How Immersive theater elevated my storytelling
"Immersive" is a buzz word that encapsulates so many different types of performance art. It could be used to describe interactive theater productions, audio dramas with foly sound effects, or that Van Gogh art exhibit that allowed people to walk through his most famous paintings. Immersive elements allow audiences to experience story more directly, inspire raw emotions, activate senses, and drop audiences into a narrative in a way that makes them feel like they are part of it.
I spent 5 years as an immersive actor performing with two different production companies performing historical dramas and horror. I had the privilege of watching audiences up close react to the story as it unfolded.
In interactive immersive spaces, audiences are allowed to talk and we often sent them off to perform various tasks that moved the plot forward. Some of the most beautiful moments I have experienced as an actor came from audience members surprising me with empathy and a desire for connection.
In Delusion: The Blue Blade, one of the parts I played was I time traveler who finds her own cadaver clutching a journal. Reading through the journal, she discovers how and when she will die and panic and devastation overtake her. One moment I will never forget, was when an audience member kneeled on the ground next to me, with tears in her eyes, and put her hand on my shoulder. It was a simple and profound gesture that spoke so loudly. Her impulse to provide comfort was sparked by the raw emotion she felt and it allowed us to connect in that moment, not as an actor and audience member, but as two human beings. As an actor, my hope is that the performances I give will cling to people like static and continue to make them think and feel things after they've left. To continue to lean into that empathy and comfort in the real world.
There were many other moments like this one in my journey as an immersive actor and these are moments you must "earn". The audience can't know there about to discover something incredibly tragic, they can't know there about to be taken by the evil vampire queen, they can't know they are about to reunite with their missing friends who were taken at the beginning of the show. As a performer you have to be aware of what moment in the story's arc you are in and what is about to happen so you don't give anything away.
Keeping audiences on the edge of their metaphorical seats to experience each twist and turn fully, and to feel real emotions, you have to be thoughtful and acutely aware of so many details at once. Lest we forget the level of awareness you have to have for everyone's safety in these environments. If you know someone can't stand in a certain spot because an actor is about to come flying through the wall on a wire, how do you convince them to move without giving away that something is about to happen? It's a delicate art of improvisation and quick thinking.
Immersive acting has helped me immensely in my audiobook narration and it's one of the reasons why I love to read stories that are packed with emotion and suspense. As a narrator my goal is to gently guide readers through the narrative in order to feel and experience the story fully rather than just listen to it.