Free reign?

Designing the spectator in immersive theatre

Authored by: W. B. Worthen

The Routledge Companion to Scenography

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138917804
eBook ISBN: 9781315688817
Adobe ISBN:


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Theatre has always been “immersive”: it would be hard to say that Athenian spectators, sitting among their tribe, watching its members compete for a prize in singing and dancing dithyrambs, or the courtiers in the highly-charged political and social atmosphere of a Stuart masque, or postwar European tourists crossing into East Berlin to see the Berliner Ensemble were not immersed in a complex social and theatrical event. At the same time, though, both the spread and conceptual grip of the aesthetic, architecture, practice, and ideology of proscenium realism from the 1880s – “an inevitable consequence of the incandescent bulb,” according to Brander Matthews – and the reactive rise of a range of more participatory spectacles influenced, however eccentrically, by Artaud, has lent the patina of innovation to the rhetoric of contemporary “immersive theatre” (Matthews 1910: 64). Phrased at the intersection of theatre and digital media, exploiting cognate notions of “immersion” and “interactivity,” and conceptualized in reaction to the conventions of proscenium performance, immersive theatre articulates not only a changing sense of the uses of theatre, but a complex understanding of the technicity of theatre as well, its implication as a technology in a projection of the human.

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