Dreamlike Victorian madhouses, surrealistic island beaches, haunted theaters...all are the settings of some of the most well-designed, imaginative, and captivating immersive theater experiences by a single company. Third Rail Projects is one of the most innovative and unique theater production organizations in existence. Operating primarily in New York City (with some performances in Colorado and elsewhere), the company specializes in immersive theater where audiences directly interact with performers as they move around a specific, and often elaborately decorated, space.

Third Rail Projects has been in operation for approximately a decade. They first gained widespread critical acclaim for their stunning piece titled "Then She Fell" which was based on a madhouse version of the classic tale of "Alice in Wonderland" and has been running in Brooklyn for several years due to popular demand. Their second grand-scale piece titled "The Grand Paradise" was also performed in Brooklyn and seemingly transported visitors to an island get-away in search of the fabled fountain of youth.

In the summer of 2017, Third Rail Projects was invited to produce a play at Manhattan's famed Lincoln Center. This piece, which is just as immersive as the previous two, is titled "Ghost Light" and its plot is inspired by the nature of the theater industry, which is very befitting of the gorgeous Claire Tow Theater in which it is staged.

The "performance about a performance" enables guests to navigate through dreamlike scenes that skew perceptions of time and place. Like "Then She Fell" and "The Grand Paradise," "Ghost Light" runs two hours but the time seems to fly by much more quickly.

A show about theatrical life

The performance is full of twists and turns, weaving plot-lines together in a way that is profound, clever, and entirely enjoyable.

As is typical of immersive theater, audiences are directed from one richly furnished space to another and subsequently get a full tour of the theater. Guests will sneak a peek at the dressing rooms, backstage storage units, and even janitorial closets as well as the more familiar lobby, seating areas, and concession area.

Throughout the show, actors address you and occasionally ask you questions requiring responses.

In some cases, they even request that you perform simple tasks such as helping them rehearse lines and/or handing over props that might include flowers, garments, and even plastic lobsters.

At one point, audience members are taken backstage, literally behind the curtain, and asked to pull ropes and/or levers when certain "prompt lights" go on in order to make actions occur while an actress is on stage. These actions are all directly related to stage props which include making artificial snow fall, wooden waves rise, and a cardboard moon appear and disappear in the sky. It's a truly fun and memorable moment that increases ones understanding of how stagehands performed their duties in the theaters of yesterday and even today.

Plus, thanks to clever angling, as you are helping bring the performance to life, you get to watch the whole sequence. Thus, you enjoy a mini show within a show within a show.

"Ghost Light" takes place in a theater after-hours and is intended to be something of a ghost story. Visitors are met with a large cast of performers who are dressed in garbs ranging from Shakespearean times, the Victorian era, and mid-20th century evening wear. There is also a janitor who looks as if he stepped out of the late 1980s or early 1990s. Incredibly, the conflicting eras make the piece more cohesive rather than confusing: the specters don't know that they are dead and so they simply repeat the same theatrical performances over and over again as they so often did, night after night, in life.

Plots, themes, emotions, and impact

This show will likely hold special appeal to people in the entertainment industry and/or theater aficionados, but anyone who enjoys a good story will truly appreciate the effort that went into every aspect of "Ghost Light" from the costumes, to the props/sets, to the arrangement of constantly-moving groups of audience members. Yet it is the various and entwined story-lines that truly stand out; the bits and pieces of the plot that come together gradually over the course of the evening to create a feeling of complete understanding without detracting from the magical and surreal atmosphere of the theme.

Throughout the night, the audience is introduced to ghosts that long for forgotten loves, spirits who yearn for the undying adoration of the audience, and ghosts who lament the loss of their star power.

As the evening wears on, we learn more about their stories. A detour into the friendly and chatty janitor's quarters offers an opportunity to drink coffee and hear about the actress who died after overdosing...a scene we later see reenacted on the stairs. We are told of the man who walks through a door that does not exist...who we later meet. We hear about the ghostly audience clapping at a dark empty stage...something we eventually partake in.

The janitor character offers both comic relief to the play as well as one of its best scenes: a brilliantly choreographed sequence that takes place in a narrow hallway. The audience watches in silence as the janitor sweeps the floor and dusts props. Suddenly, the lights start to flicker and odd occurrences directly follow: things fall, doors open, and a mannequin in a white gown knocks itself into his arms, like a lovelorn woman seeking embrace.

It's an exceptionally crafted segment and just spooky enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.

Although a ghost story, the specters are friendly and there are no jump scares or any scenes that could be considered "frightening" per se. Instead, "Ghost Light" works because it plays into the audience’s perceptions to elicit a reaction. By forming a show around the history of theater (including the many real-life reports of playhouse hauntings and the truly tragic lives of many famous entertainers) the show elicits emotions of empathy, joy, sorrow, wistfulness, and--above all--an odd sensation of nostalgia. It is a remarkable feat for any show, let alone one that is performed in a new theater with no dark history, strange past, or creepy legends.

Third Rail Projects have delivered another theatrical marvel that guests will remember long after the curtains have closed. It is exciting to contemplate what these wonderful artists will think of next. The show will run until August 6, 2017, and tickets are $50. To learn more, google "Ghost Light at Lincoln Center."