The joy of immersive theatre
The COVID-19 pandemic and the temporary closure of theatre spaces had led to an unprecedented boom in plays being streamed online. This digital leap has dramatically shortened the distance between actors and audiences – they are now just a screen away. While this has led some to question the future of theatre, and if it will move away from playing in physical venues, it is hard to imagine immersive theatre going out of fashion soon.
As its name suggests, immersive theatre is a form of theatre where there is no stage separating the actors from the audience. Everyone moves around in the same space and the audience gets to interact with the characters in real time, shaping how things develop in the show. No one show is ever the same.
For show producers such as Sheena Ling and Dyllis Teo, immersive theatre is valued not just for its form but also substance. Ling and Teo were co-producers of the immersive theatre show, , about life in a Victorian-era village, which ran earlier this year at a Chinatown shophouse, before public health measures due to the spread of COVID-19 shortened its run.
The show, says Ling, aimed to have audiences realise that they can play a role in effecting change. The participatory nature of immersive theatre drives home this point in visceral ways. Audiences had “to take risks” with their every interaction, she says, never quite knowing what their actions would trigger in the performance. The actors also performed simultaneously throughout the four-storey shophouse, so audiences had to choose which characters they followed and when.
Ling adds that the experience approximates “how in our lives, we will never get the full picture of anything,” and yet it doesn’t stop us from forming meaning or drawing certain conclusions to make decisions and to act.
Indeed, immersive theatre holds a mirror up to life, and I look forward to catching an immersive theatre show in-person once again.
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