I still recall my first Choose Your Own Adventure book. Remember those? You read a chapter and then you’re faced with a choice – do the characters take the river or head through the dunes? Stick the knife in, or show mercy? Drink the potion or storm the castle? Ok, Head to page 26. It was GREAT fun, especially for a child, who is never the boss of anything – not so much the hobby for the compulsively indecisive, but a little bit of a thrill.
Stepping into the buzzing Sue Benner Theatre to take in the digitally experimental Some Dumb Play, that familiar feeling of spine tingling excitement began to brew. For the folks at home, this is how it works: You take along your smart phone; find your wifi settings and connect to ‘some dumb play’; open your browser and type www.somedumbplay.com, and your voting screen pops up.
To get in a bit of practice before the curtain goes up, you can vote for the pre-show music – the punters loved this. I could hear husbands and wives trashing each other’s choice and mates cheering their approval as their song was played. My girlfriend and I had an altercation over whether it was a moral duty to vote against the Backstreet Boys. It certainly got the party started.
Throughout the show the voting opens and closes at selected intervals. The onstage action is paused, different choices are projected onto the back wall of the theatre and they also pop up on your phone. While the audience casts their vote (singing anyone? stunts? perhaps some nudity or a ferocious storm?), the actors slip out of character and bustle about preparing for the next scene: they sip water, throw props around, warm up their hamstrings and rehearse lines. Kudos to them – it’s a tough gig, but Cam Clark, Keiran Law, Toby Martin, Claire Pearson and Bianca Zouppas are more than up to the task. This energy-packed cast of five had obviously rehearsed all possible outcomes and, if anything was improvised, it didn’t seem that way.
We barrel along like this voting and watching for a good 30 minutes before things start to go awry (caution: spoiler alert). The actors start to squabble between scenes, a major ‘backstage’ dispute breaks out, there’s dissention in the ranks, a series of ‘announcements’ are made to the audience and an actor is booted out the backdoor. Following this is an attempted sabotage of the voting process and, piece by piece, Some Dumb Play falls apart. Of course we all know that this is a play within a play, it’s far too melodramatic to be anything but a set up and, unfortunately, this is where they lost my vote.
Up until that point I was having a whale of a time – voting, chatting with my neighbor, and revelling in the action. Was it gimmicky? Yes. But most of the time the choice I made was the majority vote and the sweet breezes of power were wafting over me. When the show turned a corner and the actors started to take over, making it all about them, I felt cheated. Wasn’t this MY show? The intoxicating ‘digital democracy’ that Director Nathan Sibthorpehad built up came crashing down. I wish it hadn’t. That said, it was SUCH fun, and it’s a great start to a whole new genre, and the possibilities are so exciting.
Ben Murray has done a fabulous job developing the user-friendly software; voting was quick and simple – a breeze even for the technologically challenged. There were also plenty of eager staff around should tentative punters need assistance.
Hamish Clift’s lighting design got on with the job and was versatile enough to deal with any situation, and Nathan Sibthorpe used sound and visual design to adeptly cue the audience and the actors. Now for the irony.
When the curtain went up on 2012’s Some Dumb Play, the theatrical experience came full circle. Whilst being incredibly current, it’s also genuinely participatory and unpretentious. With smart phone in hand I felt the same urge to call out to the actors and chat to other audience members that 17th century groundlings would have felt as they booed and cheered from the pit of Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s a wonderful feeling of ownership and freedom. The difference is, if I’m unhappy with the way Some Dumb Play goes, I can come back another night and get a return ticket for $12 – a little win for the compulsively indecisive. Take that Shakespeare.
Some Dumb Play is showing at the Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts, until Saturday the 17th of November. Get along, and choose your own adventure!