General points:

• The terms “immersive” and “interactive” are often used interchangeably but they are not the same things

• Actors also are using very different skills when they are in performative vs interactive mode – need to be very clear when you’re in one mode or the other

• There are both ethical considerations – what creates a safe space, how to ensure audiences do not feel humiliated, forced to participate against their will; and artistic considerations – what makes a show that delights audiences and achieves what it sets out to do.

Our experiences of immersive and interactive shows:

My sense is that this kind of show magnifies the experience for the audience member – for better or worse; because after the show they carry memories of what they did, as well as what they saw or felt. People talked about ‘the pleasure in being part of something I didn’t have to come up with’; ‘feeling a little resistant at first’ (when being asked to split up from friends to sit at a table, but then enjoying making conversations with new people); someone said ‘every bit you did was a memory’.

Negative experiences also linger – being asked to wait in a long queue before entering a room, not being able to really see much of what was going on, being in a gallery space watching everyone else join in and feeling apart from the action. Or feeling there was so much requirement to participate it was almost as though the audience were there to serve the performers. In one case, the same show evoked opposite feelings; we talked about how the mood you arrive in colours the experience.

Work that we discussed included:
Team of the Decades
The Vanishing Man
Apollo 13
Counting Sheep
World Factory
Jamie Harper at the Theatre Deli

Bernard de Koven “The Well Played Game”
Adrian Howells “It’s All Allowed”

Audience Participation Tips

• Manage peoples expectations – in publicity prior to the event; even though surprise can still be part of the show
• Pay huge attention to the structure
• Give people a role but also “no work” - i.e make it easy to participate
• Make sure what you’re asking of audience feels necessary – if you want people to split up from their friends, why? Is there a different way to encourage new connections?
• Give audience members something at the beginning i.e. team shirts to wear or badge or envelope
• Pay attention to the space, physical and psychological. Sense of room and space to play. People feeling welcomed, invited
• Encourage unforced participation and choice, by making yourself vulnerable early on, convey a spirit of generosity ‘make yourself the biggest idiot at the party’. Clown training “I’m here, you’re here, this is all OK”
• Destruction test every scenario – what if the audiences refuses to do this, subverts the game etc…. “the whole thing still needs to work if any one person doesn’t want to play”
• Countdowns – cue what is going to happen next for audience, really clear detailed instructions
• Set and maintain clear boundaries about what is in and out of the game (examples of audiences taking things into their own hands, or bringing serious personal issues into a role play – anticipate how to deal with situations which break the rules of the assumed ‘game’)
• But also the aesthetic of “Surrendering to chaos”
• Aim for ‘extreme fun, joy, focus’