Contemporary forms of Immersive Theatre



#StudioScenography #Master-Thesis

In the last fifteen years different new forms of contemporary theater have emerged, all under the umbrella term of "immersive theater". These different formats of "immersion" can manifest themselves as installations, scenic narratives, urban walks, performances dance, audiowalk, political and aesthetic action either in art spaces as well as public spaces. What is the appeal of said forms, what makes them interesting? Self-described as "theater of participation" and "theater of the real" - but to what extent can reality be reproduced in theater, on stage?

Sophia Prölss' Master Thesis focuses on the history of immersion in theatre and the relation of reality to the stage and different contemporary forms of plays. She analyses three projects by different collectives to determine the immersive effect and the necessary means and media of their respective production.

The confrontation with the 'immersive theater' proves to be a present topic of the world of theatre and is being debated more and more - often because of different comments and opinions. It seems to be unclear to what extent contemporary immersive forms of theater can be described as a characteristic of the theater or simply as hype. Can the viewer make free choices or is he subject to manipulative structures that trigger certain actions of the recipient?

From her analysis, she concludes that although 'immersive theater forms' claim to guarantee both physical and psychological immersion, they can not be guaranteed to the recipient. Because the immersive effect of viewer-to-viewer is different for each individual, immersive theater is a receptive phenomenon. Contemporary immersive theater represents an advanced form of theater based on the development of avant-garde theater masterminds of the 20th century. These include Antonin Artaud with the Theater of Cruelty, Jerzy Grotowski with his "Special Projects" or Richard Schechner with "Environmental Theater". In doing so contemporary immersive theatrical forms use existing strategies, such as the routine of playing and seeing, the moments of distance and interruption, the alienation effect, the interplay of disillusionment and illusion, or "durational performances", whose characteristics are physical exhaustion through highly charged actions in events of several hours. They also use strategies that arose through media technology advances, such as VR, and perceive them as an extension of the stage and its possibilities, thus enhancing the immersive effect.

The question of how much influence the recipient has on the storyline even in "contemporary immersive theatrical forms" can, according to Sophie's analysis, be only answered with: a small amount. The participants in the productions will only learn what has been selected by the curators and can individually link the existing components only on the basis of their own perception.

The range of decisions by the participants is thus very limited and confronts recipients whose decisions are beyond their means, with loss of control and futility.

Contemporary immersive theatrical forms cause recipients to reflect on self-reflected moments that translate a fragmented reality into the spatiality of the staging. The recipient is to be released from his constraints and confronted with unsightly realities, new perspectives or insights, in order to question again the relationship between reality and theater, as well as his own role as a spectator. This seems to appeal to our society, to keep a mirror in front of her eyes and thus to deal with relevant current events.


Prof. Andreas Wenger

, Studio Scenography & Exhibition Design

Heike Dürscheid, Martina Ehleiter, Ruth K. Scheel

, Studio Scenography & Exhibition Design