‘Wilfully striding out towards nothing…’: realisation of a long term love and fear.

Whilst reading an article in quirky magazine Oh Comely, I had a sudden epiphany on a long term fascination (and fear) of mine: getting lost, and became ever aware of its relevance to my studies… 

It is a key element to the Immersive Theatre experience, feeling your way forwards through the unknown, forging your way forwards, overcoming the urge to turn around and run. We live in a world surrounded by maps: signposts for direction, information, warnings…. turn right here, lift this way, Satalite Navigation app on your phone, 2 miles to your exit, Junction 32, 29 miles 20 mins…. we are constantly directed, informed of where we are in the world and feel reassured by knowing so. And yet there are frequent references to be found, whether in the work of the ‘Mis-guides’ to various places and locations or Edward Monkton’s ‘Zen Dog’ (a long term background feature on my laptop), seeking the desire to ‘know not where he’s going’.  As the article by Jane Flett suggested, ‘it’s one thing to learn to read a map, to traverse the maze of city streets and return home with the landmarks checked off, but it’s quite another to wilfully commit to striding out purposefully towards nothing’.

It seems we have a love/hate affair with this security of knowing our place, our positioning within the world geographically. It would almost be expected that it would be impossible to get lost, we have the world so well covered topographically, what could there be to still discover? But the fear remains. I myself as a child suffered froma recurring nightmare of being lost. This fear was recently made true, in Vienna: finding myself drawn to a bookshop I lost my group (sorry Sal, love you… and the karma handknitted gloves!) After a momentary feeling of sorrow I looked down to see the book title I had picked out and couldn’t help but be amused. It read: ‘Not the End of the World’ It certainly seemed like a good bit of advice and I had to see the comedic sense on the situation! I found my way again, I went back to the hostel in search of a map, or someone, or worse case scenario: to spend a day wandering through a beautiful city until our meeting time and place (I knew from the Metro line maps how to get there!) At the hostel I found the Macedonian group only just setting out and joined them (there’s a reason some people are less hurried to be places than others!). Having been through this experience, I can honestly say it was not as bad as my nightmares had predicted, or, as a friend fondly suggested, ‘perhaps those nighmares were to prepare you for this moment’… I couldn’t help but wonder. 

Having felt this sense of complete loss in a strange place, I can understand people’s apprehension at being placed in an unknown theatre space and being asked to be blindfold, or go forwards, alone. Reading that article, I suddenly found these connections coming to mind and was aware that this fascination with the solo walk, the journey into the unknown, was no recent interest, and had resided in me from childhood, in one emotion or another. The key word is being ‘willful’, in being thrust into such a scenario, we are vulnerable creatures. But if we seek the unknown, strive to choose the unknown route, we are adventurers by choice. This has some clear relevance in Immersive Theatre forms: where the audience member knows what will be asked of them, they can be informed in their choosing to go where they do not know where they are going! We are taught to be controlled and not accidental, to act with purpose, not indecisiveness. As long as an audience member feels a degree of control over these descisions, they are willing participants in a game of hide and seek: searching forwards for something or someone. If you can, as Flett suggests, get ‘just past the first panic, when you accept you truly have no clue where you are going, and you like it’, you may find an enjoyment of being like your childhood self: not always with the knowledge of knowing where you are but having fun with being there. This disorientation can offer us the potential opportunity to endulge our imaginations in discovery, the chance to be playful (as the Mis-guide to Anwhere suggests, to literally swap shoes with someone and walk a mile in their shoes). As Flett closes with some good advice, if we ‘head towards nowhere […] you can’t fail to find somewhere at least’, I can’t help to long for another adventure, and whilst I may not be able to head abroad and lose myself in an unknown place, I can at the very least, encourage people to participate in Immersive Theatre: to take a leap into the unknown and have an experience of getting lost, even if it is just for half an hour in your local theatre. 

Jane Flett’s article can be found in:
Oh Comely Magazine, Issue Six, Jun/Jul 2011.

For help on getting lost in your local area:
Mis Guide to Anywhere, Hodge, Persighetti, Smith, Turner and Weaver, 2006. Pub by Wrights & Sites.


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