In the beginning, there was the fourth wall.
And it kept the performer safe, if a bit out of touch.
Now—lo!— the fourth wall has broken! and issuing forth from behind that fourth wall is—behold!—the new immersive performer!
Oh, the mighty power of the immersive performer!
Oh, the mighty FREEDOM of the immersive performer!
And yet, with great power and great freedom—lo! lo!—comes great responsibility!
Verily, it is so! I say unto ye! Lo!
What follows are a definitely-not-biblically-styled pair of blog entries: one about your rights as an immersive performer, and one about your responsibilities as an immersive performer.
Let's define an immersive performer right now: you don't work with a fourth wall, and so, the entire performance space and everyone in it is part of your performance. You interact with the space and with the audience. You are probably employing some degree of improvisation in your work. You are a rock star of incredible magnitude, and you should be very proud of yourself.
Those of us who perform immersively have needs that are different from fourth-wall performer needs. We have a right to have those needs fulfilled. Our needs need to be fought for if we are to be successfully immersive.
These posts are generally directed at performers who are dealing with traditionally non-immersive venues, producers and tech operators. If you are an immersive performer in an immersive show, with an immersive producer and immersive technicians and one big immersive orgy love fest, well, you're awesome and you're very very lucky—but I'm probably not talking to you.
I'm talking to those of us who are trying to bring immersive performance into venues not initially set up to be immersive. That shit is ROUGH sometimes, and we need to support each other.
As immersive performers, remember, we are on the front line of the Great War between the modern revolution of immersion and the stuck-in-the-mud non-immersion that is taking its sweet time to die. Be gone already, non-immersive performance! But alas, she is stubborn. More on her never.
And so, warriors of immersion on the front lines, on the fault line between immersion and non-immersion, let me list some of your rights— rights no one will hand to you, rights for which you must advocate. Here's the stuff that can get you on the bad side of control-freaky venues and tech operators. Here's where the drama is. But this is also where it happens. This is where we wage the war. You must be brave! You must fight for what is right!
1) YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO GET YOUR TECH/VENUE NEEDS MET SO LONG AS YOU ARE NOT A DICK. As an immersive performer, you are performing heroic feats for an audience that desperately needs you. Contrary to what you want to believe, heroes are high maintenance, by necessity. It's not called Superman's Modest Studio Apartment of Solitude. Being immersive means you have needs: you have sound needs, light needs, staging needs, audience configuration needs. Yes, you've become that performer. Yes, you are higher maintenance than performers who work within a fourth wall.
And here is the cruel paradox. What producers and venues of historically non-immersive performance want most of all is a wildly enthusiastic audience who will come back and back. What producers and venues of historically-non-immersive performance want is immersive performance, which can touch audience members in a way no fourth-wall performer can! The paradox is that historically non-immersive producers and venues want immersive performance without having to work at it. They know what they want, but they don't know what they have to do to get it, and they don't want you to tell them.
This is where Being Super Nice, Professional and Direct comes in. You are a superhero with a job to do. Venues and producers and operators can sometimes be super accommodating, and sometimes not at all. It's your job to stand up for what you need, be assertive, be positive, be friendly.
Now, I can be a real snob and a diva. I know what my performance requires from venue techs and event producers, and sometimes I find myself judging the bad ones harshly in my heart. But I'm hoping I don't let them see it. That's when the fourth-wall acting comes in handy! Just drop that imaginary fourth wall between you and that dick venue tech or producer, get what you want, say thank you and hit the dressing room!
2) YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO LIGHTS AND SOUNDS THAT ADD TO THE IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE. Yup, if you are calling yourself an immersive performer, then lights and sounds are not just somebody's else's business; they're yours too. You cannot always do much about lighting in non-immersive spaces—short of bringing your own, which I've heard is a thing some geniuses do—but you owe it to your immersive performer self to do something. You can get the house lights on low, which can help you see audience members if you're on stage, or illuminate you if you're going into the crowd. You might be able to get some sort of special aimed just where you want it. You get to be in charge of the lighting for your performance, and any adjust you can make will make your performance that much more immersive!
And yes, you probably need your own microphone. Sometimes venues have good mics, some don't, but do you really want to leave the sound of your performance up to that much chance? No you don't. Personally, I have an expensive-ass wireless headset mic and I like it that way. I use a Countryman E6 mic and a Sennheiser wireless pack. The Countryman is great because it's super comfortable to wear and it's so small that it doesn't get in the way of my facial micro-expressions. My Sennheiser receiver/transmitter pack runs on rechargeable double A's, which is great because when I give my receiver to the sound tech, he doesn't have to worry about plugging it into power as well as plugging it into the sound system. Sound techs always seem pleased to have to worry about one less plugging responsibility.
Do I have friends who have super cheap mics and like them? Yes I do.
Is my expensive-ass mic actually better than theirs in terms of sound quality? I don't really know. I think so.
Am I better than my friends? No, I am not.
We are all one, and your mic choice is your business.
But yes, you have to soundcheck that shit, either way.
3) YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO DESIGN AUDIENCE LAYOUT (IF IT'S FEASIBLE). Producers and venues think about the bottom line when it comes to audience: how many people can they squeeze in to make that money. They are NOT thinking about maximizing the drama of your entrance. They are NOT thinking about the best way you can be seen when you're in the audience. They aren't really considering the audience's experience—because fourth-wall performance deals in the illusion that the audience is not even there—so of course they don't matter! Producers and venues might even resent you for thinking about the audience's experience, or for daring to interact with them. They may not want you interacting with the audience because that makes them think of lawsuits. So if you want an aisle up the middle, if you want a special reserved chair, if you want the chairs arranged in a loose semi-circle, whatever you want, you gotta ask nice in advance and hope for the best. Seriously, the more in-advance you can contact a venue and let them know what your immersive needs are, the more likely you are to get what you want. And you also gotta be prepared for no special favors, because of ye ol' bottom line. You might be faced with the lamest, most-fourth-wall-enforcing seating plan in the world, and nobody will accommodate you, and you gotta kill anyway.
Nobody tells you that you have to advocate for your performance to make it as immersive as possible, but you 100% do. The more you can curate the experience for the audience, and attend to every aspect, the more in control of the immersion experience you will feel—and that radiates into your performance. If you have asserted your immersive rights before the show, you will glow in all dimensions when it's your time to shine.