As an actor, I’ve been very comfortable with immersive theatre for a while. In 2014 I took an immersive one-on-one piece (one performer, one audience member) to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And I performed it a lot. I’m talking 5 hours a day, 6 days a week for a whole month. Audiences laughed with me, cried with me, shared food with me. One person even asked me out on date. (I didn’t realise it was actually a date until I was on it – yep, that was awkward.) I was pretty sure I’d totally sussed out the immersive theatre vibe and nothing could throw me. But of course, immersive theatre with younger audiences is a whole different game. Why? Because working with young audiences is challenging. It’s also one of the most worthwhile experiences you can have.
They’re the best audience for giving feedback.
If something is boring they will let you know. In an immersive environment this can be happening right in front of you while you’re trying to act. It’s hard. It’s agonising. Your ego wants to shout out ‘Hey! I’m really trying here!’ But you can’t stop the show and tell them off for being rude because they’re just being honest, and actually this feedback is invaluable. Throughout the rehearsal process for Thrive we were constantly sharing our work with young people. Jokes received blank stares and out of date terminology was soon pointed out (who knew dinner ladies were now called meal time supervisors??) By the end of our preview tour we were left with a show that really seemed to connect and resonate with young people.
Every show is different.
Sometimes young adults can be withdrawn in the beginning only to become totally engrossed later on in the production. Sometimes they can get the giggles because they’re not sure how to behave. It’s not because you’re shit or because the material isn’t engaging, it’s because you’re performing for 14 – 25-year-old individuals with differing levels of maturity and experience. Many of them have never been to the theatre before, let alone experienced an immersive production. The spectrum of reactions we witness during Thrive is vast and it’s incredible to see how brave young audiences can be. Some have danced with me during my character, Ashleigh’s house party. Others have hugged Luke’s character Raph when he attempts to reach out for help. It’s these genuine and bold interactions that keep the show unpredictable, fresh and alive.
When they invest in the work they’re the most inquisitive audience you can get.
We often hold Q&A sessions with audiences after the show to help us unpack the themes. It’s also an opportunity for one of our actors, Luke, to share his own story of loss and how making the show helped his own grieving process (check out Luke’s blog here). Young audiences ask incredibly sensitive and poignant questions in these sessions. Questions they may have had in their heads for a while and never said out loud. Questions about mental health, about how we developed the characters, where the story came from and how we created it. They ask questions about us. When did we know we wanted to become actors? Was it hard to get into drama school? How is life working as an actor? They are so curious and it’s a joy to feed that curiosity.
They remind me why I became an actor in the first place.
I didn’t become an actor because I wanted to be famous and have people tell me I’m amazing. I became an actor because I wanted to provoke, to inspire, to contribute to society in the way that felt most natural to me. Working with young adults in an immersive environment strips you of any ego. They force you to work harder, adapting your performance every night in order to engage and connect. They remind you that it’s never about you - it’s about your audience. For me, it’s only when I truly practise this principle that I believe I make a difference through theatre.