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The psychology of airport architecture, and how it could be a blueprint for immersive dance.

#ThoiughtfulThursdaySW As immersive, site-specific and dance theater performances become more prevalent within the professional dance scene, what to do with the audience and how to guide their performance experience becomes a crucial choreographic element for all creators to sort out.

Whether it's choosing which corridor to head down in an abandoned hotel such as in the dance theater performance "Sleep No More" or deciphering how to interact with the close-quartered performers in Third Rail Project's "Then She Fell", these performance situations give the audience an infinite amount of choices within that were not available to them when sitting in a theater seat. So the question becomes for every choreographer, how to you best provide structure so the audience adventure completely is in harmony with the intentions behind the artistic work.

Earlier this past fall, I attended an immersive show that chose to lead the audience on a decisive route by having ushers coral you to a new location between sections within the work. While that assured we had the experience the directors planned for, I found the stop-start guiding structure interrupted the continuity of the show and the feeling of being wisped away to a new world.

On the other side, I have been to site-specific performances where the choices we could make as an audience member were completely limitless. While some may argue that the chaos of having too many options might have been what the choreographer was looking to attain within the work, aesthetically I found it very hard to appreciate the beauty of the choreography because there was no structure or guidance to my role within the work.

So how do we find this happy medium within experiential performances where the audience has just enough guidance to have an adventure that works in unity with the creative work as a whole, but that also is subtle enough for them to not be taken out of the artistic masterpiece.

As we all know, inspiration can be found in the most unique of places and this fragile balance with immersive art may find clarity and support in the precise way airports are designed to effect the emotion, psyche and travel patterns of their customer.

In this fascinating BBC column, Alejandro Puebla, an airport planner and civil engineer, states,

"The perfect airport would be one where you would naturally be guided by the surroundings."

Article author, Addison Nugent explains that these subtle hints guiding the traveler are referred to as "wayfinding". She continues,

"The colours and shapes of signs often differ from terminal to terminal, the carpeting patterns change, and large art pieces serve as distinctive place markers for orientation. If ever you’re walking through an airport and suddenly sense that you are going the wrong way, you’re probably responding to subconscious wayfinding cues."

In this feature, Nugent also goes into the intricacies of why retail stores within airports tend to be on your right to the multiple seating area options purposely created to give the customer an illusion of choice and control in an environment where you are essentially giving up a large part of your free will. All these specific markers guide the airport customer to have both an individual experience while being silently guided into specific pathways prearranged by the airport.

In this ever-evolving world where immersive dance experiences are becoming more and more popularized, it becomes imperative that the director or choreographer is just as specific about what experience they want the audience to have and how to execute it, as they would structure their movement phrases within a dance.

While there are a limitless amount of answers to this proposal, the decisions behind the architecture of airports might provide a new lens to approach an unconscious clarification of the role of the audience within a site-specific experiential show.

Article link: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190430-psychological-tricks-of-airport-design

What do you think? How do you guide your audience in unique show experiences? Are there certain approaches that helped the audience participation to work in unity with your creative work?

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