An introduction to immersive theatre

Three drama newbies dive into Colliding Scopes Theatre’s workshop

Image by: Sarina Grewal

As three girls who have no acting experience, joining an immersive theatre workshop was probably the most out-of-character activity we could’ve chosen for our Tuesday afternoon. 

The Colliding Scopes Theatre workshop was led with the help of Associate Professor of Drama, Jenn Stephenson. The exercise focused on creating an escape room through the means of immersive theatre, where a participant’s personal experience of the show constituted the art.

Our venture into acting had a rocky start: it took us longer than probably acceptable to find the room for the workshop in Theological Hall. Once we’d finally located the Rotunda Theatre, we were greeted by a group of students, all of whom we soon realized were either drama majors or had previous acting experience. 

We were promptly split into two groups and told that each team had to create a 15-minute fictional ‘escape room’ theatre mission, based around a code word the other team had to guess in order to ‘escape the room’. 

The goal was to use the concepts of awareness, communication and community to guide participants to guess the code word.

Team One landed on their code word being “attempt.” Their goal to create a unique escape room led to both teams simulating a magic camp in which the first group acted as camp counsellors and the second group as the campers. 

This scenario mostly involved the first team heckling Team Two for lacking magical capabilities. 

The magic camp counsellors of Team One controlled the scenario, inviting Team Two — our magic campers — to try and complete several tasks, all of which were impossible to achieve. They had to find a nonexistent flag, fly for five seconds and move a large flaming tower structure using only their imaginations. 

Team One’s immersive escape room resulted in the Team Two campers running into the most obscure areas of the room — including behind stairs and in the balcony — in search of the flag. 

It also included several campers jumping into the air with a broom between their legs and a group of 20-somethings staring aggressively at a tower with their fingers at their temples. 

Needless to say, they all failed the tasks spectacularly. 

Three failed attempts and one burned down fictional tower later, the magic campers of Team Two completed the escape room by guessing Team One’s code word.

Team Two, whose code word was “discovery,” took a more traditional, inspired approach in which half of the participants were locked in the backstage of the theater to illustrate the sense of community in the space. 

The scenario had them earn their way backstage by mimicking vocal exercises under the guise of saving an actor who had gone missing.

Once we were all together in the back room, the lights “went out,” forcing us to have a heightened awareness of the space around us. Participants were told to hold hands to give an understanding of the bodies in the room.

Finally, the actor who had gone “missing” showed up to let us out of the locked room but only when we showed her she was appreciated by guessing her favourite TV programme. Because of the wolf on her shirt, participants finally guessed it was the “Discovery” Channel, simultaneously guessing the code word and being freed from the space. 

At the end of the workshop, we gathered to discuss what we thought about the immersive experience. 

The three of us agreed we learned that seemingly innocuous actions can help a person become incredibly aware of their surroundings. We also learned that stepping out of your comfort zone can force you to realize a lot about yourself.

For one thing, we also now know we don’t have a future in acting. 

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