IMMERSIVE THEATRE AND LIVE CINEMA: An aesthetic of the in-between
Authors: Westling, C.E.I.
Immersive theatre and live cinema, popularised in the first two decades of the twenty-first century by companies such as Punchdrunk, dreamthinkspeak, Blast Theory and Secret Cinema, typically draw on existing texts in renditions that employ space and time, articulated through participation, and sometimes require enactment. Such forms raise questions of agency in relation to authorship and offer opportunities to negotiate and incorporate such tension in the process of storytelling. This essay looks at adaptations of literary works for promenade audiences by Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema, and how embodiment and agency are incorporated in their narratives. Central to the practice of incorporating audience enactment in live, dramatised work based on existing texts, which can range from predefined roles (e.g. Secret Cinema) to more ambitious, open-ended participation in ‘theatre machines’ that are designed to be destabilising, even disorienting (e.g. Punchdrunk’s large masked productions) is a functional and aesthetic understanding of negotiated agency. I will discuss this exchange between companies and their audience as a shadow choreography or play within the bounds of the performance. The relation between play and its bounds is key to immersion as a designed audience experience, as it is typically associated with the sense of ‘losing oneself’ in or to an experience, altering us to the potential for loss and dissolution as an aesthetic component. As the form also presents the possibility of dissolution (or ‘loss’) - of the text - to the maker or producer of the experience, it can be usefully understood as a mutual encounter on the precipice of failure. The aesthetic means to manage this negotiation are profoundly literary in nature, provided the interpretation of what it means to read and write is not limited to books.