Different hues of ‘immersive performance’ hook audiences completely

The Company Theatre (TCT) hosted the supposedly first open-air live performance since Covid-19 lockdown at Kamshet, near Pune, on September 22.

Act
The act named, “Where does all this wood come from” was performed by nine actors for nine audiences in indoor as well as outdoor spaces

Far from the bustling city landscapes, next to a small lake in the lap of nature, the artist residency of The Company Theatre (TCT) hosted the first open-air live performance since COVID-19 lockdown at Kamshet, near Pune, on September 22.

The act, ‘Where does all this wood come from, was performed by nine actors for as many audiences in indoor as well as outdoor spaces. The performance also involved the audience which made it a fun activity for all. Such a format of theatre is popularly known as ‘immersive performance.’

The performance

The audiences gathered around 5.30 in the evening to witness the live show with light drizzle for company. Come what may, the excited viewers were not willing to miss this as they loudly cheered for the actors.

The audiences stood with umbrellas right next to the linear formation of beds where the artists began to perform. The arrangement resembled a matrix with all characters trapped inside rooms and following their daily routine without fail. Every character had a set of actions to perform which completed the full circle of the day. Once the scene was over, the audience was directed to the other space to explore the next story.

The new space was outdoor with the setting of a dhobi ghat. A story of a group of women unfolded, bringing out a range of emotions they were dealing with. Their conversations kept the viewers hooked throughout. All this while, the rain continued unabated, but instead of deterring the actors and spectators, it only added to the essence of the show.

The troop then moved into an indoor space where each of the nine spectators was chosen by each of the nine artists, who guided them to different rooms. The spectators were expected to follow the instructions given on a piece of paper and act accordingly. Here, came the best part of audience involvement as the actors made them plant saplings outside each room.

A still from the performance at TCT. Photo: Akash Gulankar

The actor-spectator troupe then shifted to a lake to feel the cool breeze that added to everybody’s excitement. This was a space where everyone immersed themselves into the moment and felt the fun of playing in water like any child would do.

And the travel continued into the newer spaces, with new stories and interesting characters popping out of the story with different set of emotions. This transported the spectators into a space of their own, allowing them to feel the vibes in a way never felt before.

Every viewer got the freedom to look at the act with his or her own perspective and their responses too were diverse, which made the show more intriguing. The act not only unfolded the stories and characters, but it also revealed the audience their own selves.

After cruising through the campus of residency, everyone gathered into a hall where dinner was served. The only question that was in every spectator’s mind at that point was – is this also a part of the act?

Audience reaction

Isha Talwar, who was one of the viewers, told The Federal what she felt. “It was a mix of realism and surrealism. Every scene had its own flavor. And that was the fun part of it! When you’re into a space like this, it doesn’t take you long to draw the audience into the scene.”

About the beginning of the performance, Talwar said, “The opening part had very powerful images and mundane things that we all go through. There were no dialogues, which I liked. Still, I could instantly connect to the characters and they (actors) established their relationships through their body languages.” She felt the actors did their best to create the scenes and spaces very convincingly that too without a dialogue.

Isha is an actor and a dancer herself. She began performing impromptu with one of the artists during the play. On that she says, “That was my impulse. When I sat in front of that actor, I could easily figure out she was going to do the mirror exercise. And I followed.” Further, she said, “Also, coming from Bombay, I liked walking into the grass barefoot and enjoyed all the other outdoor activities too.”

A still from the performance at TCT. Photo: Akash Gulankar

Another member from the audience, Aakash Prabhakar, who is a theatre actor, had already performed in ‘immersive performance’ before. “I have done a similar thing but inside the theatre, a closed space. But this place took it (performance) somewhere else in terms of reception. Because, you were literally moving with the characters, with the spaces, with these paths of people who were telling you stories in their own way. I liked the work the audience had to put in to delve deeper,” Prabhakar said. “A number of stories emerged from different pockets into a huge space. It was a bouquet of actions and stories,” he says.

Prabhakar especially liked the story of a young couple inside the kitchen. He said, “The way it was executed was really beautiful. They were not talking much but yet saying a lot more than they could have said with words.”

Prabhakar liked the part when they entered the water body. “Going inside the water was beautiful! There was no performance. It was just being there which really is missing in today’s times. Just the power of being! That itself is a big luxury, I think as an audience.”

Though each one had a unique experience about the act, the common thread that sums up their mood is that “it made them forget all the disturbing thoughts and just be there in the moment”.

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