Immersively Engaging? Broken Museums?

Happy New Year! I thought these two subject areas – immersive theatre and the role of museums – would make for stimulating class discussion topics. They both cover issues that arts managers are grappling with, and that asks essential questions about how we engage with audiences and communities.

An Immersive ‘Wolf’?

The Wolf of Wall Street opened as a play in London in late November 2019 with the promise of being a unique immersive audience experience. Anna James took this show as an opportunity to pose questions about what it means to stage an immersive production. Trying to create theatre that tests boundaries and explores the audience-performer relationship seems to be finding its way on to stages around the world.

There are numerous discussion topics embedded in James’ story, as well as useful experiences and insights by other directors and producers about recent immersive productions. The production of The Great Gatsby, for example, produced some incidents where inappropriate audience behavior promoted Actors Equity to undertake a survey of its members about their experiences with these types of productions.

I also included links to two reviews of “Wolf” to provide some perspective about how the play was received.


Are Museums Broken?

The six different responders to the question about the efficacy of museums provide a good range of perspectives for a class discussion or assignment. Each response gives us things to think about when it comes to issues museums face in 2020 and beyond. For example, Chaédria LaBouvier “thinks that the way we think about expertise and how you acquire that expertise has to be totally revamped.” And Dana Kopel of the New Museum thinks the museum model is “utterly unstainable and unethical.” Another contributor notes that the cost of a sandwich in a museum café can be more than many employees at that museum make per hour.

The responses by these contributors to the “broken museum” question clearly point to the need for those running any type of cultural organization to step back and assess the status quo. Of course, many arts organizations are currently engaged in this critical self-interrogation process. However, it is vital to have conversations with people who are generally not at the table; otherwise, efforts to change a cultural organization will come up short.

Thanks again for being a subscriber to these updates and happy new year.

Bill Byrnes


Safety and immersive theatre: where should the boundaries be set?

The Stage by Anna James – Sep 3, 2019

Immersive productions are increasingly popular, but safeguarding issues remain thorny. Anna James speaks to theatremakers about how to keep audience members and performers safe in such close-proximity environments

In the FAQs section on the website for the new immersive production of The Wolf of Wall Street, which opens shortly in London, is the question: “Should I be concerned about the show’s content?”

Given the source material – Jordan Belfort’s 2007 memoir, which was adapted into a Hollywood film six years later – that showed the drug and drink-fuelled excesses of New York’s financial district in the 1980s, it is a question many have been asking in regard to safeguarding the audience and the performers.

The answer on the production’s website reads: “While the story of The Wolf of Wall Street depicts misogyny and depravity at its core, the team behind the production is committed to creating a respectful and happy environment for its audience and staff.”

The full article can be found at this link or by clicking the story title above:

Here’s a link to a review of the show in the Hollywood Reporter on Nov. 29, 2019

Here’s a link to a brief review from the newspaper The Guardian, also on Nov. 29, 2019


Does the Museum Model Still Work?

Hazel Cills, January 2, 2020 – Pop Culture Reporter, Jezebel

In 2019, the art museum became a public battleground.

From Decolonize This Place’s protests of Whitney board member Warren Kanders, to union drives at museums like the New Museum and Marciano Art Foundation, and curators calling attention to colonialist and racist museum practices, art workers, critics, and museum-goers are calling for an overhaul of the very idea of the art museum itself. Those actions strike at the very paradox of art museums; though exhibitions might have a progressive point of view and artists themselves might be making radical statements, as institutions, museums often possess retrograde politics, beholden to traditional forms of influence and power. But how can the traditional, “canonical” art museum—reliant upon wealthy donors, chained to private money, and often staffed via privileged pipelines leaving employees overwhelmingly white—change to better meet the needs of the community it resides in and the public it seeks to educate?

The full article can be found at this link or by clicking the story title above: