“Hi everyone, just to let you know, I’ve been cast in an immersive show and I’m heading off to Edinburgh in August”
“Brilliant!” “Congratulations!” “Well done!” “Exciting!”
“What is an immersive show?”
Ah. Yes. Exactly. What is an immersive show? After two weeks of R&D I think I can now answer that question.
Immersive theatre is the thing at the moment. With the huge success of companies such as Secret Cinema, dining opportunities like The Fawlty Towers Dining Experience and the current birthday party phenomenon that is escape rooms – the audience for immersive work is huge. Audiences are looking for a thrill. An up-close experience. Something a little different.
My go-to for definitions is usually Google/Wikipedia. In this case “immersive” is lumped in with “interactive theatre” with Wikipedia saying “...immersive theatre, which brings the audience into the same playing space as the performers, obliterating any walls that separate the audience from the performers”
I’m working with the fabulous Flabbergast Theatre on their immersive production “The Swell Mob”. We’ve had an immensely fun couple of weeks, spending our days running and rolling around the floors of a church, screaming into the vaulted ceiling during the longest British heatwave in 40 years. It’s been sweaty. But also, incredibly freeing. It’s a real gift for an actor be told “...this is a safe space, there’s no right or wrong answer, just try it...” and to know that that is genuinely true. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by a diverse group of incredibly creative, fearless performers.
The Swell Mob has been devised by us, the cast. Henry Maynard and Jordan Chandler, our directors, have always had a detailed and clear vision for the piece but have invited us to bring ideas and characters to the table. And creating a character has been a lot of fun.
In a production where you have a script, a lot of the character work has been done for you. Every actor will bring themselves and their own unique take on a character to a production (otherwise why would we be interested in seeing different actors play Hamlet or Lady Bracknell) but you’ve usually got a strong starting point from the playwright. When creating a character from scratch, all the decisions are yours. It’s a lot of work. There’s a great deal of play and editing. Putting your character in an improvised scenario is one of the most helpful ways to develop them. How do they react to their surroundings? How do they interact with other people? If asked questions, how much do they give away about themselves – how open are they? Do they lie? What makes them laugh? Do they believe in God?
For the actors in The Swell Mob there is going to be a lot of improvisation at every performance because with an immersive show you really have to factor in the audience. And every audience is different. Any performer will tell you – you could be in a long run of a well-known show and every performance and audience will differ because we are all human and how we react will vary from person to person, day to day. And that’s what makes live theatre interesting and engaging. In a live immersive show, if I go up to and introduce myself to one person, they may want to have a chat while another may back off in terror. This is something I’m really looking forward to. But to cope with this I have to know my character inside out because every interaction will be different and every audience member deserves to meet a well-rounded, believable person.
And so, as I pack for Edinburgh (a seemingly unseasonably warm Edinburgh, will I even use my umbrella?) I think about HER and how she’d pack for Edinburgh. Because, you never know, someone may just ask me.