Mon, June 27, 2022

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Immersive, or not—that is the question

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Two very different immersive theatre productions this month

The never-ending pandemic has greatly affected performing arts. A charm of it is the fact that the artists and audiences share the space and time but the physical distancing means that theatre venues, where strangers sat closely together for a certain period of time, needed to shut their doors.

Here in Thailand, over the past few months the number of theatre performances has started to pick up but it's still far from what it was pre-pandemic. Plus, we still haven't heard when large playhouses like Rachadalai Theatre and Siam Pic-Ganesha Center of Performing Arts will welcome audiences again. 

And now that the audience has an option of watching theatre, either pre-recorded or live, anywhere anytime, on their communication devices which has satisfied many theatregoers, do we still want to go to theatre venues to be part of that temporary community, to feel that vibe of liveness?

Immersive theatre makes full use of the audience's physical presence and offers them experiences they will never get from online theatre. 

Immersive, or not—that is the question

Immersive, or not—that is the question
 

Trance Studio's "Me and My Little Prince" described itself as "multisensory immersive musical theatre experience" and was based on one of the most beloved novels of all time "Le petit prince". Seated in front of screens at a studio in Warehouse 30, the masked audience saw projected images through a specially designed eyeglasses that was claimed to filter certain hues while listening to pre-recorded play with some musical numbers which did not provide a new interpretation to the all-familiar story. That's why the show could be presented four times a day and that's where the audience wondered, given the ticket price and the 'theatre' label, why the actors' performance was not live.

As two members of the production team were seen hurrying into the studio with two sprayers before the show, there were later occasional rain and heat that we could feel inside. "Here we go again: the first one isn't dry yet!," complained an audience member behind me who didn't seem to feel that she was magically transported to the Sahara.

Earlier, another staff member suggested we close our eyes from time to time to exercise our imagination. An obedient theatregoer myself, I followed her advice but then realized that it was like me sitting outdoors in my home lawn listening to a sound clip of the show sent to be by the production team. Mother Nature could make it immersive with desert-like temperature and occasional rain too.

Immersive, or not—that is the question

Immersive, or not—that is the question

Meanwhile, at Chang Chui, a creative park now celebrating its fifth anniversary with more local-friendly atmosphere than before, STUDIO11206 and Throw BKK collaborated in “2046: The Greater Exodus.” Billed as “Bangkok’s first immersive theatre dining experience,” the show took audiences, and diners, on a trip to Utopia on board the plane-turned-fine-dining-restaurant Na-Oh Bangkok. It’s a storyline that fit the décor of this unique restaurant, to begin with, and the team of costume, set, sound and lighting designers deftly enhanced the atmosphere to make it even more theatrical. 

On board, we were allowed to go mask-free while enjoying delectable food and drinks served by masked wait staff at our table in designated section in accordance with the ticket price. Seasoned stage actors, also mask-free, portraying charactersfrom many professions running for the upcoming electionstopped by to explain why we should vote for them and not the others. In the meantime, a singer, a pianist and a mime also delighted all passengers. Some of us also received special invitations to meet other characters in the cockpit and cargo hold. In other words, each audience would not get the same experience.

Immersive, or not—that is the question

Immersive, or not—that is the question

In short, it’s a rather busy few hours and sometimes we didn’t even know what to focus on—the food or the performance. As we were about to order another drink, our waiter hurriedly arrived with the bill and we found out later that this was to clear the aisles for the last scene in which 

Then, all characters roamed the spacecraft with a musical number and shortly after the chef, masked and apparently not portraying a character, skillfully showed us how to make a dessert. Invited to join the final walking parade in celebration of this journey, some diners declined and chose to stay at their tables enjoying more drinks and conversation with peers, and taking photos on their phones.

With two immersive experiences in the span of few days, I couldn’t help compare it with Punchdrunk’s “A Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable” and Look Left and Right’s “You Once Said Yes” and realized that both of these works by UK artists allowed each audience to fully immerse themselves into not only the performance but also the environment—solo, almost at will, on foot and mobile-phone free. 

Immersive, or not—that is the question

“Me and My Little Prince” finished its run last Sunday (June 19), but the offstage drama beyond our imagination is on. A Facebook group has been set up by some audience members who felt that they were ripped off by this work whose ticket costs Bt 1,800 (or equal to 4 4DX movie tickets) and are planning to file a complaint to the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB), probably the first time in the history of Thai theatre. Visit www.facebook.com/TranceStudio.co

After last weekend’s cancellation due to COVID cases among the production crew, “2046: The Greater Exodus” continues from Friday (June 24) to Sunday (June 26), 7pm at Na-Oh Bangkok, Chang Chui, 10-minute walk from Bang Bamru station (SRT Red Line). Tickets (dinner included) are from Bt 2,750 to 6,380. The performance is in Thai but some actors are willing to talk to you in English, if you can’t speak Thai. For more details, www.facebook.com/2046TheGreaterExodus
 

By Pawit Mahasarinand

Published : June 23, 2022

By : THE NATION