What to Expect from Broadway’s The Encounter

Special Features   What to Expect from Broadway’s The Encounter What, exactly, is Simon McBurney’s acclaimed solo play? Read about the science behind the production.
Simon McBurney<i> </i>in <i>The Encounter</i>
Simon McBurney in The Encounter Robbie Jack
Simon McBurney
Simon McBurney Joseph Marzullo/WENN

When Simon McBurney’s solo play The Encounter debuted last summer at the Edinburgh International Festival, critics used words like “mysterious” and “spellbinding” and proclaimed the show was “unlike any other theatrical experience.” Audiences who’d seen it raved about its uniqueness and the use of audio technology, but for those who hadn’t, there remained some confusion as to what, exactly, it was.

The Encounter began previews on Broadway at the Golden Theatre September 20, which means New Yorkers now have the opportunity to discover the show for themselves. In the meantime, we spent half an hour in the theatre with McBurney and asked him for a sneak peek.

HERE'S WHAT WE KNOW:

  • In The Encounter, McBurney incorporates innovative technology into his solo performance to create a shifting world of sound. He utilizes a Sennheiser Neumann KU 100 Dummy Head Microphone—a microphone shaped like a human head. This unique device replicates human hearing to achieve authentic, true-to-life stereo imagery and field perception. This is called binaural sound; when you listen to a binaural recording through headphones, you perceive distinct and genuine 360-degree sound.


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The Encounter Monica Simoes
  • In layman’s terms: it means that if McBurney breathes into the dummy’s “left ear,” the person wearing the accompanying headset will have the experience of feeling that warm breath on the left side of their face—however far they are situated from him and the dummy microphone. This is heightened when the people wearing the headphones have their eyes closed. McBurney tested this on the press by asking us to wear the headphones and close our eyes while he made a sound like chopping scissors at the back of the dummy’s head. The result was a very realistic feeling similar to that of sitting in the hairdresser’s chair, having your hair cut. When he circled the dummy head while talking, we instinctively spun around in our seats, convinced he was physically behind us. This illusion is known as the McGurk effect, it’s a demonstration of the way we integrate visual speech into what we hear. Seeing is not always believing! Learn more here.


  • Audiences will find custom Sennheiser headphones hard-wired into their individual seats in the Golden Theatre that will help transport them to the world McBurney is creating on stage. The show itself required the installation of several miles of cable.


  • The Encounter is conceived and directed by and stars McBurney. The play is based on the true story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre, who in 1969, found himself lost in the remote Javari Valley in Brazil. The story is also inspired by the book Amazon Beaming, by Petru Popescu. The book, which McBurney discovered 20 years ago, weaves McIntyre’s real journal entries from his time in the Amazon. McBurney uses the various microphones on stage to not only re-create the sounds of the Amazon rain forest—complete with the buzzing of insects, bird calls and the roaring of unknown beasts—but to embody McIntyre’s deep, captivating voice, wholly different from his own. The Encounter was developed by the U.K.’s Complicite Theatre and McBurney over five years of workshops and experiments. The show’s sound designer, Gareth Fry, traveled with McBurney to Brazil to binaurally record the sounds of the rain forest, and these now form the bed of the show.


The Encounter features co-direction by Kirsty Housley, design by Michael Levine, sound by Fry and Pete Malkin, lighting by Paul Anderson and projection design by Will Duke. Jemima James is associate director. The Encounter will officially open September 29. For tickets and more information visit theencounterbroadway.com.

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