From conflict to revolution: The secret aesthetic, narrative spatialisation and audience experience in immersive cinema design

Sarah Anne Atkinson, Helen Kennedy

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In 2014, Secret Cinema Presents … Back to the Future …, tensions emerged within a section of the audience who were not invested in the rules of engagement of the secret cinema brand. The secret location of the screening, the requirement to surrender mobile devices on entry to the venue, and subsequently to adhere to the explicit instruction to Tell No One confused, and frustrated some, many of whom were core fans of the Back to the Future franchise. In 2015, in the Secret Cinema Presents … Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, both the pre-event and main event experiences were imbued with themes drawn directly from the film and from the wider Star Wars storyworld – that of secrecy and rebellion. In this article we argue that the widespread acceptance and compliance with Secret Cinema’s rules of engagement within this particular experience can be attributed to the evolution of the specific formula such that the chosen film affords a specific mode of engagement. The motifs of rebellion and secrecy central to the film fitted perfectly with the Secret Cinema rubric, and thus this ethos was supported and celebrated by audience members across the multiple online and offline spaces. We pay specific attention to experience design and scenographic strategies in these spaces – with a particular focus on narrative spatialisation – and explore how these configurations shaped the audience behaviour. We argue that Secret Cinema deploy an increasingly well tooled formula through which to both guide and develop audience literacies relevant to these novel experiences. There at least three literacies being called upon here to negotiate this form – the ludic literacy of navigating interactive environments, narrative comprehension of complex multi-stranded storyworlds and a meta cinematic awareness of film’s construction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)252-279
Number of pages27
JournalParticipation: Journal of Audience and Reception Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2016


  • Immersive cinema; event-led cinema; Secret Cinema; experience design; nostalgia; Star Wars


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