[I wrote this for my Reporting Arts & Culture unit for uni. All photography by Steve Tilling. Photos taken from theborderproject.com and The Border Project’s Facebook page]

The Border Project’s latest theatre work is an interactive experience that lets the audience control how the story unfolds.

Half-Real, which showed at the Malthouse Theatre as part of the Melbourne Festival, is part-game, part-performance. Each audience member is given a wireless controller called the Zigzag, which they use to vote on how they want the play to progress.

This is not the first time The Border Project, an independent theatre group based in South Australia, has used the Zigzag technology. It was first used in their 2008 show Trouble On Planet Earth and then again earlier this year in Escape From Peligro Island, a choose-your-own-adventure format show aimed at children. However, Half-Real differs in structure from The Border Project’s previous works.

“We were interested in going, what if it wasn’t about the audience steering the choices of the characters, but … the audience was actually able to make decisions about what they discovered within the performance itself?” explains Sam Haren, director of Half-Real and founding member of The Border Project.

“That lead us to an interest in something that we viewed as more like a game format, with the idea of it being a mystery and the audience being positioned as investigators.”

The premise of the show is that a woman, Violet Vario, has been murdered, and the audience must investigate suspects and clues to try and find out who the perpetrator is. Scenes reveal the events that took place prior to Violet’s murder and the suspects’ possible motives.

The set consists of two connected blank walls upon which video and images are projected. After each scene, two or three options are projected above each suspect or certain objects — a cracked window, a mysterious photograph, a bloodstain on the door — and a voice over prompts the audience to vote on the option that interests them most.

“The 3D projections were brilliant in creating different atmospheres, settings and characters. The mapped projections following each character were very clever and fitted perfectly with the video game feel,” says Daniel Coghlan, theatre reviewer for Beat magazine.

Besides the three suspects, there are no other actors in the play. Supporting characters — a psychiatrist, a director, a prostitute — are simply silhouettes cast onto the wall, with whichever actors not on stage speaking the character’s lines from the side of stage.

“We thought that it was fascinating to put on stage two characters and have one of them as a silhouette because it focuses the audience’s interrogation on the suspect in question in a way that you may not have done if two or three characters were all in the space acting the scene,” says Haren.

Half-Real was really a unique experience. I wouldn’t say it was a regular theatre performance, but more of a fragmented performance piece that offered fun without much substance,” says Coghlan, who was drawn to the show because of its interactivity and incorporation of unique technology.

“If shows like Half-Real can merge new technologies with traditional theatre then it may just introduce a whole new audience to the performing arts scene.”

Through combining more traditional aspects of theatre with innovative technology and audience participation, The Border Project aims to make the live performance a more thrilling and accessible experience.

“We’re interested in ways that we can bring in technology that can make a really awesome live event,” says Haren.

“Our company’s always been driven with a passion to engage a diverse audience; particularly people who don’t traditionally go to theatre or aren’t engaged by traditional theatre. We were interested in how we could bring a kind of playful approach to how theatre as a live event could work.”

The Border Project is currently working on a performance installation in collaboration with the Adelaide Zoo, titled I Am Not An Animal. It will premiere at the 2012 Adelaide Festival.


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