The Queerness Of Interactive Immersive Theatre
Another day, another blog (all building up to something, I promise). This one briefer than most.
As before, this is an attempt to disgorge an idea that’s been lodged in my mind that I’m rather interested in. Specifically: is Interactive Immersive Theatre inherently a queer form?
To understand what I mean, please allow a brief detour to explain the difference between ‘queer arts’ (e.g. drag, cabaret, It’s A Sin, Angels In America…) and ‘queer forms’.
To loosely give definitions, the former is ‘art made by and about LGBT+ people, experiences, and/or issues.’ The latter is ‘art that bends rules and expectations in ways that disrupt the expectations of a particular form or performance; in short, shows that are bent.’
An neo-romantic opera about Sappho’s life by a team of lesbian creators would be queer art, but it would probably not be in a queer form.
Crucially, queered forms are not - necessarily - directly about LGBT+ topics, even though they might make space valued by LGBT+ communities. Often, they overlap with other parts of ideologically-informed left-wing theatre practice.
Drag theatre is a great example of a queered form - it breaks expectations, gleefully smashes together genres, and refuses definitions bound to a patriarchal system of classification.
Interactive Immersive Theatre is, arguably, an interesting example of a queered form even though it often not directly about queer histories (and where it includes queer stories, they are often at the sidelines due to the historical setting of much IIT).
Queered elements include:
IIT redistributes power: it gives power in the theatre space to the audience, rather than the traditional hierarchy of writer->performers->audience-recipient. It allows the audience to engage in the way they choose to, giving them a freedom seated theatre lacks. Often they’re holding a drink from a nearby bar, as at a cabaret rather than a traditional theatre etiquette.
IIT invites multiple readings and narratives: the default position of IIT is one of overlapping narratives, each audience member forming their own individual story in a world. It allows for a queer world in which each experience is different, and each still matters. Where there is imbalance of power, there is not imbalance of interest or importance. A diversity of experience is actively encouraged and innate to the form.
IIT invites people to reimagine their worlds: in a way vaguely reminiscent of Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, IIT shows give people the chance to reimagine their world to be places politics is just, history turned another way, they were people who chose to resist rising fascism. Perhaps it’s not important. But I doubt I’m the only person thinking of Crisis, What Crisis? amid current strike actions, and asking myself how I should act.
It’s a fringe form, cheap at the edges and proud at its heart, and arguably a remarkably queered form for a genre so rarely concerned with direct queer narratives. I’d just like to acknowledge that out loud.