Is This Hotel Creepy or Peaceful?
The strange experience of seeing Hotel Savoy
“Some people feel terrified, some people feel bored, and some people feel that they’d like to stay much longer.” That’s how writer-director Dominic Huber describes the audience’s experience at Hotel Savoy, his mind-bending show currently being presented by P.S. 122 at the Goethe-Institut New York.
More specifically, that’s how he describes the experience in one room of the production: The one filled with mirrored doors that have something scratching behind them.
During the show, patrons wander a series of rooms on several floors of the Goethe-Institut. Some have bizarre accoutrements (stacks of German novels, enormous columns of plastic sheeting); some feature actors playing hotel guests and employees; and some are practically empty, holding nothing but a bed, a flickering television, and a solitary patron.
Oh yes, the solitude. Audience members experience Hotel Savoy one at a time. Actors sometimes engage them in conversations, but often, they are left alone in the hotel’s strange spaces.
That’s why Huber, a German-based artist who created this production with his company Blendwerk, describes such varied reactions: Left to their own devices, people have intensely unique experiences.
And that’s the point. “This type of ‘single audience’ experience is something people jump onto because normally when you consume media, it’s just being delivered,” Huber says. “But going through alone, you have your own perceptions changed and your senses are much more immersed.”
He acknowledges that not everyone is interested in audience participation, and he notes that some elements of the experience—a built-in visit to the hotel bar, for example—are designed to let participants relax and contemplate. “I want people to participate in any way they choose,” he adds. “They can talk or not talk, depending on who they are. They can decide what to take in. It can be so boring to have people just watch something they have to believe. It can be so much more powerful to create something together.”
That comment points to the sacrifice Huber and his cast are required to make. Usually, artists can tell us a story in exactly the way they choose, but while Hotel Savoy does have a loose plot—it’s adapted from Joseph Roth’s 1924 novel of the same name—the performers rarely tell all of it. They are beholden to their audience, who might run out the clock in a particular room by chatting about their own lives or who might never learn key information because they choose not to ask questions.
Huber says, “We are totally dependent on the expectations and mood of someone who enters, but sometimes, the stories that people tell are more interesting than anything we could tell them.”
Besides, Huber’s less interested in what happens to people during the show than in what happens after they leave. “The moment when you go back to the street is the most exciting,” he says. “To realize that you’ve been somewhere else, to a place with different time and space where you have a different identity, can do something remarkable to your perceptions.”
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor