From: Natalie Alvarez
Sent: Tuesday, 25 July 2017 12:47 PM
To: Aaron Willis
Subject: first go at intro!
Have you made it to NYC safe and sound? As promised, I’m sending an email to get us started on our intro to the issue.
I’m conflicted about the idea of publishing our email exchanges as our introduction. I think it’s a fun way to link the intro conceptually to the subject of immersive theatre—by locating ourselves, bringing readers in as bystanders as we labour through this process, etc. etc. But in locating ourselves, you get to be the jet-set artist directing a show in NYC, and I get to be the boring academic writing from her home office in Toronto. I don’t think I’m ready to fill that stereotype. Can I be re-cast?
All that aside, as an artist known for working almost exclusively in immersive forms, I think it’s only appropriate that you kick things off with some thoughts. In fact, I can see this intro moving closer to an interview with you than a co-written intro, since you have far more intimacy with immersive theatre creation than me. My field research has taken me as a participant-observer to immersive environments beyond the theatre—to military training and dark tourism sites—so the art of immersive theatremaking feels more remote to me.
It’s that aspect of immersive theatremaking that I am especially interested in, which is really the hallmark of this issue since we’ve commissioned articles from the creators and collaborators of immersive theatre projects. We’ve gathered a pretty exciting series of first-person artist perspectives on the aims, risks, and stakes of immersive theatremaking, which we should introduce our readers to here.
But first, I think we should tackle that elusive term “immersive” right out of the gate. What does “immersive” mean to you? Why do you think it’s become so pervasive in the last, what, ten years??
Over to you,
From: Aaron Willis
Sent: Tuesday, 25 July 2017 3:42 PM
To: Natalie Alvarez
Subject: RE: first go at intro!
“Jet-setting” sounds so much more glamourous than it really is ... I was joking to someone that if I had told my younger self that there would be a day when I would be running rehearsals in New York City before heading to the Edinburgh Fringe I would have thought, “Wow, I actually became a successful theatre artist!!!” The reality, of course, is just feeling perpetually anxious and jet-lagged to boot. ☺
I didn’t know that your research has taken you to places like military training and dark tourism sites. I don’t even know what dark tourist sites are, and now I feel like I should … maybe a follow-up issue of the magazine could be about immersive theatricality in non-theatrical contexts? I would read that issue!
That said, this issue is continuing what seems to be a new trend for CTR—an issue comprised solely of artists writing about their work! Maybe we’re ushering in a new era of artist-academic collaboration for CTR?
I think “immersive” is a term that gets tossed around pretty freely, and not necessarily in a good way. It has the imprimatur of “cool” on it thanks to companies like Punchdrunk who have popularized the concept; consequently, lots of artists choose to work in this genre in order to connect with audiences in different or surprising ways. However, the word now risks being simply a buzzword for “a play not in a theatre,” as if simply by working in a found space, someone can claim to be reinvigorating the art form.
So what does “immersive” actually mean? What aesthetics does it comprise, and what does an audience gain or lose in an immersive theatrical experience as opposed to a “traditional one”?
Immersive theatre could be site-specific; it could be promenade; it could be environmental; it could be in a warehouse, a storefront; or it could simply be outdoors. How do we rigorously analyze a concept that has become so...