Awake and Sing! Let's get immersive.
I wanted to see Awake and Sing! because I'm addicted to any theatre that might even be the slightest bit immersive. And that's what the show was claiming. Thankfully, the moment I walked into the theatre, I witnessed a kind member of the staff go out of her way to encourage the audience members to explore the set between acts (there were 3) and to not be afraid to pick things up and touch props that interested them. She explained that we were even allowed to change seats whenever the urge hit to literally gain a new perspective. The set was a representation of a typical tenement apartment in 1930s Bronx, and I couldn't help but think of my grandmother, knowing that she was raised in a very similar environment in a very similar time. Having lost my grandmother before the age of 3, it is often difficult for me to imagine what life was like for her based solely on the stories of family members. But standing in a theatre designed specifically to resemble an apartment in the same Borough and time period that my grandmother was raised in, I felt connected to her in a more powerful way than I ever had before.
Rows of chairs were placed to border the apartment and give the audience views from multiple angles. I selected a seat that I thought had the most direct view of things. The wooden floors that were constructed as a part of the set creaked underneath the actors' feet, and the beds and easy chair sank under their weight. In not much time at all it became very clear that the play was about a Jewish family living in a very difficult time financially, socially, and emotionally. It made me think of how myself, also a member of a Jewish family, would fare in the same situation.
I identified with the character of the daughter, Hennie, immediately. Despite her overbearing family and the social customs of her time, she was a firecracker who wanted more to her life than what was presented to her. I was rooting for her the entire time, because unfortunate circumstances shouldn't prevent anyone from living a happy life. I think that if she faced similar hardships in 2014, she would have been more equipped to cope with everything.
During the intermission between the first and second act, I kept waiting for everybody to jump to their seats and wander about the set. To my astonishment, nobody did! I couldn't believe it. That's the point of immersive theatre, isn't it? Even though I wanted nothing more than to take advantage of the awesome scene before me, I caved into peer pressure and remained seated. As the actors re-entered, I vowed to not miss out on a second opportunity. And I didn't. The next intermission, I left my seat and walked around the set at my own pace. I sat down on the beds and in the chairs and opened drawers and felt like a total badass to be honest. I practically did a Beyonce-esque strut back to my seat, proud that I had been the one to initiate the interaction with the set.
And the sheer detail of it all was overwhelming. The newspapers were actually from 1930 and the personal effects in the drawers revealed a lot about the time period and the characters of the play. I was so relieved that I hadn't opted to be a passive audience member, although I can recognize the appeal. I think that immersive theatre can be daunting to some people. They can feel like they are on the spot and being watched, like when a comedian picks on couples in the front row of a comedy club. But without throwing yourself into every performance you see, and especially when it is an immersive performance, you end up not receiving the show's full impact.