Three college students perform an immersive theatre show with a blue light surrounding them.

Workshop Leads To Successful Immersive Theatre Performance For Three Students

Over the course of six hours, three Texas A&M University students put together an immersive theatre show with the guidance of Victoria Snaith, founder and creative director of Dread Falls Theatre.

Snaith, who presented her “Patient 4620” horror theatre experience earlier in the month, was invited to work on various projects with students in the Texas A&M School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts to explore immersive theatre.

On Oct. 11 and 12, Snaith led workshop sessions with students Yuna Lo, Joslynne Santos and Victoria Villarreal. Lo and Villarreal are students in the Visualization program. Santos is majoring in Zoology with a minor in Performance Studies. Together, they crafted a 10-minute show for Oct. 13 at the Black Box Theater in the Liberal Arts and Arts and Humanities Building. 

“I really loved working with them,” Snaith said after the performances. “They were so enthusiastic, and when I started pitching ideas to them, I could see how on board they were with the show and the process to produce it.”

During the first evening of the workshop, Snaith explained the “three walls,” or barriers between the actors and the audience in standard theatre performances.

“Immersive theatre is different because it is trying to break down those barriers,” she said. “And that can happen in many different ways. Having the audience in the performance space, they are able to wander around. Sometimes they are guided, and sometimes they are free to explore that space, or be a working part of the performance.”

Lo, Santos and Villarreal worked with Snaith to develop the skits and the genre of music for the opening scene. The result was eight skits for an audience to walk through, with no clues of what the experience would be. During the second workshop, Snaith created a soundtrack and light show, and provided props for each scene.

Immersive theatre can incorporate an audience of multiple people, Snaith said, but this show was designed for one audience member at a time to create a more personal experience.

Upon entry into the Black Box Theater, the audience member was guided by the actors onstage and immersed into the first scene: a breakup. One actor says the opening line, accusing the audience member of cheating in this fictional relationship, which prompts the audience member to play along.

Villarreal said this was her first immersive theatre experience, having participated in one-act plays in high school theatre. After the show, she said she was glad to experience something new.  

“I learned that you don’t need much to make a good show,” she said. “You just need the will to act, a few props and a lot of passion.”

A college student interacts with a professor during an immersive theatre performance.
Victoria Villarreal interacts with Dr. David Donkor, associate professor and program director for the Master of Arts in Performance Studies. Photo by Bailey Brown.

Lo said she learned how to work with a director and how to work as a team. After just two nights of rehearsals, she said they put on a great performance. 

“It was a whole new experience because this is my first time for immersive theatre, and I learned so much,” she said. “I am really proud of how well we did.”

Santos said her favorite part of the experience was creating ideas within the performance. During rehearsals and during the final performance, they all began to build off each other and work together, she said. 

“Something that started off as an OK idea ended up becoming really great at the end,” she said. “The hardest part of it all had to be the flexibility in the improv. I have done acting before, but I am very used to sticking with a script. So having to think off the top of your head and do things based off how the audience reacts is super different, but was a lot of fun.”

Santos said she learned to take the audience into consideration, noting that in regular theatre, the audience is not fully a part of the performance. Immersive theatre changes that.

“This was a good way to bring the audience into the performance and have them fully appreciate and understand the process that we have to go through to put a show on like this,” she said.

Pruth Kothavale, an Engineering Management graduate student, was among the audience members. He said once he entered the venue, he had no idea what was going to happen.

“I soon realized it was a story where I was just going to tag along, and I became a much bigger part of it,” he said after the show. “Seeing them improvise in the moment, based on how I responded, was impressive. I really liked that.”

Snaith said all three performers would be able to take what they learned from the experience and apply it to their everyday lives or their future careers.

“For Victoria and Yuna as Visualization students, I think this is an interesting dive into an artistic perspective of theatre for them,” Snaith said. “They were talking about how illustration, which is very different to theatre, is three-dimensional. But by thinking artistically, this is something they can carry into their visualization work. For Joslynne, as a student from Zoology, she told me this rekindled her love of theatre and gave her a creative outlet. I am grateful to have been part of this with them because it refined something they all loved.”

Top photo: Joslynne Santos, Victoria Villarreal and Yuna Lo during the immersive theatre performance. Photo by Dr. Will Connor.

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