Immersive Theatre

The modern style of Immersive Theatre was pioneered in the UK by Punchdrunk, founded by Felix Barrett in 2000, following his studies at the University of Exeter Drama Department (where this website is based).
The term ‘immersive’ has been applied to many types of theatrical performance, where the audience participates in the action of the story, either by influencing the outcome or by speaking some of the lines. However, the truly immersive worlds that Punchdrunk creates consist of some signature elements;

  • Hugely detailed environments filled with props which can be interacted with by the audience (documents, drawers that can be opened etc)
  • The audience wanders freely around multiple-roomed buildings following actors or discovering the action for themselves
  • Each audience member wears a mask

A more traditional type of immersive performance is also known as site-specific theatre (where a piece of theatre has been created for a particular location). 


Goosebumps Alive (May 2016)
[External Website]
From Lighting & Sound International

The Light Fantastic Enchants the Forest (December 2016)
[External Website]
From Lighting & Sound International

Quadrophenia Immersive Cinema (April 2016)
[External Website]
From Lighting & Sound International

Witness for the Prosecution (September 2018)
[External Website]
From Lighting & Sound International

 

Some examples of Punchdrunk’s work

Punchdrunk Masked Show – The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable (London, 2013)

Alongside the ‘masked shows’ that Punchdrunk make, there are a number of community and schools outreach projects, run by Punchdrunk Enrichment, headed up by Peter Higgin.
Again, hugely detailed and immersive worlds are created, but they have an educational / curriculum-led element, and can be hugely beneficial for school-age children.
The children do not wear masks during the events, but the environments are similarly detailed, and are built inside a familiar environment, to transform a meeting room or a classroom into a completely new environment.
Examples include:

The Lost Lending Library
A mysterious library appears hidden behind a bookcase in the school, staffed by a librarian – the children are so inspired by the environment and the stories told in the library that they begin writing their own stories to fill the empty shelf in the library. The library is installed in the school over a weekend by a highly skilled set of carpenters and designers, and it remains in the school for a week so that classes can interact with it multiple times).

Against Captains Orders
This event ran at the National Maritime Museum in London

The Oracles
Starting in the school classroom on a tablet, a virtual world is revealed where tasks have to be completed. Before the end of the day, the class have travelled to the village of Fallow Cross (Punchdrunk’s HQ) where the game continues in the real world.

Running Now:

Punchdrunk: Sleep No More (The McKittrick Hotel, New York)
Punchdrunk: Sleep No More (Shanghai)

External Links

Research

Felix Barrett: The visionary who reinvented theatre The Guardian, 14 July 2013
Punchdrunk: plunge into a world of extraordinary theatre The Telegraph, 20 June 2013

Site-Specific

Dream Think Speak Site-responsive Performances [UK, Worldwide]
Punchdrunk Since 2000 [UK, International]
Signa Since 2001 [Denmark]

Punchdrunk – Sleep No More Trailer

Felix Barrett of Punchdrunk, talking about Sleep No More