New Year’s Resolution #1: Interactivity

It is almost 2016! So it is time to start thinking about your New Year’s Resolutions. Will you be exercising more? Eating healthy? Seeing more shows? Whatever your resolution, it is important to set a goal so that you stick to it. And with six days left of 2015, I have come up with six 2016 resolutions for the live entertainment industry!

Natasha Pierre Comet 1812

New Year’s Resolution #1: Make theatre more interactive

Interactivity has long been the domain of the small theatres. Theatres where the environment is more intimate and the audience are closer to the performers. There have been a couple of big productions which have pushed these boundaries over the years. The Lion King is well known for sending animals from the African savannah down the aisles for the opening number. But it is more than simply putting performers in the aisles . . it is about interaction.

CATS have mastered the art of interaction better than any other show. Sending their performers out into the aisles, these cats don’t simply use the auditorium as another entry point onto the stage. These cats will actually bring the audience into the action. They embrace curiosity by sticking their heads into the rows of audience as they head towards the Jellicle Ball in the opening number. The cats will often be found running past the audience to get on and off the stage. But the most entertaining and memorable parts come at the end of the interval and towards the end of the show.

While the last few stragglers are finding their seats after interval, the cats will appear unannounced among the audience. You may find one at the end of your row scratching their back on your seat rest. They may crawl on top of you once they realise you aren’t a threat. Or they may shrink back into a dark corner watching an unsuspecting audience member make their way down the aisle before they playfully pounce and chase them back to their seat.

It may be the music that you leave humming, but it is this unique experience that you leave laughing about and is burnt into your memory the next time you step into a theatre and realise that these actors will unfortunately be staying firmly put on the stage.

Interactivity is the new frontier for theatre. It is what will make audiences head from more accessible avenues to watch musicals (i.e. cinemas and television broadcasts) back into the theatre. There is a DVD recording of CATS, but you miss out on the interactive spectacle watching the show through that channel so there is incentive to complete a follow up visit to the live version.

However, CATS isn’t the only show to perfect the art of interaction. A new production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, an acclaimed (and exciting) retelling of historic tome War and Peace, looks ready to challenge the iconic show with its new brand of interaction. A new production of this show, which premiered off-Broadway in 2013 and will be making a Broadway transfer next year with Josh Groban, has been created with the audience experience in mind. The theatre walls are lined with a gallery of paintings and pictures relevant to the show. The performers tell the story as they move up and down the aisles. And the stage has been woven around many alternative seating options. You can sit in between circular walkways, at the back of the stage in raked seating, or even on bar stools right against the front of the stage.

With CATS likely to prowl back to the Great White Way and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 taking up residence, there will certainly be increased interactivity in this world-class theatre district (which will flow on around the world). But the prominence of these big productions will also encourage producers to take some bets on other interactive options just like them . . . so who knows what else we will see in 2016!