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Immersive theatre draws Westminster’s audience into Victor Frankenstein’s world

Jack Cobabe, a senior theatre performance major who played Victor in “Frankenstein,” stands under the spotlight on set during a rehearsal session in Jay W. Lees Courage Theatre at Westminster College. “Frankenstein” is the first immersive play put forth to Westminster College’s season selection committee by Assistant Technical Director David Knoell, according to Director Amanda Hayter, a 2015 Westminster theatre performance alum. Photo courtesy of Amanda Hayter.

Originally planned for six shows, Westminster College’s theatre arts program added an additional four shows to accommodate the audience’s desire to see an immersive rendition of “Frankenstein,” according to Director Amanda Hayter, a 2015 Westminster theatre performance alum. The program hosted a total of 10 showtimes at the Kay W. Lees Courage Theatre from Oct. 13 to Oct. 29. 

“Immersive theatre is a wonderful non-traditional way for an audience to view theatre,” Hayter said in an email. “In our production, the audience is not sitting in a seat facing the stage as may be typical.”

Instead, Hayer said the audience is invited to “board a ship with Captain Walton and his crew — literally sitting on a ship — and experience, rather than merely watch, the action going on around them.”

Victor Frankenstein’s life thus unfolds around the audience as if they were the crew of the ship, according to Briar Woodie, a senior tech theatre major with an emphasis on costume, hair and makeup design. 

Woodie said Spencer Brown, technical director, set and lighting designer for “Frankenstein,” is responsible for the production’s ship set design. 

“The set is so visually fantastic but it also flows perfectly with my concept, so I could not be more pleased with how it turned out,” Hayter said.

“Frankenstein” is the first immersive play put forth to Westminster’s season selection committee by Assistant Technical Director David Knoell, according to Hayter. Knoell previously directed the immersive adaptation while living in Chicago, Illinois and suggested it for use at Westminster, according to Hayter.

“[The audience] are very much in control of their own viewing experience,” Hayter said. “Not only is this a new and exciting variation of theatre for our audience, but it’s also been a valuable learning experience for our actors.”

The actors auditioned in the beginning of the semester and had their first rehearsal on Aug. 29, according to Director Amanda Hayter, a 2015 Westminster theatre performance alum. 

They met for three and a half hours every Monday through Friday — and sometimes on the weekend — in order to fully prepare for the run of the show, according to Hayter.

“It is the shortest rehearsal process of the season,” said Briar Woodie, a senior tech theatre major with an emphasis on costume, hair and makeup design. “We added two more previews to help ease the actors into the immersive theatre experience by moving into the space and getting actors used to unexpected movements.”

Audience movement shouldn’t disturb the actors’ performance or alter the show in any major way, but immersive theatre allows for each performance to be unique, according to Hayter. 

The audience should experience the feel of a “waking dream” where they are absorbed into and can observe the performance, while remaining invisible to the characters in this world, according to the creative team of “Frankenstein.”

“We had a preview audience on [Tuesday, Oct. 11] and will have another on Wednesday before opening so our actors can get a better idea of where audience members may be and what it’s truly like to act directly in front of them,” Hayter said.

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Devin Logan is a senior communication major at Westminster College. Recently retired from a decade of competing professionally for the US Freeskiing team, she is excited to pursue a career off of the slopes. While finishing her degree, Devin also works with the US Ski and Snowboard foundation team and High West Whiskey as a Whiskey Ambassador.

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