BWW Interview with the creative team of MAD WORLD, the immersive theatrical experience.
Following its sold-out premiere run, MAD WORLD the immersive theatrical experience returns in 2019 for a limited season in Melbourne.
Presented by David Butler Studio and Richard Taki, MAD WORLD transports audiences to the twisted and mad cabaret world of Klub Wonderland in 1940s Berlin.
Surrounded by the creatures of the night, you will navigate through an upside down world that may not always make sense. Let your curiosity get the better of you as you uncover secrets, make alliances and find yourself going as far down the rabbit hole as you dare.
We spoke with James Cutler (Artistic Director), David Butler (Musical Director + Peppy Cast Member), and Madi Lee (Choreographer) to learn more about what we can expect from Mad World...
In your own words, can you describe what audiences can expect from Mad World?
DB: I am confident audiences will have a truly unique theatre experience - one that they may struggle to put into words as a "you really had to be there" situation. We had a large number of returning audience members last season wanting to explore different characters and parts of the story. The beauty of the piece is that no two audience members will quite have the same experience.
JC: Audiences can expect to be more involved in a piece of theatre than they may be used to! The concept of Mad World is that the action takes place in a 1930s Berlin Nightclub, and the audience will find the performance happening all around them - not just on the main floor, but at the bar, down hidden hallways, in the dressing rooms. The audience will be inside the action and have special access to all of these spaces as the story unfolds all around them. They can expect a show that will be unlike anything they've seen before. It's dark, it's pulsing, it's twisted, it's intriguing, and it's a heap of fun.
ML: Audiences will without a doubt, never have experienced a theatrical show like this before. The show caters for people who love song and dance, but also people who let their curiosity get the better of them and let their inner child out. We encourage our audiences and guests, to be courageous and curious...go wandering around the club, see what you come across, what clues are hidden throughout the maze, who you meet along the way, all with a glass of wine if your hand. In a way, the show is a big game of Cluedo. It will honestly be the most fun you can have in 2 and a half hours.
Why was 1930s Berlin so "twisted and mad"?
DB: The social and political climate had a tremendous conservative impact on the queer and artistic communities in the 1930s. Very quickly pushing them underground; criminalising their activities and their very existence. Borne from this, people like the MAD WORLD characters of Klub Wonderland were searching for a place where they made sense in a world that felt like it had been turned upside down.
ML: The world we have created, although taking elements of Alice in Wonderland, highlights the real struggles that artists experienced in 1930s Berlin under the Nazi Raid. The characters you meet on the night are real people with real stories. If this were Berlin 1930s, these were the people you would meet in artistic communities such as these. The world outside is upside down, here is a place where people can be themselves and feel safe...for now.
How did you find the experience of developing the show?
DB: The nature of this piece is highly collaborative and continues to evolve from rehearsal to rehearsal which is both a challenge and very exciting. Rather than having set parameters of the world, the script and the characters - our cast and creative team have immense input and ownership of their individual parts. The key to this has been cultivating a safe environment where everyone feels safe to contribute, play and explore their instincts.
JC: In a word, tough! We are not just creating a single 2-and-a-half hour show, we are creating scripting and staging for 12 individual characters over the course of the night, each with their own unique plot and audience interactions. That's a lot of hours of performance time, translating into many, many more hours of devising and rehearsing. You have to get your head around where each character is at each moment and plan the show out to the minute, giving the actors time to traverse the space to be in the right place for the next scene. A lot of experimentation goes into this sort of show as we trial our material, and we are always looking for the most dramatically interesting choices. Fortunately we have a wonderful and gifted group of collaborators who make this process a dream.
ML: Wowza! It was a journey that's for sure. As James said, we're not writing one show where there's a scene on stage, an actor goes off stage, waits for their next scene, comes on for curtain call. No, we're writing 13 different shows - each character has their own plot line throughout an entire venue. If an audience member takes interest in someone, they could follow that character for 2 and a half hours and still get a complete story from it. As the show is very much a "choose your own adventure", it was crucial we had every moment of the timeline filled by using every corner, secret room and nook of the massive venue as well. As the choreographer, I found this project particularly cool as I was really able to delve into the grittiness and grunge of cabaret dancing back then. It wasn't pretty and the dancers weren't glamorous (even though the dancers I work with in this show are beautiful!)
What do you hope people take away from Mad World?
DB: My hope is that people are both entertained and feel they have been able to explore (as much as they wish) another world. While there isn't currently anything quite like MAD WORLD in Australia at the moment, we are seeing more and more immersive pieces being developed. I think this comes from audiences wanting to have more agency and connection to what they see as well as the growing desire to be present.
JC: I hope the audience has a theatrical experience more unique and fascinating that anything they've experienced before. They'll be sucked inside the world of a 1930s Berlin nightclub and hopefully be taken on a dizzying, exciting and twisted journey through our story. They'll be able to have one on one encounters with the audience (don't worry, they won't bite you), and make decisions that will not only dictate what story they experience, but what ultimately happens in the story.
ML: Our hope is that audiences will come back a third, fourth or fifth time. You can't physically see everything goes on as when you're in one room - there are 13 other things going on. Audiences will be treated to such a unique experience, we hope they come back to see the parts of the club they may have missed out on last time. Every audience will have a really personal experience there, each leaving with different stories.
What makes the show immersive? (Eg. Will audience members be in control of their experience? Will audience members be separated from their friends? How intense is the interaction?)
DB: "Immersive" quickly becomes a broad term, but for MAD WORLD specifically, our audience become an integral part of the world which brings Klub Wonderland to life. They can interact with characters at anytime, influence the direction of scenes and inform decisions made - effectively it is a live choose-your-own-adventure book. We know from last season some people wanted to come and simply watch the floorshow portion of the show; while other audience members became very actively involved, staying with certain characters throughout the performance, or reporting what they see and hear to other characters. It is important to state that no-one is forced into taking part in anything they don't wish to. We encourage groups to split up so they collectively get more pieces of the puzzle, but of course this is not enforced. We say audiences can go as far down the rabbit hole as they wish - they are the ones in control of their experience and what they want to engage with.
JC: In immersive theatre, you don't watch the show... you experience it. The audience arrive as guests of the nightclub, and will be treated as such. 'MAD WORLD' gives audiences full access to explore the venue at their will, encountering characters and storyline in the venue's secret rooms and hidden corners. They will have real, up-close interactions with the characters, and can follow whichever characters' story lines they choose. Whether audiences choose to travel through the story with their friends, or split off and have their own unique experience, is totally up to them. If they're brave and a bit lucky, they may get to experience one of the secret scenes that will be a totally unique moment between the guest and the actors.
For more information on the show, check out:
Creative Director JAMES CUTLER - School of Rock
Director Lauren McKenna - Heathers, Puffs
Book by MELISSA DAVID - From New York For Him
Musical Director David Butler - Falsettos, Into The Woods
Choreographer MADISON LEE - Bare, The Wild Party
2019 MAD WORLD CAST
An incredible ensemble cast to welcome you to Klub Wonderland for the return of MAD WORLD.
Anthony Craig (Romeo & Juliet)
Bianca Bruce (Falsettos; In The Heights)
Chloe Towan (Twelfth Night)
David Butler (From New York For Him)
Juan Gomez (Vivid White)
Meg Hickey (Chicago)
Melissa Gan (The Four Note Opera)
Quin Kelly (Bare)
Rhys Velasquez (Paw Patrol)
Rosalie Neumair (The Wild Party)
Sean Paisley Collins (A Noble Cause; Hotel Bonegilla)
Sophie Perkins (The Wild Party)
Teagan Nowicki (Bring It On)