The Undertaking: An Immersive Theatre Experience curated by Andrew Roblyer and devised by This Is Water Theatre
A World Premiere
This Is Water Theatre, Spring 2018
Because of the immersive and intimate nature of the show, it was difficult to capture the show in production photos. Each of our four additional locations is pictured, as is the full cast.
Photo credit: LilyField Photography, used with permission.
Costume Designer - Rayna Dexter
Scenic Designer - Nate Krogel
Scenic Painter - Hannah Hilgendorf
Why this show?
I have been fascinated by immersive theatre for years; in so many ways I think it is the epitome of why theatre is still relevant today: it facilitates connection. Inspired by such giants as Sleep No More, Then She Fell, and Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, we set out to make a full-length, multi-location, immersive experience in our community, for our community, and inspired by our community.
In a lot of ways, the development process was very similar to playing a table-top role playing game like Dungeons and Dragons. As the director/curator, my role was to come in with the seed of a story, and allow the actors and designers to collaboratively flesh out that seed. Development took place through conversation, writing exercises, but mostly improvisational work, asking artists to try on a variety of lives, experiences, attitudes, and personalities until they found a character they loved that would work with our story.
My role was to ensure that the story we were building would ultimately be a story that fit the mission of This Is Water Theatre, and find a balance between creating narrative boundaries ("I don't think aliens would benefit the narrative") and allowing the ensemble to blur the lines that we had set to create the best story. This was even more important because we ultimately had no written dialogue. Instead, the exact wording and order of information would vary every night, allowing the actors to interact with the audience authentically and honestly.
An additional component of this work involved the engagement of the community. All our performance locations in Downtown Bryan were owned by local businesses, including art galleries and studios, a restaurant, an event space, a loft apartment, and a theatre. Our goal was to create a show that would exist in their spaces as they were, making our community the literal setting for the show.
First, the hard lesson: this was the second show I have directed where violence between cast members outside of rehearsal or performance necessitated the re-casting of a role mid-production (which was even harder in a show that is entirely improvised each night), but due in part to a relationship I had cultivated years prior and in part due to sheer dumb luck, we were able to make it work and the show went on.
On a more positive note, this production stands as my proudest theatrical achievement, both due to my own vision and to the standard of excellence that I was able to guide us to achieve. This was a show that reminded me in a deep way that theatre really and truly is at the core of my being as a person and as an artist. So many elements of this show were experimental, but they were successful in part because I had spent 5+ years honing my relationships with artists, businesses, and audience members in my community, and so when I asked them to trust me and take a leap, they did. And we flew.