Turn to page 72 if you want to fight. Turn to page 26 if you want to run.
You’ll have to turn the page to find out what happens next. With “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, that’s usually the case. Making a decision to control the outcome of a story can make you feel god-like. Now that familiar feeling can be felt with a new, interactive play at UF’s Black Box Theatre in the Nadine M. McGuire Theatre and Dance Pavilion.
The play, brought to UF by the Tilted Windmills Theatricals, a New York City-based theater company, will have audience members make decisions to steer the course of the play. The play is written by Matt Cox and directed by Kristin McCarthy Parker.
“The Magnificent Revengers in … A Choose Your Own Tragedy — A Comedy!,” will premiere June 7 and will run until June 11 in the Black Box Theatre, according to a press release.
This is the third year that Tilted Windmills Theatricals has worked with the UF School of Theatre and Dance to collaborate with students to put out interesting plays, said David Carpenter, the play’s producer and a managing partner of the theater company.
Last summer brought “Puffs; or, Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic,” also written by Cox and directed by McCarthy Parker. “Puffs” started at the Peoples Improv Theater in New York City but became a hit after its time at UF, going back to the city in an off-Broadway stint at the Elektra Theatre. Carpenter said members of the company enjoyed collaborating with the students.
"The level of talent with the students is just out of this world; they’re just on the cusp of stepping out into the working world,” he said.
With this new play, the theater company came in with only an outline, not the whole script. The School of Theatre and Dance had to trust that with a little time it would turn into something special. Carpenter said he thought they were intrigued with the idea.
"We said, ‘trust us, we’re going to come in and bring a new show for you,’” he said. “It’s unlike anything we’ve done before. Very few people have wandered into this territory.”
Going with an immersive play wasn’t an original idea with the theater company. This type of play has been gaining traction in New York City in recent years among young people. Carpenter said their idea was focused on a way to incorporate technology into a live performance.
Through the collaboration of corporate partners in the business and video game industry, the theater company is working to create an interactive technology called Panza. The program will allow audience members to use their phone to vote on different choices within the play, which could potentially give the show six different endings.
The show is set in the later days of the Wild West, and it centers around a female protagonist who is seeking revenge for her brother’s murder. Even though the Western setting is thought to be predominantly male-dominated, McCarthy Parker said Cox enjoys creating leading roles in the genre for women.
"It has been in many instances problematic in terms of not having a lot of strong female characters, if any,” she said.
Because of the genre, the potential for violence is high; the audience will have to make some tough decisions during the performance.
"In some ways asking people to be participants makes them a little bit responsible in some ways. It has the power to raise complicated feelings, but that’s not a bad thing,” she said.
As the director, she has to rehearse each potential ending to the play, and the cast has to keep those fresh in their minds.
“The level to which it’s integrated in the show is really high and really exciting,” she said. “The audience definitely has a huge role to play in what the outcome of the show is.”
Some decisions are fun and harmless, but others decide who lives and who dies. The show would be impossible without an active and engaged audience.
It seems almost unthinkable to encourage an audience to have their phones out during a performance considering they are typically banned from theaters. They can disrupt the actors and distract the audience from what’s going on.
Because he loves technology, Carpenter wanted to see what would happen if they turned the no-cellphone-use policy on its head.
"What if we invited the disrupter in? We’re going to find out what this means; we’ve never seen theater that embraces this in this way,” he said.
Some potential drawbacks to having people use their phones is making sure everybody has enough power, dealing with notifications and making sure everyone has connection to Panza. Carpenter said they wouldn’t know the real problems until the play is put before an audience.
Incorporating technology into a production will change more than just how the audience reacts. It will also change how characters develop and adapt to a new storyline.With the choices potentially killing off cast members, Parker has to be open to the fact that a scene with three people could end with two, which could change lighting and blocking.
“It’s a lot of forethought and a lot of going back and tweaking to make sure it works no matter what," she said.
Directing the play has been a balancing act for McCarthy Parker. She has made sure the audience knows that they are witnessing one story in one world. She said it’s not six different plays — it’s one play with six different endings.
Being innovative is important, but not as important as working on things that get you out of bed in the morning, Carpenter said. Working on what you are passionate about with people who you are passionate about only adds to the journey of fostering new, innovative plays, Carpenter said.
"The creative process is beautiful and messy at the same time,” he said.