Beyond These Walls: Realizations on immersivity, autonomously navigated safe-discomfort, and audience vulnerability.

Considerations for Future Iterations

The feedback from Within These Walls has been overwhelmingly positive. It has provided entertainment for Adventurers and inspiration for creatives. At the moment, I plan to push out Version 2.0 as is on my social media platforms and am considering submitting it to The New York Time’s “Art in Isolation” opinion page. Additionally, I plan to work on a “kid-friendly” iteration that features more “guidance” from my in-role Adventurer to appeal to children who struggle with reading or who have not yet learned.

I will be focusing on the kid-friendly version for a Community Projects class assignment that focuses on creating a collaborative engagement between a caregiver and a loved one – in this instance a parent and child, theoretically. Below are my initial ideas about this iteration:

Prompt: Caretaker and child (ideal for ages 4-10, but can be done with any age) collaborate to create a small crumb of art inspired by their immediate surroundings.  At the moment the challenge starts by offering different ways for players to explore and observe a room where they are staying and then leads them through a chosen sense (sight, hearing, smell, touch, embodiment) to create a small crumb of creative material (a movement sequence, a melody, a piece of writing, a sketch, etc.).  There are options to continue playing and refining that crumb of material into a more layered nugget or to take the short-cut off this adventure path toward the end of the creative journey. The current format is a google form, but I’d like to convert this into a more visually appealing format. I think Prezi would work, but I’m wondering if making guide videos would be more helpful.  If doing the videos, I’d be “in role” as the adventure guide using some costuming as possible. Since the original form is nimble enough to allow the player to go in any direction they want I’d need a more visual platform that does the same. Prezi has this ability and I think YouTube has some way to embed links on the video that people can click to take them to the next video segment (although this is not something I currently know how to do).  

A recent thought I’ve had is to push the prompts out over a larger span of time through videos. This would give adventurers one small challenge a day to complete and could keep the journey going in more digestible chunks. However, this might dilute the power the current version holds by capturing attention at least through two levels of the form.

In either case, I think reframing the prompts to be more task-oriented creative explorations rather than passing whim or observationally-based may appeal to a younger audience and give caregiving adults the structure needed to facilitate their child’s journey.

Reflection

As a researcher, which is more important for me to collect: Adventurer’s creations or their experiences?

Assessment question one from Within These Walls.

Within These Walls has challenged me as a theatre practitioner to refine and separate my artistic goals from my personal wants. Throughout the semester I have wrestled with the desire to see the art through the perspective of the audience-participants. When prompts or polite encouragement to share the experience on social media failed, I felt a sliver of failure and frustration because I hadn’t “cracked the code” on this engagement strategy. However, I’ve come to believe that to some degree the vulnerability that the audience-participant delves into when they enter into the art is so earnest that it’s almost sacrilegious and counter-productive to my ultimate desires as a theatre-maker to ask them to share that vulnerability through a format like social media. As much as I feel a personal need to see the results of the creative journeys, that is not the primary aim of my work.

Ultimately, I hope that through immersive and personal experiences in the context of theatrical settings, my audience might come to understand something of themselves, their community, or the world around them in more relevant and meaningful ways. How they share that experience is not for me to dictate. In reformatting the feedback options in Version 2.0, I found a useful middle ground that both provided me with critical feedback for my artistic process and product, but also facilitated the audience-participant a way to choose their level of continued contact with the form or with me.

How can I encourage “safe discomfort” (a state of audience-engagement that I named during my most recent PAR project I Wear the Mask, It Does Not Wear Me, in an at-home remote setting where I am not physically present?

Assessment question two from Within These Walls.

Because the Adventurer is fully in control of their experience, I feel that Within These Walls leans more to the safer side of “safe discomfort.” That said, there are several options within the form for the Adventurer to challenge themself to disrupt patterns and play within a realm of discomfort. For some people, just the act of engaging with the form and following their sensory curiosity to create some random crumb of art is uncomfortable. In fact, that might be why roughly 64% percent of participants take an exit route once they reach level 2 of the form. And yet, even that percentage demonstrated enough resilience to submit the form, when they might as easily have just closed the window or tab on their browser. In this way, I think Within These Walls successfully demonstrates a responsiveness to individually meet the audience where they are at on any given day and time.

When it comes to process vs. product, which allows the audience to experience a more meaningful engagement with the art?

Assessment question three from Within These Walls.

While every theatremaker has their own ideas about process vs. product, I find that process tends to more fruitfully create outcomes I’m interested in working with through community-based theatre experiences. In particular, forging bonds, expanding perspectives, and skill-building really cannot be achieved in any meaningful way simply through passively viewing a play. The audience must be active in some capacity and led through a process in order to begin any sort of transformation.

Within These Walls has helped me to better understand at a cellular level the power of personal journey through a process as a means of reframing perspective. As one PARticipant noted, “…the prompts helped me to view the room in a way I hadn’t considered before.  …This is a room I encounter every day and taking time to explore and consider it made me feel like a tourist in my own home.” If I extrapolate this general concept out to a macro-level, this is exactly the experience I hope my future work has on all audiences. Perhaps small, personal experiences that shift perspectives enough to encourage the audience to swim in that safe-discomfort could be vital to permeating fixed views and mindsets.