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For ‘The Encounter,’ Fasten Your Headphones Before Immersion

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Turn off your cellphones. Unwrap your candy. And put on those headsets.

An immersive stage show that makes heavy use of binaural technology (3-D audio) for drama is coming to Broadway this fall after a sold-out run in London and arts festival appearances throughout Europe.

“The Encounter,” inspired by Petru Popescu’s novel “Amazon Beaming,” is loosely about a National Geographic photographer’s experience with a mystical tribe in Brazil in 1969. But, as directed and performed by British director Simon McBurney, it is also an exploration of the nature of reality, and the meaning of storytelling.

“I became fascinated with the whole process of memory — what the relationship is between the actual way memory works in the brain, and the effect of that in our lives,” McBurney said in a telephone interview. “I had this story, and my own personal obsession, and they started to wind around each other like a double helix, and gradually I began to find a form which seemed to me to be deeply dramatic and theatrical — compelling as a story, but also as a set of things that provoke and question the imagination of the audience.”

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McBurney, who created the show for Complicite, a company he co-founded, said “The Encounter” is partly about solitude. “It is very intimate, because of the technology, and I want people to go on that journey,” he said.

The show began its life last summer at the Edinburgh International Festival, and then was staged at the Barbican Theater in London early this year; it has also been performed at festivals in Britain, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, France and the Netherlands. In a review of the London production in The New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote that “The Encounter” is “one of the most fully immersive theater pieces ever created” and described it as “a journey to the center of your mind that begins in your auditory nerves and keeps burrowing deeper.”

The Broadway production will begin previews Sept. 20 and open Sept. 29 at the John Golden Theater; it is scheduled to run through Jan. 8. McBurney said he hoped to do most of the performances, but another actor, Richard Katz, will step in as needed. (“Eight shows a week is steep with this show,” McBurney said. “It’s difficult to explain, but it’s very tough.”)

McBurney has worked on Broadway twice before, as the director of a 1998 revival of “The Chairs,” by Eugene Ionesco, and a 2008 revival of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.” — NYT

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