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Immersive and Site-Specific Theatre

I think I can say that my interest in immersive and site-specific theatre began when worked on a project lead by Gerry Pilgrim in my BA theatre design course. There we were supposed to design a proposal of a site-specific performance based on a short story, which should take place at Battersea Arts Centre. I really enjoyed this project and realised that this was something that I wanted to look further into. But what is the difference between immersive and site-specific theatre?

In his article Site-Specifics, Nick Kaye says: “A definition of site-specifity might begin quite simply by describing the basis of such as exchange. If one accepts the proposition that the meanings of utterances, actions and events are affected by their “local position,” by the situation of which they are a part, then a work of art, too, will be defined in relation to its place and position. … Site-specifity, then, can be understood in terms of this process, while a “site-specific work” might articulate and define itself through properties, qualities or meanings produced in specific relationships between an “object” or “event” and a position it occupies” (Kaye 2010, p. 102).

In her book Immersive theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance, Josephine Machon explains: “Imagine being immersed in water. The muted sensation of being submerged in another medium, where the rules change because if you were to breathe as normal your lungs would fill with water; so you have to hold your breath, feeling the buoyancy of your body in this new realm, attending to every moment of what this new experience offers. At once being able to relax within that otherworldly feeling but always alert, ready to respond to your body‘s eventual need for oxygen” (Machon 2013, p. xiv).

When it comes to experimental and immersive theatre, London really is leading the way. Pioneering theatre groups put on productions that allow the audience to interact and to actually become part of the action themselves. The audience is not simply passive observers but they have the ability to explore and also opportunity for them to have intimate encounters with the performers and might find themselves interact with the performers.

In my research on immersive and site-specific theatre, I have found some very interesting artists and theatre companies that are worth looking into.

This is an interesting documentary on immersive theatre. Working In The Theatre explores the visceral experience of Immersive Theatre. Randy Weiner (Producer, "Sleep No More"), David Korins (Scenic Designer, "Here Lies Love") and Zach Morris (Co-Artistic Director of Third Rail Projects) describe the staging environment, the state of heightened theatricality, and, the effect of the immersive movement on the audience and its influence on today's theatre scene.

Further reading on site-specific and immersive theatre:

Kaye, Nick. Site-specific art: Performance, place and documitation. New York: Routledge (2000).

Machon, Josephine. Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance. London: Palgrave (2013).

Machon, Josephine. (Syn)aesthetics: Redefining Visceral Performance. London: Palgrave (2009).

Oddey, Alison and Christine White (eds.). Modes of Spectating. Bristol: Intellect (2009).

Pearson, Mike. Site-Specific Performance. London: Palgrave (2010).

White, Gareth. "On Immersive Theatre". Theatre Research International 37.3 (2012): 221-35.

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