by Joey Phoenix
When you go to the theatre, you expect to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show. If the show is done well, your emotions will get pulled along with the story and by the performances occurring on stage. When you leave, you’ll feel like you had an experience, but you’ll know that nothing you could’ve done – apart from committing the taboo of causing a disturbance in the venue – would’ve changed the outcome of the story.
But what if you could impact the outcome?
Carly Dwyer Naik is the founder and creative director of Intramersive Media, LLC an immersive Game theatre company based out of Salem, MA, specializing in immersive experiences where, through innovative storytelling and live-action role-playing, cast members give audiences the opportunity to impact their small impermanent worlds and be part of the story. Other members of the team include Lead Writer and Content Developer Diana Dunlap and Development and Technology Specialist Jasmine Kimieye Graham.
In Immersive and Interactive theatre, participants are more than just audience members. Instead, they have the ability to be a part of what’s happening, so much so that their interactions with the character and the plot can drive the course of events. In Game theatre, it goes even further.
“Game theatre stems from what audiences have been telling us they need,” Carly explains. “Theatre is audience-driven, and audiences don’t want to be passive anymore.”
The team at Intramersive is currently co-producing a new show, alongside the Peabody Essex Museum, in their Daemonologie series called Smoke and Mirrors which will be staged in the Cotting-Smith Assembly House, which is owned and maintained by the museum, in downtown Salem’s McIntire District.
Intramersive and the PEM invite guests to join them in the early Victorian period for a night of secrets, spirits, seances, and scandals.
What is Interactive and Immersive theatre?
Interactive Theatre is an umbrella term that has been used, rather broadly, to explain a type of theatre where the audience can play some part in the outcome of the play. Dinner theatre is Interactive theatre, Hair is interactive theatre, midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a shadow cast is interactive theatre.
Essentially, any show that breaks the fourth wall – the invisible, imagined wall that exists between the audience and actors – is interactive theatre.
Meanwhile, Immersive Theatre concentrates on world-building and space creation. It puts audiences inside entire worlds that they can interact with, and the level of these interactions can vary depending on the world created. It can be argued that Haunted Houses are immersive theatre experiences because they take you through an environment that has a tangible effect on your senses. It’s a juxtaposition of art installation and audience interaction, sometimes with actors, sometimes not.
“In traditional theatre, the audience shows up, sits in seats, and learns about the characters and their motivations through scripted lines and soliloquies,” Carly describes. “In Interactive and Immersive Theatre, you have to work harder to have that information. Instead of sitting back passively and let the writer, the director, the actor show you what to focus on, you have to interact with the characters and figure that out for yourself.”
Game Theatre: Where LARP, Interactive, and Immersive Theatre Intersect
Immersive theatre has made a name for itself with popular shows like Sleep No More and And Then She Fell, but Game theatre is newer on the scene. Essentially, Game theatre is a step deeper into immersion, it combines all the elements of Live Action Role Play with immersive and interactive theatre into a whole new experience.
“Intramersive developed Game theatre back in 2017 when we took immersive theater and live-action role-playing and combined the two to create immersive, playable experiences where the audience has the same agency as the characters and the end of the story is in your hands,” Carly explains.
“You step into our world as a member of it, you do not need to invent a character, your personality is enough. Our characters bring you in as though you always belonged, entrust you with their secrets, and ask you for your unbiased opinions. When you participate in our world, your actions have consequences, your decisions mean something, the ending is up to you to make happen.”
In Game theatre, developing storylines for a show follows a much different path than traditional playwriting and production. Instead of writing a script where actors will glean their character choices and story arc from an existing source, in Game theatre, the characters are developed first, and then the story becomes a living, breathing thing guided by audience member interactions.
“We can never predict what an audience is going to do until we’re in the middle of it,” Carly says. “They always surprise us.”
Because of this, when building a show, Game theatre story developers have to make the characters as deep as possible. Like in LARP where character development is at the core of the game and the characters, acting without a script, play through short scenarios making choices that align with their character’s morality, personality, and abilities, Game theatre relies heavily upon the actors in character knowing their characters’ motivations, backstory, morality, and personality to drive plot with the help of audience interactions.
“For the actors, it’s really fun because when you go through character discovery in a traditional play, you discover all these things about your character, but then you have to lose a lot of them because your character makes choices without the aid of the performer,” Carly explains.
“In what we do at Intramersive, the audience is right there along with the characters who are making choices, and the audience members can ask the characters, ‘Do you want to go through with this?’ And the character can say, ‘Yes, I do.’”
Because the audience is right alongside characters while they’re making these choices, it creates space for deep empathy and authentic experiences, predominately because the stakes are higher, but also because audience members know that what they’re doing directly impacts the characters who are in these scenarios.
But as the characters have choices, so do audience members. In fact, audience members don’t have to do anything if they don’t want to. It is entirely possible for audience members to attend a performance like Daemonologie: Smoke and Mirrors without interacting at all. In fact, they can stand along the sides of rooms as witnesses only and let things play out however they will.
“No one is pressured to participate,” Carly adds. “You can come and follow your friend around and you don’t have to interact. But in my experience, there have been a lot of people who’ve come to our shows not expecting or wanting to interact, only to find themselves getting more and more into the interactions as the show progresses.
“But it’s definitely a choice.”
Daemonologie: Smoke and Mirrors opens Friday, December 4th at the Cotting-Smith Assembly House in downtown Salem. Click here to get tickets.
Joey Phoenix is a performance artist and the Managing Editor of Creative North Shore. If you have an idea for a story, feature, or pictures of adorable llamas, feel free to send them a message at email@example.com
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