This week, some of the H+K team have been on a mission to learn more about immersive storytelling, with the explicit instruction to “lean in.” The more you lean in, the more you’ll get out we were told.
The gang headed to Punchdrunk’s production of “The Drowned Man” to enter the world of Temple Pictures where the Hollywood studio system meets the fringes of the movie industry. Punchdrunk has pioneered theatre in which roaming audiences experience storytelling inside immersive worlds. We were there to understand what lessons we could take away to help with our own everyday communication challenges.
We won’t spoil the surprise for you. But… WOW! The whole 600-person audience was encouraged to explore the four storey building at will; delving into all the hidden rooms, corridors, nooks and crannies, unpicking the details and immersing ourselves in the drama. Not only that (and here’s the scary part), but we were doing all that entirely on our own. Without talking. Without being able to see our fellow audience members’ faces beneath our masks. And without holding one another’s hand. And believe us; we really wanted to hold someone’s hand through it because parts are quite terrifying!
The scale and detail of the production is incredible. Sound, smell, warmth (or lack of) and lighting all played a part in the drama as it built and unfolded over three hours. The point being that the experience would stay with us long after the evening concluded and the story resolved itself. And it did.
Following the production, we then spent a full day with Punchdrunk and Now Go Create to get under the skin of immersive storytelling and learn some incredible lessons about harnessing creativity, gaining and sharing inspiration, and the audiences with which we engage.
We were taken out of our comfort zone and encouraged to embrace the child within, leaving us feeling free to think creatively and have some fun. Again, we won’t spoil it but the day mirrored “The Drowned Man” experience; immersing ourselves in various physical and mental exercises to warm up our brains and flex our creative muscles. It was exciting, funny, silly and at times a little scary, but also hugely rewarding.
Here are one or two things we learnt this week that you might like to spend a moment thinking about:
- The emotional experience. How will this affect and appeal to the audience? What do you want them to see or feel?
- Intimacy. Everyone should come away feeling like they’ve had their own personal experience. There is no ‘one size fits all.’ What are the talking points you want your audience to take away to their friends and family?
- Scale and atmosphere. How can you bring in details such as lighting, smells and, above all, sound to create the overall story world you wish to convey to your audience?
- Personal journey. How can you give the audience the power and responsibility to draw their own conclusions; allowing them to go on an adventure and take away a little bit of the magic with them?
Drawing in the audience gives them a reason to listen, engage, respond and act. An extremely powerful message, we think you’ll agree.
The experience is summed up beautifully with this quote from Maya Angelou, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” We couldn’t agree more.
Charlie Morgan is an associate director in Hill + Knowlton's tech practice.