Interactive cinema has come a long way since screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show where a live shadow cast would act out certain scenes in synch with the film. This year, Mushroom Group and Underground Cinema have joined forces to bring the biggest interactive cinema experience to Australia yet.
Dirty Dancing: The Immersive Cinema Experience is Immersive Cinema’s debut event, bringing the beloved romantic-drama dance classic to life. Immersive Cinema recreate Kellerman’s Mountain Resort with replicas of Kellerman’s main house, staff quarters, cabins, gazebo and even the dance studio. Guests are encouraged to dress for the occasion in 1960’s style, and while there are many activities to do such as hula-hoop classes, life drawing classes, playing volleyball, badminton, watching magic acts do tricks and participating in dance classes, the best part about the event is the pop-up experience with the actors and dancers recreating scenes from the movie.
I tried my best to follow the key actors playing Baby and Johnny throughout the event location, but it was near impossible to follow their whole story and much easier to see a scene here and there. I found the cabin scene and area where Baby professes her love to Johnny overcrowded. I couldn’t really hear or see much apart from a restricted view of a shirtless actor playing Johnny. Apparently, after the monologue had ended, I was told that they had acted out the whole scene and even kissed, but I wouldn’t know because I couldn’t see anything. When I visited the dance studio however, I arrived at an opportune time when a VIP ticket holder dance class was ending (unfortunately I cannot comment on the quality of the VIP dance class as I didn’t participate), and the actors were just arriving into the set. I witnessed the two loved-up characters lip synch and flirt to ‘Love Is Strange’ by Mickey & Sylvia, better known to Dirty Dancing fans as “Baby, o-oh baby, you’re the one”. I must admit, the acting and dancing was superb, from the parts that I saw. It just was a real shame that most of the acting in the event was difficult to hear or see.
The actors don’t have microphones, so unless you were directly outside the window of the dance studio with nobody in front of you, only then would you be able to hear what the actors were saying. Because the windows were so small and the way the dance studio was built, the view was also very obstructed. While the mirror in the dance studio helped reflect parts that I couldn’t see from the window, there were many people complaining behind me that they couldn’t hear or see anything which my previous issue was when I had attempted to view the cabin scene.
I believe this could have been better if perhaps the make-shift buildings were built in a way to only create the façade of being made of wood, but still transparent in a way that guests can see. Much like the way the cinema screen was put together to look like it was held up by brick. This is just a thought, however, given how large the event was, there was bound to be people who couldn’t hear or see anything from the lack of audio and the way these little houses had been put together and designed. I also believe that there could have been two lots actors playing ‘Baby’ and ‘Johnny’ in which they could rotate so that more guests could see the scenes and have a less difficult time in experiencing them.
To be honest, I had an issue with the idea of not being able to use your phone or a digital camera. Mostly because the rule wasn’t as enforced as much as I believed it would have been. While I understand the idea of limiting technology to create the experience of going back to the 1960’s, I did find this decision hindering and upsetting. Hindering because I thoroughly enjoy taking photos of events I attend and upsetting because I saw a lot of people using their phones and digital cameras without consequence. Although I do agree with the idea of not using phones, I do not think the use of digital cameras would impact the event negatively. I know for a fact one media person brought their digital camera along to take photos of the event, and I was upset that I did not do the same. I don’t know if it’s because I personally enjoy photography, but I would have enjoyed the event a lot more if I had been allowed to use my digital camera to take photos and didn’t go rogue like the other media person did and other guests who whipped out their technology.
Today, it’s very difficult to find places that can develop photos taken on film. By the time a person who has attended the event could have been able to develop their photos, the event would be long over and somewhat irrelevant in sharing on social media. It’s a lot of effort to buy a disposable camera from the event shop, getting your photos developed from a specialist and then scanning the photos to finally share online. If an event is fun, guests will want to share their experiences and the way this event was designed pretty much prevented free press that patrons usually can create under normal circumstances. I believe that in future events, digital cameras should be allowed, but still no phones.
You could completely miss the actors and still have fun at Dirty Dancing: The Immersive Cinema Experience as there are many activities to enjoy. Entering the staff quarters with a secret password and salsa dancing in front of the main stage were highlights of the night. There were also a variety of food trucks available which offered lot of choice for the meal before the movie. If you wanted souvenirs, merchandise was available from t-shirts, stubby holders to even cool little old school resort keychains. Sadly, the film was out of sync when it started which was a bit disappointing. I am sure that over the next two nights, the team behind the event will iron out this little hiccup, but for the most part, I did find the event enjoyable. And of course, it was wonderful to see the film on the big screen again.
I think the Immersive Cinema experience is brilliant. Despite my constructive criticism, I loved the idea. Watching Baby and Johnny do ‘the lift’ with my very own eyes in time with the film is such a magical moment. But there’s still a lot of work to be done. Understandable, this is Immersive Cinema’s first event and they did do a good job in recreating scenes and establishments from the movie. You really did feel like you jumped right through that cinema screen and into the Dirty Dancing world. But I am hoping that the next event is improved ten folds after this learning experience for both Mushroom Group and Underground Cinema. Whether it be Dirty Dancing again as an annual event or another film entirely, I love my films, I love my theatre and I now am keen and intrigued for more Immersive Cinema experiences in the near future.
Dirty Dancing: The Immersive Cinema Experience is currently at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne from Friday the 22nd of March to Sunday the 24th of March. Limited tickets are available now via immersivecinema.com.au