Subl minal Eng gement

Inviting the audience to participate in the creation of their own experience.

Well executed, the constructing of the experience in such a way as to subliminally engage those immersed in it can make for an intimate and quite personal experience for each member of the audience, irrespective of theatre or audience size.

What is Subliminal Engagement?

Another way to put it is “to make the audience do some of the work.” Create an experience that is in some ways incomplete…leaving it to each audience member to “complete” for oneself. The set, a song, a word or conclusion…

Rather than hand it all to them, rather than to fully articulate each thing in any dimension, hint; lead them to something but don’t take them all the way… Allow for the journey or journeys to be completed in the imaginations of the audience members.

With finesse, something almost magical can happen. One can offer each person in the audience the discovery or rediscovery of something intensely personal. What ramps up the resonance, the intensity of the experience is that most every member of the audience can experience this personal epiphany at virtually the exact, same moment; offering a theatre-wide, palpable, almost physical rush that renders the experience exponentially more powerful.

The most universally-appreciated example of this would likely be Julie Taymor’s costume designs for “The Lion King.” These costumes evoke jungle animals rather than attempt to fully articulate them. Ergo, what happens in the mind of each audience member is the recognition of a hyena, a zebra, a gazelle… Not just any hyena or zebra is perceived, however, and not the same one, throughout the theatre; rather, each person recognizes a specific, individual personal experience of “zebra” – the animal that s/he knows or first saw or experienced.

It is a “shared, personal experience;” the power of which cannot be overstated despite the virtual nature of it. This experience is is borne of Subliminal Engagement.

Referencing the Stanford film that was shared in an earlier post; this is the primary purpose or goal of creating a film that was shot with two, adjacent cameras and projected on two, adjacent screens that were separated by about 15’ of stage. The separation of the screens was key to the vitality of the experience. When watched in situ, the imaginations of the audience pull those screens together, creating the single image that is being perceived…they are working to create their own experience, side-by-side with one another.

Stanford “Think Again” films #1: Back to the Farm – YouTube

There is a sublime exultation that effervesces within each of us as we watch, engage and create the vary experiences that we are appreciating and enjoying…in a sense, we are discovering.

The extreme of this – which is a theatrically traditional technique – is, as one may imagine, darkness; punctuated with light for the action, sounds and effects broadcast into darkness, bare stages with boxes and ladders and spartan sets… While that can work, care must be exercised in the avoidance of going too far in one direction, risking boredom or distraction by the very spareness that is meant to do the evoking.

I believe what gives this its power and effectiveness is the lushness or completeness of what is articulated, rendering what is missing that much more dissonant – and by that dissonance, that absence, calling forth more colorful and complete imagery and experience from the imagination.

There are myriad ways of creating experience that elicit Subliminal Engagement: observe, examine, invent, adopt…create.

Again, thank you for reading; I hope this helps or inspires.

If you have a moment to comment or offer feedback, below, please do; I appreciate that stuff!

And, with that, this concludes the introductory overview of my Five Tenets for the Creation of Compelling Experience. With next week’s post, I’ll begin exploring some of the science behind the methodologies and their anecdotal applications. Always brief and, imho, always int’restin’.


“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?”
-Robert Browning

6 thoughts on “Subl minal Eng gement

  1. Always thoughtful, always impactful – your creative direction and open sharing of your proven theories are great for events, as well as life… LU Kile!

  2. As usual, eloquently put. Hope you can see the beautiful moon tonight, friday! It’s clear enough here in Seattle, hooray!

  3. Good article!

    The separation of screens works, even in a more spread out fashion. For the USA pavilion in Shanghai we had five odd-angled screens of different proportions with some large gaps between them. At times we would use them separately and at others use the space of all five screens to make one image. While that’s a lot of blocking work for the shoot (have to keep faces in the rather bizarre screen safe areas), it reads perfectly well while watching it. Our brains fill in the gaps nicely.

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