Updated: Mar 8, 2019
(Photo: Majestic Rep put Shakespeare in the Limelight.)
Majestic Repertory Theatre recently produced a satisfying interactive immersive theatrical “experience” (that's the key word) for local audiences inspired by one of Shakespeare's rarely produced -- yet extraordinarily relevant -- plays. The production ran from September 27th through October 21st.
Artistic Director Troy Heard assembled a merry band of revelers to create a very original "interactive and immersive experience" –limited at any given performance to eighteen audience members who met up with eighteen cast members -- to explore eight different settings in the City of Lost Wages circa 1977. Depending on which character you met at the opening of the evening, there were at least twelve different storylines you could follow. If you came with a group, you were most likely split up.
For this production of “Measure for Measure: The Immersive Experience”, the production took audiences on a unique, personalized, emotional journey. Patrons were fully immersed in the seedy world of Lost Wages, in the middle of the action, moving from room to room and interacting with the characters one-on-one. They got to play and laugh and make new friends in Lost Wages, during this 65-minute journey that involved moments of sitting, standing, travel...and a little disco dancing. There were accommodations throughout the space for those who could not stand for long periods of time. Because of the intimate design of the show, only eighteen tickets were sold for each performance and many performances were sold out!
(Photo: Natalie Senecal and Kyle Jones.)
Mayor Vincent "The Duke" Greyson took a sabbatical and left Deputy Mayor Angelo Santoro in charge. The most virtuous public servant in town, Santoro implemented all the ancient laws - tearing down casinos, brothels, and putting one particular favorite son on the chopping block for knocking up his fiancé before the official vows are exchanged.
It's left to a young nun-in-training to sway Angelo's decision...but the results are not what she expects!
Given the limited space within the “awesome, little playhouse right downtown,” (as self-described theater geek Kate Turner Whiteley has called it), the production team did a masterful job creating eight different settings in the City of Lost Wages. Kudos to Creator and Director Troy Heard, Co-Director Natalie Senecal, sets by The Design Ninjas, costumes by Kathy Wusnack, lighting by Marcus Randolph, and sound by Joey Jevne.
The multi-talented ensemble of wild revelers / disco dancers included: Jessie Johnson, Kyle Jones, Natalie Senecal, Rebecca Reyes, Joel Ruud, Charlie Starling, Rowan Morris, Amanda Guarado, Roxanne Farrar, Ronn L. Williams, Richie Villafuerte, Lissa Townsend Rodgers, Angel Mendoza, Josh Sigal, Venus Cobb, Cory Covell, Bob Gratrix, and Dimo Gerenski.
For those new to “immersive theater” (as was I, before attending three performances): Immersive Theatre is all about creating participative theatre experiences where audience members give up their “observer’’ status to become co-actors of the storytelling process -- and sometimes co-creators of the narrative. Audience is inside the space, walking through site-specific installations, oftentimes choosing what scenes to see to create site-responsive theatre. Each performance is unique because the audience is never the same!
(Photo: Majestic Rep welcomes the audience to their stage)
While researching “immersive theatre”, I also ran across Anca Doczi, Ph.D., actress, researcher and applied drama practitioner who is currently undertaking practice-based research at the Centre for Performing Arts Development, University of East London. Her latest project is MEMODROME, an applied drama technique she has coined and developed to explore performed testimony and simultaneous dramaturgy. I found that Anca – much like Troy Heard, Majestic Repertory Theatre’s Artistic Director – continues to try different methodologies, especially immersive and participative theatre, to represent contemporary life and the social dynamics of the communities around us.
As Shakespeare wrote it, Measure for Measure stages the interweaving of sexuality, morality and power. On the one hand, the plot shows the traumatic consequences of extending the legal surveillance of social behavior into the bedroom; and on the other, it shows how hard it can be to expose and condemn the misuse of public power for sexual purposes. It is a play that is as timely and resonant in the early decades of the 21st century as it was at the beginning of the 17th or end of the 19th century. [Kate Chedzgoy, British Library: “Discovering Literature” project, a free online learning resource that provides unprecedented access to the British Library’s unique literary and historical collections.]
A proven artistic strategy, isn’t it?
Yes and no. Theatre has always been around, but today it looks quite different from fifty years ago. And the immersive effect today is indebted to very central, new digital technologies, which don’t themselves have to appear at all, yet have already changed our perceptual behavior and our hunger for experience profoundly. The panorama pictures of the nineteenth century are analog precursors of this. But what the new technological development is changing at the moment is that you don’t connect this immersive element to the situation of an overview anymore, but experience it as someone thrown into it, into the thick of it, and at least as much in the quality of the perpetrator as that of the witness. In contrast with the peephole stage, in virtual space, you don’t look at the things, but enter yourself into this space. [THEATRE AND IMMERSION: “YOU ENTER YOURSELF INTO THIS SPACE”, Christine Wahl, The Theatre Times, Nov 2017, Germany]
Everyone involved in bringing this innovative, interactive, immersive theatrical “experience” to Las Vegas audiences deserves our applause and can proudly hold their heads high.