No screens. No distractions. No fourth wall. No escape. You’re stuck in a strange world where strange things keep happening — sometimes, to you.

Welcome to “immersive theater,” where audience members are part of the performance. And demand for these experiences is on the rise. Google searches for “immersive theater” have spiked in the past couple months, as new shows have been produced in more and more cities.

Productions range from horror movies and children’s books brought to life (with you in a starring role), to guided meditations or nights of partying in a bygone era.

But all immersive theater productions appeal to a desire for fully offline experiences. Your attendees don’t just want a break from their phones or laptops — they want a chance to go outside their everyday lives.

This trend can shed some light on today’s audiences, and what they’re looking for in events. Here are five reasons we think immersive theater is on the rise — and how you can capitalize on the trend to attract a new generation of event-goers.

1. Escape

The desire for an offline experience is real. Just think about coming home from work and wanting to unplug and watch a movie. Now, imagine you were actually in that movie. Your phone won’t be able to interrupt you. Neither will your significant other. You won’t be able to text a friend about that awesome scene you both love. You’ll be in someone else’s life, maybe as someone else.

People have always wanted to step away from things for a moment. But today, since it’s so hard to fully unplug, audiences are looking for entertainment that transports them.

To create an element of escape at your event, consider requiring your attendees to put away their phones for the evening. You can make this a delightful experience (rather than an inconvenience) by offering a branded or themed bag that houses their phone, which they can take home as a keepsake.

2. Interaction

When you step away from a screen (and your everyday life), you’re forced to meet new people. Immersive theater introduces you to people with whom you can have deep, affecting — if partly scripted — interactions. That level of in-person connection can feel rare today, but people’s desire for it isn’t.

How can you get your attendees interacting with your featured talent or speakers, and each other? Bring audience members onstage at your next event. Or maybe rethink seating, requiring guests to sit next to (and engage with) strangers.  

3. Imagination

When we were kids, we played house, defended treehouses from invaders, and cast our toys in elaborate fantasy tales. As adults, we go to the gym, the bar, and the grocery store. For many of us, there’s not much sense of adventure, and even if we don’t think we miss it, we do. Immersive theater reminds even the most no-nonsense grown-ups enjoy the thrill of exploring a stimulating made-up world. Today’s audiences crave that stimulation.

Consider how you can transport your guests to an alternate reality. Maybe you ask them to come in costume, or use a password to enter the venue. Or perhaps you deck out your bar in a theme. It doesn’t have to require a huge budget — just a bit of imagination!

4. Exploration

Immersive theater shows don’t take place on Broadway or Hollywood Boulevard or Union Square. They take place in abandoned warehouses or hidden basements or former mental institutions or public parks at midnight. So they’re not just about stepping into an imagined world; they’re also about exploring overlooked and mysterious corners of your city.

Think outside a traditional venue: where can you host your event that will surprise and delight attendees? What kind of unexpected location will add yet another layer onto the event experience?

5. Excitement

More than anything else, audiences are looking for excitement. And what could be more exciting than showing up at a designated address with absolutely no clue what’s going to happen next? Today’s audiences are overstimulated in a lot of ways. It’s hard to make them really, truly scared. Or confused. Or overjoyed. But they’re dying for something to make them feel those things. They’re rooting for your event to hit them, hard.

So what can you do to add excitement to your event experience? It could be a last-minute reveal of the location, or an unexpected twist in the event that hits on a personal fear or desire your guest shared ahead of time.

Immersive entertainment sticks with audience members and broadens their perspectives — and that’s the sort of impact any entertainment should strive for.

Want more ideas on creating immersive, engaging event  experiences that attendees love? Check out our collection of interviews with experiential marketing experts at Lyft, Airbnb, Blurb, and PayPal.

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