Experimental Theatre

Immersive shows that make the audience feel like it is part of the story have already won the public’s trust and even managed to become fashionable. Creative teams keep coming up with more and more new ways of immersing the audience in their productions. Some create audio shows, others turn their plays into choose-your-own-adventure games, where the viewer decides what happens next, and others still do their directing on social media. In a mood for an experiment? Here are some noteworthy theatre projects recommended by our experts from the Facebook theatre communities.

The Rock Tverskaya audio show, Moscow

The Mobile Art Theatre

Rock Tverskaya is a joint project by Facebook, Instagram, and Mikhail Zygar’s Future History studio. This is the fifth such show available in the Mobile Theatre app. It documents the incredible surge of Russian rock during the 90s, when rock music became a true symbol of change in society and in the country. The production stars Mikhail Kozyrev and Musia Totibadze. Mikhail Kozyrev is a radio host and producer, who witnessed and took part in some of the most important events in rock history. He was the one who got the Russian public acquainted with dozens of rock bands that are now considered cult classics. Musia Totibadze is a young musician; born in 1996, she obviously does not remember that era in history – but Mikhail’s stories help her, along with the audience, learn more. During the play, you can immerse yourself in the story even further, thanks to the videos posted on Facebook and Instagram.

The Zayachiy Ston Quartet, Moscow

Rather than calling itself an independent theatre, the Zayachiy Ston (literally “Hare’s Moan”) build-a-show quartet prefers the title of a “dependent” project. And you don’t realize straight away what the dependency is on, exactly. Maybe it’s the addictive dance art they share on Instagram, parodying the tired old songs till they turn into absurdities and reenacting news stories through dance. Or their experimental shows at the Community bar and the Vakhtangov Theatre. Or their humorous prods at the phlegmatic body of the stagnant theatre world. The quartet bonded together spontaneously in a dressing room of the Lenkom Theatre back in 2015. As they were waiting for their cue, four actors – Vitalik Borovik, Maksim Amelchenko, Aleksey Polyakov, and Kirill Petrov – decided to make a funny video. After one video, came another, and another. Can’t stop, won’t stop. Sometimes, the quartet is visited by some of their most famous fans; this has resulted in Zayachiy Ston’s videos guest-starring Ravshana Kurkova, Maksim Vitorgan, and Olga Shelest. Vitalik, Maksim, Aleksey, and Kirill plan to continue pushing the boundaries of humor, and to create a new chaotic theatre on their Instagram.

Kirill Petrov, member of Zayachiy Ston: “It just so happened that our theatre trope was born on Instagram. You know how it goes, ‘In the beginning was the Word’. Well, in our case, in the beginning was Instagram. That was where we gathered a following, found our own special thing and our own special style. Later on, we created our show, and are now working on another, so Zayachiy Ston’s Instagram turned into a tool for selling tickets and making our team more popular. We firmly believe that an Instagram theatre is a fairly interesting model that, apart from economic gain, also serves to educate a younger audience”.

The Mirror of Carlos Santos, Moscow

The Mirror of Carlos Santos lasts for an hour and a half. Staged by Talgat Batalov, who has multiple Golden Mask nominations, and based on a play by Anti-Booker winner Maksim Kurochkin, the performance takes place at the Mirror speakeasy theatre. This 1000 square-meter venue lies in the heart of Moscow, a few steps away from the Pushkin Square. Each performance is intended for a strictly limited audience of 12 people, who share dinner and wine as part of the finale.

Kirill Petrov, member of the Zayachiy Ston build-a-show quartet: “I was really impressed by the headphone system, which switches audio tracks as you pass a certain checkpoint at this location. I had to do the same thing once for one of my projects, and it turns out that this is far from easy. Using headphones in theatre is really interesting in general, it’s like one of your senses gets shut off, and on the one hand, you feel outside your comfort zone, especially if you are being moved around at that moment, while on the other hand, it creates a really powerful immersion”.

The i anti-play, Moscow

In May 2019, Yury Sorokin, a director at the Transformator Center, created an “anti-play” called i, which documented experiences unique to Instagram. As soon as a user views the virtual character’s profile, they become a spectator of a show. A show that lasts for as long as you are in a place that cannot enter physically. i is one year from the life of a real man, which he has documented himself. It is made out of brief snatches of Instagram Stories that fit together into the days of his life. Throughout the play, the director asks the audience, “Do you find this person interesting? What have you learned about him? What do you want to learn? Have you already learned enough about certain things? Why are you here?”. As a result, each audience member ends up with their own unique show that they can return to throughout the year.

Impresario, Moscow

Impresario is an independent theatre company run by Feodor Elutine. The team searches for interesting new theatre productions around the world and informs the Russian public about them. Working as an impresario, Feodor Elutine adapts some of the best works of contemporary European experimental drama specifically for Russian audiences. One of his projects is called Remote Moscow (run in collaboration with Rimini Protokoll group); it belongs to the highly relevant promenade production genre, combining elements of a theatre show, a sightseeing tour, a video game, and a quest. Rather than sit back in their chairs, the audience takes an active part in this audio promenade.

DJ NIKISSA, St. Petersburg

DJ NIKISSA is both a theatre show and a party; a behavioral experiment and a digital performance. It is based on a retrospective analysis of the essence of modern Russia’s music, including musings on the Internet. 30 popular songs, 15 years of history, 1 chat room, and 300 anonymous comments. After joining a shared chat, the audience sits down facing an empty stage with a screen and a lonesome microphone. The performer acts both as a DJ and a chat admin, weaving the audience’s improvisations into the production’s text in the chat. Each audience member chooses their own level of involvement in the show: they can sing at the microphone and leave messages in the chat, thus becoming a part of something creative, or observe passively as the digital and the real worlds collide onstage, and analyze the text’s meaning in detail.

Nikita Slavich, director: “I suspect that people from Generation Z consider it an insult or even an infringement of their rights if they are asked to switch off their phones, not to make videos, or to dim their screens at the theatre. A digital transformation is inevitable, that much is obvious; so it would be ridiculous for experiments like DJ NIKISSA to ignore the vital virtual needs of the viewer, who is also our collaborator. Leave your digital detox for some other time, as modern theatre is always a place where you are put under real pressure”.

PRISLONYATSYA: a documentary promenade play, Samara

PRISLONYATSYA (Literally “Lean Against”, a play on notices in Russian metro trains urging passengers not to lean against the doors) is a personalized media performance, where the train cars and platforms turn into a stage set, the city and its underground gain voices of their own and the passengers become actors. What seems like a routine underground ride turns into a spectacular journey. As they travel across all this space, members of the audience will try to measure the real distance between themselves, so very different and yet so very close, sharing the same city. This performance in metro trains became a truly extraordinary event for Samara: the very first site-specific show, and the very first experience of introducing the latest immersive practices city-wide.

Nikita Slavich, director: “The Lean Against project reveals a different side of the digital era. The show is about the ways in which modern digital technology and devices can not only bring the world closer to us, but also allow us to look deep within ourselves and gain a more poignant sense of how connected we are to our loved ones and the people who live in the same city. In the future we are planning to take the show to an app or a website, so that everyone who own noise-suppressing headphones could arrange their own journey with even more freedom”.

Community stage, Moscow

Communitystage Instagram

Community Stage is an independent theatre that uses the premises of a modern library. It has deliberately rejected the traditional backdrop and stage, claiming to be a space for cultural communication without any visible boundaries. The repertoire includes documentary productions, storytelling, new theatre interpretations of classical and modern plays, ironic comedies, site-specific productions, immersive shows, puppet shows and experiments with poetry and music. “We are not daunted by working with different concepts or experimenting with different genres and forms, be it a bar show or a combo of acting and cooking. We believe that the theatre is, first and foremost, a new audience experience; rather than moralize and preach, the theatre should spark a discussion”.

The Portrait audio show, St. Petersburg

The Portrait audio show was created to celebrate the 110th founding anniversary of the Theatre Museum in St. Petersburg. By relying on modern theatre practices, the team behind the show crafted a special audio filter that allows the public to see the museum as a living, breathing being. The visitors will take a closer look at the nature of things that transpired within the museum’s walls – not all of them obvious at first glance – which will enable them to paint their own portrait of this place. Stories told by the museum’s employees intertwine with the personal reminiscences of its founder, the infamous art patron and collector Levky Zheverzheev voiced by actor Dmitry Lysenkov.

Perfomsk, St. Petersburg

The perfobufet theatre company

Even though the perfobufet company based in St. Petersburg, the show takes place inside a car with a registration plate issued in Omsk, which is also where all the actors come from (hence the title). Each show is meant to be watched by one person: from the car’s passenger seat they do not just learn something new about this Siberian city but also become a character in their own right. One week before the car trip this person is issued a script: their goal is to create their own backstory as a person born and living in Omsk. Aside from the four actors in the car, some other actors (also originally from Omsk) take part in the show by phone.

Artyom Tomilov, lead concept maker at perfobufet: “Many of our projects use digital technology as screenplay elements. For example, several of our shows begin with email conversations, which are not just a set of instructions but an actual process of involving the audience in the show. And other performances are hidden away from the general public; instead, we post parts of them online creating a sort of ‘long-distance theatre’.

Jinn, Moscow

The Transformator Center

Jinn is a digital opera where the action is happening all at once in several parts of the city. Throughout the day the actors move across Moscow along different routes, and the audience is free to choose whether to go search for them or follow their progress through Facebook. The script has been inspired by three fundamentally different creators: Roland Barthes, Kazimir Malevich and Nick Bostrom. The actors and the audience spend the entire performance on two planes: the real and the digital. The theatre script reflects Facebook and Instagram profiles and the information that the performers share on those profiles shapes their onstage character. You can never tell for certain where the show is going to end. It could happen in our physical world or it could happen online.

Andrey Zhiganov, director: “It is commonly assumed that the presence of the audience is what justifies the theatre’s existence, and we scarcely ever talk about theatre that looks back at the audience. I believe that digital platforms are capable of creating a new space for performance projects that speak a whole new language. The online space is truly unique here, in that it makes imposing copyright, total censorship and creative limitations impossible. Modern technology is a dynamic, untamable environment, which doubtlessly serves as a constant reflection of our physical reality”.