Hell = New York City?
October 2, 2006 7:28 PM   Subscribe

A theatre group in NYC is putting on a "Hell House"- a dramatic representation of sin, judgement, heaven and hell typically performed around the country by evangelical churches in an attempt to win believers. The original "Hell House" script (to be used in NYC) was written by Pastor Keenan Rogers of New Destiny Christian Center. An interview with the director of Les Freres Corbusier reveals they're not out to make fun; rather, they look to examine the different experiences people who witness them have.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (36 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Executive Directory Aaron Lemon-Strauss says in the inteview: ...It is beyond my ability to comprehend how the depiction of an abortion - and the condemnation of that act by the Bible - would be enough to bring someone to believe in an omnipotent higher power. And yet he’s not just talking out of nowhere; his empirical experience is that it does lead people to Jesus. And that disconnect between my perception and experience and his perception and experience – the experience of two otherwise similar people, I mean we’re both Americans, we both go about our daily lives in probably very similar ways – that difference is fascinating to me. I think it’s the real reason we’re doing the show.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:29 PM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hell House is a fascinating phenomenon. I think it has taken off because it's not one-dimensional. It's just as easy to go to a Hell House and mock it as it is to go and be profoundly frightened at Satan's works.

My cousin Laura helped me understand this. She's a high school student in rural Wisconsin. Part of the attraction of church youth groups and other fundamentalist activities like this is that they're the only game in town. You want to meet and hang out with other teenagers? You want to laugh at something ridiculous? Head to your local youth group. She actually performed in one of these as Suicide Girl last year. It was the highlight of her fall, and she was able to find the ironic element of it as well as feel that she was participating in a somewhat adult-sanctioned activity. When your options are limited, it's not the worst line to walk in the world. She and her friends had a ball with it.
posted by Miko at 7:36 PM on October 2, 2006

I've attended several events like this (the article in the previous FPP mentions the Judgement House at Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, FL, which I attended 2, possibly 3 years in a row). And I've seen people choose to make personal commitments to the Christian faith at them. Which is why when I first about NYC's Hell House being put on by a theatre group, I thought, oh great, another group of hipsters trying to have an ironical good time. But I think the artisitic motive is pure, and I'd be interested to see how people respond to it (although I'm not sure whether or not I personally want to attend; I don't think it would feel right).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:40 PM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hmmmm, it reminds me of the Miracle and Mystery plays from the Middle Ages.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:42 PM on October 2, 2006

Are they parodying a Hell House, or putting one on (with more style)?
posted by amberglow at 7:57 PM on October 2, 2006

It sounds like they're putting one on, amberglow, but not necessarily with more style- they got the rights to the original script from the original pastor. It sounds like the production will be similar to any church Hell House you could attend.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:59 PM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh man, les freres Courbousier are amazing. They made a play based on urban planning that was amazing. I was not sure if I wanted to go to this (because honestly, the scenes sounded terrifying and I'm a wuss that doesn't like people in monster costumes jumping out at me or touching me) but knowing these are the guys putting it on makes me reconsider...
posted by piratebowling at 8:01 PM on October 2, 2006

I'm really surprised St. Ann's wants to be associated with a real "Hell House", which is full of stereotypes and hatred. They have a very old and strong arts program, which is not at all in tune with this kind of thing.
posted by amberglow at 8:02 PM on October 2, 2006

Interesting question as to whether their motivations will alter the effectiveness / ineffectiveness of the hell house.

I'd like to check it out.
posted by ®@ at 8:03 PM on October 2, 2006

Arts at St. Ann's
posted by amberglow at 8:05 PM on October 2, 2006

Are they parodying a Hell House, or putting one on (with more style)?

"Come celebrate like true believers..."

"a nearly exact recreation of the thousands of hell houses staged by Christian Evangelical"

It sounds like, if not a parody, at least a simulation in the key of irony.
posted by liam at 8:08 PM on October 2, 2006

The Playground in Chicago featured a parody of this called The Midnight Hellhouse which could have passed for the real thing. Not so much a hipster satire as a savage comedic attack. Good fun if you're into that, which I am.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:12 PM on October 2, 2006

I remember when hell houses first started showing up around where I grew up. The school shooting add on was a particulary interesting flamebait after Columbine. (The interview question about "Do you believe in God?" and then the guy shoots her was a rumor/hearsay that I heard running around Littleton in the days immediately after Columbine.) Since I grew up in a very Evangelistic area, there were several hell houses and I knew a bunch of people who went to them.

They never interested me because I always viewed them as fake. By the time hell houses started showing up, my friends and I had already experienced many of the things depicted in those places. We didn't need to see them because we had already experienced them and struggled through them. And our experiences were more real than any of those depictions could be. Hell Houses became merely an extension of the sugar coated existence that people wanted to believe existed in were I lived. It was no different than homecoming, prom, the star football player dating the cheerleader, or whatever 1950's mentality seemed to perpetuate in upper middle class suburbia.

The concept of the hell house, and many of the people who attended them, spouting out their virute and wonderfulness, felt very insincere.

And I'm not sure how even a secular depiction in NYC of a Hell House could change my perception.
posted by Stynxno at 8:16 PM on October 2, 2006

I think the hinge here is: are they playing this thing straight or not? The Executive Director says yes, the website seems to say no. It would be easy to camp it up and treat the subject disrespectfully, which I think would be a waste of an opportunity to provide people a chance to think about another person's point of view.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:23 PM on October 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Look at the text on the website: Part installation, part performance, part haunted house - Hell House culminates in a celebratory hoedown. . . . It'll scare the Jesus into you!

Yes, guys, I think it's safe to say this is tongue-in-cheek.

Playbill article, more about the theatrical aspect.

I thought I'd seen this before, but I was thinking of the LA version (which IIRC was blatantly "lol look at the wackos") in 2004.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:25 PM on October 2, 2006

Here's a link to the This American Life episode that covered Hell House.
posted by pwb503 at 8:53 PM on October 2, 2006

Unless they are genuinely trying to convert people to Christianity, isn't it a bit of a mockery no matter what tone they take?

Personally, I'm all for a bit of a mockery, although I'm too squeamish to want to see it. Ew.
posted by owhydididoit at 9:08 PM on October 2, 2006

I really wish people would ignore this hateful, close-minded crap. Ironic or artistic, they're bringing attention and money to a bunch of fear-mongering simpletons. It seems to get bigger and bigger every year, and it just about ruins my Halloween. As if Evangelicals needed more of a voice in this country.
posted by lunalaguna at 9:09 PM on October 2, 2006

moot anyway I've never even been to NYC :(
posted by owhydididoit at 9:09 PM on October 2, 2006

I think they did this a few years ago in LA, with some hipster celebrities involved like David Cross and Janeane Garofolo. I don't recognize any names in this show, but then again, I rarely do.
posted by fungible at 9:32 PM on October 2, 2006

Metafilter: a simulation in the key of irony.
posted by emjaybee at 9:40 PM on October 2, 2006

another group of hipsters trying to have an ironical good time. But I think the artisitic motive is pure

Keep in mind that you can be pretentious without being ironic.

And if you're not performing it to be derisive, there's something extra-wrong with that. Right-thinking people should be responding negatively to religious extremism if they must acknowledge it at all. "Examine the different experiences" sets off my Liberal Bullshit Detector.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:48 PM on October 2, 2006

After reading about the rates of "salvations" or declarations/renewals of faith that these places claim, I guess I'm kind of interested in seeing how strongly it really does affect people. Do purportedly jaded New Yorkers succumb? It's obvious that the man who put this together thinks that the message is strong enough that they will.

However, at $25 a pop, I think I might just rent the documentary Hell House instead. Great post though.
posted by anjamu at 11:31 PM on October 2, 2006

However, at $25 a pop, I think I might just rent the documentary Hell House instead.

Hahaha, exactly how I feel- too cheap to go.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:49 AM on October 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

If I were omnipresent, I'd be really interested to watch both this NYC performance and a rural one, back-to-back (or even simultaneously!). Will people laugh in one and not the other, and at what points?

Also, does anyone know if this is being advertised to the NYC evangelicals?
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:08 AM on October 3, 2006

Les Freres Corbusier is, IMHO, the best theater organization in NYC, and they're ususually fearless and funny and a bargain (compared to say, $100 for "Mamma Mia!"' $25 is a freaking steal for theater showshere.) Plus they have awesome titles like: Boozy: The Life, Death, and Subsequent Vilification of Le Corbusier, and, More Importantly, Robert Moses (a musical about the urban planning underpinnings at the heart of the WTC reconstruction debate, and a nuanced analysis it was --- oh, and did I mention it was a musical?) or A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant.
posted by DenOfSizer at 6:36 AM on October 3, 2006

From the About section in the first link: cheerleaders getting abortions, gay men dying of AIDS, and secular humanists sipping lattes.

AAAGH! Secular humanists! Sipping lattes! I'm scared already.
posted by effwerd at 6:36 AM on October 3, 2006

We’re doing this piece of popular theatre that does condemn but it’s not necessarily our viewpoint. And of course we’re not mocking anyone. We’re just trying to be objective chroniclers of a sociological artifact.

Hell houses are plain old religious extortion. "If you don't convert, this is what will happen to you!" Of course it "works" to convert people, just like torture "works". I'd probably convert myself if I undertook one of these—at least until I came to my senses. Supposedly they want to understand why people believe this, but really, does not the Hell House itself demonstrate why? It's fear, and if you aren't already afraid the Hell House is here to scare you to salvation. Why this pseudo-scientific justifation? Why will this help people who disagree about it communicate? Surely religion is already overfull with false promises and vicious lies. Surely this despicable tradition need not be furthered.
posted by wobh at 6:42 AM on October 3, 2006

I was curious about the Hell Houses (especially when I lived in areas where they were more common) but never went. I would do this. I hate going to Brooklyn though.
posted by sohcahtoa at 8:13 AM on October 3, 2006

One of my friends is acting in the NYC Hell House production (as one of the demon guides!) and it is indeed tongue-in-cheek. I can't wait to go.
posted by apollonia6 at 9:00 AM on October 3, 2006

I miss Cats.
posted by bardic at 12:53 PM on October 3, 2006

It's a mistake to think that Hell Houses convert anyone. Like a lot of Evangelical showmanship, they're just a modern twist an old fashioned revivals, and, like revivals, they're designed to strengthen a pre-existing Christian faith which has become attenuated in one way or another. The audience is, and always has been, that huge swath of the population which believes the Bible to be true (and potentially even literally true) but is weakly, if at all, observant.
posted by MattD at 1:13 PM on October 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have no direct comment to add to this thread -- but do want to point out that the title (up on top of browser) is not quite accurate. The true location of Hell is San Antonio, Texas.
posted by davidmsc at 7:10 PM on October 3, 2006

This thread has mostly died down, and I haven't been contributing here much recently, but I feel compelled to go on record saying that these so-called Freres Corbusiers are, in my opinion (and, I should say, based on the one production of theirs that I've seen), both terrible and terribly overrated. The scientology christmas pageant was completely lacking in either charm or wit (and mostly lacking in intelligence, to boot), which is especially unforgivable given that wit is one of the main things musicals have going for them. My sense: they never should have been sent into the professional world from whatever undergraduate theater scene they'd apparently not grown far from. There. That feels better. I've never really ranted here before. I promise not to continue.
posted by nobody at 4:23 PM on October 4, 2006

no prob--we're all critics anyway. At least you've seen something by them, which is more than most of us can say.
posted by amberglow at 5:54 PM on October 5, 2006

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