A short video of Punchdrunk Enrichment’s flagship Primary school project ‘Under The Eiderdown’.
The closing plenary that yesterday ended the Museums and the Web 2013 conference in Portland, Oregon, efficiently summed up the exciting future ahead for museums. A future that literally requires removing boundaries between not only digital and physical, but between museums and other cultural and non cultural sectors. Also most likely redefining what a museum is, or should be.
The title of the presentation was What can museums learn from immersive theatre? and adressed the need to rethink and renew the core of the museum experience, exhibitions, by looking at immersive theatre for new ideas. Participating online was Diane Borger. Diane Borger is the producer who brought the theatre company Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More to the US in 2009 (http://www.americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/sleep-no-more). Sleep no more continues to play in New York today (http://sleepnomorenyc.com).
So what is Sleep no more all about?
Sleep No More is a theatrical experience (not a play, per se) that combines elements of Macbeth, film noir, and uses an abandoned hotel as the setting. The audience are all given white masks and instructed to remain completely silent throughotut the performance. Actors move about the hotel, up and down stairs, and scenes take place throughout the builidng over the course of a night. The performances build to a climax, but aside from that, you don’t really get any guidance on how to experience the night. Some people follow actors, some camp out in a space, all of which are extensively decorated and full of objects that reflect something about the plot. You can rummage around in desk drawers, open doors and wander as the events play out around you. Parties are encouraged to split up, and while I was there, I saw a couple actively separated by ushers and deposited on different floors as we rode the elevator up. Definitely not your typical night at the theatre.
Ed Rodley, Thinking about Museums
Sleep no more is an experience that puts the visitor out of his/her comfort zone, removes him/her of naturally safe surroundings such as other participants, includes more than two senses into the experience – the participants are encouraged to touch and interact with the settings. There are one on one encounters with the actors and there is a large portion of participation.
The idea of, by actually placing the participant in an environment that triggers emotions, fear, joy, surprise etc, is something that museums definitely should take a closer look at. To achieve this experience participation is central. For the visitor to be exposed and to loose control, but at the same time to be able to change the experience by reacting and in fact perhaps also acting.
Another very interesting project, similar in many ways to Sleep no more, is Cinema dell’arte in Denmark. It merges theatre with cinema and gaming! Take a look at this video and imagine the possibilities of merging digital with the physical experience and to put participation in focus: In museums.
More reading on immersion and museums
Worlds within worlds: Immersion and museums, by Suse Cairns (2013-03-07)
On Sleep No More, magic and immersive storytelling, by Seb Chan (2012-03-23)
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