Why watch a piece of theatre when you can fully experience it? Immersive theatre experiences are on the rise, offering audiences new ways to see, touch, explore and get lost in a live performance. While this form has gained international attention through the work of Punchdrunk (Sleep No More) in the last decade or so, experimentation in the relationship between audience, performer and physical space has long been a fascination for artists. It is particularly thrilling with young audiences, as they tend to get fully immersed in the imagined world and play way more readily than the adults in the audience. The last few years have seen a wave of immersive work in the TYA world, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at CTC, The Voice Thief from Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, Polyglot’s Separation Street, Punchdrunk’s Against Captain’s Orders, and a variety of work by Trusty Sidekick. The latest project to experiment with immersion in TYA in the ambitious and imaginative An Epic Tale of Scale, opening March 10 at Chicago Children’s Theatre.
Billed as “an immersive, interactive theatrical event unlike anything you’ve ever experienced,” An Epic Tale of Scale takes audiences on and adventure through the human body and out to the far reaches of space. Audiences are limited to groups of 20, with entry times staggered every 15 minutes. Created and directed by Henry Wishcamper and Jo Cattell, designed by CCT Community Programs Artistic Director Frank Maugeri, the piece explores our relationship to scale and what we might find looking at the natural world through new eyes. “The idea of scale is conceptually as awe inspiring for adults as it is for kids,” says Henry Wishcamper, co-creator and director.
Wishcamper explains that “the idea for the piece began…through a summer camp that was about theatre and science.” The creative team was inspired by the concept of theatricalizing and abstracting imagery of both the inside of the human body and vastness of the galaxy. Using Chicago Children’s Theatre’s new space (a police station-turned-theatre-space called The Station) as their canvas, the Epic Tale team created an interactive experience that utilizes and transforms the entire building for the production.
When audiences first arrive, they enter a foyer that has been turned into a “Curiosity shop.” The room is filled with artifacts to explore. CCT partnered with the Field Museum of Chicago, lending a variety of fascinating objects from their collection. Wishcamper explains that this space “…is a wonderous and dusty, dingy space where anything can happen.”
From here, audiences discover the Shrinkinator Room, which will provide the illusion through imaginative use of video that the audience will be shrunk down to the size of a blood cell. An elevator, designed as a passage through the human body, transports audiences to their next destination. Participants are given full-body outfits (kids as white blood cells and adults as red blood cells). The objective – to transmit nutrients to the brain through the body. The white blood cell kids will lead the way, while the red blood cell parents to protect the white blood cell along the mission. Part obstacle course, part interactive play, fully immersive promenade route through the body.
Once the audience arrives at the brain, the audience is asked to create a message to alien life forms. From here, things get a bit psychedelic – audiences are rocketed into space for the finale by way of a trampoline into the main theatre space, designed with illusions of depth and scale. The experience culminates with a “cosmic dance party.”
The show is reminiscent of a variety of pop culture fascinated with the same idea, from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, to the Body Wars ride at Disney World, to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids. But CCT’s production takes the concept one step further by creating an interactive, mission-based experience that utilizes all of the magic of live experience and requiring kids and parents together to complete the narrative. Productions like this are far more interested in experience and interactivity rather than offering a cohesive traditional narrative. In a time so focused on interactivity by way of a screen, productions like An Epic Tale of Scale offer kids and adults completely unique, kinesthetic and interactive experiences that happen in real space and time. How will productions like this change the future of TYA as a form, as artists and venues continue to experiment by challenging the traditional theatre-going experience? It’s definitely worth zooming in and taking a closer look at this growing genre of new work.
For more info about the production, visit http://chicagochildrenstheatre.org/shows/an-epic-tale-of-scale/