Immersive Theatre....Embrace It

Immersive Theatre....Embrace It

Liz Chirico

  • OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

Playbill.com ran a great article last week about the immersive theatrical experiences of “The Great Comet”, “Sweeny Todd”, and “Violet” and the whole time I was emphatically nodding and fist-pumping yes to the article. This is a small part of what I talked about in my 2-part series in the winter on how to revive community theaters. In a virtual reality, 60” TV home theater, On Demand world, theater must adapt to become an experience not to be missed, not simply your weekend’s Plan C. 

Not every community theater can afford or has the option to produce Sweeny Todd in an actual pie shop. But why not partner with a local bakery and have them supply pies for your show’s props and to for your guests to purchase at the concession stand? I had success along these lines a few years ago when I coordinated marketing and ticket sales for a local theater company’s production of “The Sound of Music”. Everyone knows it which makes marketing it really easy but everyone knows it which makes marketing it really tough. As a way to differentiate from other area productions past, present and future, I worked with a local orchard to donate pans of crisp strudel (well crisp, they didn’t make strudel). But it still sold like crazy and broke the 4th wall in a small but manageable way.

Another local group (this time I served as producer) chose to offer an actor/director talkback following one of their performances. For a show with intense subject matter as this one, Dog Sees God, a talkback can be a great way to connect with audiences and connect the subject matter with today’s events. Plus it costs nothing. Unless you’re paying your actors by the hour in which case where are you located and when are auditions for your next show, cause sign me up!

“The Great Comet” boasts that even those in the mezzanine will feel a part of the show. As they should. Not everyone has $500+ to shell out per ticket, experience or not. Now, as someone in the mezzanine I’m not expecting the full red carpet treatment. But I’d like some pink carpet. A few years ago in Chicago I saw “Cascabel” which was a true immersive experience- the storyline integrated with the food we ate and there were Cirque du Soleil style acts that took place both on the stage and in the air- one just an arm’s length away from me! I know it’s more difficult but contemplate offering theater in the round, consider house exits for your actors to use, have a scene or two acted from somewhere other than the stage (taking sight lines/sound into account) etc.

In short, live theater is 4-D. It should look and feel very different from watching TV or even an IMAX movie. I’m pleased and cautiously optimistic that the immersive nature of these Broadway and off-Broadway shows will eventually make their way to the community theater level but I don’t know if some groups can last until then. I don’t think most community theater audiences are expecting to see “Violet” staged in a bus, but there are still ways to make it fresh and exciting. Remember audiences have a myriad of options on how to spend $20-$25. You need to become their night’s go-to otherwise why would anyone bother?

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