped to make sure the devising process flowed smoothly. While it was not a traditional show, Kalt still filled out rehearsal reports, but not recording blocking and calling the show.
“Due to this being a devising piece, there was no script from the beginning, so as scenes were being developed, there was no blocking to take down,” stated Kalt.
The dialogue flowed from written scenes between characters to improvisation with audience members. Conversations could be heard regarding the family’s jewelry, birds, beautiful ferrets hanging on the stairway railing and even time travel.
The Crowlin family consisted of Myra, Vaughn, Cordelia, Delphine, Vaughn Jr., Wren and Vera, the niece and nephew, in addition to the guests and family staff. Charlotte, the maid, and Amelia, the family assistant, both helped to add more chaos to the house and to continue the mystery. Terrance Thatcher, Clyde Marcus, and Jessica Wicker were the guests and moved the plot forward as Wicker hunted for various items on a list.
Amanda Carter ‘23, who played Delphine, mentioned, “Everyone’s reality and perception of the world depends on their experiences and what they’ve heard. So it was really like every audience member just attended the Crowlin’s party and left with their individual experiences of the evening.”
“When I had heard who was working on it in the beginning of the rehearsal process, I knew it was going to be something amazing. And it definitely was.”– Katie Harris ’24
The Hoffman House also had its own distinctive character thanks to the design work of Sophia Pettine ‘23, scenic designer, and Tryston Morgan ‘23, lighting designer. The costumes also helped to create a notable impression on audience members, from Myra’s grand white wig to the large tutu of Harris’ dress.
“And the design team did such an outstanding job of creating a consistent ambiance throughout the house that really reflected the Crowlin family– their design made it easy to remain in character and feel like I was really in the Crowlin home,” continued Carter.
“Our design team was absolutely top notch. When I had heard who was working on it in the beginning of the rehearsal process, I knew it was going to be something amazing. And it definitely was,” Harris declared.
“You Are Cordially Invited” was a showcase for the talent and energy of the devising group and the wonderful work of the designers. The house was filled with taxidermy birds and these were utilized in cooperation with the Acopian Center for Ornithology and Peter Saenger, Acopian Ornithological Specialist. Leit even assigned each actor a bird to co-align with their characters. It was birds galore.
“Since the beginning of the creative process, birds kept coming up. For me, the bird imagery became solidified when it became a part of early character work. I was sent a diagram of the characters and their assigned birds… I think the birds might’ve started as a joke at first, but then it became VERY real. To that, I thank Peter Saenger! Getting to work with him and the bird museum was one of my favorite parts of the entire creative process,” stated Pettine.
“The design team helped us in more ways than one. Aside from the fact that everyone’s work was phenomenal, the prop work of Sophia Pettine allowed us to make the Crowlin home come to life, Tryston’s lighting set the entire machine room, and Jacob’s costuming was absolutely sensational and allowed for all of the actors to further their success in staying in character the entire show while interacting with the audience members,” declared Verdun.
Even before the script was finalized for the actors, the setting and props help to situate the world of the Crowlin family.
Pettine continued, “I had no idea what the story would need, so I ended up trying to create a word for the actors to react off of, and build their story from there. I settled on the designated spaces (Dining Room, Halfway Room, Living Room, Side Room, and Machine Room), then created a tailored idea/aesthetic board for each. From there, the actors took it and ran.”
“You Are Cordially Invited” was a success overall and allowed for audience members and performers to have a night to remember forever.
Kalt exclaimed, “It was also really cool that it was a devised piece that was done in an immersive, interactive, audience included way! Everything about the show pretty much stayed the same, but there were a few minor changes that happened at each performance due to the audience interaction and it was really interesting to watch it all unfold!”
“I really hope the audience had just as much of a blast watching this performance as we did finally putting everything together,” concluded Harris.