‘Given that most participants begin the experience before other audience members have exited, there is a certain unstoppability to the entire undertaking once the first audience members meet the first performer. Where can we hide flexible, connective, and responsive tissue in this piece? How do we park someone, or rush someone, without them ever knowing we are doing it?’
Follow the link to a detailed, useful insight into immersive theatre/experience making.
‘This is what open-frame solo shows should be like.’
The production was The Bitter Game by Keith Wallace:
‘The Bitter Game blends verse, prose and “shit-talkin,'” into a stirring commentary that begs the question, what does it mean to survive while Black in America? This solo work, ripe with pain, poetry and laughter, examines the relationship between a young man and his mother as each struggles to protect one another from that which seems inevitable. The Bitter Game explores the subtle and often unrecognized effects of racism, the question of police agency, and the value of Black lives in this country.’
via La Jolla Playhouse.
Why was I taken-aback by this? Because I hadn’t realised that, even though I’ve resisted adopting any firm definition of what immersive theatre is or could be, and even though I’ve very recently been reading about festivals and events that include multiple interactive (and potentially immersive) performances I had nonetheless adopted a default picture of immersive theatre in my mind. That picture always, I now realise, included multiple performers. Reading about events that included multiple 1:1 type performances such as Domicile hadn’t triggered the realisation because, I think, I was still reading it as involving groups of, rather than solo, performers. The description of The Bitter Game bumped right up against that, particularly because of the 1:Many performance to audience relationship it involved. So useful to be reminded that, as much as you try to avoid it, it’s very easy for your thinking (even subconsciously) to slip towards the creation of lazy models rather than thinking about each specific instance as an individual instance.
It’s also really useful because it highlights that it is possible to create a successful immersive work without needing a cast of thousands.
‘I don’t trust people easily. However, in a Punchdrunk show I have no problem putting my complete trust into a (most of the time) complete stranger. I don’t know most of the performers in the show and yet I’ve let them blindfold me, take me into pitch black rooms, force feed me oranges (don’t ask) and I’ve drunk whatever they have handed me without asking what exactly I was about to swallow. It’s the strange thing a Punchdrunk show will do to me. I become obedient in a way but it also sets me free.’
‘Come in, come in and take a seat, but please don’t wait for the show to start.
It has already started.
You probably thought it would begin once an audience had assembled, we apologize for any confusion.
The show began before you arrived and it will continue after you leave.
(It may follow you like a puppy or a lingering dream.)
You don’t have to stay here, this is just where we keep the chairs and you can take your chair with you, if you are attached to it, or you may choose another.’
“In an immersive theatre production, the audience in some way plays a role, whether that is the role of witness or the role of an actual character. They may be allowed to roam and explore the performance space as the performance happens around them, allowing them to decide what they see and what they skip.”
This description highlights, for me, one of the central tensions that exists between the way we often talk about immersive theatre and the way it is actually experienced. In many cases (possibly most cases) an audience member does not decide “what they see or what they skip” because they do not have access to sufficient information to be able to make that choice. Certainly this is the case for many first-time visitors to an immersive theatre production such as Sleep No More. In other cases an audience member may have the information about the full range of choices but lack the ability or opportunity to access them for reasons that are outside of their control.