Edinburgh Fringe 2023
You enter a black box, which has on the other side, to you, another person, in another compartment of the same black box. You put on headphones, follow instructions as to cards that are in a section between you which ask questions. There is a microphone in front of you and you speak into the microphone meaning the other person can hear you. The questions are profound, and eventually you write a card to each other, pass it between you, pin it up above you and leave it as a record of your time there.
This lasts twenty minutes and over the last few years I have done quite a few of these immersive experiences, but this takes things to a whole new level. In the past it has been about a collective experience between you and a group of people in a box, being scared or having anxiety heightened. You are brought into some form of darkened room in which they take you up in an aeroplane and then return or be at a Séance and get creepy messages into your ears from earphones. Collectively it is effective if impersonal – I certainly was never aware of someone screaming! And I didn’t, even on the inside. It was theatrically worthy. Here it is theatrically challenging in every nice way possible.
I was fortunate enough that my partner – a complete stranger – was better able to follow the rules than I , so when I stole the cards from the central point he very gently and told me they should be shared between us. He also gently chided me to speak directly into the microphone so that he could hear me better. It spoke to a new relationship between us, and I have never even imagined that in an audience.
Of what transpires, each show is different and my experience with my Australian partner, was deep and meaningful. It brought to my attention, the way in which theatre can be utilised cleverly to share. It was something that touched an emotional part of both of us that had a profound effect. I hope I was not too effusive for him afterwards when I gave him a hug. I really wanted to. I also wanted to write something far more profound on our communication between us. His was touching and made my day. My week. My month.
The whole experience asked of me what was theatrical about it. After all, here was the subject matter of the show – me and him – provided by something other than the production team – they and them. If it was truly theatrical, I mused, the format of theatre – audience and performer – needed to be returned to. This was a mash up, mixed up and not part of the norm. Even the darkened rooms had distance between them and us. And then I realised that was the point. This was a great idea, a profound touching of the human spirit and emotion which meant that I felt a connection to another human being on an emotional level. If theatre cannot make those connections, then what is it doing in the first place. Its quest to explore and expose the human condition was being me here: how was part of that process. We needed that connection and that opportunity – here theatre gave it. I shoved my thoughts out of the box and walked away with such emotional release I realised that joy Was part of the theatrical experience when it worked well and I should just go with the flow.
Try it out – it’s a lucky dip, but you cannot be affected if you keep safe on the outside – it’s all about taking that risk.