‘I’m beginning to suspect that the reason SNM is so successful may be less that the experience is immersive but the fact that it is complex, compelling, and difficult to understand or complete alone. With 17 hours of content, of which only three can be experienced in a single performance, and more than 90 different rooms in which the action takes place, SNM is a social experience because it needs to be; because the performance cannot make sense without the offered experiences of other people. The story is necessarily incomplete without the pieces that other people can share.’
“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.
‘Immersive theatre involves placing the audience within the story-world. Rather than having a separated stage and auditorium, everything is the ‘stage’, and the audience are placed there alongside the actors. The audience may be acknowledged by the performers, they may not, they may be led from location to location or left to roam as they choose, but the defining element is that there is no space considered to be outside the story-world. Immersive theatre can be interactive, participatory or playing, but doesn’t have to be.’
Source: ‘What exactly is immersive, interactive, participatory or playing theatre, anyway?’ Playing at Plays
I’m following Russell Anderson’s Playing with Plays blog with interest (and a little bit of jealousy because of the list of interesting shows he’s seeing/will see and review soon!).
The quote above is of particular interest to me because, as my own PhD work progresses (Russell is also a current PhD candidate), I’m becoming more and more focused on questions about boundaries in relation to the audience “in” Sleep No More (what boundaries exist; how they are defined; who can define or challenge them; etc.).