Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Decisions, Decisions: At Gamut Theatre, your fate is in your own hands.

Traditionally, a trip to the theater is an individual and private moment. A specific play is presented, and audience members create meaning through their own experiences and interpretations.

This is why live theater is so valuable—you are able to have a singular response to a play in the presence of many others who are doing the same. Yet, sometimes, there is a need to shake things up. Such is the aim of Gamut Theatre Group’s upcoming production of “Choose Your Own Play: Hijacked!” the second in a series of “choose your own” productions that the Harrisburg-based theater has adapted for the stage.

Philip Mann and David Zayas, the director and writer for “Hijacked!,” attempt to subvert this common experience of what a play should be by adapting a production that focuses attention on the audience as a group. As the first production going into the theater’s new Alexander Grass Second Stage, Mann and Zayas hope to convey a sense of family fun that will be central to the space as the newly renovated children’s theater.

The performance is an interactive experience in which audiences get the opportunity to engage not only with the performers but with each other as they make a variety of choices that will determine the trajectory of the unique play. More than just a play, the “Choose Your Own series encourages community fun and the presentation of stories in new and exciting ways, which is a cornerstone of Gamut’s mission.

“Hijacked!” centers around three middle-school-aged children—the “you” character and her two best friends, who are headed home for Christmas break when their bus gets hijacked by a group of international criminals. The objective of the play is to stop the criminals, bring their organization to an end, and get home in time for Christmas. The audience goes through the narrative, but has choices along the way to reach the objective, which they make by voting on their phones during the performance. As the play continues, audiences will find out if their choices lead them through one of the three best endings—or to death.

Beginning with last year’s “Space Vampire,” the “Choose Your Own” series has become a passion project with a goal—to reach new audiences through play and community. Mann stated that this is his directorial approach.

“There is a lot of collaboration, and I’m really letting the actors have fun with developing their characters,” he said. “I’m encouraging that play as they mold their choices with those characters, since there aren’t many specifics in the actual book.”

Tonally, “Hijacked!” finds inspiration in iconic ‘80s action movies. The nostalgia that follows these films is ever-present in Mann and Zayas’ approach to the adaptation and how they intend to present the play to audiences.

“It felt right to use these movies as inspiration, like ‘Red Dawn’ and ‘The Goonies,’ because our story’s ‘you’ characters are children,” Zayas said. “And like the movies, you have these kids thrust into a situation that should really be beyond them, and yet they take it on.”

Zayas added that they never want to set up an audience for failure, which is why there are three lives. Splitting from a traditional play setting, the performance becomes a game in which the choices have an impact on the ultimate story. In fact, this fun game element is what brought the actors back for the second time.

“We have a lot of the same actors in ‘Hijacked!’ as we did ‘Space Vampire,’” Mann said. “I think they love the challenge.”

Because the play is unpredictable, the actors have to be on their toes during each performance. As the audience plays the game, the actors do, too, as they only have a few moments after a choice has been made to prepare the scene and get on stage.

“The actors have developed their own sort of shorthand to help each other back stage,” Mann said.

They have cheat sheets, stage diagrams and maps to help, but actors seem to agree that the experience is more thrilling than difficult.

“It’s really a fun time for everyone,” Zayas said. “And the audience’s involvement made it even better.”

Zayas described how some audiences last year were so lively that they were getting out of their seats and shouting, and he hopes to replicate that spirit, but even more so.

Both Mann and Zayas state that “Hijacked!” is going to be bigger in every way, compared with “Space Vampire.”

“We have new elements that we have incorporated, like live music and singers, and the choices are a bit more difficult,” Mann said.

These additions speak to the community fun in this kind of performance. Gamut sold out of every performance of “Space Vampire,” with expectations of the same for “Hijacked!”

“Ultimately, we just want everyone to have a great time and engage with each other,” Zayas said. “And that unique kind of engagement is what we love about doing this type of production.”



At Gamut Theatre

The Popcorn Hat Players Present
“Hansel and Gretel”
Through Aug. 18
Saturdays at 1 p.m.
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. available by request for groups of 20 or more.
Tickets are $8 and can be purchased online at or at the door.

Choose Your Own Play
Aug. 9 to 19
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online at or at the door.

At Open Stage of Harrisburg

“Play in a Day”
Aug. 11
7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Teams are given 24 hours to write, cast, design and rehearse a 10-minute play.

Continue Reading