i've attended two theater pieces this year (thanks to [livejournal.com profile] _tove alerting me to them) in the category of "immersive theater," i.e. theater where the audience shares the "stage" with the actors, and multiple concurrent things are happening:

Her Things:
Her Things is an immersive theater and art piece -- a live video game, really. Participants will be invited to rifle through the objects and papers of "Poor Willa," a recently deceased turn-of-the-century recluse, to discover her story and more about her fate. Participants will be allowed to fully explore the space, touch and read artifacts in search of clues, interact with actors, as well as bid on certain objects by sharing their own memories as currency.

The barrier between spectator and actor is dissolved. TAMARA has been described like an elaborate movie set, with each audience member poised as a camera. The audience certainly has choices to make, journeying from room to room in Rodef Shalom Congregation, a magnificent stand-in for Il Vittoriale degli Italiani. As characters leave a room, which will you follow? Or will you wait and see who shows up? As in life, each is the star of his own story and the stories intersect (think Downton Abbey) with the audience free to drop in on their most dramatic moments.

the approach Her Things took to storytelling reminded me of Gone Home's: allow intimate interaction with the physical space to uncover a story piece-by-piece. it also included and encouraged interacting with the characters, meaning there was a lot of improvisational dialogue. this approach made sense for the "single room" stage, where all participants could observe all action simultaneously.

Tamara, on the other hand, took an approach to storytelling which seems like it should be possible in digital games, but i haven't really seen it. i think it's because what it did was, to put it controversially, anti-interaction. it wasn't about giving the viewer control over the course of the story -- it was just offering a finite choice at each character exit: stay or follow? so you could tailor your individual perspective on the story, but the play had a static script. it was a concurrent program, but not a reactive one.

i believe i've seen interactive fiction authors discuss the desire to make, if not the actual existence of, games that work this way, more or less -- at least following the general idea of "the player can switch between the perspectives of different characters throughout."

incidentally, i liked the experience of Tamara much, much more.

Date: 2014-08-22 06:18 pm (UTC)From: [personal profile] tak0
tak0: (fascination)
i am obsessed with this sort of thing after seeing Sleep No More. (which has elements of both styles of interaction, though sounds closer to Tamara in overall experience.)

i don't know about Tamara, but Sleep No More pulls an interesting psychological trick -- since the audience is all masked, and cannot interact with the actors (well, you can, but basically as much as a ghost can -- you can't influence events) -- you begin to feel that you have a very important role to play, that of the observer, a witness to the events as they unfold. you feel very intimately connected to the characters and the story, because it IS so immersive, and especially if you choose to follow a single character, you begin to feel very close to them -- and yet you cannot help them, cannot save them, cannot even communicate with them. at least for me, this was a powerful and intensely emotionally affecting experience (i still have vivid dreams about Sleep No More).

the style of storytelling, incidentally, reminded me of Choose Your Own Adventure books more than anything else -- not because you can affect anything, but because of the thing that happens where you can see the same event from different perspectives by making different choices. you can, with multiple readings/shows, witness concurrent events and gain a deeper, more nuanced knowledge of the full story than you can by reading a single narrative all the way through. getting to do that, and getting to choose how you relate to the story each time, is incredibly rewarding.

Date: 2014-08-22 07:25 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] wjl.livejournal.com
So when are we going back for a second Tamara viewing? :P Weeks 5 and 6 are catered by Casbah and Stagioni (https://quantum-tamara.squarespace.com/dinner/). . .

Date: 2014-08-23 12:16 am (UTC)From: [identity profile] sorenlundi.livejournal.com
I haven't seen Tamara yet, but I'm excited about it. I've read about that form of theatre before, and I've thought of it as sort of like a more sophisticated haunted house.

I went to a thing earlier in the Summer called Saudade, that was four pieces that were each one on one interactions between an actor and an audience member. And the audience member had to keep their eyes closed. It was a lot of things that generally make me very uncomfortable (being touched, having to improv, doing dishes, being broken up with) but I felt like I was pretty well prepared and managed not to freak out.

Date: 2014-08-23 04:28 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/_tove/
I think it's also worth comparing how various interactive theatre pieces handle scaling to the size of an audience, because physical things scale in very different ways from computer games.

Tamara was a big-budget endeavor by a seasoned theatre troupe, with tight timing across the scenes (implying a lot of rehearsal time) and a realist style to the opulent set and detailed costumes. The audience doesn't get to touch anything, because that would throw off the well-oiled machine. I think all of these things, along with the partially historical subject matter, helped the impression of the audience as witness to a story that has already happened. A large part of the interaction model of Tamara is moving through space (that's how decisions are made), and the scales of the rooms were carefully planned with the scale of the scene. A scene with just one or two characters (and thus one or two characters' worth of audience members) can be in one of the tiny bedrooms, but climactic scenes had to be in the auditorium or atrium. Altogether, an entire mansion really was necessary, but the audience works as a kind of swarm, or fluid.

Conversely, Her Things was run on a much smaller budget. The venue didn't allow for much moving around, so the story was told at the object scale. The team putting it together had very little structure in terms of author vs actor vs crew, so they'd all built the story together and put faith in their ability to improvise as necessary. It had some of what I think of as the problem of conversational impedance matching: actors, in character, having to interact with audience members, very much not in character. (I really try to get into the spirit of these things, but I am super bad at acting!) There's only the one timed event, and everyone experiences it at the same time. Scaling is accomplished by just having a lot of things that need to be looked at; interestingly, the size of the audience is actually an asset for the auction scene.

A third approach was what Strata did: one-on-one interactions, with some elaborate machinery in place behind the scenes to keep everything flowing. Its dreamlike narrative helped smooth over weird actor/audience interactions and made it easier for the timing to work out. It's worth noting that Strata was heavily grant-supported.

(I also recently wrote up some thoughts in a thread on the IF forum.)

Date: 2014-08-23 04:32 pm (UTC)From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/_tove/
It's also worth noting that 1) Tamara debuted in 1981, which was really quite a long time ago, and 2) the LA production was intended as a permanent attraction, which makes its similarities to haunted houses and dinner theatre a bit more obvious.



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