A regular flamenco show is a must-see when in Spain—but an immersive theatre show where flamenco takes center stage is even better. From the same creators as Medias Puri and Uñas Chung Lee, Tacones Manoli is the latest addition to Madrid’s immersive theatre scene.
Tacones Manoli is a brand new experience that mixes immersive theatre with flamenco, incorporating professional flamenco artists (singers, dancers, guitarists), trained actors, and meticulous set design into this self-described “Immersive Clandestine Show”. The show centers around La Casa de Bernarda Alba, a play written by well-known Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca, intertwined with a flamenco theme.
Fun fact: according to this Spanish article, the building where the play is held was used in the past as a dungeon during the Spanish Inquisition and is rumoured to have a secret passage linking it to the Royal Palace in Madrid.
The show premiered last weekend, with its first day being September 26th, and I was able to check it out just a couple days later thanks to a friend who invited me. I was initially on the fence about going because I didn’t know too much about how immersive theatre works, and I worried that language barriers might be an issue (since I’m still relatively new to learning Spanish and all). But I’m super glad I decided to go!
What is Immersive Theatre?
There is a new trend taking over the world of theatre: immersive theatrical experiences known as immersive theatre. If you’re anything like how I was a week ago before attending my first immersive theatre show, you might not know too much about it yet.
Basically, I think of immersive theatre as theatre without a stage—or rather, where the boundary between the audience and the stage disappears. It’s different from traditional theatre in that instead of sitting in front of the stage and watching passively, spectators find themselves within the confines of the play, where the performances happen in real-time around them in several directions. All spectators are allowed to move around freely throughout the set, at times consisting of multiple rooms and floors, in any direction at whatever pace they choose.
Immersive theatre shows can be interactive, but not always. There are some shows that allow for audience interaction while there are others where you are asked not to speak or to touch the actors, as is the case for Tacones Manoli. I’ve also read that some immersive theatre shows come with headphones to further immerse you into the experience.
I tried to pinpoint where and when the immersive theatre craze started, but I wasn’t successful. Although it seems it’s been around for a while, the first time I had ever heard about immersive theatre was through a friend while we were exploring New York together. He mentioned to me that he had seen a show called Sleep No More, which is apparently a very famous, award-winning immersive theatre show held in New York based on a Shakespeare play.
The trend to create immersive experiences is super popular right now. Whether it’s immersive theatre, parties, restaurants, art, cinema, or pretty much anything else, people are looking for enhanced, high-quality experiences that engage all the senses. And it’s lucrative—audiences are willing to pay more than usual for these types of experiences. So, at least for the time-being, it seems like immersive theatre is here to stay.
Entering Tacones Manoli
Note: Light spoilers ahead—if you plan on going to the show, read at your discretion.
In the case of Tacones Manoli, instead of a typical immersive theatre experience (is there even such a thing?), you are treated to an immersive, flamenco-themed theatrical experience. Almost immediately after stepping from the street into the venue, you enter a dark mysterious world where everything feels strange and secretive, true to the clandestine description. You have to purchase tickets ahead of time, and any bags or belongings you bring will be stored for you at the entrance.
After descending a staircase, each spectator is given a custom-made tarot card which indicates in which group you’ll be starting off the show. I received a card with the words ‘El Loco’ (meaning ‘the crazy one’ in Spanish) written on it—one could say a fitting card for me, depending on the day. Your card will likely differ from those of people you go with, which means you may be put into different groups at the start. You can absolutely attend the show with others, but, to maximize the experience, I suggest going in pairs or groups of 3 at the most.
Along with the tarot card, everyone is given a blank white mask to wear for the entirety of the show. I believe this mask, which is similar to the ones used in Sleep No More, serves multiple purposes:
- To hide your identity and add to the mysterious, secretive feel of the experience.
- To conceal the facial expressions of audience members, which I believe reduces distractions and keeps you immersed in the show.
- To distinguish the performers from audience members, since there are many performers and they do not wear masks.
You are asked to put on your masks just before the show starts to begin. Don’t bother wearing any makeup for this show because your face will get a bit sweaty under the mask.
Here’s a photo of me and my friend in our masks after the show:
After receiving these peculiar items, you walk into a dimly-lit room a few steps away, where you’ll wait with everyone else for the show to start. This is no ordinary waiting area—if you come at a similar time as we did (which was maybe 10 minutes before the official start time), you will be greeted by the sight of several people dancing in pairs, some of whom I believe were spectators.
Curiously, the main character of the show, Bernanda Alba, portrayed by Chelo Pantoja from Jerez de la Frontera (the city I was previously living in Spain), greeted me with a grin as she handed me my tarot card and, for some reason, I randomly felt a strong connection to her. I think she might’ve reminded me of a family member. Later, as she was explaining the show procedures to all of us, she coincidentally decided to pick me, out of everyone present, to publicly ask some icebreaker questions.
She, of course, started by asking me my name. Funny story: being able to properly communicate my name in Spain has surprisingly been a slight problem for me. I recently, a couple weeks before this show, started to notice that I pronounce my name in Spanish incorrectly. I realized this because whenever a Spanish person would hear my response to their simple question, I noticed some signs of confusion and often had to repeat myself. So this time when I responded to her question, I tried extra hard to enunciate. Well, it didn’t work because I still said it incorrectly once again, and she teased me about it by repeating it the same mistaken way in front of everyone. But no big deal—such is the norm in the life of a language learner. I’ve since learned, thanks to a colleague at work, that I was pronouncing my name in three syllables, Ga-bri-el, vs the more typical two syllable pronunciation in Spain, Ga-briel. Now I know.
After a few more questions directed to me, she continued on with getting the audience ready for the show. One of most important instructions you are told is that you are not allowed to talk. The whole show is spectated without audience dialogue. So you’ll have to chat about everything with anyone you go with after the show. And, as anyone would expect, they requested phones to be turned off or silenced. Once the audience had been sufficiently prepped, the show officially began.
My Tacones Manoli Experience
Since this is an immersive theatre show, everyone’s experience can differ slightly. I’m not going to go into too much detail because I don’t want to spoil the show, but I’ll give you a general idea of how it went.
As I mentioned before, each tarot card assigns you to a group, and each group is guided into the experience by one of the performers. In my case, the performer leading my group was, coincidentally again, Bernanda Alba. She very slowly led us back up through the staircase we entered from, several times pausing emphatically and singing flamenco as we began to dive into the world of Tacones Manoli.
Once you make your way to the first room, you are immediately free to roam around wherever you want. All the rooms in the venue are part of the “stage” for you to explore. You can position yourself in any part of the room and come and go as you wish. There are seats you can use in some rooms, but for the most part you will be on your feet.
Several acting and flamenco performances happen simultaneously in the various rooms throughout the venue. You can choose to explore on your own or follow the actors as they move around. You have full control of going forward, backward, or in any direction you want. Go wherever you feel drawn. It’s really a choose-your-own-adventure type of experience.
The whole show seems like you’re eavesdropping or spying on the lives of an odd household entangled in secrets. As one would expect from something so heavily flamenco-themed, the show is chock-full of emotion. There is no lack of opportunities to get up close and personal with the many singing, dancing, instrumental, and acting performances. Also, prepare to see some very bizarre characters.
There are times when the characters may interact with you. For example, there was a point when one of the actors blocked the entrance of a very small room I was in, trapping me and another guy. The actor stood idle, extremely close to us, and started to quietly sing in our ears (in Spanish), moving back and forth between us. To add to the eeriness, this character was wearing some type of dog mask. I found it both creepy and cool, but if you don’t want this type of super intimate interaction, just try to stick with the crowds.
Something I haven’t mentioned yet but is a huge plus for the experience: there are food, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and snacks located around the venue which are included with your ticket! There was paella, wine, and more. I thought the croquetas were really good. The signs next to the food were a bit small and sometimes hard to notice. But to be honest, I pretty much ate everything without even looking at the signs; however, if you’re more picky or have any allergies, then you may want to pay more attention.
Also, by the way, the ‘tacones’ in Tacones Manoli means high heel shoes in Spanish. So you best believe you’ll be seeing a few pairs, including some really unique ones. I won’t say any more.
I really had no idea what to expect going into my first immersive theatre experience. I have to say, I’m hooked. For me, this was an exceptional experience. The show was super strange and perplexing, but in a good way! All the performers are very talented and you can tell a lot of thought was put into every aspect of the play. The staging was really detailed, and everything was seamless despite the risky variables that immersive theatre can have.
It felt like I was watching a movie or play, but instead of being in front of the screen/stage, I was actually right there next to all the characters. You really feel a slew of emotions as the story moves forward. Moreover, in contrast with my initial hesitation, language proved not to be a barrier to enjoying the show—probably largely due to there being hardly any talking at all. Most of the dialogue during the show is through song.
To sum it up: at Tacones Manoli, prepare to feel the emotions, get lost in the story, and become immersed in an artistic experience. This is probably the most unique way to experience flamenco.
“…the most unique way to experience flamenco.“
Overall, Tacones Manoli was very memorable, and I’m very glad I went. I’m now hooked on immersive experiences. In fact, I’ll be going to Desafío Total, an immersive cinema experience based on the movie Total Recall, in a couple weeks, thanks to my job. Maybe I’ll write something about that too, but no promises 😛. It seems as though my entry into the world of immersive experiences has only just begun.