Defining Interactive Theatre

This would be a good moment to state my research question, as I’ve formulated it at this stage, so here it is:

How can I let an audience experience and play with the creation, perpetuation and destruction of social and political walls using game mechanics and dramaturgy, by their own agency?


I already explained here what I mean by social and political walls, but what about the other part, specifically how an audience can, by their own agency, experience and play with this theme through game mechanics and dramaturgy? I’d like to think I can sum up this mishmash of words with one medium: interactive theatre.

I’ll be using some examples to show where I get my inspiration from, be it the use of certain game mechanics, the use of theatrical design and dramaturgy, the conveying of information (and lack thereof) to the audience, visual design, story structures, psychological tricks and audience agency.

I think I’ll post separate blog posts for similar examples, while having a good look at what things I find relevant for each, what worked, what didn’t work, what I could use in my own work and all that.

Before I do that, let’s define what I mean by “interactive theatre”. To make the definition more useful, perhaps I can try to include what I’d like to achieve with my own project using this medium.

The Role of the Audience

The Audience, often equally referred to as the players, collectively play the lead role in interactive theatre. Individually, every audience member is the lead character in their own experience, even if they don’t realise or believe it. The audience should be welcomed to make decisions, take initiative, solve problems, and generally behave like they’re playing a game. The degree in which this is allowed and facilitated is what “agency” amounts to. I’ll get to that.
However, it’s very important to note that passive observation (hanging about at the back) should equally be welcomed, and designed for.

The Story

Just like any good story, the piece should have a story arc. An introductory bit to establish the setting, and a buildup to the issue, the problem, or if there is no obvious one, an establishment of a status quo.
Conflict, contrast and several obstacles for the audience to overcome should be introduced next, with an eventual crescendo or climactic event as the last obstacle.
Then, a resolution, or the lack of one, depending on the choices and “success” of the audience could end the piece. An ending wholly depends on the audience in this case. As a designer I could either improvise on the situation, have several endings prepared, or leave the ending open, thus leaving room for discussion, realisation and imagination.

Interaction and Agency

It wouldn’t be interactive theatre without interaction, so what does that look like? Well, I’m looking at a wide scala of possible degrees of interaction and agency here. I could take a pointer from Nordic Live Action Roleplay (LARP) and allow a very large amount of freedom to the audience. In this specific medium (which a later post will be about), the audience (or players, really), take a character, and play with it in the physical space, only limited by the reactions of other players and very limited, minimalistic game rules.
Or, it could be more like the experiencial theatre of, for example, Punch Drunk, where you can choose from which angle and in what order you experience a theatrical story built all around you, sometimes interacting directly with actors and the world, but not having much influence over how the course of the story goes.

So, let’s look at lots of examples, pick them apart and put them together again into some sort of Frankenstein’s Monster. Or throw them to the crows and try something new. I don’t know yet, let’s explore further.

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