A biographical tale of murder, mafia, and intrigue in NYC told with handmade dolls and sets, in conjunction with an immersive play.
Cynthia von Buhler's (née Carrozza) SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE is a biographical tale of murder, mafia, and intrigue in New York City told with handmade dolls and sets, in conjunction with an immersive play.
Questions? Please see the FAQ below.
The Book - Part One, Release Date October 14, 2011
My grandparents married in Italy and came to this country during the roaring twenties. An illegitimate child by a mistress on my great grandfather’s side made my grandmother a descendant of an infamous royal clan: the Sforzas. Grandpa was a Pyrotechnica, Italian for fireworks display expert. Ambitious and strong-willed even for their famously lively era, this fearless couple opened two speakeasies in the Bronx. One masqueraded as a bakery, and the other was a secret nightclub.
Shortly after Prohibition ended, my grandfather was shot and killed on the street in Manhattan. My grandmother was pregnant with my mother at the time, and upon hearing the news of her husband’s murder, she went into a coma. When her husband’s coffin was dropped on the way up the narrow stairs of their apartment building, my grandmother woke up-- and went into labor. On the same day, my mother was born in one room of the small Bronx apartment while her father’s body was laid out in a coffin in another.
Nobody still living in my family knows why my grandfather was shot. Nothing was known about the killer, his motive, or a trial. My grandmother took these secrets to her grave. And so, over the past year, I have been dusting off a complicated tale of bootlegging, mafia, infidelity, and murder set in Prohibition-era New York City.
Frances Glessner Lee established the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard in 1936. At the time, innumerable murders went undetected because evidence was mishandled or ignored. To train investigators of sudden or violent deaths (like the death of my grandfather) and to better assess visual evidence, Lee created the Nutshell Studies--dollhouses that students could examine from every angle. Lee created 18 dioramas complete with minute and authentic crime scene details, using only the most mysterious of actual cases (instances that were ruled as accidents, murders, or suicides) to challenge detectives and strengthen their ability to read evidence.
Inspired by Lee’s miniature crime scene sets, I have decided to create the scenes from my family mystery using my own handmade sets and dolls. Utilizing evidence from autopsy reports, police records, court documents, and interviews, I have built a dollhouse-sized speakeasy, a hospital room, a child’s bedroom, and a pre-war apartment. I also have begun the process of creating lifelike dolls with moveable limbs to live in these sets. I have been photographing the sets and dolls in order to create a book (with the help of my designer, Brian Azer.) The first half of my story is completely written and needs to be photographed and printed into part one of the two-part series.
The Play – Choice of October 17, 2011 or October 24, 2011, 8pm – midnight (at a secret downtown Manhattan location.).
I have also been inspired by Punch Drunk’s immersive theater production of Sleep No More in New York City. Moving forward with this inspiration, I will present an immersive environment where my story will be told by actors. The immersive environment will mirror the dollhouse sets from the book, including a speakeasy, a bakery, a morgue, a street scene, and a pre-war apartment.
This project will require at least $10,000. I set the donation levels at the prices that you would normally pay for a book or play ticket. The money will go towards the following.
- Printing part one of the book (in full-color comic book size and format)
- Design fees
- Printing of postcards
- Venue fees
- Furnishings and delivery charges
- Costumes and props
- Food for the bakery at the immersive theater presentation
- Songwriter and music licensing fees
- Musician and performer fees
Thank you to the talented musicians Howard Fishman, Amanda Palmer, and Kim Boekbinder for use of their songs in my Kickstarter video. They were generous to donate prohibition-era song downloads to those who give to my Kickstarter at all levels above $20.
News updates about Speakeasy Dollhouse:
Seth Kushner and I collaborated on an online bio-comic about my art career and this project for his wonderful CulturePOP series on the ACT-I-VATE comics site. It is titled Royal Blood. I wrote the words and Seth took the photographs.
Speakeasy Dollhouse - Be A Part Of The Documentary!
We are going to screen a documentary narrated by legendary filmmaker John Waters, "Of Dolls & Murder" before the play on October 24th. This film has not yet been released and attendees of the Speakeasy Dollhouse play will see it first at no extra charge.
We are excited to announce that the "Of Dolls & Murder" director, Susan Marks, has created a Kickstarter to fund her sequel documentary on Speakeasy Dollhouse and Cynthia von Buhler. Her Kickstarter will go up as soon as Cynthia's Kickstarter ends. Filming for the documentary will take place at the Oct 24th performance.
Think of it as pre-paying for a book or play ticket. I priced the levels at the amount you would normally pay for a play ticket or book. "Donation" is really the wrong word. I'm not making ANY money off this project. Every cent is being funneled back into the project - for your enjoyment!
At a secret location in downtown Manhattan.
Yes. Kickstarter donations are handled by amazon.com. Think of it as pre-paying for a book or play ticket. I priced the levels at the amount you would normally pay for a play ticket or book. It is completely safe to order through Amazon. I've been doing it for years!
Of course! I will send you a request on Oct 1. You may also be able to attend both nights (unless we sell out).
I don't think so. I believe that the mafia was after him because he was a successful iceman and they wanted his turf. Refrigeration had not been invented yet. Think about it. Ice was huge. The mafia liked dealing in ice because it was perfect for money laundering, it melts. And the ice picks made great weapons. If you consider bootlegging and running speakeasies a crime, then yes, he was a criminal. If you think prohibition was wrong (like I do) then my grandfather was an honest man. My current opinion is that he was a decent man who was ambitious, hardworking, and a victim of the times.
Yes. Please double your donation and send me an email requesting to see the play both nights. If we sell out we will either add additional dates (on Mondays in November or December) or we will limit the attendance to one night only.
If I donate at the $800 level and a doll is made in my likeness will I receive the doll at some point?
Yes. After book one, book two, and stop-motion animation are complete you will be sent the doll. This will be in 2012. If you need it sooner than that you may request an earlier delivery.
Yes. You may give your tickets or rewards to a friend as a gift. My rewards make a perfect gift for a loved one. If you do, we will send them a note stating that the reward was a gift from you.
Yes. There will be a full cash bar with specialty prohibition-era cocktails. There will also be waitresses. Please bring your ID as you will be carded before entry. If you are under 21 you may attend, but please send a written message to me through Kickstarter.
We suggest that you wear prohibition-era attire, but it is not mandatory. Fur of any kind is strictly forbidden. You will not be allowed entrance if you are wearing fur.
Yes. You may choose either Monday, October 17th or Monday, October, 24th. We will send you a request when the Kickstarter ends. If you want to see the play on both nights, please double your donation and send us a note.
The book (part one) will be softcover with full-color inside and on the cover. It will be a perfect bound graphic novel. There is a good chance that this book will be re-released by a publisher as a hardcover book - stay tuned.
I'm still deciding if I have enough time to complete both book one and two before October 1st when I send the book to be printed. There is a chance that both will be done and if so, yes, you will receive both parts. If not, you will have to purchase part two, but I will offer it at a discounted price to those who give to this Kickstarter.
Yes. They will be carding people at the door. When this Kickstarter ends I will send out a message to everyone. At that time please reply and tell me that you are under age. You will need to email me your photograph with your name and age. This will be printed out and given to the bartenders/waitresses so they know that they cannot serve you alcohol.
Not officially, but if you don't mind us carrying your chair down three small steps we will get you in. The bathroom stalls are not big enough for a wheelchair, but the bathroom door is. Send me a message for more information.
Tickets are Will Call. That means you will pick them up at the door. You will receive an email on Oct 1 asking you which date you would like to attend. This email will also give you the secret password. There will also be a guest list at the door with your name on it.
We would appreciate that. A couple of extra dollars to cover shipping would be greatly appreciated, but if you can't afford it we understand. We will still send you the book if you can't afford to add postage.
We now have a speakeasy dollhouse website. Go to http://www.speakeasydollhouse.com for more information.
pledged of $10,000 goal
seconds to go
Sep 1, 2011 - Oct 1, 2011 (30 days)
Pledge $1 or more
Dewdropper. A Speakeasy Dollhouse postcard featuring one of the book’s photos (suitable for framing) mailed to you with a personal note written on it by Cynthia von Buhler. You will be listed in the book at the contributor level of “Dewdropper.”Estimated delivery: Oct 2011
Pledge $10 or more
Famiglia. One ticket and book. If you are a relative of a Speakeasy Dollhouse actor (or of Cynthia) you may receive tickets/books for your family members at a reduced rate. Please indicate your family tie when I send out the date request on Oct 1. I'm sorry, but friends are still required to pay the normal price. If you need VIP seating because of a handicap, please let me know.Estimated delivery: Oct 2011
Pledge $20 or more
Sailor. One copy of the book signed by Cynthia von Buhler and access to download Prohibition-era songs by Amanda Palmer, Howard Fishman, and Kim Boekbinder. You will be listed in the book at the contributor level of “Sailor.”Estimated delivery: Oct 2011
Pledge $40 or more
$40 Ducky. One ticket, one signed book, and access to download Prohibition-era songs by Amanda Palmer, Howard Fishman, and Kim Boekbinder. You will be listed in the book at the contributor level of “Ducky.”Estimated delivery: Oct 2011
Pledge $60 or more
Spiffy. Two tickets, two signed books, and access to download Prohibition-era songs by Amanda Palmer, Howard Fishman, and Kim Boekbinder. You will be listed in the book at the contributor level of “Spiffy.”Estimated delivery: Oct 2011
Pledge $140 or more
Hotsy-Totsy. Two signed books, two tickets at a shared VIP table, extra evidence, and access to download Prohibition-era songs by Amanda Palmer, Howard Fishman, and Kim Boekbinder. You will be listed in the book at the contributor level of “Hotsy-Totsy.”Estimated delivery: Oct 2011
Pledge $400 or more
Ritzy. Five signed books, five tickets with your own VIP table, a complimentary bottle of champagne (with a toast given to you by Cynthia von Buhler), and access to download Prohibition-era songs by Amanda Palmer, Howard Fishman, and Kim Boekbinder. You will be listed in the book at the contributor level of “Ritzy.”Estimated delivery: Oct 2011
Pledge $800 or more
Cat’s Pajamas. Two signed books, two tickets at a shared VIP table, extra evidence, access to download Prohibition-era songs (by Amanda Palmer, Howard Fishman, and Kim Boekbinder), AND a Prohibition-era doll created in your likeness will appear in the book (and in an upcoming stop-motion film). You will be listed in the book at the contributor level of “Cat’s Pajamas.”Estimated delivery: Oct 2011
Pledge $1,200 or more
Bee’s Knees. Five signed books, five tickets at your own VIP table, a complimentary bottle of champagne (with a toast given to you by Cynthia von Buhler), extra evidence, a private viewing of the Speakeasy Dollhouse sets, and an Italian dinner with Cynthia von Buhler the Bronx. You will be listed in the book at the contributor level of “Bee’s Knees.”Estimated delivery: Oct 2011
Pledge $2,500 or more
Heavy Sugar. What do you want? Oh, the possibilities! You will be listed in the book at the contributor level of “Heavy Sugar.”Estimated delivery: Oct 2011