Mörder and the Merits of Immersive Theatre
By Staff Writer Izzy Turner
Within the four walls of a theatre the audience settles comfortably in their seats. The lights are suitably dimmed, people speak in hushed tones even before the performance has begun and sit beyond the theatrical space of the stage. But what happens when those four walls disappear? The seat is taken out under you and the situation is unpredictable. The traditional theatre is gone but the performance is still taking place, and it takes you with it. This is interactive theatre—where the stage is no longer a stable entity and you are no longer merely a spectator, but rather just as much of an active performer.
This is a concept behind Mörder, a performance put on by the On The Rocks festival. The St Andrews Castle became a unique backdrop for a dark murder mystery involving a few well-known Grimm names. Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood and others were all implicated in a gruesome murder in the castle. The audience were led around by detectives to solve the mystery of who exactly killed Hansel as each fairy tale character pleaded their innocence to the group. It presented performance-goers with an ultimately new experience of theatre, and also to experience the castle in a new way. Cast members invited the audience to solve the mystery, which enabled the story to be experienced in completely new way.
Immersive theatre has been used since the early twentieth century to bring an audience closer to drama. In traditional theatre the emotion usually affects the viewer, but does not directly involve you. It embodies ideas central to modern art: it is the viewer’s experience which creates the meaning and that art should actively engage the viewer, making them feel something rather than passively view something from the safe space of a gallery or theatre. In interactive theatre the audience is not a passive bystander but part of the action, even being called upon to make decisions which influence the course of the performance. The audience have to take responsibility in the same way that in reality we cannot simply be passive citizens.
This can be used to significant effect in simulating social and political issues in a way which makes the audience aware of their own actions, rather than just those of an actor. For example Jamal Harewood’s The Privileged positions the audience encircling a polar bear, or rather a man in a polar bear suit. Written instructions are provided in order for us to find out more about this fearsome predator. But as the performance progresses the instructions become more dubious and the audience becomes aware this is not a polar bear but a young black man. It highlights the fact that like the polar bear, in society young black men are feared and viewed as dangerous.
The setting of a performance can also considerably contribute to the audience’s experience as the architectural environment provides an even more sensory experience. Mörder proved the castle is not just a place to wander around during the day. It is a historical site that can provide the perfect dramatic backdrop to bring the story alive. Architecture can be seen as just as much a part of the action as the performers. Its design and the manipulation of space have the potential to set up relationships between people, both spatial and dramatic. Thinking beyond the four walls of a theatre enables you to see any space is having the ability to bring a story alive in new and different ways.
The St Andrews theatre scene is truly expanding with all the active involvement of so many societies and student groups, and I encourage anyone to experience any of the performances which take place in our small town. Mörder has shown that interactive theatre can make us question how we would act in any situation and unpredictability jolts us out of passivity. The backdrop of the castle demonstrated theatre can be performed anywhere and both performance and space can enhance each other in a truly sensory and engaging way.
All the world really is a stage.
Should immersive theatre audiences take more responsibility? - http://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2014/nov/12/immersive-theatre-audiences-take-responsibility-bordergame-the-privileged
If you would like to hold an event as part of On The Rocks, event applications are open now if you would like to showcase anything from art, theatre, comedy, dance and music. The festival will take place from the 1st to the 10th April 2016. More information and event applications can be found here http://www.ontherocksfestival.com/#!event-application-form/orxhx
More pictures from Mörder can be found on Lightbox’s Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/LightboxCreativeStAndrews/?fref=ts
Quote from Gray Read, Theater of Public Space: Architectural Experimentation in the Théâtre de l'espace (Theater of Space), Paris 1937, Journal of Architectural Education, 2005