We can start by what we claim at Living Lucid Creative:
Immersion is a continuum. On a typical stage show you are not really involved in the action, yet we ask you to allow yourself to believe in the world in the play. If you see a stagehand onstage move something it is assumed that since they are in black they “disappear”. And some plays break the 4th wall and do engage you as the audience. They may speak directly to you. Or perhaps even drag you up onto stage. But generally speaking it’s rather passive.
There are many types of role playing that are immersive and have been around for years. From Dungeons and Dragons to Pirate Festivals and Renaissance Fairs. These experiences vary in immersive levels – some get really into it, even dressing the parts, others enjoy more as spectators. And beyond D&D, there are many more immersive styled games out there now than there ever were before. They even have a name – COS play. I think the next type of things I recall doing was attending a new murder mysteries where over snacks or a meal you would interact with the other audience members and the cast to discover who a murderer was. And, you could even buy kits that allowed you to have your own murder mystery dinner parties (these still exist, and even have virtual download options – you can even do the virtually). One can make a good deal of arguments about what really is an immersive experience verses what is a immersive theatrical experience. Does it need to have a story line? Or does it need to have live actors? I found, in my search for connection many different types of things, different types of technology, some revolutionary companies, and in some ways a whole new world of opportunities. While my experiences are not exhaustive, I will try to highlight some of what I have experienced so that later, we can eventually come back to what is immersive theatre, or at least what Living Lucid Creative is working towards.
One of the first moments which grabbed me was actually a Netflix Interactive Special called Black Mirror Bandersnatch. It is essentially a choose your own adventure book, except you make you choices with your remote. I was mesmerized. I spend hours watching it, choosing different paths, googling paths – and even following one rare ending path that necessitated me making over 50 different decisions to get to that one ending – and if my choices were different at any point – I would not get to that alternative ending! The choices were so seamless – the movie did not pause, it was very well crafted. Netflix has others and some were entertaining, but not, in my opinion matched this one.
One “event” that I did was called Textback. It was entirely as you can assume via texts. The premise was a guy had been kidnapped and I had to help save him. To save him I have to do a little research, solve some puzzles, and make a few emails. The story took place over about 2-3 days, but it differs for different people. It was in a way like an escape room except there was interaction. The interaction was driving by the game though – I would have to wait for the next stage to begin, though I could wait to engage till I had time or pause it. What is interesting is that the person texting you doesn’t exist. Sorry for the spoiler – but it is a bot. Once written, this thing can run forever as long as you pay for the server or whatever it runs off of. There is nothing in theatre that even remotely exists as somewhat passive income – we work hard for every ticket. I was engaged – and a bit sad when it was over.
I have watched a large variety of virtual tours. In the beginning when COVID first shut down everything everyone had a virtual tour. I couldn’t keep track of them all. And I found that I was often disappointed – that Frank Lloyd Wright house tour that I had never seen – was really only a 3 minute into to the house. Too much work to find what was good. I also very much did not like the 360 tours where you can move yourself incrementally through a location. Perhaps it was that I did most of these with museums and you really could not look at the art or learn about the art – and the tours would have been better for either architecture or nature. They also had no audio content (the ones I did), and they were just not very engaging. A shame as though I suspect a lot of moment was spent on some of these. Some were on zoom. Some of these were okay – as long as the visual content of the tour was predominate. Some companies managed this better than others. Others were on Facebook Live or YouTube Live. Generally the best ones give you good visuals and were knowledgeable about the content. Not exactly theatre – more like attending a seminar. But some were immersive in that they would ask trivia questions or otherwise try to engage the audience. Unfortunately – these tours were often more immersive than some of the theatre I have seen on the same platforms.
I have done a few shows on Discord – the events have themed themselves as immersive theatre, but are all based on role playing, where it is essential for you as an audience member to participate. Never the same twice – very immersive. Best when everyone can really engage with the story. Not as easy for wall flowers to navigate.
I have also tried a few escape rooms. One on YouTube live had an actor moving the story along, there were filmed video segments, you needed to look virtually for clues and even send out an email, and we solved the puzzle with seconds on the clock. It was very engaging, immersion was done through a chat box, and it had a story line… I had not really previously considered escape rooms as part of a theatrical experience, but this has changed my perspective. I also would not have said a haunted house was theatrical – but if it has a story line and actors, you are immersed in the event – it probably qualifies. There was a couple of other immersive games, one on zoom and one with a created internet interface that just did not connect to me personally. One seemed to easy (yet hard to understand) the other was way long and way to complex (it was about Sherlock Holmes).
I have seen some on Instagram, one on twitter – one on a fake pizza website. Intriguing. Some take you one and adventure – some don’t. It’s a bit like the Wild West – you don’t know what to expect.
The other type that I have experienced were audio events. You downloaded and listed to a track (play, story) while doing something. These were intriguing ideas to me. Immersive in a different way.
And I am sad to say but
as of yet I have not seen a performance yet where I would say the format was as
close to theatre as virtually possible that was good. There was either no real interaction (you
could chat but it didn’t effect the show) and one your input did alter the show
but the show was not easy to understand – and it left me with a feeling that I
just lost 2 hours of my life).
By the way, I am open to experiencing as much as I can – so if you know of something let me know. Somethings that I have come across are closed productions, and it is not always very easy to track down productions (and of course I have to be budget conscious).
So this is the stew of thoughts and emotions and types of things that I was engaging in while searching for connection and something more.
In some cases those hosting virtual tours when right back to in person tours when their state opened up. I felt that was perhaps short sighted as I would have still paid to see it virtually as often they were not places where I would have been conceivably able to go. Not to mention that just because things are open – doesn’t mean all people feel comfortable going out – and some populations aren’t able to get out – virtual immersive content reaches audiences that live events can’t.
Also, it depending on what technology you were using these events could exist for as long as there is a potential audience for them. Obviously there could be royalties or rights issues – but the Textback cell experience or the Lifeline App take virtually no support. The recorded audio files are similar. However, the immersive quality of these are different. There is not a live actor. You can change the story in some cases – in others you can’t.
I was also surprised when some of the shows that were one on one phone experiences with actors closed. Perhaps they were not doing well financially? But there are many actors out there out of work.
Immersive theatre means many things. I have not even gone into some of the large scale live immersive events, which we will look to do in the future as well. There are many different platforms to use. There are many different levels of immersion. And I think each person will find that certain levels of immersion feel right to them and that certain platforms are more comfortable and easier for them to navigate. And Living Lucid Creative is here to help navigate these new worlds of options and ideas and bring you fresh, innovative and engaging content.