In November 2017, EN-gage Theatre Arts Facilitator Olive Supple Still travelled to CLASS Study & Training Centre Rostov-on-Don, Russia. Olive was to direct, for the first time with these students, a piece of immersive theatre exploring the 5 senses. Read about her experiences here:
The Secret of 'Making Sense'
“Making Sense” was an immersive theatre experience created by myself and the CLASS students in Rostov-on-Don. The performance explored the five senses (Sound, Sight, Taste, Smell and Touch) through theatre and movement. This performance was inspired by my work with Theatre in Disability and I am becoming increasingly interested in the way we view and experience sense as human beings, whether we are deaf, blind, in a wheelchair, or not. The topic I wanted this project to be based on is the 5 senses; Sight, Smell, Taste, Hearing and Touch. I wanted the objective of the immersive experience to be for everyone to think about what sense really is, how do we use it every day, and to ask ourselves; Do we take it for granted? I wanted the audience to think about these things to become more aware in the community and their social behaviour.
‘Making Sense’, unlike usual theatre performances, took place across different rooms. At the beginning of the show, the audience were separated into small groups and so each would feel they had a totally unique experience. Performing the show across different rooms gave the audience an opportunity to experience the different senses individually. We connected the senses in different ways, for example exploring Sight and Sound together in one room, Taste and Smell in another room and Touch alone in the last room. We decided to perform the senses in different rooms because it felt the most appropriate way to give the audience a chance to focus on a particular “sense” or “feeling”. We blacked out the office and the rooms, putting small lamps everywhere to give the idea that the outside world “wasn’t there” and allowing total focus on the objective.
To create a piece of immersive theatre, I relied on the hard work, trust and commitment of the CLASS students. The workshop process went extremely well. The young actors were engaged, open and very focused. Whilst it was a challenging process for them, they responded very well. We spent three days exploring the senses in different ways such as:
Sight - Coming up with sketches and watching them whilst blindfolded; Standing in a line blindfolded and having to find their way back to their original place using only touch; drawing each other with eyes closed.
Sound - Putting together scenes in complete silence, performing scenes in mute, drawing to the sounds of music, moving around the space as loudly as we can, moving around the space as quietly as we can.
Touch - Games that explore trust, exploring the idea of “telling a partner bad news” without being able to offer sympathy via touch or performing a scene where actors must stay in physical contact.
Taste- Tasting food without being able to smell, it, tasting food blindfolded, creating movement
Smell - Smelling different smells and exploring what memories they might make, connecting smell with emotion and making a small scene where a smell brings back a particular emotional memory.
The exciting thing about only having 5 days is you really have to just trust each other and to not overthink the process or what is being developed. Every day was really exciting because we knew the next would not be in any way similar and the discoveries were always different. Whilst we had a lot of laughs the students were open-minded, mature and tried more complex exercises.
I was positive the students of CLASS would create an interesting piece of theatre, but they put together an extremely unique and special performance. I was expecting it to be across different rooms, but pairing the senses together e.g. smell and taste, came solely from exploring the senses in the rehearsal time and concluding their connections, which wasn’t planned.
The audience got a range of different experiences out of the performances. I didn’t want to enforce a specific “outcome” for the audience to feel. Everybody was very open minded and threw themselves into the experience. The audience were more involved, or physically immersed in this performance than in traditional theatre performances, for example in the “Touch” room, the audience had to hold hands whilst trying to stop a robber from robbing a blind man. One audience member told me that they felt very trapped and helpless at this moment. The sense of confusion and disorientation felt by some audience members was also a fantastic response – as they got to experience what life is like when the senses are not there, or they are not working properly. Why and what we feel doesn’t always make sense and I’m pleased to have explored that with the students of CLASS.