Hogtown Experience Toronto

Historic Toronto mansion becomes 1920s-era speakeasy

What was Toronto like during the Roaring Twenties? Thanks to a new immersive theatre production opening tomorrow, you may soon be able to find out.

The Hogtown Experience is taking over the historic Campbell House Museum for one week only and it's bringing together 34 actors, plus a four-piece jazz band to take Torontonians on a choose-your-own-adventure-style journey through this city's storied past.

"The Hogtown is a project that I've been working on creating for the last year and a half," says director, producer and co-writer Sam Rosenthal. "The original idea came when I went to New York and was inspired several years ago seeing Sleep No More."

That New York City production takes place in a Chelsea-area warehouse; it's been running since 2011 and for good reason. Instead of simply watching a performance, audience members trail actors through an incredibly detailed, multi-storey set and become fully ensconced in the non-linear play.

Rosenthal wants to bring that experience here. He and his writing partner Drew Carnwath set Hogtown on New Year's Eve 1926, one day before a municipal election (yes, Toronto used to hold its elections on New Year's Day) between real-life figures Thomas Foster and Sam McBride.

Although, Rosenthal notes he and Carnwath have taken liberties with history, such as setting the election one year before it actually happened. "We've altered the events slightly," he says.

Along with the political drama, Hogtown will shepherd guests through a basement speakeasy and a meeting between an all-female secret society. The show also includes original songs and music.

Each performance has capacity for 80 individuals. But tickets are already sold-out. And Rosenthal isn't surprised. "Toronto's ready for this. People would like to be immersed in the theatre they're seeing."

This isn't the first show influenced by Sleep No More to open in Toronto. Last year, for instance, Sheridan College's production of Brantwood, by Mitchell Cushman and Julie Tepperman, opened to much acclaim when it transformed an old Oakville elementary school into a multi-faceted musical production.

Rosenthal is hopeful that there's an appetite in Toronto for this type of theatre - so non-ticket-holders, don't despair. "Our plan is to have a really successful show, of course," he says. "And if we all feel it's worthy, there are plans in place to run this all summer at the Campbell House and every summer thereafter."

Photo via @hogtownlive.

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