Two years later, it seeks to strut some more of its stuff at a theater near you.
Without Walls, the Playhouse’s nod to the genre known as immersive theater is scheduled for Oct. 19 to 22 at several venues from La Jolla to downtown. Artists from San Diego to Berlin will stage 17 plays whose success depends on the whims and opinions of its audiences — indeed, the patrons may be central to the story’s outcome.
The Playhouse had staged similar events from 2009 to 2015.
Immersive theater, as the name suggests, places the audience in the middle of the action, with directors inviting spectators to take a more active role in the performance. Curtains and arcs are frequently absent so as to eliminate the concept of distance between audience and actor; the patron may explore the space around him as he decides what scenes most appeal to him.
The genre may be unorthodox, but it’s also no stranger to the ages. Patron-driven haunted houses and mystery theaters have been with us since the early 19th century — and as late as 1985, the Tony-winning musical “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” extracted from an unfinished Charles Dickens novel, asked the audience to vote on who killed poor Edwin amid several possible climaxes.
One consensus is that everybody did it — and the liveliness of that exchange has marked the story’s impact through history. A 1914 mock trial, radio programs, a 1935 film version and a 2012 TV miniseries color the story’s past, its cult-favorite underpinnings finding a parallel in social media’s brave new world.
“The demand for [immersive theater] is immense right now,” Playhouse artistic director Christopher Ashley said in a published report. “It rhymes with Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all this stuff that’s instantaneous community building.”
“Building on the success of our previous Without Walls festivals,” Ashley added in a statement, “our 2017 outing will showcase works that redefine our conception of theater as well as the customary relationship between audience and art.”
And this time, patrons can find their outlet a little closer to home.
“We’re bringing this year’s festival to downtown San Diego and environs,” Ashley explained, “giving the Playhouse an opportunity to expand our reach, develop new community partnerships and offer audiences even more innovative sites and experiences.”
Downtown venues include The New Children’s Museum, San Diego Public Library, and Horton Plaza Park. Other sites include Bread and Salt and Border X Brewing in Logan Heights and UC San Diego’s ArtPower.
This year’s programming is as diverse as its locales, to wit: “The Quest 3.0,” developed with the San Diego Children’s Museum, is an interactive family adventure that challenges participants to join the Society of Creative Thinkers as they embark on a great journey – exploring artifacts, gathering clues, engaging in clandestine meetings and solving peculiar puzzles – in order to discover a surprising truth.
“Incoming: Sex, Drugs and Copenhagen” centers on true uncensored stories from the lives of America's military about the private and sometimes illicit escapes sought by service members during their service and the time that follows as they readjust to the civilian world.
“Oslo” centers on the proprietor of Oslo's Sardine Bar, shipwrecked when his Danish-flagged freighter was lost. If enough people come to dine, he may be able to get a life raft, a flare gun or maybe more beer and decide to stay.
Ashley, Playhouse artistic director since 2007, won his first Tony Award in June. He was named Best Director of a Musical for his helming of “Come From Away,” the true story of a Newfoundland town that welcomed 7,000 stranded passengers in the wake of 9/11.
The Playhouse has transferred 28 productions to Broadway; those shows have garnered 38 Tonys. The Playhouse won the Best Regional Theatre Tony in 1993.
For more information, visit www.WOWFestival.org. The Playhouse’s number is 858-550-1010.