An Experience

The notion of a performance as an experience and event in its own right is becoming a demand in contemporary society. Marina Abramovic states that “the public always, until now, have had this role of being voyeurs, of not actually participating” (Kaye 1996, p. 187) and I am personally very interested in how theatre can be a unique experience for each individual audience member, and the techniques that help to create that outcome. Punchdrunk and the National Theatre are currently staging The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable, at Temple Studios in London. The promenade piece is an example of how performance can be immersive, rather than a typical theatre setting, which can be seen as a passive experience for an audience. The performance enables the audience to make choices about which room they should enter and when. Consequently, every audience member sees a different perspective of the performance, depending on what they chose to see, chose to miss, and the order that they took that journey. Furthermore, the performance expresses the idea that Your curiosity is key. The more you explore, the richer your experience will be. Delve in, be bold, and immerse yourself” (National Theatre 2013). The idea reiterates the importance of a contemporary audiences’ own reaction to a performance, and how an audience can gain more simply by ‘letting themselves go’.

Photo: Google Images - The Drowned Man by Punchdrunk and National Theatre [accessed

Photo: Google Images – The Drowned Man by Punchdrunk and the National Theatre [accessed 30 October 2013]

It could be argued that there must be a principle of subtlety when creating a unique, personal experience for a contemporary audience, as their own life experiences and knowledge of the theme should help them to shape their own meanings. For example, Emily, Libby and I have been influenced by the story of the Cleveland hostages, in Ohio, United States of America, where three young women were kidnapped and held captive for over ten years in Ariel Castro’s home. The story is particularly pertinent to us, since we are a group of three females, and we feel that this significance can help to portray the story more effectively. However, we are steering away from the idea of a naturalistic depiction, as we feel that the themes of imprisonment and abuse would be more effective when dealt with in a subtler manner.

The fact that The Drowned Man is being performed in Temple Studios is also highly significant, as the location was a famous film studio during the 1950s. The performance alludes to themes of glitz and glamour and the cutthroat world of stardom, which is evermore resonant within the setting and evokes a sense of fascination for the audience. Furthermore, Punchdrunk are known for their creation of “sensory theatrical worlds” (Punchdrunk 2013), thus reverberating this notion of the audience being an essential part of the performance. In relation to our performance ideas, we will obviously be unable to use a realistic location, but we are hoping to create a sense of violence and captivity through symbolic installations in a studio setting. For example, to hang a dog lead from the ceiling would suggest the brutality that the young women faced, but still remains eerily understated for the audience, who can then imagine for themselves. We understand that the topic must be dealt with sensitively, and these symbolic allusions to the hostage story enable us to deal with the topic from an unobtrusive perspective.

By Sophie Bullivant


Works Cited:

Kaye, Nick (1996) Art into theatre: performance interviews and documents. London: Routledge.

National Theatre (2013) The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable. [online] National Theatre. Available from [Accessed 18 October 2013].

Punchdrunk (2013) Punchdrunk: Company. [online] Punchdrunk. Available from [Accessed 24 October 2013].


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>