This blog is my attempt to think through and make sense of the fields I’ve recently discovered and am excited about – pervasive/immersive theatre and entertainment. And also to figure out my own creative place in this new and exciting world.
‘Pervasive’ essentially means creating a story world which bleeds into the real world, so you can’t tell where the real world ends and the story begins. Like an Alternate Reality Game, where you can visit a character’s Facebook page, get emailed by them or track them down and discover them in their favourite bar. And ‘immersive’ when applied to theatre means the audience is part of the action.
I’m also interested in street games (which adults literally play in the streets or in a room somewhere), and in figuring out how storytelling can tie into all these things. It feels like there should be a single term for all this. I like to call it ‘interactive adventure’. That’s how I described the immersive/pervasive show I made in early 2014, which took a small audience through the streets of Wellington on a two-hour scifi adventure where they received texts, saved a wounded agent, and (of course) saved the world.
In the past, I’ve written feature scripts, written for TV and made documentaries. I’ve always been hyper-aware of what the audience is experiencing at each moment. And I’ve always tried to make things I’d like to watch. I realised that, as an audience member, I’d rather be in a movie than watch one. So I made a show that was like being in a movie, for the audience.
I’m working on a number of new immersive ideas right now, that are all quite different from each other. But what they have in common is that the audience is at the centre of the story, driving the narrative, and being challenged.
What I want for the audience is: They have a good time. That they’re stretched, encouraged to be bold, rewarded for curiosity. That they’re emotionally safe and cared for even while they’re being challenged and pushed out of their comfort zone. That they finish one of my adventures feeling exhilarated.
In fact, in my head I’ve decided to call them ‘adventurers’ rather than ‘audience’. I think that subtle layer of increased respect will change how I write for them.
And what I want for myself (among other things) is to come to understand better exactly what my role is in this new field. To understand the possibilities and my own strengths better so I’m really clear on how to approach a project in a way that’s right for me. At the moment, I’m operating almost solely on intuition, on what I’m excited about. I’d like to be able to articulate why that is more clearly.
I also want to start to articulate a grammar of performance, to build up a knowledge bank of what works for audiences when they’re involved in an immersive project. This is a field that, as far as I’m aware, is still a little bit like the Wild West, largely unexplored and still being figured out. I guess I’m getting to the word ‘pioneer’! I hope to be one of the pioneers in this new world. It’s not that often that a totally new field is born, and to get to be one of the first playing in this still-new playground is rather thrilling.