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I'm being toyed with by a bunch of depraved children
August 4, 2005 8:50 PM   Subscribe

The Game? University of Central Florida instructor Jeff Wirth - an Interactive Theatre pioneer, author, and one time editor of the long defunct ITN resource - brings something like David Fincher's The Game to life. Interactive Theatre describes forms of theatre that directly involve audience members in the action, from plays like Tony and Tina's Wedding to kitschy dinner theatre like the Murder Mystery Players to the one actor/one audience member pieces of Cruel Theatre.
posted by Joey Michaels (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
If you're interested in this, there's a semi-related book called This is Not a Game by David Szulborski which was used to kicked off Poker Without Cards by Ben Mack. (Both are in the "surprise package" in issue 14 of the Grey Lodge Occult Review
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 12:00 AM on August 5, 2005


Raise your hand if you too just lost The Game.
posted by etc. at 12:28 AM on August 5, 2005


Long before the movie (about 10 years ago) and probably unrelated, there was a touring interactive theatre called "The Game", but science fiction, post-apocalypic. It was an awesome thing, and I'm wondering if anyone knows if these things are still around, so I'll describe it:

(I've been to some copycat productions, so I may be confusing and mixing them in the description, but so be it)

The basic premise is that you (and all other members of audience) are refugees from the apocalyptic wastelands, desperately seeking citizenship in this underground community. An underground community that is, well, nuts. (If you want citizenship there, the wastelands must be pretty awful! :-)

When you pay your money, you get a leaflet explaining the premise and your goal, and five City Dollars.

The performance takes place in all of the theatre building - including the old back rooms, half-height spaces under the stages, etc etc. lots of rooms, corridors, tunnels, etc. It's all decked out with props and stuff to look post apocalyptic.

And you have no clue what to do. (Much like a game of Myst, uh what the hell am I doing here? What's meant to happen?)

Maybe you ask someone. Regardless of whether they're audience or actor, they might be able to tell you "Oh - you need a citizenship pass, you get those from the citizenship department".
Or maybe a jackbooted not-so-Secret Police thug sees you looking confused, shines a light into your face and demands to know why you are loitering in a No-Loitering Zone. If you're an old hand at this, you might attempt a bribe, but chances are, unsatisfied with your answers, he hauls you off and throws you in the jail cell.
Locked in a small dark room with a few other people who committed similarly henous crimes, you are told to wait for your trial. The Hangin' Judge is having coffee and doesn't like to be disturbed.

If you look around the cell quite carefully, you might find a secret passage (yes, really), which you can crawl down. The tunnel is quite long. Do you wait for the trial, or escape? As it turns out, the tunnel is known to the guards, and there is usually one keeping an eye on the hippie commune where it exits, so an attempted escape, unless done very carefully, will usually land you in more trouble.

At trial, a lot of things can happen. But let's say you escaped. You go to the citizen department for you citizen slip. The queue is long. You get in line. A squad of secret police comes marching by. One of them is the sadistic fellow who nicked you for loitering. (Though they're all sadistic). You hope he doesn't see you. One of them stops, studying the people in the queue.
"So, we want to become citizens do we?" He sneers. "Do we all know the Anthem?" No one dares answer. Soon, for kicks, he has the group singing "Row row row your boat", trying to cordinate offset harmony. "YOU THERE! LOUDER!" "Louder RIGHT NOW or you're going to the back of the queue!"
You finally reach the desk of citizen department. "Oh no, you can't get the paper until you're certified disease free."

And on it goes. That's the newbie game, when you don't know what you're doing and just end up doing what you're told. The people who have gone to previous performances learn how the system works and start pushing back, and shape the events of the performance instead of being buffeted around by them, and there is an overall plot on top of that, such that a leader might get assasinated, and the guards orders are changed etc etc.

There are vast amounts of places and people - the asylum (and madmen), religious sects, plaguebearers (that can and will infect you with a smear across the face), the mating area, and so on.

I'm sure some of you have been to similar performances, they're a riot. Do these things still exist?

Last I heard, the guy who organised the biggest one I've been to ripped everyone off and ran overseas with the money, which is a goo way to ensure these things don't happen. :-(
posted by -harlequin- at 12:50 AM on August 5, 2005


When I say "a leader might get assasinated", I mean, an audience member might set up the assasination, after first positioning him/herself to step into the recently-vacated shoes. Half the point of the whole thing is to allow the line between actor and audience to become as thin and blurred as possible.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:57 AM on August 5, 2005


Oh, and reinforcing the orwellian theme, one of them had these TV sets all over the place, each showing a huge xtreme-closeup of an eye watching you. Just wanted to add that detail to the picture :)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:59 AM on August 5, 2005


Goddamn it, I lost again!
posted by joedan at 3:02 AM on August 5, 2005


man, that sounds AWESOME, -harlequin-.
posted by Marquis at 3:26 AM on August 5, 2005


The queue is long. You get in line. A squad of secret police comes marching by. One of them is the sadistic fellow who nicked you for loitering. (Though they're all sadistic). You hope he doesn't see you. One of them stops, studying the people in the queue.
"So, we want to become citizens do we?" He sneers. "Do we all know the Anthem?" No one dares answer. Soon, for kicks, he has the group singing "Row row row your boat", trying to cordinate offset harmony. "YOU THERE! LOUDER!" "Louder RIGHT NOW or you're going to the back of the queue!"
You finally reach the desk of citizen department. "Oh no, you can't get the paper until you're certified disease free."



-harlequin-'s Game sounds fun, but when I play it I like to call it "going to the DMV."
posted by Alt F4 at 4:19 AM on August 5, 2005


...or just life in general.

So, this Jeff Wirth guy, did he get to jump off a building at the end?
posted by fungible at 7:00 AM on August 5, 2005


Joedan: Damn you! You made ME lose!
posted by The Bellman at 8:56 AM on August 5, 2005


harlequin: That sounds incredibly cool. Any links with pictures or anything? I would love to see some of what it looked like.
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:56 AM on August 5, 2005


*raises hand*
posted by pointilist at 9:59 AM on August 5, 2005


joey:
I was hoping someone knew of something like it still happening, it was a long time ago and, er, you'd probably get thrown in jail again if you started taking pictures :-)

The copycat performance I mentioned was actually put on by my old highschool, probably about a year later. I knew a few people a couple of years younger than me, they were in their final year at the time, and some were part of the show. One of the sadistic guards was in fact a fairly good friend of mine. I tell you, it's shocking what dark glasses, boots, a trenchcoat, and The Voice Of Authority can do for a person. Even though I knew him outside the role, he still has the intended effect :-)

In the school production, there were very few props and effects, it was set up in the school hall, which while it has a lot of back rooms and stage and stuff, is nowhere near as good an environment as a hundred year old theatre :-) The hall space was partitioned into rooms by vast amounts of fabric or canvas or plastic sheet draped over either scaffolding or tall wooden frames. Oddly shaped rooms with grey canvas walls are weird enough to not look like a normal human place, but pretty rudimentary, since there was just so much area that needed construction. It served the purpose though. The actors were in proper costumes, which was probably more important.

The professional one had a lot more special effects. (Eg, as you enter, the walls are covered in ribbed pipes and hosing, some of which are broken, with smoke-machine smoke coming out of the breaks. At the climax of the hippie religious ceremony, there was some effect with glowing dust/snow falling all over the room from out of nowhere onto people (there was a fabric roof, presumably with hundreds of little holes, and either the stuff really glowed, or they used blacklights, I can't remember.

That production had a lot more in the way of props and decor. In both cases however, the biggest aesthetic detractor requiring a larger suspension of disbelief was that audience members are everywhere (there are more audience than actors) and they're usually dressed in street clothes. Costume in the audience wasn't ever encouraged or recommended, but some people coming for another night sometimes bothered to look a little less 90's. I think the actors took it as a positive sign people were getting into it, though I personally didn't like it as I was playing the newbie game, and preferred to know who was audience and who was actor (which probably defeats the higher purpose or something, but I like to know where things stand, sue me :-)

If there was another production like this, I would totally rig up some costume for subsequent evenings :)

A guy I know wore a simple (and quite lame) cape to one, and sometimes demanded City Dollars from other audience members for some made up reason. Some people throught because of the cape, he could throw them in jail if they refused to buy into his corruption, so he made some money that way (it's very useful stuff in The Game). Kind of a mean thing to do though. As it turned out, he became one of the actors in the school production later. People like him were probably instrumental in getting the drama society to produce it.

Ok, some names:
Theatre Supermarket (pro, touring (I think), but small)
The Game (pro, large, organised by a touring guy that did these things place to place (I think), but he also ripped off the actors before moving on)

I can't remember what the school-produced one was called, but that one is irrelevant because it was a one-off.

These would have been early to mid '90s.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:04 PM on August 5, 2005


Thanks for the additional info. I'll try to dig some stuff up later!
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:29 PM on August 5, 2005


-harlequin-: "I tell you, it's shocking what dark glasses, boots, a trenchcoat, and The Voice Of Authority can do for a person." sounds like the Stanford Prison Experiment. That sounds like a fascinating evening's entertainment, though.
posted by Addlepated at 8:48 PM on August 5, 2005


I just spoke to someone involved in one of the productions, and found out that the guy behind the concept is John Hudson, and that he's been mainly living in Germany these last few years. Apparently he has the rights to the concept, though we're not sure if there are actual legalities involved, or if it's more of a theatre ettiquete thing.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:50 AM on August 6, 2005


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