What is Immersive Theatre?
In a traditional theatre experience you buy a ticket, sit in a seat, and watch what happens on the stage. A “fourth wall” exists between the actors on stage and the audience in their seats – this does not exist in immersive theatre! With an immersive production, you are completely surrounded by the action of the play. The lines of reality and fiction are blurred.
Specifically for The Speakeasy, we have gone to great lengths to hide technology and recreate the experience of living in the 1920s. Patrons turn off and seal their cell phones in pouches, which stay on their person.
They set up bar tabs ahead of time (since credit cards did not exist), and all of our prices are listed in cents instead of dollars, to reflect inflation. We stay in the world of the play even when speaking to guests to maintain the elaborate illusion.
We want our audience to feel like they are stepping back in time and being transported to an actual 1920s speakeasy.
A Little Tease
QUESTIONS ABOUT IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCES
Absolutely! London, New York, Toronto and Los Angeles all have very large immersive theatre scenes. Chicago is starting to dabble as well. As the form gains in popularity more and more immersive shows are popping up all around the world.
Like any genre, the form is open for interpretation. Escape the Room could be considered immersive as could Burning Man or a Haunted House. Virtual Reality is immersive in a digital form. Some comment that the holodeck on “Star Trek”’ or HBO’s “Westworld” are both very good examples of fictionalized immersive experiences. Others consider immersive theatre to be like dinner theatre or interactive or improvisation or experimental or experiential… The short answer is, sometimes it is those things, and sometimes it isn’t. Every production is vastly different. We tend to use the term “experience” rather than “show.” If the experience transports the audience and engages multiple senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) then it could probably be considered immersive.
It depends on how it is presented. Tony and Tina’s Wedding is a great example of an immersive production that is also dinner theatre. It uses a loose structure and improvisation as its storytelling method. But not all dinner theater is immersive. Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries are not inherently immersive, but could be if directed, say in an actual house over the course of a weekend. The Speakeasy is neither a murder mystery or dinner theater, unless you consider booze as a liquid meal!
The Speakeasy is primarily a narrative based production; it is basically six plays happening simultaneously across multiple rooms. However, many immersive shows use dance to tell their stories. Third Rail Productions’ Then She Fell is a great example of a dance based immersive show which keeps patrons on a “track.” The Speakeasy does feature a few meta-theatrical dance moments throughout the night as well as actor improvisation to tell a series of webbed and interconnecting stories, but text is at its core.
Hopefully not at first. Many guests are tickled to find out that the person they were just talking to turns out to be a performer or someone they followed all night turns out to be just another guest. If you are paying close attention though, it will be clear.
Some immersive shows keep patrons on a “track” – like you might find on an amusement park ride (think roller coaster!). You Me Bum Bum Train in London is a great example of a show with a singular track. The Speakeasy is a “choose-your-own-adventure,” meaning that audience members are free to move wherever they choose (except through doors marked “private” that is!).
Some immersive productions focus heavily on audience participation. While The Speakeasy is narrative based, it also has many opportunities for guests to interact and participate. We ask our patrons to ‘engage when engaged with.’ Following this simple rule will help you know when it is appropriate to interact with our actors. Likewise, our actors are very aware of who seems comfortable being interacted with and who does not. We try to only approach guests who are interested in participating.
For die hard immersive theatre lovers, the coveted on-on-one is the holy grail of audience interactions. This is when an actor takes one audience member for a private scene no one else experiences. These are usually very personal and profound moments. The Speakeasy has many on-on-one moments throughout the night. You simply have to be in the right place at the right time to be selected as a participant.
While we wish this was an element of The Speakeasy, the many different interweaving storylines and over 1500 pages of script is pretty tightly packed. Creating an indefinite number of outcomes affected by audience participation would be impossible.
There are some productions which repeat throughout the night giving guests a chance to see the show all in one visit. Sleep No More in New York City is a dance based immersive production that repeats three times. The core idea behind The Speakeasy is that, as with life, it does not repeat and you purposefully have to make a choice in what you want to do. It is one continuous performance, including the acts in the cabaret. This gives audiences the opportunity to return to the show multiple times and always see new material.
Some immersive shows encourage (or require) patrons to follow one particular character. Tamara was an immersive show from the early 1980s where you would follow one of ten characters the entire night. At The Speakeasy, we let you decide how to watch the show. If a character interests you, then follow them (just not through doors marked “private!”) or stay in one room and let the action come to you. There are also rooms where there is little to no story allowing guests to take a break from the show.