One of my aims for writing this blog was to encourage me to try different things and discover new places in Leeds, so when I got an email asking if I’d like to attend SWARM – an “immersive experience” at Studio 24 – I jumped at the chance.
I’d read that SWARM was part theatre, part night club – an evening where you’re an interactive member of the audience and control what happens. Luckily my friend Emily had already seen the event advertised and fancied giving it ago, so was happy to come with me and experience it too.
Prior to the event, we received an email welcoming us to the club and informing us of the password to use when we arrived. We were told that it was a really important night for the club owners and dancers (in character already!) and that we might get “entangled with some of [their] washed-up souls, barely buoyant”!
Emily and I arrived at Studio 24, which is a cultural space in the Northern Quarter, and were feeling a little apprehensive. Not knowing what to expect, we (slightly anxiously) waited outside to get into the “club”, already wondering whether the ladies next to us were “real” or whether they were actors.
I don’t want to give too much away and spoil any surprises if you are planning on going, but I will say that you can’t be shy. If you want to avoid contact with people and quietly observe from afar, you won’t get much out of the experience. You have to be prepared to chat to strangers and get over that weird feeling that the conversation you’re having is false. You’re acting yourself by going along with the charade.
I think I was expecting more to happen on the night – for there to be more staged scenarios, but it was quite fun just chatting to people (both actors and audience participants.) We actually spent most of the evening talking to a fellow audience member, who also produces arts events and was involved in the Transform programme, although I admit to being a little sceptical at first as to whether she was a plant or not (sorry Melanie!).
I found the experience made you question yourself and how much you get involved in scenarios or sit on the sidelines. (A bit deep for a Thursday evening!) For example, at one point we were sat right next to the club owners who were having a fight. Even though we knew it was staged and that normally an audience is supposed to watch the actors, it felt really uncomfortable to just sit and stare at them, so we kept looking around, avoiding eye contact, to try and be more subtle! And another time, one of the actors was giving us quite an emotional monologue, and again, even though you know it’s staged, you end up wanting to give real advice.
I kept joking that I’d get into character too and see what it would be like to play a part (Tallulah Rox is my alter ego FYI) but ended up reverting back to Han from Yorkshire every time I spoke to someone.
Both Em and I were driving so didn’t drink, but I can imagine you’d have a very different experience with a few beers in you. It’s probably very different on a weekend too, if people go to it before or after a night out, and again very different if you go in a big group. I definitely recommend going with a friend who’s not afraid to let go and try something new! It’s one for the extroverts perhaps.
The performance was produced by Riptide – “an immersive theatre company based in the North of England.” On their website they state:
“We create performance that places the audience at the very heart of the action.
Our work is a fusion of both the intimate and the epic.
Our audiences are swept through the narratives, spaces and cities in which our performances occur.”
I’m intrigued to see what they come up with next.
Thanks to Anna Turzynski, Associate Producer at Riptide, for inviting me to experience SWARM.