A central focus of my professional life is creating/researching engaging experiences for audiences. What better way to start this blog than sharing an anecdote of an occasion where I had the pleasure of being on the received end of such an experience. Brisbane physical theatre company Zen Zen Zo recently presented a season of In the Company of Shadows at The Loft, Kelvin Grove. This performance also doubled as a creative outcome of Zen Zen Zo Director Lynne Bradley’s doctoral research project. It was through a friend (one of the performers) that I learned about this production. I was told it was interactive, that it explored the theme of nightmares, and that audience members experienced it in a king size bed: I was sold.
In the days leading up to the event, I received an email from Zen Zen Zo with instructions: bring my invitation to the ‘sleepover’, arrive 30 minutes before ‘bedtime’ for hot chocolate, and come dressed in my pyjamas. I love playing dress-ups, so, of course, I turned up in my best dressing gown! On arrival, I played games in the ‘lounge room’ with three other sleepover guests before meeting the prolific Zen Zen Zo ‘family’ in the darkened ‘bedroom’. Here we snuggled into the bed while the family wheeled us around the space, steering the bed like you would a video camera capturing a movie in one take. As we kept changing direction, different scenes of the family were presented to us. The family crawled underneath and over us like insects, they ‘nibbled’ our feet, and spun us around as fast as they could. The guest next to me (a stranger) squirmed in response, and clung on to me for support in particularly visceral moments. We did not ‘sleep’ well that night.
This performance was memorable because it was designed to be experienced by the audience. I was greeted, fed, played games (including ‘pirate ships’), and was tucked into bed. Interestingly, at no point was this event referred to as a ‘performance’. Instead, it was a ‘sleepover’. The cast, ‘family members’. The tickets, ‘invitations’. For me, this made the evening feel more personal, and, in some ways, made it less confronting to interact with performers in the theatre environment.
And there’s more! Opportunities for audience members to reflect on performances is important for the meaning-making process, which contributes to the pleasure of attending performances. A lovely, last touch to this sleepover was the ‘breakfast’ that awaited us when we left the bedroom. Not only did it provide a fitting end to the sleepover, but it also gave us, the guests, an opportunity to talk about the experience we had just shared. And, boy, did we have a lot to talk about!