Published in the Wall Street Journal
A car, a garden path, a basketball court, a garage. Audiences at La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls Festival in San Diego last week weren’t short of venue options. Some watched Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” on a tennis court. Others experienced “Hurtling,” a performance designed for one audience member at a time, on the roof of the University of California San Diego’s engineering school.
Theater staged in the real world can be a jolting experience, but WoW Festival organizers hoped the unusual locations of its 22 site-specific shows would heighten the storytelling. “It’s getting people off this fact that they’re supposed to ‘get it.’ That there’s a singular idea,” said Liz Lerman, director of “Healing Wars,” a dance show that had audiences wander backstage before the show to witness vignettes set during the Civil War. “It’s truer to life.”
While immersive theater isn’t new, especially to Europeans, it’s been gaining steam in the U.S. over the past few years. The trend is influenced by shows like the New York hit “Sleep No More,” a mashup of “Macbeth” and Hitchcock in which audiences wear masks and follow performers around a Chelsea warehouse.