NYC Immersive Theatre Review

I finally set aside time over New Year’s to see all the immersive theatre in New York City that people have been bugging me to see. Here’s a terse listing of them all. NOTE: all of those shows are great and worth seeing. With my comments, I’m not trying to convince people to think about whether or not they are worth seeing or attempting to provide even a helpful information summarization of any show. These are primarily about reflecting on what I care about and what I felt experiencing them.

Sleep No More

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The primary reason I went to New York. I saw it twice. I enjoyed that, after the first show I felt that I experienced enough content to be worth the ticket price, yet also had the feeling that there was so much more to experience that it was worth going again. That is a difficult balance to strike. The first show, I mostly avoided following performers, as most audience members do, but rather wandered the level. In the last 10 minutes of the show, I came across a floor I had not seen and panickingly tried to explore it as quick as possible. Very cool to be struck with the immensity of the content. For the second time I saw the show, I mostly explored that level, and stayed stationary as scenes flew by me. I even managed to get to a private scene (see cheeky lipstick smudge above). Sleep No More is very sparse when it comes to spoken language, which I suppose helps when you come across scenes in the middle of them. With no spoken language, you don’t feel that you’re missing out on any factual narrative. I don’t think that’s the kind of puzzle-box-y show I’d ever want to make, but it is a clever hack. I don’t particularly care for innovative dance, though watching hotties use their bodies in interesting ways is nice, so the joy of Sleep No More for me was treating it as a clever content choreography puzzle. I would definitely go again.

Then She Fell

I was told that if I didn’t like Sleep No More, then I would like this one better. Then She Fell has gorgeous costume and set design. The density of production quality is so much higher because you’re guided on much more personal, intimate journeys. However, it somehow didn’t feel like theatre for me. All the small scenes were about intimacy of quirk, and I did not find myself caring enough about the characters and their arcs for it to feel like actual theatre – just static representations of well-dressed characters in a pretty time and space. The coordination of the audience moving through the space is interesting; a nice contrast to Sleep No More’s more chaotic approach.

Grand Paradise

Grand Paradise has my favourite structure but my least favourite plot. It’s set in a tropical paradise in the 70s, with several proxy audience members also on vacation. It’s about a decadent time away from the worries of our yuppie lives. I had drinks poured in myself several times, had actors invite me to slow dance, and spooned with one in a wooden cabin on a beach set. Which is all nice and interesting, but again the static-ness of the dramatic experience was frustrating to me. It just feels like set and moment design, and a string of interesting moments does not lead to a plot that, you know, should really being smacking me around psychologically. The soft-touch of the plot made it feel like I was at a theatre spa.

However, the structure was quite clever. The audience had a free wander that was controlled a little bit more tightly that Sleep No More (in Third Rail shows, you aren’t allowed to open doors). However, you’d get pulled aside for more intimate scenes. The leis we were innocuously given at the start served as markers for the actors for whether we had received an intimate scene or not. The intimate scene to audience member ratio was roughly 4:1, but using the leis as markers ensured that at least everyone had an intimate scene near the beginning, without it coming off as too controlled.

The Encounter

This used a binaural microphone head on stage, so the solo performer could whisper in your ear, and do other interesting effects. Everyone in the audience wore earphones. The effect was amazing, and I’m frustrated that I don’t see this used everywhere. Will probably try to use them in my own project. It’s simply magic.

CVRTAIN

CVRTAIN

This is actually “VR Theatre”. Like actually! Sort of. You go inside a little “back stage” area, put on a Vive headset, and in front of you in VR a virtual curtain opens into a large Broadway like theatre with an audience applauding you. You make grandiose gestures with the Vive controllers, which leads to different types of cheering responses from the adoring audience. Simultaneously to the VR curtain opening, a real red curtain opens to the gallery space the installation is set in, exposing you to whoever else is in there, either just hanging out or waiting for their own turn. When I visited midday, there was about a dozen people. However, you don’t see or hear these people while playing the game, yet they cheer for you anyway. Since you are immersed yourself in the game, and the VR headset is taking on the properties of a mask, you end up acting more confidently absurd to these real audience members because you think you’re acting to fake AI audience members. A sort of Ender’s Game of acting. The game seemed to be about guessing which gestures led to certain cheers. The screenshot after my run-through shows which gestures I “found”. CVRTAIN definitely follows one of the themes Raktor cares about, which is tricking non-performers into being performers.

The Accomplice

A lovely touring mystery theatre. I’ve done a few of these before, and this felt like one of the first ones I’ve seen with a really good production value. We were hilariously hampered by snow.

The Colour Purple

I saw the closing show. The effects of multiple generations of poverty and abuse are intense. I was reminded of reading Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed from earlier this year. By total surprise, Bill and Hillary Clinton were in the audience like 40 people away from me.

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group

An absurdly polished, well coordinated funny show. Like seriously the level of polish is insane. The show is 100% on rails, but there’s some very clever audience interaction mindfucks. These folks are absurdly talented.

Ninja Restaurant

This is sort of like a higher-end more specific Chuck E Cheese with the strong belief that ninjas are what the internet believes ninjas are. There’s constant jump scares and yelling, which for the first 15 minutes is eye-rollingly terrible but then rotates around to being hilarious. I highly recommend for the absurdity, unless you’re like, too cool for fun or something.

Top Secret International – Rimini Protokoll

I saw this as it’s a higher-budget, less narrative-driven version of Playlines‘ work. They made some quite clever choices and obviously have spent a lot more engineering time on debugging tools, but it’s nice to see that the finickyness of bluetooth beacons is just as hard as them as it is for us. They also implemented some ideas that we were thinking of doing, but having seen them done in person I don’t think they make sense for us, which is perfect. Good field trip.

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