Immersive Theatre: Is it innovative or lazy?

Written by GemmHirst

Immersive Theatre has become rather popular with young theatre makers at the moment, but here at Kettle we have been discussing whether it’s curtain down for this

Immersive Theatre has become rather popular with young theatre makers at the moment, but here at Kettle we have been discussing whether it’s curtain down for this form of performing arts.

It may be that some of you are wondering what immersive theatre actually is. Well, you may not be aware of it, but you quite possibly will have experienced it. 

Performance Collaboration

Immersive theatre involves the audience, meaning that the performers actively insert the audience into the story. Whether that is in a main role or as a small part, such as reading something out on a piece of card, depends on the show being created. But audience participation is the definition Immersive Theatre. 

Having recently experienced the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, this summer I was able to see a lot of genres of theatre, and quite a lot of those performances required the audience to participate in the productions.

A Divisive Medium

As immersive theatre can occur in different ways, if you are a lover of theatre and conformable with the situation, then being a part of the show can be a great experience. It can make you feel special, by getting you right to the heart of the performance, and almost replicating the experience of the actor. 

However, if you are the kind of audience-goer who tends to shy away from going up on stage, and the idea of getting up out of your seat in the auditorium is a frightening concept, then perhaps being involved in that this of show is not for you. 

Sadly, though, with immersive theatre you don’t get that option when you are put into a potentially awkward position, as most productions will not publicise in advance the fact that they include audience participation at all.

Critiquing the Form

Additionally, I personally worry that this form of theatre has become a lazy option for  a number of young theatre makers. As a performing arts student in the past, I understand how difficult it is to create theatre, and there have been times where I wanted to be lazy and create something half hearted.  

So, is immersive theatre lazy? Perhaps in the sense that your original production reaches a point where inspiration fails you, and so you use the audience to jazz it up a little bit.

I witnessed at least three performances in Edinburgh, by young actors who relied upon the audiences to make their show interesting.  

Sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not. 

Taking a Risk

Often, when you go to the theatre there is a mixed age range of audience members, and that could have a potential negative impact if you are a theatre maker. 

For instance, I went to see a show which involved two audience members acting as compares for the evening. It didn’t require them to be standing directly on stage but they did have to read from a script.  

Even this simple concept became a slight issue, as neither compare was English, and both had a lot of trouble reading from the scripts, meaning that the performance was tense at times and the pace slowed right down because of this. 

Immersive theatre can be an innovative and exciting form of performance, but it can also be used as a get out clause by the actors involved, and ultimately, its difficulty of use shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.