Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Total Immersion

Unless you've been living under a rock (or somewhere far flung like Surbiton) then you won't have failed to notice that immersive theatre is bloody everywhere these days. Putting on a standard play is just not acceptable these days and if the line between the performers and audience isn't as blurry as an actresses vision after a bottle of Merlot then it's not worth talking about.

I won't bore you senseless about talking about the various companies that have taken this particular performance baton and have run for the hills with it because I'm fairly sure that there are several articles out there that cover this subject far better than me. I could put a few links up for you but hey, this blog ain't a holiday, do your resting on your own time. But no, what I wanted to look at was the idea of being in the audience of these things, especially when you're a performer yourself.

If you're a performer then it's always going to be difficult to completely switch off on a trip to the theatre. Just like a chef visiting a restaurant or a doctor finding themselves in A&E, when you know how things are done, the joy of something is minimised somewhat. Theatre done well is one of the most magical experiences but if I'm in the audience, I'm also thinking of what's going on backstage before the curtain goes up. I think about the fact that actors are probably slouched just inches from the stage, gossiping with their cast about how annoying the director has become. And when watching actors on stage, I try to enjoy the action that's happening then and there but I can't help wondering if, like me, they're actually stood there wondering about how they need to pop to the bank tomorrow. And when they're taking their curtain call, it'd be lovely to think that their smiles are because of another job well done but more often than not, it's relief that they're one show closer to the end of the run.

But what happens when, as a performer, you find yourself in the audience of an immersive theatre piece. Immersive shows put the audience in the role of the performer so you'd think it would be the ideal scenario; you get to perform without the hassle of an irritating cast, awkward director and the constant nagging feeling that you could be doing something better...or something like that... But instead, I find myself more concious than ever. I start worrying that I'm not doing what the actors need you to do and that you're completely ruining their show. And I have full reason to worry about this kind of thing because I've done it before. Last year I went to the wonderful One-on-One Festival at the BAC. If you didn't go then a quick description is that each room had a different immersive experience and you go in on your own and have the time of your damn life. In one room I got to lie on a bed and draw a self portrait and in another room I had my own personal cocktail made for me. I was even kidnapped by a criminal team of beatboxers who blindfold you, throw you into a car and give you your own, private beatboxing performance. However, one of the greatets rooms was run by the masters of immersive theatre, Ontroerend Goed. It was called A Game of You and in simple terms, looks at how others view you. I don't want to ruin it in case any of you ever get to experience it but it's awesome and incredible and it makes you think for days. But, of course, I managed to ruin mine almost instantly by sitting on the wrong chair when I entered the room. The actor tried to subtly tell me that I was in the wrong chair but I had no idea what they were trying to do, thinking that this was all part of the show. Sadly the actor had to finally break out of character and tell me in the most simple terms that I was sat in the wrong chair and they'd be unable to continue until I moved. Nothing ruins a moment quite like the feeling that you've ruined something rather magical.

Then last night I found myself at another immersive theatre piece courtesy of the wonderful BAC. I was at Babel in Caledonian Park, a grand spectacle where the audience find themselves very much part of the action. But I wasn't sure just how much we were supposed to be involved. At times, members of the audience were shouting out, enjoying the mob mentality that was being inflicted upon us and I'm sure we were supposed to join in but,  instead of feeling like I could shout along too, I found myself worrying that the actors were getting annoyed with them for ruining the show. I didn't want to be the immersive theatre equivalent of the idiot who sits in the front row eating a bag of Kettle Chips while playing on his phone and farts loudly in every dramatic pause. Although that does sound quite fun...maybe I need to rethink my position as an audience member...

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