(This story is sponsored by Touchstone Theatre.)
If you’ve ever read a Choose-Your-Own Adventure book, you know how hard it is to put the book down. Here’s how the best-selling young adult’s series works: you’re the main character, and the story is filled with all sorts of twists, turns, dead ends, and potentially deadlier outcomes. You get to decide your fate. You read until the plot reaches a turning point, and each choice you make directs you to a different page. It’s a gripping format that makes reading fun.
The pick-your-path structure is also the inspiration for a new, daring interactive play by playwrights and performers Daniel Arnold, Darrell Dennis, and Medina Hahn.
Inheritance: a choose-your-own adventure experience is unlike anything you’ve ever been to. Upon taking your seat in the theatre you are given a remote control. At key moments during the play, the action is halted, multiple plot choices are offered, and viewers make their pick with a click of their remote, deciding how the story unfolds.
Viewers’ decisions are anonymous, but the majority rules on which way the play will go.
The idea of bringing the addictive book concept to the stage has been on Arnold’s mind for decades.
“In my teens I read Choose-Your-Own Adventure novels, and when I started to do theatre, I thought it would be so awesome to do a play like this,” Arnold says. “I thought it would be a really cool idea to make this kind of interactive story that is filled with mystery and that involves the audience in dilemma-based choices.”
In preparation for the upcoming world premiere of Inheritance, the nationally acclaimed creative team has taken on double the work of a conventional theatre production, writing, memorizing and rehearsing all the possible ways the play could go—more than 50 variations in total.
For the veteran artists, it’s an exciting project, if entirely and absolutely daunting.
“Why climb Mount Everest? Because it’s there,” Dennis says with a laugh. “It’s a once-in-a-life opportunity to do something this challenging and this different, this multimedia, in the theatre. I’ve been in theatre for almost 30 years, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this petrified.”
Hahn adds: “It makes you feel alive. Looking at all the different paths and points of view is really exciting as a creator. And I love these guys. We all like to take risks and challenge each other and explore ideas and points of view.”
Inheritance, directed by Herbie Barnes (who’s Anishinaabe from Aundeck Omni Kaning on Manitoulin Island) is set on a rural estate. When city dwellers Abbey and Noah arrive there for a getaway to visit her father, they find him missing and encounter a local Indigenous man named Frank staying there instead. They also discover that the colonial property rights to the unceded land are up for grabs. From there, an epic journey begins.
Dennis (who’s from the səˈxwɛpməx [Secwepemc] First Nation and whose CV includes Tales of an Urban Indian and CBC Radio One’s ReVision Quest) and Siminovitch Protégé prize recipients Hahn and Arnold seek to strike a fine balance between weighty subject matter and a sense humour and levity.
“It’s an entertaining adventure, but at the same time, every scene has some sort of subject matter attached to sovereignty, to who owns the land, to who should be able to develop land?” Dennis says. “As an Indigenous person I really wanted to make sure various sides of the argument were represented, as uncomfortable as that might be, including immigrant, settler, and Indigenous perspectives. Some people feel very strongly about the subject of sovereignty, and to be able to hear intelligent and equal conversation that counterpoints that is going to be uncomfortable. But it’s necessary. This play is talking about some very, very important issues.”
There’s no better place than the theatre to have conversations that provoke and stir passions, Hahn says. “One thing that art can do is have these discussions that normally wouldn’t be had, she says. “When you can watch it from afar, it allows for more depth of understanding."
Adding to the play’s appeal is no two performances will be the same. “Depending on what each audience chooses, sometimes it might veer more into romantic comedy or it could be more adventure thriller,” Arnold says. “The story is in the audiences’ hands.”
While people might make plot choices based on what seems like the most exciting direction for the story, the decision-making process may tap into viewers’ morality, notes Dennis. “What would you do if you were in this situation?” he says. “Where would you find yourself ethically—not to the point that we’re trying to scrape at your psyche; it’s not ‘do you choose the lion den or the snake pit?’ – but what would your heart do?”
Inheritance—which plays at the Annex Theatre March 3 to 15—is an Alley Theatre and Touchstone Theatre coproduction in association with Vancouver Moving Theatre and community partnership with the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre.
The production was developed in community partnership with the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre and in collaboration with an advisory council that includes members of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and səˈxwɛpməx (Secwepemc) First Nations.
Showtimes are Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m., plus Wednesday at 1 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. There’s a facilitated talkback after every performance.
And fittingly, tickets are Choose-Your-Price: $39; $29; or $19 (limited quantity). Seating is general admission.
For tickets, visit tickets.theatrewire.com. Visit www.touchstonetheatre.com for more information.More