Methods used to create an Immersive Effect in Complicites the Interaction and How it Affected Contemporary Theater

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Complicite combined traditional storytelling with modern technologies in a combination of narrative and noise when it released its latest five-star show, The Encounter. The show came from the fringe freshly to Barbican Center in London on 12 February 2016. The show took the limits of theatrical production into unknown horizons through curiously evocative, clear staging and audio techniques. The meeting was brave and was considered a must-see for those who love their fresh theater (Collins 260). Such a new approach to this creative work emphasizes the use of techniques which display the immersion in this way. It has also brought out new innovations for contemporary theatre. This paper would answer the research question of what were used for such effect. What techniques create the immersive experience and how does it impact the modern theatre? While the audience have always viewed it as a traditional work where actors act on stage and say their lines and sing, the new innovations created by The Encounter creates new interest for the people. Through the investigation of use of techniques that creates the immersive experience, the paper would show how such creative additions could impact contemporary theatre and how it would be different from the commonly perceived ones.

During the play, everyone was given a pair of headphones and solo performer Simon McBurney, Complicite founder went into action to explain how the binaural technology worked. It just involved the deliverance of sound into the ear. In the vast auditorium, MacBurney stood in a large soundstage, the walls at the back of which are patterned with soundproof foam. He panted into the binaural microphone at the centre stage, which recorded sound in space. The sound of his breath could be felt in the right ear of the headphones that the audience had. The impact was so amazing making to the point of feeling the exhalations of heat. The absolute sound intimacy made some of the members of the audience to shiver. When there was a sudden voice switch in the left ear, the people instinctively turned even though it was in their objective knowledge that it was the projection's trick. When the designed sound layers of Gareth Fry piled up, Foley’s effects-recorded interviews, and McBurney's home study soundscapes create an effect of something that drives the audience into a process of a sound cloud in which fiction and fact, present and the past, production intermingle and research brought a story in the air (Jones).

One microphone dropped a register to McBurney's voice, adopting an American accent that was slow making him become Loren McIntyre, the photojournalist of American origin who successfully discovered the Mayoruna people in 1969. McIntyre dropped out of time in doing so, having failed to trace a route to civilisation. Amid 400 square miles of a dense rainforest in Brazil, with suspicion growing among the tribe and no shared language, his survival became hanging, and he had to depend on the headman’s protection that he named Barnacles, and as time went by the two men struck up a telepathic connection. The story was told with precision so vivid both theatrical and linguistic. McBurney flew with a bamboo stick for a plane over the Amazon. He took the audience into the experiences in the Amazon forest. He looped his insectoid croaks and animal whoops as he circled the stage. He rustled plastic underfoot for leaves. The immersive experience that resulted was so in-depth and vigorous. The audience seemed to drift out of time with McBurney and McIntyre swayed by the gripping thriller (Jones).

Through the whole piece, time passed by so fast. On a threatening Mayoruna environment, the modernity encroached. The sound records with a photo combination attempts to pause the present and brings the past into reality. It explores the time psychologies and reveals the need to be intimate with it while urging to escape or surpass it. The show justifies that history exists in our heads. It is presented in a telepathy nature. The voice of MacBurny transmitted directly into the brains of the members of the audience. The show elucidates its content as well as it echoes it. The sample is primitively served by the whole technology. It urges the need to transcend time and communicate it. A gripping adventure elevates the story. The story telling technique extraordinarily matches a truly astounding story. Rustling roles of leaves create rainforest foliage, the sound of mosquito buzz is heard around the head, and the whole sonic environment swayed the audience to the thrilling depths of the Amazon forest. As recorded in the novel Amazon Beaming The Encounter tells the journey of McIntyre through the thick rainforest. He went there to take the photographs of the Mayoruna tribe but could not find his way out leaving him any choice other than to live among them. The limits of communication are explored as the tale is brought to life by a one-man performance.

The research question of the paper mentioned above needs answering in order to gauge the difference it could invoke to the audience as compared to the traditional setup. By doing such, one could see if the impact to the people is positive or negative. Such investigation could lead to the improvement and continued application of the techniques. If the impact is not really positive, it would not be suggested for further use. As mentioned in the descriptions above, it is artistically presented and is a great fit for the The Encounter. The question is whether such style could gain more following and have people interested for a long time.

The Techniques Used in Creating the Immersive Effect

Sound Effect

In The Encounter, the sound effect made by the actors is considered an essential part of the experience the audience goes through, and this is achieved by the use of visual references in the context of the set to the sound design. People usually encounter sound effects from other source. With The Encounter, it is created by the actor himself. All the set of equipment is brought into reality through the application of binaural technology. The technique involves creating sound effects and using headphones and microphones to bring the reality in the sound. This creates the immersive effect that sways the heart of the audience taking it into another land far beyond the area of storytelling. The trick behind the binaural technology is a sound design. When the sound design is done right, and the audience hears it, it will believe the things it listens to. The audience identifies significant aspects of the sound and interprets the meaning (Fry). The use of the audio effects can create an impact through the innovations that it could bring and the possibility of applying such style to a variety of theatre genres.

In the theatre sound goes beyond finding the right effects needed for production. Sound can be used to create location or time for a given performance and to enhance and create atmosphere and mood. Location and time are the where and when of production. Complicite appears to consider the genre and period of the play. It responds to cultural, historical and social production context of the narrative. By using sound effects to capture the environment and the origin of an area, it puts the audience to the place itself. Thus, those who are watching can have a better grasp of what it was like. Instead of just plain narratives and lines, the audience get to feel the culture and history of the area through the immersive experience.

The atmosphere and mood are the feelings created by the production for the audience. In creating mood and atmosphere, the sound becomes significant, and the audience will relate different sounds to different moods. In The Encounter, this technique is used. The sound creates a broad range of feelings making the audience to fly to reality. MacBurny seems to be aware that proper design of sound is a sequence of deliberate decisions. Everything that was put on the stage appeared to have a reason and contributed to the experience the audience went through (Fry). However, what mostly made the sound to stand out is the style in it. MacBurny employed a broad range of style in creating the sound effect. By doing such, it impacted the audience to feel the reality of the scenes and bring them closer to the circumstances in the narrative. Some of the style used includes:


The Encounter employs the technique of symbolism. It communicates an idea so real in the form of a story. The ideas of maturity and creativity are expressed in a smart use of simple equipment on the stage.


The Encounter is a minimalist production. It is a one-man performance play that incorporates sound effects which create several other imaginary characters. The sound is used to create a whole setting, and environmental locations and situations are changed simply by changing the soundscapes (Fry).


The Encounter creates a new world. It carries the audience to a wonderland far away from reality. It incorporates a range of sound effects to create atmospheres and moods that are magical and captivating, yet it maintains an internal logic to help the audience engage and understand the professional world.


Complicite appears to have edited the sound using editing software to create echo sounds. The forest sounds that bounce back make the scenes to be so real. The echo indicates specific locations and enhances mood.


This sound effect frequently appears in The Encounter. It is created suing editing software. Reverbs are created when sound bounces off from certain space surfaces. The reverb continues even after the original sound has stopped. Reverb sound helps the audience to locate different environments in the narration. Reverb is just a sound effect created by blending several sounds


This is how the sound pitch alters. The effects of sound are faded out and in gradually during the performance. This creates a starting and stopping situation.

Sound Levels

The volume of sound varies in The Encounter. This helps to create different moods and atmosphere. For instance, a quiet environment with only mosquito buzz heard indicates that night times while a lively sound atmosphere with birds singing indicates the break of dawn (Fry).

The Audience

As part of making the play, the audience has to be taken into consideration. The Encounter uses sound as an essential tool to create a great impact on the public. This is aided by the use of visual references. The encounter creates a long-lasting impression in the minds of the audience, and the sound design helps in achieving this.

However, the theatrical auditory experience is influenced mainly in two ways. Firstly, the aural attention that is concentrated on the organisation of noise inside the mise-en-scene about dramaturgy. The organisation is done in a way that is semiologically functional that offers or underscores the ironic counterpoint to the audience’s emotional vector. Secondly, it can be with help of the organisation of the hearing of the public. Moreover, the artists use the auditorium modification, the ambient or acoustic presence using the reverberation that is artificial, the use of electroacoustic reinforcements or subliminal ambient effects of certain aspects of the performance. This changes the perception of the audience concerning the play. The propensity of the sound to creep into the mental state of the audience ultimately converts the audience's perception. The sound design uses a sophisticated modern means of shaping the auditory experience of the audience by using sound beds that are false but which are presented in a way that appears real. It creates the intended impact of imagining the narrative through the auditory experience. The telling of the story creates the very theatre of the presentation. It is very different from others of its kind wherein the audience can see people singing, dancing and telling their lines while acting. By using sounds to present the scenes, the story is told and the theatre is created in the very minds of the viewers/listeners.

However, making a masterpiece of a narrative such as The Encounter does not just begin when the plays start and end when the play ends in the theatre. The works of Complicite ranges from writing adaptations to short stories through classic interpretation texts. When rehearsals for a new production are started, the whole company takes the responsibility of producing the work. This includes the stage managers, the performers, the directors, the writers, designers, and other specialists. The artists are allowed to free their imaginations by the long process of exploration. This enables them to find a company a particular approach. A specific method is preserved for each show. This is a reaction to the explored material, and each process is a result of improvisation and play. The distinct energy and atmosphere are made by the collision of personalities of the individuals with a chosen subject. This explains why this pack is never exhaustive. A fixed system of work is not represented by the company. It is critical that each process of rehearsal is unique. The company would never replicate a job process even when receiving a current production (Murray 13). This can be related to the research question since it present the very background of the techniques that were used. It emphasizes that each practice session is unique and the methods of presentation are developed through constant repetition and exploration of ideas. While every theatrical shows also have preparations, the impact of such process mentioned above is the introduction of a new way of presenting in theatre. This can impact contemporary theatre in terms of the potential of sound effects. The Encounter is only a one-man show with no real visual show. However, its strength can be found through the use of various sound techniques that makes people imagine the scenes. Such method can actually be incorporated to modern theatre and can even be mixed with visuals.  

Through this extraordinary combination of pre-theatrical work and brilliant theatrical performance, Complicite has the ability of to reinvent theatre. The style applied to the making of the encounter delivers a thought-provoking punch, and that is deeply moving. It raises our apprehensions of reality and questions of perception of time. McBurney was heard when he played the American explorer with his deep voice and sometimes raised his pitch to impersonate a Portuguese speaking Mayoruna. All this is made possible through the combination of technology and sound effects obtained through sound design. There were also the voices that were pre-recorded and which were mixed skilfully making an excellent use of the stereo headphones effect.

The play enables intimacy and distance to create an immersive effect that makes a framing device to be retained without which the magic of theatre would be lost. In the act of high-wire of narration that conjures a sequence of worlds, while at the same time keeping the audience questioning them, the solo performer impersonates McIntyre and some other characters too (Trueman). In one part of the show, the narrator shouts “Keep the picture in your mind!” which is basically the monologue of the character in the story. However, this is actually a subconscious attempt to make the readers understand what the theatre is trying to achieve. The only actor actually changed the tone of his voice to change between impersonating the characters and even the narrator.  “We landed in the water and I need a guide to to take me back to my camp yea by the river, the river, yea you can call it that. Yabari, javari. yavari” was his explanation when the main character was talking to the tribesman. Suddenly, the narration starts again. “It was clear that the name of the river was not... for them”. It shows how transition was made in between the scenes even without any actual visual presentation.

Disbelief is suspended messing with the minds of the public in a way that is nearly miraculous, almost like in a hallucinatory journey. The audience was freed from the frequent ordinary references that safely kept them within the boundaries of the realities of every day and escaped into the basic awareness of world's fictional nature. The narration technique made the audience to believe that they were the stuff that consisted of dreams (Freshwater 35).

Another great technique used in the narrative was the concepts of imagination. The story made the audience believe that the world could be imagined in several ways. The perfect pitch mastery about every aspect of the story made it a masterpiece. An array of individual sounds, magical lightning and aural perspectives that are always shifting plus the surprising ways in which the performer moved from one world to another or plays with the various subjective notions using interventions that are brilliantly conceived makes the theatrical performance different. MacBurney uses body language in the narration. A technique that enables a very particular kind of communication in resonance with the Mayoruna's old language.

How Complicity The Encounter Has Impacted Contemporary Theatre

The Encounter incorporates in it the application binaural technology in the recording of sound and creation of sound effects. The technology uses microphones and headphones during the performance. Complicites introduces a change to the theatre rules that seem to be long established. It challenges traditional theatre by putting new components of theatrical aspects in play. It shows the continued development in the world theatre.

The Encounter is professionally and technologically crafted to confront the assumptions and perception of the audience to raise societal questions. The Encounter is presented as an important and challenging play characterised by technological advancements. It presents the subject matter in a real and an honest manner which yet in a simplistic way. It is just a one person show, but it incorporates other characters in the play. This challenges the need for simplicity in theatre production yet innovativeness that helps to pass on the message to the audience. The presentation goes beyond the ordinary boundaries of traditional theatre. It is a show of modernistic theatre that brings a break from the usual self –conscious artistic forms. It represents a shift that is significant in cultural sensibilities of the old times. It brings naturalistic aspects of theatrical forms by the use of technology. It is a kind of post-modern theatre that introduces the influence of technology in theatrical performance (Wiśniewski 159). These arguments can be applied to the research question with regards to the sound techniques that were used. It explains the use of technological advancements to present it in theatre format through auditory means. Through the emphasis of simplicity, it shows how such process is enacted every time there is a show. Such method can impact contemporary theatre using its simple approach of using sounds to get the viewers nearer to the reality of the story. It shows how modern advancements in technology can be used without complicating things. Such simplicity in the use of sounds can impact a more natural presentation of the scenes despite the initial criticism of some people that modern tools can actually alter the personal impact of a theatrical show.

Apart from the time shifts from traditional theatre to the modern theatre, The Encounter presents the impact of sound design and sound effects to comic creations. It is a new technique of narrating a story by the use of headphones and microphones. The narration uses audio technology that is devised to shift the traditional culture of storytelling. The technology yields a 3D soundscape. The presentation showed how technology could be used to transform theatrical performance into new forms. The show made the audience not be captured in the dull world of traditional narration instead the headphones made it lively through the sound effects recorded.

The technological advancements made the main character, McIntyre who died in 2003 to be alive again in the theatre. His voice was loud and clear bringing back the lost memories and making it seem like it was real (Fry).

The Encounter justified that the artistic qualities of a theatrical work are as significant as the production process involved. The architecture and the design of a theatre help to bring time shifts in the world of storytelling. The contemporary audience is sensitive to the quality of modern theatrical works. This means that the production process has to meet such needs. Complicite seems to be aware of the needs of the contemporary society, and it meets them by employing sophisticated techniques that are deceptively influential. The technological package incorporates an audio design that is highly sophisticated. The Encounter is a devised work that was artistically crafted by Complicite. The work is an example of the path that contemporary theatrical production should be taking. It makes the theatrical arena modern and lively by telling stories of the old in a modernistic way. The process involved enabling the whole production pack to be practically and physically creative in the shaping and sharing of ideas then edit, assemble and reshape the individual experiences that are contradictory of the world. The show brought the connection between continuity, time, community, and memory (Relich 122-127).

Modern theatrical experts can learn that great works involve collaborative creation that should be devised. Innovativeness is a critical ingredient in adding fresh touches to pre-written texts as justified by The Encounter (Murray 49-50).

Contemporary theatre experts who have incorporated technological uses in their work can learn that attention has to be concentrated on the sound design to be used for a given theatrical work. The dramatic music is created within and for a particular space for a particular audience and a given performance. The audience contributes to the unique sonic nature through their attendance. This shows that sound design is a significant tool that can be used to manipulate the experience of the audience. Sound design can introduce significant revolutions in the theatre.

The contemporary theatre has employed standard features of high fidelity models of sound. But the process of sound design is a collaborative process that uses a devised approach. The availability of technology should make it possible for sound design to take centre stage. Designed sound in the contemporary world of art enables the work created to replicate themselves authentically the aural experience of the world of theatre creating a total immersion into the flow of the narrations.


The Encounter was a classic theatrical production that incorporated sound effects that were crafted through sound design. The whole process was made possible by the use of binaural technology that involves the use of two microphones and audio aides to create 3-D sounds. The Encounter has created a lot of impact in the contemporary theatrical performance. It has justified that technology is useful in creating a shift in the perceptual experience of the audience. It has also justified the importance of sound effects in the creation of shifts in the techniques of theatrical performance from the traditional ways to modern ways. The Encounter incorporated simplicity in during the presentation to narrate a story that would involve a lot of sophistication if the traditional theatrical techniques were employed. A one man show had the ability to present to the audience a narration that included several other different characters in varied environments. The Encounter is a masterpiece that has helped to revolutionise the world of theatre.

Works Cited

Collins, Jane. "Report from the Edinburgh International Festival August 2015." Theater and Performance Design, vol. 1, no. 3, 2015, pp. 256-267.

Freshwater, Helen. Physical Theatre: Complicite and the Question of Authority. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2008.

Fry, Gareth. Complicite the Encounter. Sound Design. 2015. Accessed 3 March 2017

Jones, Alice. The Encounter, Edinburg International Review. Independent. 2015. Accessed 3 March 2017.

Murray, Simon David. Jacques Lecoq. Psychology Press, 2003.

Murray, Simon. "Embracing lightness: Dispositions, Corporealities, and Metaphors in Contemporary Theater And Performance." Contemporary Theatre Review, vol. 23, no. 2, 2013, pp. 206-219.

Relich, Mario. "Close Encounters: Edinburgh International Festival Diary 2015." Scottish Affairs, vol. 25, no. 1, 2016, 122-127.

Trueman, Matt. Broadway Review: Complicites the Encounter. Variety. 2016 Accessed 3 March.2017.

Wiśniewski, Tomasz. "The Aesthetics of Complicite." Complicite, Theatre, and Aesthetics. Springer International Publishing, 2016. pp. 159-182.

Wiśniewski, Tomasz. Complicite, Theatre, and Aesthetics. Springer, 2016.

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