Mixing it up with theater-goers is an old old device that you can trace from Commedia Dell’arte to French Enlightenment salons to 60s protest theater to the current cool kid in school, a NYC smash called Sleep No More. Once labeled “screwing around with the audience”, this contrivance has been re-branded as “immersive” theater. This October, SB Dance trots our horse out of the stable. It’s called All Saints Salon, known also by its endlessly entertaining (to me) acronym, and described as an adult treat for Halloween.
“Immersive” can be many things. The scalable sort is usually an installation, where viewers roam from scene to scene in no specific order, and that’s how Sleep No More is constructed. In SB Dance’s ASS (see endlessly entertaining (to me) above), I use a sequential structure with a meticulous order and finer control over the storyline.
Like most immersive pieces, our ASS is a far cry from parking your ass in a seat. Audience members are active participants in the experience. They move around, react as the scene transforms, and are rewarded by staying aware. It’s a visceral adventure that asks you to make choices about where to go. Each person leaves with a singular personal impression. Yet, despite not speaking during the show, there’s a social vibe that makes you feel like you’re partying together.
There are rules to ASS that each audience member must abide by. An unwritten understanding is that we do not put audience members on the spot. We don’t ask you to execute choreography. You don’t perform. You’re not in danger. You don’t have to dance with anyone. You don’t speak. Your anonymity is preserved. But you are definitely a part of the show.
ASS is one of SB Dance’s best, most eccentric productions. The original inspiration was not to jump on the immersive wave. Rather, I was inspired by a crew of performers who do this so well. Every SB Dance show has an element of audience interaction. More recently, especially in The Pushers and Surrenderella, a new chemistry evolved that got us closer and closer to a fully immersive evening. There’s also a debt owed here to a core audience who is willing, supportive, eager, and keeps finding their way to our theater. It was inevitable that artists and audience come together in ASS.
Still our ASS has its limits. We deconstruct a theater for 500 people so that capacity shrinks to 80. The show requires an artistic and technical staff of 18 plus take-home swag and alcohol integrated into the performance. At $70 a pop and shaking the bushes for donations, we can barely float this boat for 4 performances. At our test show last year, UMOCA’s Kristian Anderson commented that entrepreneurs spin straw into gold while artists spin it back into straw again. It’s a privilege to present something so wild and is only possible through the generosity of all the artists involved as well as the Board and SB Dance’s supporters. Nonetheless, keep in mind that though it has been figuratively true for quite some time, it will only be literally true for a short while: SB Dance’s ASS is for sale.