Imagine a theatrical performance where the fourth wall does not exist! Where you, the audience are literally a part of the play straddling the gap between scenes and acts. Involved in the action of the play, the lines on and off stage are blurred. You have now been absorbed into the world of Immersive Theatre.
Originating in the early 19th century, Immersive Theatre often uses the age old technique of call-and-response to get the audiences more involved in the play. UK-based theatre company Punchdrunk are known as pioneers of this form of modern theatre. Though they have been producing plays for a long time, they shot to worldwide fame after Sleep No More, their film noir adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It was unanimously well-received in New York and put Immersive Theatre on the world map.
Back home, we have Delhi based theatre collective Crow, co-founded by Nayantara Kotian and Prashant Prakash. Founded in 2014, the group has been instrumental in popularizing immersive storytelling in our country. Their play, A Tall Tale was created with the intention of making audiences experience multi-sensorial worlds within unconventional spaces. Crow has developed some unique experiences including productions like A Floating Market, The World Hospital and incorporating Immersive Theatre to fashion shows.
Rangaai Theatre Company is another such Immersive Theatre group that is bringing theatre experiences to the audiences that provoke their sensibilities and senses. Founded by Tushar
Dalvi, their play The Dark Room is an alternate reality of tales by Ismat Chugtai and Saadat Hasan Manto. Visualize this, you get to feed the princess who is the protagonist of the play. Or imagine singing Fix You to a light bulb so as to bring it back to life. The possibilities are endless!
Though there are times when the audiences are taken more by shock and less by surprise, the participatory nature of the experience is enticing and too tempting to ignore. Immersive Theatre is often staged in ‘underground spaces’, private mansions, multi-storied parking lots, old hotels and where not.The unusual footing allows the audiences to be completely sucked into a world they are not familiar with.
The audience is no longer a passive member and depending on their interaction, take backs can be personal, profound and downright cathartic. As for the actors, they need to constantly be on their toes, for breaking the fourth wall is not as easy as it seems. Its almost like a military
expedition where artists have to preform, change costumes, interact, push forward the story line and travel through the different spaces.
The most powerful forms of expressions are meant to be immersed in completely. In an age saturated with conventional performances, Immersive Theatre emerges as a form that lets you devour the experience completely. You are a part of the story and no matter how big or small your role is, you are in the middle of the action.