In which I attend a theatrical performance and learn something about theatre, travel, and time.
In February, I had my first immersive theatre experience at a play called The Drowned Man. F
or those unfamiliar with this type of performance, immersive theatre essentially erases the typical divides between performers and audience members. The audience is allowed to wander through the performance space and interact with sets, props, and actors. In the case of The Drowned Man
in particular, audience members don full-face masks before entering the performance space of a five-floor warehouse in which approximately thirty actors, each with their own narrative strand, perform.
From the moment that I began watching the many performers interacting in and with the theatre, I was hooked. The way that each performer reacted so uniquely to the space and to their fellow performers astounded me.
Within the next three hours, I decided while watching a riveting combination of modern-rodeo dancing and acting, I had to see all the performers. I had to witness every scene. I had to find every nook and cranny on each of the five floors. I had to touch all the props. I had to figure out how these thirty narrative strands all connected. And if I was going to do all of this within the three allotted hours (three hours! Once that had seemed an infinite amount of time for a show, yet now it seemed no more than a breath), I needed to stop watching this particular scene and get moving onto the other scenes.
But despite my desire to see everything contained within this show, I did not desire to leave my current location. I wanted to watch the rest of this dance, to explore further the pub set design, to observe the characters’ carefree mannerisms and tangled relationships, to note the lights flashing from yellow to blue, to breathe in the scents of beer and wood paneling. My choice was pretty simple – stay or go – but I felt stranded by its weight. I realized that if I went, I would certainly have time to see everything, but I would not have time to experience it – and if I stayed, I would not have nearly enough time to see everything . . . but those things that I did see, I could experience from every angle, with every sense, as complete and unified wholes.
I decided to stay.
This epiphany impacted not just my time at The Drowned Man
, but my entire semester in London. Many times, I was confronted with the choice between trying to see everything (going on a whirlwind day tour of all of London, walking through the entirety of the British or Victoria & Albert museum, food sampling my way through a festival) and trying to sustain my attention on one or two things (touring a single district of London, loitering in two or three rooms at a museum, having a sit-down meal). It wasn’t until attending The Drowned Man
, however, that I was able to articulate these oppositions, or that I was able to realize my preference for the latter.
It’s easy to bemoan all of the things that I did not and will not do this semester. But my commitment to maintaining sustained attention for the things I did
do has created memories richer in detail and happiness, and I owe that to the theatre.
Who ever said the arts aren’t beneficial to our real lives?
[images in text body from miista.com and controltheriot.com]