Rachel I. Berman as Alice in Then She Fell (Darial Sneed, courtesy Third Rail Projects)

The Immersive Experience: What It's Like to Perform in a Show Where the Audience Can Be Anywhere

Chances are you've heard of Sleep No More, the blockbuster production loosely based on Shakespeare's Macbeth. But Sleep No More is more than just a performance: It takes place throughout a five-story building in NYC, with audience members exploring the space on their own terms. If you attend the show, you're part of it—and that's what sets immersive performances apart.


Immersive productions can be incredibly rewarding for dancers. But how do you prepare when all of your stage experience has probably been in a theater, with the audience planted firmly in their seats? Dance Spirit spoke to artistic directors and performers to find out what to expect when you book your first immersive gig.

Set Your Sites

There's a rich history of site-specific choreography—dance pieces made with a particular, non-theater space in mind—that set the stage for immersive shows. Iconic postmodern choreographers like Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer made site-specific work to challenge people's preconceived ideas about what dance could be, and helped inspire today's immersive choreographers to let their imaginations run wild.

NYC–based choreographer Noémie Lafrance has created a number of experimental works based in audience participation. “I feel that a controlled environment (like a theater) isn't reflective of how we live. It's isolating. In the same way, I don't want to isolate the audience from my work," she says. One of her most notable works, Agora II, took place in an abandoned swimming pool in Brooklyn, NY, and featured dozens of dancers. Certain audience members received text message cues about when to join the performance. In this site-specifc and immersive work, Lafrance made sure the audience had opportunites to change the direction of the piece.

Diving In

Former Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet member Vânia Doutel Vaz debuted in Sleep No More last summer. She has extensive experience performing in immersive theater, and she says that no two shows are the same.

For one memorable performance, Vaz danced in Laura Perez-Harris' Belly of the Beast at Tomato House in Brooklyn. “Audience members crawled down a pitch-black velvet-lined maze and eventually fell into the 'belly,' where I and two other dancers performed," Vaz says. “I think Laura was trying to get people way, way outside their comfort zones."

“We call it 'world-making,' " says Tom Pearson, co-artistic director of Third Rail Projects and one of the creators behind immersive productions like The Grand Paradise and Then She Fell, which was inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. “The edges of the real world are invisible."

Going Deeper

It might seem pointless to prepare for a performance where anything can happen, but it's not. Vaz suggests attending immersive performances whenever possible, to build your familiarity. She also credits Ohad Naharin's Gaga technique for teaching performers how to develop their awareness. “All your senses need to be enhanced," she says. “You have to be able to see in 360 degrees." And if you're successful, she says, you'll be so “in it" that you can practically predict audience members' movements.

Vaz's ultimate rule for performing in an immersive show? Don't break character! She cautions that your worst-case scenario might happen, but you have to trust your fellow performers to help you—and that comes from rehearsing and performing together. “No matter what, never apologize for anything," she says. “Everything that happens is supposed to. Don't let the audience feel guilty, in your way, or uncomfortable. As a performer, you become the audience's guiding eyes, so it's all about being confident and secure in what you're doing."

Nicholas Bruder as Macbeth and Sophie Borolussi as Lady Macbeth in Sleep No More. (Yaniv Schulman, courtesy O+M Co.)

Latest Posts


Performers in HBO Max's "Legendary" (Barbara Nitke, courtesy HBO Max)

How to Express Yourself Through Vogue Fem—While Honoring the Community That Created It

"Who are you when you're voguing fem?" asks the choreographer and dancer Omari Wiles, father of the House of Oricci and founder of the dance company Les Ballet Afrik. "What energy is shaping your story?" In voguing, personal expression is the goal, and vogue fem one way to achieve it.

This flamboyant dance form has experienced a recent wave of mainstream visibility, thanks to the critically acclaimed TV drama "Pose," the hit HBO Max's competition show "Legendary" and, now, the proliferation of TikTok videos centered on voguing.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
by Lee Gumbs, courtesy Lew

Sean Lew's New Film is Bound to Leave You Speechless

If you know Sean Lew (and let's be real—you should), you know that he pours his heart and soul into his craft. Born a star, Lew has danced alongside artists like Sia and Janet Jackson, choreographed for names like Justin Bieber and Meghan Trainor, and performed on two seasons on NBC's "World of Dance."

At only 19, Lew's worn more hats than your average human (or even superhuman), and yet he continues to build upon his long list of natural skills—by adding "producer" into the mix. This time around, he's focused on his own passion project. He produced, wrote, directed, choreographed, edited and even stars in his upcoming film II: An Unspoken Narrative, which also features some of our other fave dancers like Kaycee Rice, Zach Venegas and Bailey Sok, just to name a few.

More than just a dance video, and described as his "life's work put into motion," this experimental film fully encapsulates the past four years of Lew's life, depicting an unspoken narrative expressed through dance. There's no dialogue—everything is up for interpretation. Keep reading to get the inside scoop, and be sure to follow Lew at @seanlew as he continues to influence the world with his endless creative ventures.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Emily Roman performs her solo, "Weight of Light" (Break the Floor Media Team, courtesy Roman)

Emily Roman is Your January Cover Model Search Editors' Choice Winner

Congratulations to the January Cover Model Search Editors' Choice video winner, and our first 2022 CMS semi-finalist, Emily Roman! Watch her solo below, and be sure to enter the Cover Model Search here.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search