(Re-) Constructing the Actor-Audience Relationship in Immersive Theatre Practice

PhD Thesis

Ramos, J. 2015. (Re-) Constructing the Actor-Audience Relationship in Immersive Theatre Practice. PhD Thesis University of East London Arts and Digital Industries https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.4987
AuthorsRamos, J.
TypePhD Thesis

the United Kingdom (UK). This includes audience expectations shaped by theatre
conventions, the ways in which actors perform as well as the strategies employed by
event producers to encourage audience participation. This research aims to contribute to
the field of immersive practice by proposing a new approach to immersive dramaturgy
that enhances the experience of individual audiences in immersive, interactive and
participatory theatre.
This study maps the development of a new approach to actor training, audience
interviews and the making of an immersive theatre production trilogy (Hotel Medea).
The development process and production of the Hotel Medea trilogy comprise a key
practice-based outcome of this research, and it was performed in full in London (2009,
2010 and 2012), Edinburgh (2011) Rio de Janeiro (2010), and in part in the city of
Brasilia (2012). A second key outcome of the research is a new methodology of
immersive practice—‘dramaturgy of participation’—that includes approaches to
theatrical dramaturgy in which each audience member is offered opportunities to
proactively participate as an individual, and which will be a useful resource for
emerging theatre makers in the field of immersive practice. The overnight theatre
production Hotel Medea is a major and central part of this submission. The written
material provides context, detailed exegesis and expands upon relevant topics. Readers
can access video recordings of Hotel Medea (LIFT, 2010) in full on the following
address: http://www.vimeo.com/hotelmedea.
I will use the Hotel Medea trilogy as the case study for this research utilizing its
durational overnight structure to lead my argument for immersive theatre events to
meaningfully consider the experience of each (and every) audience member
individually throughout the duration of performance. An experience not based on
competitive participation or chance journeys but instead on a carefully designed
dramaturgy that allows individuals to build a temporary community with fellow
audiences. My argument suggests that there is a need for immersive theatre practitioners
to devise adequate tools for its audiences prior to participation being offered, in order to
aid a fuller participation in the event. Hotel Medea is a durational interactive theatrical
event that takes place in real time from 00.00 a.m. to 06.00 a.m., in three parts. It retells
the Greek myth of Medea through three types of participation design: participatory
rituals, immersive environments and interactive game-play. Hotel Medea is concerned

with the experience of the individual audience members as ticket-paying public, as
participants and as players. At every step of the event, expectations are re-negotiated to
allow individuals to engage with the event—at times proactively, at others passively.
I have focused on the perspective of the author as opposed to solely drawing
upon audience questionnaires, feedback and testimonies of collaborators. My choice of
critical approach is based on the accumulated experience gathered, especially as a
performer in Hotel Medea, allowing me to explore the complex and nuanced responses
from individual audience members over the course of six years. During the early stages
of my research, audience and collaborator interviews played an important part in
evaluating the basic structure of the performance event. However, it soon became clear
that the production would need to devise its own tools for capturing relevant data.
Therefore the role of the Captain – the first host the audiences meet as they arrive in
Hotel Medea - became itself one of the most valuable tools for articulating this research.
The Captain, as well as other approaches used, are described in detail through the
course of the first chapters.
The key focus of this research project is the proposition of a dramaturgy of
participation through the notion of the ‘micro-event’. Micro-events are determined by
three interrelated design elements, each of which nuances a larger area of practice,
namely participatory rituals, immersive environments, and interactive game-play. The
significance of this enquiry is the unique new practice in relation to audience behaviour
in immersive experiences in a time when the term ‘immersive’ is widely explored both
within and beyond the arts. The production output of this research—Hotel Medea—has
itself been widely recognized by specialized press and cultural programmers as a leader
in the field, creating a direct impact on the wider understanding of processes and
methods of audience immersion across the UK and internationally. This recognition
can be observed through awards and nominations, public statements of influential
figures in the cultural sector, references in academic publications (Boenisch, 2012;
White, 2013), in newspaper articles placing Hotel Medea as part of ‘the original cadre
of British participatory ensembles’ (Armstrong, 2011) and in other UK publications
such as The Herald, Scotsman, Metro (2011), Time Out, and Telegraph (2012).

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.4987
Publication dates
PrintAug 2015
Publication process dates
Deposited09 May 2016
Publisher's version
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