Working In The Theatre: Immersive Theatre

Immersive fear is performance in which
the audience really finds themselves within a world in which they are able to
navigate one in which they have agency. The landscape that you find yourself in
whether it is a literal landscape for a more psychic landscape you fall into
it as might fall into a body of water and it it is all around you.>It’s the most powerful and visceral experience that you can have in the theatre and
there are no lines between the actor in the audience and that everything is
blurred and the whole experience is blurred. I love cinema where you feel Macbeth mean you see Macbeth on the stage and
it’s you know you’re like oh this is pretty scary must be scary for the
actors on stage but when you’re standing in the space with Macbeth running
through the room covered with blood I mean that’s thrilling. Immersive theater which I think is the
most exciting and interesting kind of theater happening is a complete
environment or an attempt at a complete environment and I believe that the
moment you buy your ticket the experience of going to the theater
starts so the process that you took to get the ticket what the ticket looks
like whether you get on a train or a subway or a bus or a taxi or how you get
to the theater what the theater or the room looks like when you show up how it
the entire thing is designed it’s all curated to create a certain kind of
response and experience for you. I have a larger version of what a
theatrical experiences is than I think many people do, I go to a professional
wrestling match and I get caught up in the emotion of the wrestling match
that’s great theater to me. If I go to a football game and it’s exciting… what’s
difficult in so much of traditional theater and it’s again speaks to some
strange psychological makeup that I have is that the basic structure the audience
sitting in the dark, the performers are in the light, something happens, a bunch
of characters talk about it, they go on stage they go offstage, at the end the
curtain comes down that seems all very- it strikes me very much the same.
Whether the plots happy or sad or the writing is good or bad it’s all within a certain
box. There’s a part of me that I think I start to process it, I start to worry I’m
ahead of the plot, I just I just don’t enjoy it in the way where I put into an
experience where I don’t know any of the rules and once I don’t know any of the
rules the least little thing is endowed with such curiosity and such sort of
heightened theatricality you are entering that world, you’re not sitting
outside it watching it happen you know through the fourth wall, you’re putting
yourself into it and you really feel like you’re a tourist in a strange land.
It’s so fun to even just figure out the rules and you’re sort of lost and
confused like the way you’re a tourist and you you know drop in Paris and
you’ve never been in Paris in your life and suddenly everything seems so much
more interesting that it does in New York even though it’s basically the same
also but just by switching the context you know the little things of life like
how the street cleaners dress how the milk comes in different kind of cartons
all these things are just surprising and make you think about your own life in a
different way. With immersive theater you’re not trying to give them the
feeling that would be X Y or Z you’re giving them that feeling. Or the
attempting really and truly giving them that feeling and you use real tools and
real materials and real smells and real things at your disposal to create that.
How do we make the audience completely believe that they’re in this experience or
having this experience fully? If they were really cooking the food on the
stove or if they were really being trapped in this room and you started
talking about what would that feeling be what would it look like
sound like it smell like and taste like and so if you want to have an experience
where you lock someone in a room there’s the version of it where you push go on a
sound cue when you hear a chain lock and then there’s the other version where you
actually take out the chain and wrap it around the bars of the door and you lock it. We’re creating worlds where you can’t
see the edges of. The audience really finds themselves
within a world, one in which they are not simply passive observers but that they
have the ability to explore and also opportunities for them to have intimate
encounters with performers and may in fact find themselves interacting with
the performer be that having a drink with a performer or brushing their hair
or in some cases having a conversation in which the audience themselves are
participating in the creation of this narrative.>It’s been exciting actually to
develop an audience like I feel like from doing this as many years as I have
I’ll meet people who have been going to my shows for you know 15 years just
looking for well what’s what’s a new relationship we can have to a show to
theater. Then She Fell is is almost a little bit
of a Rorschach in that you as an audience member you come in and you see
these characters and you see these scenes and you participate in all of
these different ways and there is a narrative thread and there is an
aesthetic arc that develops and unfolds but walking out of it I think that every
audience member has created their own narrative that is resonant to them that
is about their experience and people ask me what the story is or if audience members see the same story and the answer because of that is
no. There is no central story, there is no single story if we have had
you know some thousand number of audience members come through there are
that number of thousands of stories. There is something that is fundamentally
I think playful about a lot of this work and certainly a lot of programs work. you I perform the doctor role who is one of
the first characters that you meet upon entering Kingsland ward who sort of
oversees your visit here throughout the course of your evening and I also play
the Hatter role. We were drawn to Alice in Wonderland and Through the
Looking-Glass and the relationship between Lewis Carroll and the real Alice,
Alice Little. Then She Fell has now been running for almost a year. When we
launched this project we had envisioned a six-week run. All of our work is really
a fusion of forms we call ourselves a multidisciplinary company because almost
every piece is some combination of dance and theater and music and singing. It’s very interesting casting for immersive theater because what you’re taught often
as an actor is how to project an emotion across the divide of a proscenium
theater if you’re doing a scene like this with someone it’s a completely
different style of acting from doing a scene where you’re you know facing 1,200
people through the proscenium. There’s such completely different techniques
involved and you know what seems real on stage to 1,200 people doesn’t feel real
when you’re one-on-one and then you have to find people who are actors because
they have to be able to speak text and connect to emotions but they have to be
able to drop so much of what they’ve learned, the actors themselves have to
want to try something different. All performers they want to touch an
audience and there’s something when you’re doing an immersive show in you
are literally physically able to touch them I think for some performers that is
a little too much. They don’t really want to be that close but for other
performers that’s their dream. It’s not safe. Guess what we’ve created, an
environment with really things can go wrong and when you’re safely on your own
side the audience is here and the performers there that’s one thing but
when you’re right on top of each other you know
anything can happen and that audience member who doesn’t understand the rules
can get too involved in a scene and a performer can get frustrated if an
audience members in their way. When there are no lines between the
actor in the audience and that everything is blurred and the whole
experience is blurred it just makes you attached to the material and so much
more powerful way. I get to imagine whole world’s that
really are the shell and the envelope that the play will take place in.
Here are some images of Here Lies Love during the show it really was not just making
the scenery, or making the scenic design, or the environment of the play, it was
creating the entire infrastructure of the theater from scratch.
This is representative of a six-foot person this is this upper balcony here of where the
audience would look down into the world and then all that black area down there
is inhabited by both actors and audiences
you know what the experience of this person is from up on top looking down as
opposed to his or her friend who decided to let go down and be part of the whole
world and it’s very very different. You eventually want to take off these pins
and pop the walls of the theater off so you can get down and look in from all
the different angles. I do a lot of my work through conversations. I find most often
that writers and directors and composers actually kind of know what they want
even if they say that they don’t you sort of if I pull that piano out of the
swamp it’s like a long and drawn-out often experience where I ask questions I
sort of I liken my job to therapy really I sit one-on-one with people and ask
questions about the feeling and about the emotional content and the background
of why they wrote it or why they they got to this idea or what they’re really
kind of trying to unearth at this idea what they’re exploring and then sooner
or later they say oh my gosh I know that it’s a living room or I know that it’s
the room I grew up in or something in this kind of aha moment and then I kind
of just filtered through my own artistic sensibility. After I have all these
conversations or while I’m doing these conversations I start with a ground plan
a sort of top-down view of what the space will look like because it’s all
about how people move through space. Many years ago I did a show a face on
Midsummer Night’s Dream they had this really this flash I was like if this
were in a nightclub where young people go and it feels like this dangerous
forest in a place where they can be away from their parents how can I even
increase the excitement let’s put it in an actual nightclub let’s have the
audience for the show be the other clubgoers.
There’s a theater you sell tickets you have a bar maybe you sell some
drinks during intermission really it doesn’t have to work like that it could
be that you’re selling drinks during the entire experience and I’ve done you know
immersive theater in my living room I’ve done immersive theater in a garage I’ve
done like I said immersive theater and nightclubs and you know old hotels but
when we’re doing things our own way we don’t have to buy ads because sometimes
ads mess up actually the creative of an experience. Maybe you want it to be
part of the experience that it does feel secret the only aspects of the show that
you’ll ever learn are what happens to you when you’re actually physically at
the show. This is a friend of mine from college was like you know Randy you’ve
been doing immersive theater forever I was like really no like yeah you used to
do shows in your like dorm room and you would do secret shows where you take
over a museum and do a performance in the middle of the night there because it
didn’t even have a name then I was just doing things whatever seemed interesting
to me to do and somehow I’ve been able to cobble together a life which never
would have dawned on me when I was a pre-medical student. Every single project
I do I am afraid of everything because you’re doing something where there’s
just you don’t even really get to rehearse these projects that I create
when they’re immersive until there’s an audience so you do this thing and it
looks great and then almost an audience comes in and everything is completely
different and it’s not like okay you’re doing a show on a stage and audience
comes in and things are different suddenly like a line that didn’t seem
funny is funny or vice versa it’s like the actors can’t move you know
everything’s just completely thrown off because the actors are dealing with the
audience who are the set so without the set I mean who knows even what you have
so it’s really like you’re really just jumping off and just hoping for the best
and certainly in some cases I’ve expected one thing it’s gone completely
in a different direction and sometimes that different direction was much
greater than anything I could have ever imagined.
In fact really I can admit mostly that’s the case. We were creating this type of
work before we knew the term immersive it was sort of a very logical
progression in terms of our interests and so found ourselves making this work
and then all of a sudden everyone was like oh immersive theater is hot and
we’re like oh is that what it’s called? Great. With another show we built this
wooden box that the entire audience sat in the New York Times reviewer that came
and saw it she thought that the theater that we had worked in had done a big
renovation she called the fact-check and our press agent said no you know that
was a set and she was so freaked out that she was sitting in there and she
thought like she couldn’t believe it that she just decided to do a story on
us and the immersive theater that we were doing. I think an immersive theater
has really come into its own I thought I used to call it immersive theaters 15 years ago
like why wasn’t right you know no one knew what immersive theater was.
>I feel like we all walk around all day long with these iPhones and iPods and iPads
and all these screens and so much of our life is spent like this walking down the
street and looking at these screens that I think the reason why immersive theater
has become so prevalent now is because the pendulum is swinging during the day
you’re looking at these screens and you’ll pay any amount of money to have a
real and true experience where you’re essentially paying to have a human to
human contact and to shut your phone off. To really detach from that technological
world and to really invest in these really special completely unique totally
manufactured yet completely real feeling experiences.>I really hate my cell phone.
I was every day I wish I could just throw it out because it doesn’t feel to
me the part of myself where I wish I could be spending most of my life so I
think any opportunity I have to get away from technology is so exciting. The ability to experience something for the first time is extraordinary and I
think it’s what this this forum affords and so and so it is important to sort of
keep that protected. We I think as a society and as a culture are spending so
much of our time and so much of our communication and interaction with other
human beings in this very mediated way. We crave those sensory experiences, we
crave tactile experiences, we crave intimacy. I can’t even tell what’s real
anymore not to get really weird and matrix-y about this but like I don’t
know where reality starts but I know the place that I want to be and it’s just
exciting to be in a room with someone to see how they respond when you speak to
them to see their gestures to see how their facial muscle muscles tick I mean
all these sort of things are what I really enjoy the subtleties of real
face-to-face human connection.>Not every piece is made to like make you feel good
and incredible, in fact are a lot of pieces especially with immersive theater
that are made to make you feel some other kind of way uneasy contemplative
whatever it is and I think that’s kind of the best theater, stuff that is really
pushing you to think and contemplate your relationship to it but also your
relationship to the world.


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