Immersive Theatre strategies

For the student blog this month I wrote about how I was confused as an audience member about the expectations of the audience in an immersive piece. For the teachers blog I thought it would be helpful to look at some of the tools of the trade that have been established during the evolution of this relatively new form theatre experience.

Before I go into too many specifics, let’s start with the multiple roles that a student can take on during drama work in the classroom. The focus of the idea here is the difference between ‘person’, ‘role’ and ‘character’. Before I share the list with you let’s make the distinction between ‘role’ and ‘character’. (White 2013: 44). In his book White discusses the different frames, or environment and set of circumstances that we find ourselves in. So, a role is ‘a position in the framed activity that might come from obligations or expectations’, whereas a character is ‘a make-believe of being someone they are not’.

This list below makes a number of subtle distinctions between different roles, and playing a character and not playing a character:

  1. Public self in the social setting of the classroom
  2. Public self but operates as a role in the social setting of the drama
  3. Operates as a role, but now projects a social or cultural attitude to events, which is different from normative or habitual self
  4. Operates as above but role is taken as representative of a social or cultural group with its own history and characteristic response
  5. Uses technique to ‘become’ a character that is physically and psychologically unique
  6. Projects self as actually being the character – the performer’s ‘self’ is masked by her physical manifestation of a ‘flesh and blood’ character. (Neelands 1998: 16)

When helping students to create an immersive theatre experience the roles of the actors and audience are key. In White’s book ‘Audience Participation in Theatre‘ he writes about Goffman’s Frame Analysis. The basic elements of this will act as a good way in for students to understanding the boundaries and frames that need to be created to enable the audience to behave as they are required to do.

Goffman’s frame analysis

Frame Analysis develops a vocabulary to describe how we organise our perceptions of the multitude of different situations we observe and find ourselves in.’ (White 2013: 34)

There are 2 different types of ‘primary frameworks’: the natural and the social.

Natural order: ‘we understand events to be determined beyond social order, and not guided by human agency

Social order: ‘we perceive the choices and efforts of social beings like ourselves’ (ibid)

we look at our experiences in different ways, bringing to them different assumptions about their meaning: we place them into frames that enable our understanding. As well as structuring our perceptions, frames allow us to manage the different episodes of life, and our behaviour in social life in particular.’ (ibid)

We need to make a situation real to ourselves to be able to understand it and know what is appropriate and how to behave.

We presume there are shared assumptions about what an interaction means for its participants. Key phrase from Goffman is ‘“the definition of the situation” (Goffman 1986:1), the agreement between the people involved in an interaction about what it is they are engaged in, and what can or should happen.’

When working on immersive states, here are the stages of building the frames:

  1. ‘build belief’ in the situation – roles, power and social norms. Classroom in real life
  2. ‘the central understanding’ – ‘the audience has neither the right nor the obligation to participate directly in the dramatic action occurring on the stage’ (Goffman 1986:125)
  3. Roles in the theatre – Actor is ‘stage actor’ and ‘stage character’, the spectator is ‘theatre goer’ and ‘onlooker’.

When working on production there are different tools available to the performers:

  1. Keyed frames’ – these are theatrical acting, storytelling and practical jokes. Played in a ‘different key’. The frame clearly communicates that this is not to be taken seriously. [linked to patterns of behaviour and context]
  2. Episoding conventions’ (Goffman 1986:251-269) – of a frame are signals and conventions where an activity is ‘marked off’ from another activity , where the flow is broken by: opening a curtain, lights changes, opening remarks of a conversation etc. These signals tell us what activity is about to happen and what our role is going to be, allowing us to move fluently from one frame to another. Bolton calls this ‘signalling’ or ‘settling in’.
  3. Appearance formulas’ (Goffman 1986:269-287) – this is to do with the actor and the presentation he gives in the frame and outside the frame. ‘resource continuity’ (Goffman 1986:287-292) is the difference between the person and their role – what they bring in terms of individual style and the permissible difference between the person and their role.
  4. What possible performance could arise? – ‘the meaning of experience is derived from interaction’…’The procedural authorship of audience participatory performance anchors itself in the common experience of its participants, grounds itself in the frames that they use in the rest of their lives.’ People can be invited into the action, using anchoring concepts to be their ‘everyday selves, and other aspects of the context of the event, looking at how these factors together produce a range of possible activities that can take place within the frame.’ (White 2013: 38)

These frames and states are a good starting point, and in future blogs I will elaborate on the different kinds of invitation, but, to finish with, this video about immersive theatre is an excellent resource:

 

Bibliography:

  • Frame Analysis‘, Goffman 1986. Penguin
  • Beginning Drama 11-14‘, Neelands 1998, David Fulton Publishers
  • Audience Participation in Theatre: Aesthetics of the Invitation‘, White 2013. Palgrave Macmillan
  • ‘Working in the Theatre: Immersive Theatre’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_C5i6vy3Lyw (accessed on 31 Jan 2017)

 

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