Previews for The Great Comet begin tonight on Broadway. In this article from The New Yorker, Michael Shulman investigates the ways that the New York theatre scene has embraced immersive theatre.
In an era of binge-watching, live-tweeting, and the Oculus Rift, how can theatre compete as all-consuming entertainment? Perhaps it’s our desire to be more than spectators—to be sucked headlong into alternative worlds—that has fuelled the recent boom in immersive theatre, which trades the fourth wall for winding hallways and dance floors, in the hope of giving audiences not a show but an “experience.”
The genre erupted thanks to Sleep No More, devised by the British troupe Punchdrunk as a kind of noirish dreamscape, through which patrons wander in pagan masks. Its New York incarnation opened in 2011, in a five-floor Chelsea building refashioned as an old hotel, and became an unexpected sensation. Scrappy, intrepid theatre companies followed suit, with site-specific shows like The Grand Paradise (staged as a nineteen-seventies beach resort, in Bushwick) and Paradiso: Chapter 1 (in which audiences must solve puzzles to escape an apartment in Koreatown). Girls even parodied the trend, when the characters visited a cringe-inducing staged re-creation of the Kitty Genovese murder.
This month, the immersion craze reaches Broadway... READ MORE
Illustration by Henning Wagenbreth