immersive experiences
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Immersive experiences are the new craze – but are they about art or money?

Immersive experiences are becoming an increasingly popular choice for an ever-growing audience. While they started outside of theatre as a thrill seekers’ heaven – a chance for individuals to truly feel like they are living in a horror movie through experiences like London Dungeons, Thorpe Park’s Fright Night and haunted houses – they have begun to evolve to accommodate a diverse range of audiences.

The digital Van Gogh exhibition in Paris, Amsterdam and York features an interactive multimedia representation of his life and work, allowing onlookers to physically step into his paintings. A new gin and tonic afternoon tea event, labelled as an ‘immersive party’, is opening in London in the theme of Alice in Wonderland and will feature the characters, ‘drink me’ bottles and psychedelic cocktail-tasting sessions. For those who want to shake up their weekly routines and add more sass to their bottomless brunch, ‘The Exhibit’ in Balham has monthly ‘Drag Brunches’ which include live DJ’s, catwalk competitions and dance offs between two of London’s most popular drag queens.

Perhaps the increasing commodification of immersive theatre is suffocating the original, creative work of the artform

The latest of these events coming to London is an immersive experience like no other. For those who like to dance the night away, an immersive clubbing experience is opening on 4 October, dramatically titled “The Heist”. Featuring an action-packed plot about a bank robbery, audience members will be thrust into the fictional world while experiencing DJ Hype & Slamboree Soundsystem in an exclusive, intimate venue. With the event more geared towards young people and clubbers than the traditional immersive experience, we can certainly expect it to be high energy and fast paced.

But the growth of immersive experiences begs the question of whether these events are created for making money or as an artform. It could be argued that they are taking advantage of theatre’s innate ability to engage with an audience in order to use it for commercialisation. Theatre itself has never been about the money, but inflicting change, igniting discussion and problem-solving in society. Perhaps the increasing commodification of immersive theatre is suffocating the original, creative work of the artform, and turning it into a big-name, money-grabbing attraction.

The same is true of these immersive experiences – art still stands at the basis of their commercialisation

Oxford Dictionary defines ‘art’ as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination”. When we consider this against the work that these immersive experiences produce, then I would say they do marry together. West End musicals have become more about making money than using the power of theatre to reach an audience, yet the foundation of creative skill and imagination is still there. I believe the same is true of these immersive experiences – art still stands at the basis of their commercialisation.

These events always have a groundwork of artistic flare and creativity. After all, the initial idea was stimulating enough for them to become popular in the first place. Immersive experiences are intriguing, and that paired with a famous painter’s work, one of the best-selling books of all time, bottomless food with popular drag queens or access to an exclusive performance by live DJs is always going to be popular. The events themselves are creative in nature and the way that they are put together, performed and experienced is always well thought-through. There is definitely an element of art to each one, but with a modern, interactive twist.

Immersive experiences are a fantastic way to introduce art and theatre to a new audience

Immersive experiences are a fantastic way to introduce art and theatre to a new audience because of their popularity and modernised interpretation of art. They may not be traditional, but perhaps they are what is needed to reintroduce art and creativity to a younger generation. It makes sense those brought up on technology that is constantly pushing boundaries needs to see art infused with the same ethos.

Introducing young people to the world of theatre and performance whilst enjoying a larger-than-life version of something they already do so often seems like a good way to ensure the survival of the arts. Those who love to go clubbing but have never gone to see a play can be thrust right into the middle of the action in experiences like “The Heist”. Immersive events are a spectacular way to mix new art with traditional creativity, holding the same essence of the original but just taking it to new heights. Art has to evolve and be shaped by society, and these experiences show just how well we are managing to get that right.

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