FEAR21: Raising a Venue from the Dead
What do you do with a closed, empty nightlife venue to help bring in extra cash and engage your other venues’ clientele, all while having a little fun? Turn the empty space into a haunted house, complete with Broadway-caliber actors, sets and storylines — which is exactly what Chris Reda and the Griffin/Room Service crew have done with their old Cheetah space on 21st street in New York City, now re-dubbed FEAR21.
“We’re not your typical haunted house,” says Tony Award-winning producer Yeeshai Gross, who teamed up with Reda to create FEAR21 in September. “This is a theatrically based, interactive guided tour that happens to be scary. It’s really a mini-play,” Gross says. “The setting is an insane asylum, one of New York’s first psychiatric institutions, that’s been condemned, and this is the eve before it shuts for good. The city is offering tours, a la Alcatraz, to see what it looks like, and during the tours, the inmates are being shipped out. Suddenly, there’s a prison break and the inmates are scrounging around trying to find their way out,” the creator and producer explains.
Visitors are linked up with a tour guide, who is an actor playing a character, and actors play the “inmates” who follow loosely written scripts. “We encourage ad-libbing because it keeps the experience fresh. You can come through more than once and see a different show, based on the rotating actors and the improvisation,” Gross says. The whole experience costs $30 for general admission, $50 for VIP access — which allows you to cut the line — and lasts for nearly 30 minutes.
As for the rationale behind opening FEAR21, “Most of our VIP clients don’t go out until around 1 a.m., so we wanted to come up with a way to engage them earlier in the night before they come to the club,” explains Baruch Hecht, director of events for FEAR21 and Griffin. “We like it because FEAR21 is open late too — until 3 a.m. some nights,” says associate producer Tanya Guzeva. “So a clubgoer can come before or after hitting up Griffin. It gives us a great chance to promote the club and entertain the club goers in a new way.”
In fact, half of the audience is comprised of Griffin and Room Service VIPs and patrons. And FEAR21 even operates a little like a nightclub, in that top bottle service clients are treated to a VIP line at the door and get free tickets. “Some VIPS get backstage tours, and they get to see how the show is created and meet the actors,” says Guzeva. But don’t go looking for spirits of the liquid kind, as the space doesn’t have the proper license to serve alcohol beverages. “But our FEAR21 VIPs get some comp drink tickets for Griffin, so they usually head over to the club right after they leave here to redeem them,” says Hecht. “We like to keep everyone all under our umbrella of venues, even on Halloween.”