Immersive Theatre and Westworld, Part One: Narrative Structure

Notes

First, this article contains minor spoilers for the first season of Westworld. I’ll be dissecting various aspects of the show along the way, but you (hopefully) won’t need to have seen it for the article to make sense.

  • Site-specific: The show has been designed for a certain location (usually not a theatre), incorporating or responding to the physical space in some way. Site-specific aren’t easily transferable to another venue.
  • Interactive: The audience has, individually or collectively, some ability to influence the direction of the story. This can happen in a range of ways, and at a range of depths (see The Interactivity Onion by Marie-Laure Ryan for more).
  • Improvised: The story, dialogue, or other elements of the show have not been pre-determined, and are created as they are performed.
  • Promenade: The audience moves from space to space to encounter scenes, usually following a set order or being led by a production member.
  • Experiential: This is the term that I use to refer to shows that are actively experienced by the audience, incorporating some combination of the above elements.

Part One: Narrative Structure

A visit to Westworld begins with a train ride. Guests (human visitors) and hosts (lifelike robots playing characters) mingle in the carriage of the steam train, looking out at the sights beyond the window as the train cuts through the desert. Before long, it pulls into the station in the small town of Sweetwater, where everyone alights and can begin to explore the town.

A red steam train pulls into the small town of Sweetwater..
A red steam train pulls into the small town of Sweetwater. (Season 1 Episode 1, ‘The Original’)
A diagram of four circles in a row, connected by a straight line. Underneath, text reads Fig. 1: ‘On Rails’
A diagram of several circles, connected by a number of straight lines that branch off from one another. Underneath, it is captioned Fig. 2: ‘Branching Paths’
A diagram showing several circles, all unconnected. Underneath it is captioned Fig. 3: ‘Open World’

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Jim Fishwick

Jim Fishwick

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Performer person, wordplay wonk, alliteration… alligator… General Manager at Jetpack Theatre. ex-ACMI. they/them. The museum logos article was a fluke, sorry!