Grace Gummer, 28 January 2013

A couple of sessions this weekend got me thinking about Interactive Theatre,

particularly the session of ‘How to Use an Audience’, where the topic was discussed

under a much broader title. I wanted to focus a little bit more on the term, to break

down its meaning and uses, and just to hear other other peoples' experience of

Interactive Theatre. Also, having been unable to find the ‘Fine Art/Theatre’ session or

report, I wanted to ask about the use of other artform in theatre and how it affects the

audience. The session was much less structured than some others, so the notes aren't

exactly concise. I wasn't posing a question particularly, so there aren't really any

answers, but lots of interesting branches of information emmerged.

Also, it is important to say that we agreed that we felt a theatre audience was never

really passive, and that you could describe any theatre as interactive, but for the

purpose of the discussion we decided that the interaction had a to be an overt, visible,

physical action made by the audience member.

There were some wonderful examples of peoples' experience with Interactive Theatre.

We interrogated whether they were Interactive, why, and if so, how was that


* Odin Teatret - A Danish Company who invited the audience to ‘barter’, to offer

something in response to the piece, for example food or poetry, in some cases

replacing monetary value. We questioned whether this was Interactive, however, as

this process involves two stages, with the audience not contributing to the creation of

the play itself. Therefore, did Interactive Theatre mean that the audience had to

contribute directly to the construction of the action/drama?

* Punchdrunk (Follow the Rabbit) - The audience member had been taken through the

show as an individual, which was felt to be successful. We applied the above question

to this experience, as the audience member didn't explicitly influence the action, could

it be called Interactive? However, the audience member had felt that in talking to the

actor in character, there had been exchange, and that the show was Interactive.

Maybe this was because talking to a character means an exchange between the

audience and the created playworld, not an exchange between the audience and the

company as it exists otherwise.

* Dreamthinkspeak - the experience of this company's work was that it adapted to the

audience, who in turn adapted to the work. We agreed that this was important when

making successful Interactive theatre.

* Slung Low - Discussion of the company lead us to question what is Immersive and

what is Interactive. The conclusion was that the audience member had not felt this had

not been Interactive Theatre because the environment was so heavily controlled. The

audience member was taken outside of a traditional theatre space into a set that

completely surrounded them, i.e. Immersive Theatre, but they were unable to

exchange with this environment.

*Interestingly, we then questioned whether the use of smell in traditional theatre was

immersive. We decided that in fact it might be interactive, as it had been constructed

literally by an audience's physical response to something introduced by company


* Forum Theatre, Boal, and the audience as creator was discussed a lot. So much that

I didn't write much down, sorry! But it did lead to a discussion of ethics, which I did get

notes on.

* We talked about theatre events where the audience was exposed, or made a part of,

something perhaps distressing, or violent. Although certainly (as the indefinite nature

of this discussion showed!) there are no steadfast ethical rules about what a director

should ask an audience to be a part of, there were some things we thought we could

agree on. First, that the audience are putting a huge amount of trust into the

production team by becoming audience members. Secondly, that the audience

therefore must have a choice in the interaction. This is also a slightly fluid idea though,

as arguably, if the production has been described as Interactive, the audience

members have exercised choice by attending. However, it was agreed that the

audience should have the choice to leave.

* When asking Why Interactive Theatre? There were responses about politics,

activism, and things that I feel were covered in the session on How to Use the

Audience. It was also decided that Interactive Theatre was fun, which I think can

sometimes be a good enough reason. This lead us to a discussion of how Interactive

Theatre can be used in family/children's theatre.

* Rip Fold Scrunch - Where a large part of the set was constructed by paper, and torn

away, and the audience of children (and adults if they liked!) was invited to come and

Rip Fold Scrunch and tear the set at the end. Not only to play with, and change, the

set, but also play the instruments the musician had been using. We decided it was

helpful for children as they are used to having sensory responses to the world, which

is exactly what Interactive Theatre by our working definition set out to do. It was also

interesting that the children had started to imitate what they had seen onstage, just as

they learn to behave in life.

* Another wonderful example of Why, was in the use of theatre in working with Mental

Health patients. The experience was that the drama facilitator and the patients had

decided to enter the room from the back, meaning that all the people in the room had

had to turn as they entered. In this case, the people in the room were the patients'

usual carers, who would also be participating in the workshops. This interaction had

created something vital to the workshops, a deconstruction of their usual relationships

and power structures. so that they could all participate as equals.